Making Hawkgirl's Wings: Part 2

We're almost done with our series on the making of Steampunk Hawkgirl. If you're just tuning in now, we’ve talked about how the leggings, corsetwing harness, mace, the Worbla bits, and the supersized feathers came together, but let’s keep digging into the piece that makes this whole costume so challenging: the wings themselves.


After doing some initial research when I was in the thrall of a post-convention rush way back when, I decided that an extending arm configuration would be the best way to go for this particular costume (I definitely recommend reading about said investigations to see why I came to that conclusion and if the same setup will also work for your project). Initial tests with a cardboard mockup of the wings proved successful, so it then became a matter of how to translate the mockup into sturdier materials.

For all the details on how that initial translation was completed, check out this guest post by my cousin, Mel. She and her friend James were able to take the dimensions from my mockup and turn them into aluminum 'bones', which ended up being the rough draft/foundation for the finished wings.

While that rough draft was being completed, I was teaching myself to use the metal-shaping attachments on my model 4000 Dremel. Related aside: you will only need a handful of attachments for the Dremel and maybe a power drill for this portion of the project. Yes, really. Once I had the rough ‘bones’ in hand, I found that some additional cutting and sanding would be needed to get the overall shape and motion that I wanted. To do this, I used these cutting wheels for the Dremel and made several passes through the aluminum to get a nice, clean cut. If you're using these same methods to make your 'bones' it's definitely a good idea to get at least a five-pack of the wheels, as they will absorb heat and warp during your cuts.

Each wing consists of five ‘bones’: a larger pair that are perpendicular to one another and carry most of the stress (X and Y in the diagram below), a smaller pair that parallel and support the first pair (1 and 2 in the diagram below), and the gently curving ‘bone’ that ties all the others together and gives the wing its shape (Z in the diagram below). [bone dimensions] This diagram will give you the of each bone relative to the others.

Ok, so that’s how to make the bones, but how do they fit together?

In order to have the wings articulate, the bones need to be able to pivot or hinge relative to one another. Mel and James did an enormous amount of research about the best way to make this a reality. When the rough draft of the bones arrived, Mel and James had already drilled holes in the bones at certain points, which I needed to adjust these slightly by using a 1/8" (0.32 cm) bit in my power drill. Once those were all set, I inserted small rods of nickel, brass, and aluminum through the holes and secured them in place with these brass collars. To make these rods, I purchased one of each of these from various local hardware stores (you can also order similar items from Amazon). Because the bones are ½” (1.27 cm) thick, and the collars are 1/8” (0.32 cm) thick, the rods needed to be long enough to pass through two of each. (2*0.5)+(2*0.125)=1.125" (2.86 cm). Again using the cutting wheels for the Dremel, I sliced up each of the rods into pieces 1.125” in length. The articulation points are highlighted in gold in the diagram above.


There’s not a huge difference between using aluminum, brass, or nickel for the connection rods since the rods themselves are fairly small and don’t do much in terms of adding weight to your rig. It’s really a matter of what you prefer to work with and what’s available to you. The brass seemed to hold up best in this configuration, but your experiences may vary.

The same rod-and-collar technique is what holds the wings onto the ‘backpack’ that allows them to be worn. Using the drill attachments for the Dremel, I punched 1/8” inch holes at the top and bottom of each of the swinging plates that themselves are hinged to the backplate. I then threaded 1.375” (3.49 cm) rods through each of the holes: (2*0.5")+(2*0.125")+0.25” for the width of the wood. A brass collar on each end applied as snuggly as possible allows the wings to extend while remaining attached to the hinged plates. The snugness part can’t be overstated; you want as little wiggle room as possible at any of the articulation points not only for safety’s sake, but to minimize the amount of stress that you’re putting on those joints.

In terms of getting the wings to open and close, that involved pinpointing the best spot to put the drawstring. For an extending wing configuration, there are two points from whence you can draw: near the articulation point on the top horizontal bone or at an identical point on the bottom horizontal bone. I’m sure there are points on the vertical bones that you could draw from, but the way I planned on adding feathers to the bones would not have allowed for that. The idea of the drawstring is to pull the wings to an open position, then allow gravity to work its magic when you want them to close. To discern the best draw point, I tied paracord to one potential location on one wing, then did the same at the other potential point on the second. After threading the cord through both sets of pulleys in the rig, I tested to see which setup allowed for easier use and generally felt more secure. The draw point on the lower of the two horizontal bones won hands down. This wasn’t too surprising, as this point provides a shallower angle of ascent, which, in turn, puts less pressure on the pulleys and rope. The same may or may not be true of your wings, so it’s a good idea to test all possible draw points if you can.


We’ll go more into how to keep the wings open while you’re walking around or posing in a follow-up post wherein I’ll tell you how I made the utility belt for this costume.

The bones seemed to be ready to go after this point, so it was then a matter of getting the giant feathers onto them. The post about the giant feathers details how lengths of aluminum screening are what attaches each feather to the other. The screening also acted like a humongous sleeve that I could slip over the top join point of the bones (where Bone Y and Bone Z meet). Once the sleeves were in place on their respective wings, I clasped them in place by threading floral wire back and forth through the screening at a couple key junctures. The aluminum portion of the sleeves was concealed beneath another sleeve made out of painted foam that was edged with Worbla.

Connecting the feathers to Bone Z (so they fan out) involved drilling three holes along the length of the bone with a 1/16" (0.16 cm) bit in my power drill, then connecting metal and foam with some high tensile strength fishing line. The holes and Bone Z itself were covered up by two of the foam feathers: one on each side of the metal.  



This is by no means an easy or straightforward project, but it’s more achievable than it’s made out to be. A bit of planning, some experience with power tools, and a pinch of willingness to take risks will give you your own set of deployable wings! Best of luck on your costuming adventures!
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This Week in Geekdom

Hey there everyone! Hope you're all having great weekends thus far, especially if you're one of the lucky nerds attending PAX Prime (if you're befuddled by our conflating 'lucky' and any incarnation of PAX, check out our stance on that particular family of conventions here). If you are at PAX Prime, pleasepleaseplease take one of these and tell us what it's like. In any case, let's get down to the Week in Geekdom, shall we?

Books

The Shepherd's Crown, the 41st and final installment of Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld series was released in the UK this past Wednesday. It will be available in the US on September 1st.

Comics

Who's up for some vintage DC goodness? You can now view the entirety of the 1982 official DC style guide online.

Movies/TV

Amazon will be taking up the movie-to-TV-series trend with their episodic spin on Galaxy Quest.

Vin Diesel is officially confirmed to return as the voice of Groot for Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2. The film is slated to hit theaters in May of 2017.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D will be getting the Lash treatment.

The minds behind Adventure Time are working on an animated series based on Castlevania III.

Are you planning on following along with Fear the Walking Dead? If so, you may want to keep an eye on AMC's website. The network is planning to develop a half-hour special covering the infamous zombie outbreak as it unfolds on a plane. This zombies on a plane bit will introduce new characters and content that will factor into the rest of Fear the Walking Dead.  This content will air only online and AMC has not specified a release date, so keep an eye out.

Science/Technology

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's...wait. It's really an FAA-approved paper airplane?

It's officially been over a month now since Microsoft released Windows 10 upon the PC-using populace. How have things been going since then? Here are the results so far.

Ever wonder why the Earth doesn't feature nifty rings around it like some of our solar-system siblings have? Here comes the science.

Earlier this week, the Hubble telescope brought us these images of a 'butterfly effect' within the Twin Jets Nebula and the results are absolutely stunning.

It's a public health issue that plagues researchers every year: selecting the strains of the flu virus that will be the most likely to crop up during the winter and using those strains to create the annual flu vaccine. On Monday, immunologists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced that they are considerably closer to the proverbial holy grail: a universal flu vaccine.

On Friday, NASA launched what will be its longest isolation simulation for those individuals who are aiming to be the first humans on Mars.

Believe it or not, this is Hawaii
Does a single Earth day cause ripples in the fabric of space-time?

We tend to lend a heaping helping of love to those individuals developing applications for virtual reality devices and today's going to be no exception. Meet James Blaha. If he has his way, he'll give us a way to use the Oculus Rift headset as a way to correct certain vision problems.

As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!
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Guest Post: Making Hawkgirl's Wings, Part 1

We are almost done with our series on the making of Steampunk Hawkgirl. Only a couple pieces of the costume remain in the proverbial un-posted-upon dark, but there's a good reason for the wait: I wanted you guys to have the most comprehensive explanation for how the 'bones' of the wings came together, as they were the most challenging part of this project. 

The 'bones' themselves were the result of two phases of construction, the first of which took place not in my little nerdy abode, but, rather, all the way out on the West Coast. My extremely talented cousin and fellow cosplayer, Mel, and her friend, James, generously lent their skills during the early parts of the build. Mel is joining us today to describe how she and James turned some strips of metal into the foundation for Hawkgirl's wings. So, without further ado, here's Mel! 



Hi Nerds! I’m Mel and am here to share my contribution to Kel’s amazing Hawkgirl cosplay with you.

I love cosplay. The pride of figuring out how to make something new and the joy of participating in my favorite fandoms is such a rewarding experience and just plain fun. For me, cosplay is at its best when it becomes a team effort. I am lucky to have fellow makers in my life that will go down the costume rabbit hole with me simply to figure out if we can pull it off. Every costume we do usually presents us with a new skill to master and we try to help each other achieve a level of craftsmanship we couldn’t approach on our own. It also keeps things fun when faced with the more frustrating and tedious tasks that costume making comes with. Enter Kel’s latest adventure: Steampunk Hawkgirl!

Kel called me up to debate her construction options and I jumped at the chance to pitch in. First, Steampunk Hawkgirl is just awesome, especially when part of a group Steampunk Justice League cosplay. Second, the particular conundrum of articulating wing construction is something I couldn’t resist. One of my cosplay partners in crime, James, has always loved the idea of making articulating wings, and I just wanted an excuse to run around the house pretending I could fly. Kel had done a ton of research, which you can read all about in her previous post, and was debating which material to use: PVC pipe, wood or aluminum. All three would work, but they each came with challenges. Ultimately, we agreed that aluminum was the best route as it would be lightweight, durable, easy to operate, and aesthetically complimented her desired wing shape. The problem was that Kel lacked workspace and the necessary tools to get these done. 

Having done some aluminum work with James on a pair of holster buckles for a Rule 63 Han Solo costume I'd put together for SDCC 2014, I decided to volunteer our assistance. James has completed a great deal of metal work out of his garage over the years so he could save Kel the cost of acquiring tools as well as the headaches associated with the trial and error of learning how to work with the material. As Kel and I live on opposite coasts, we agreed that she would send me her design details and James and I would make the structural components of the wings for her.

Kel’s design was great! She had not only researched and developed a working mechanism for the wings but she built a full-scale mock up out of cardboard to test operation, shape and size. I completely agree with Kel’s advice to do a small and full-scale test of complex cosplay elements out of cheap material that you can work with quickly. This is the stage where you can really refine the design and anticipate any major problems before you put your time and hard-earned cash into the real deal.

Kel passed along photos and the dimensions of her wings, which I used to draw a set of templates using Adobe Illustrator. James and I made our own cardboard mock-up so we could understand exactly what we were doing and what Kel needed.

James did some material tests and determined that we could slim down a number of components so save weight. If we were doing this out of wood the original size and shape of Kel’s design would have been perfect, but aluminum is much stronger so you don’t need the extra material. Since one of Kel’s goals was to keep the wings under 7 pounds, we trimmed wherever we could. After a thorough evaluation, we determined that we could slim down all but the largest piece (the large curved bone at the top of each wing), which gives the wing its awesome shape when extended.

We headed to our local hardware & metal store for materials. Here is what we picked up:

Aluminum Bars: 1” wide x ¼” thick x 96” long (2.54 x 0.64 x 243.84 cm)
Aluminum Strips: 3” wide x 1/8” thick x 6’ long (7.62 x 0.34 x 15.24 cm)
Jig Saw Blades for metal work

Back at the garage we pulled out the following tools:

Jig Saw
Angle Grinder
Clamps
Safety Glasses
Work Gloves
Drill
Pop Rivet Gun w/ Rivets
Scrap Aluminum Rod to fit the Dura-Collars

After tracing our template pieces onto the aluminum with a Sharpie, James began clamping the aluminum to a worktable and cutting the straight pieces with a jig saw fitted with blades specifically for cutting metal. (General reminder: make sure you wear eye protection! The last thing you want is a metal shard in your eye. There are lots of awesome characters with eye patches, but I don’t think you want to cosplay them everyday.) James cut slowly and steadily to avoid dulling the blade too quickly, but you do want to change the blade often. Metal work will chew right through sharp blades in a surprising amount of time. Buy lots of them and don’t be afraid to toss them frequently. Blades are relatively inexpensive and cutting with a dull blade can ruin your aluminum edges, putting you at greater risk for injury.




Next up, James cut the largest piece, which has a very distinct curved shape. For this he popped in a fresh blade and cut the piece out staying a little bit out from the marker line. This gave him some room to maneuver if he had a hard time going around a tighter curve or accidentally went off track a bit. Mistakes can happen when you are free-handing this stuff, so give yourself some room to course correct.


While James cut I began using the angle grinder on the rough-cut pieces. First, I rounded the corners of the straight bar pieces with the angle grinder and made sure there were no sharp edges. Doing this makes the pieces safer to handle and decreases the odds of the corners getting caught on any costume materials when the wings open and close. Second, I used the grinder to shave off that extra bit of aluminum that James left around the curved piece. This got the edge right to the marker line, ensuring an accurate shape. I then used some metal hand files to remove any lingering sharp edges.



After all of that, I marked where we needed to drill holes for fasteners and James took care of them with his mini drill press (a hand drill would work just fine as well but, hey, if you have a drill press use it!).


James did some thesis-level research on fasteners. Seriously, I think he could give a full dissertation on how to fasten two moving parts now. This is important because you don’t want to throw a typical screw and a nut on there just to find out that they will unscrew themselves every time you deploy your wings! This is exactly what would happen, by the way. The motion of those two rotating pieces will twist your fastener with it resulting in, surprise, disassembly on the convention floor! 

James originally thought he could use nylon-coated screws, as they are known for being a good solution for this type of application, but they, too, failed us. After much googling he determined that a combination of pop rivets and collars would do the trick. We identified which joints would stay fastened forever, which got pop riveted, and then cut a short piece of aluminum rod that is long enough to connect the two aluminum pieces with a collar on each side. Make a little divot on the rod where you want the collar screw to stop and you now have a temporary fastener that allows you to remove them later with an allen wrench. The reason for this is so the wings can completely collapse for storage.

Ta-da! Giant wings! Right on Kel's weight target too: each assembled wing weighs 3 lbs. 2 oz.

After deploying them a number of times… for science… they got packaged up and made the journey to Kel. Because I was probably just as excited for Kel’s cosplay as she was I made sure I could personally present the wings to her on a most appropriate day, Christmas.



And there you have it. Since Kel did the heavy lifting by figuring out how the wings would work we only needed two afternoons in the garage to make them. This project is a classic example of how cosplay is a whole lot of planning and then relatively quick execution, so do your research and go make something great!
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This Week in Geekdom

Hi everyone! Sorry for the lack of This Week in Geekdoms. We're trying to squeeze all the summer we can out of these next few weeks before things take a turn for the dark and chilly. Gah, can't believe Labor Day crept up on us so quickly! The upcoming change in seasons will translate to more posts, if everything goes according to plan. In any case, let's get down to the Week in Geekdom!

Books

After much hemming, hawing, and drama, here are your 2015 Hugo Award winners.

Comics

Secret Wars is slated to draw to a close this October and Marvel has stated that there will be a full-on reboot of their entire comic universe in the immediate aftermath. Here's what you need to know to be prepared for this "All New, All-Different Marvel."

Games

As a follow-up to June's announcement that Kerbal Space Program will be coming to PS4, developer Flying Tiger confirmed this week that they are also working on a port of the game to Xbox One. Neither port has a release date yet.

Konami would like to know which of its classic games you'd like to see get a modern-day makeover.

Forgotten Realms: the Archives are now wholly available (and completely DRM-free) on Gog.com.

If you were alive during the 1990s and ever visited an arcade, you likely were exposed to some not-so-subtle anti-drug propoganda. Ever wonder why various agencies chose to spread their message in arcades? Well, now you can find out.

Movies

We have a new trailer for the Martian. Let us bask in its glory


Science/Technology

While we're in a Red Planet state of mind, check out these self-portraits that Curiosity snapped earlier this week.

It may not be capable of causing rifts in the space-time continuum, but physicists from the University of Barcelona have successfully crafted a wormhole (that bores through electromagnetic fields).

Thoth Technology has been given a U.S. patent for space elevators

It's a device straight out of the annals of science fiction, but more than one organization is seeking to at least attempt to make them a reality. What would happen if we could make a functional electromagnetic thruster?

Speaking of stuff that's straight out of science fiction, researchers at Ohio State University are claiming that they've grown a full-sized human brain in their laboratories (insert sinister cackling here).

Engineers at the University of Bristol may have a solution to one of the major limiting factors of quantum computing (and computing in general): the first quantum interconnect.

Image Credit
Meanwhile, over at MIT, engineers believe they've come up with a functional and commercially viable solid-state electrolyte, which may well produce the "perfect" battery that would last for decades.

That whole Gravitational Constant is a Constant thing? Yeah, we're a little more sure that it's actually constant.

On the subject of constants, it takes 26 of them to adequately describe the known universe and those still leave us with some pretty gaping holes in our scientific narrative.

Stephen Hawking's speech software has been released for public use and is absolutely free.

You know what the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo could use? An artificially created meteor shower.

It hasn't even been a full month since the launch of Windows 10 and Microsoft has already released three patches to support the new operating system. The problem? Microsoft refuses to tell us what's in those patches.

A team of researchers at the University of Texas (at Galveston) believe they have isolated a new drug that can counter the deadly effects of acute radiation exposure.

It was arguably the single most viral phenomenon of 2014, but we're now learning just how much good the has come from the funds raised by the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Crowdfundables For Your Consideration

Back in June we talked about a potential epic battle involving actual giant robots. Now one of the makers of said robots needs our help to make that fight happen. Visit their Kickstarter page for all the dream-fulfilling details.

There are just five days remaining to get in on the Button Shy Wallet Game series. This (completely funded) Kickstarter provides backers with three highly portable and fast-playing games. 

As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!
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Cosplay: All About That Mace

So Gen Con 2015 descended upon us all before I could finish publishing the last few posts covering the making of Steampunk Hawkgirl. This is something that will be rectified post-haste! To recap if you're just joining us now, so far we’ve covered the corset, the leggings, the wing harness, a few Worbla bits, and the supersized feathers that cover the wings. On today’s docket is the Thanagarian’s weapon of choice: the mace.  
I mentioned a while back that I can’t, for the life of me, draw in any appreciable or useful way, thus leaving me to take a costume from concept to physical reality in a single step. This made for a bit of a challenge when beginning work on a few components of Steampunk Hawkgirl, as there are no canonical reference images to provide guidance, and the mace, for whatever reason, proved difficult for me to put finite ideas to. Hawkgirl’s standard mace is pretty much your run-of-the mill smashy ball with spikes and a handle on it, but how do you go about making that look more steampunk?

After a lot of thought and a similar amount of research on the internets, I came up with the idea of having the ball part of the mace be a tesla coil/plasma sphere and replace the traditional spikes with arching tracts of gear teeth. While the concept was exciting, it would be a bit tricky to make real. There would be a handful of things that would need to be addressed in a hurry.
All tests went swimmingly

First on the list of Mace-Related Challenges was finding a tesla coil/plasma ball that was both sufficiently large and could be powered with batteries. There are lots of battery-powered plasma balls out there, but almost all of them have a diameter of 3” (7.62cm) or less, which is a bit too small in terms of proportionality to the rest of the costume. Conversely, there are also lots of larger plasma balls, but they are powered by AC only, making them less than feasible to walk around the convention halls with. Finally, I came across this guy, which could be powered via a big pack of AA batteries. Win.

Once the plasma ball and battery pack had been procured it was a question of how they could be reasonably attached to some sort of handle, and it was pretty clear that a custom piece would be in order. To make the handle, I bought a 1/2" wide x 24" (1.27 x 60.96cm) long birch dowel  and a small bit of 12" x 4" (30.48 x 10.16cm) birch board, then cut both with the cutting attachment of my Dremel into lengths that would match up to the dimensions of the battery pack and base of the plasma ball. From the remaining birch board I cut a series of trapezoids similar to the sides of the plasma ball that would ‘pinch’ the ball in place and stabilize it so I could carry it around.

The wooden bits, the battery pack, and the plastic sides of the plasma ball all got three coats of gesso. Since all three components are made of different materials, the gesso ended up being an important step in making all the surfaces similar enough when it came time to add paint.

It’s here that I should note that the wood that was used here came from Michael’s and not a hardware store. Why does this matter? Usually wood that’s being sold for crafting purposes has been pre-treated to a degree, so you don’t have to spend time sanding and prepping the fiber before you do things like prime or paint. So just a heads up, if you get your materials from a hardware store you may have to build in a bit of extra time to finish this portion of the costume.All the primed surfaces got a few coats of a brown-copper acrylic paint to give the impression that everything was wrought from a weathered sort of metal. After this, I cut a gear-teeth-like pattern of semi-circles out of Worbla, then gave these the same treatment as the wood/plastic bits.

Once everything had dried it was time to start assembling. Using the Dremel, I cut a 1/4" (0.64cm) hole in the center of the piece of wood that would serve as the primary base for the battery pack and plasma ball. After a quick test run to ensure that the dowel that serves as the handle would fit snuggly into this hole, I marked the very first point where said dowel emerges from beneath the board, then drilled a hole 1/8" (0.32cm) in diameter straight through. A 2" (5.08cm) long zinc eyelet screw was then twisted through the hole so the eyelet itself faced up and flush against the board, lending the latter some support. This arrangement was fixed in place first with a heavy layer of gorilla glue, then with a thinner layer of rubber cement.

For the grip on the handle I took some dark brown leather leftover from my Aayla Secura ‘vest’ (related aside: how on Earth was that costume from three years ago?) and cut it into 1” (2.54cm) wide strips, then wrapped these around the bottom of the handle and fixing the leather in place with hot glue. At the top of the grip, I wound the leather over itself a few times to create the look of a handle. Pretty much any sturdy fabric will work for this and the birch/acrylic paint takes hot glue fairly well.


The last part of the assembly process is a bit tricky and, quite honestly, should probably be left until the last few days before you leave for your convention. The battery pack gets filled (if your plasma ball ends up being the same as mine, the pack requires 20 AA batteries), then attached to the base of the handle with gorilla glue. The plasma ball is then affixed to the battery pack with hot glue so you can pull the former off if you need to replace batteries or make adjustments. Originally I’d intended to use some of the trapezoid wooden cutouts to help stabilize the mace, but they ended up being unnecessary. After that it was just a matter of hot gluing the gear teeth to the base of the plasma ball.



Not gonna lie, the mace is neither light nor is it super stable, but it lights up and presents well. This was one of the more ambitious ideas I’ve had for a prop and I’m really hoping it works out well on the convention floor. We’ll find out soon!

Post-Con Update: Oh this poor mace. My misgivings about its structural integrity ended up being at least semi-founded. Even though the weapon came together as it was supposed to, it stubbornly refused to function after arriving in Indianapolis. I still can't discern exactly what went wrong, but I'm willing to guess that the process of transporting the components of the mace ended up jostling or otherwise internally damaging either the battery pack, the plasma ball, or both. More than a few hours of the night before Cosplay Saturday were spent frantically trying to get the plasma ball to work, but to no avail. Given that the ball was a no-go (and the weapon just didn't look right all darkened), I decided to scrap the mace entirely and walk the convention halls without it.

That being said, if the plasma ball had cooperated/survived the trip out to Indy, the build described in this post would have produced a pretty nifty result. It was disappointing to have to give up on the mace at the last minute, but I'll definitely try to complete the build (or something similar to it) for a future iteration of the costume. Hawkgirl will eventually have her mace!
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Round Up: Gen Con 2015

And just like that Gen Con 2015 is over. Seriously? It's already over? <<looks forlornly at the new countdown clock>> Sigh. Well, one of the good things about being back is that I can share all of the awesome that went down during the Best Four Days in Gaming. In keeping with all of our other convention round-ups, I'll present the convention news alphabetically by publisher, then give overarching impressions of the convention itself (and a little update on Steampunk Hawkgirl). For more pictures of all the goodness, check out our social pages, particularly our Instagram.


Fantasy Flight (FFG)

Perennial powerhouse Fantasy Flight occupied their customary spot right in front of the main doors of the dealer hall and their merchandise booth seemed to be permanently ringed by an endless parade of eager gamers. That commercial success, among other things, was confirmed during the annual In-Flight Review. After the powerhouse lineup of new games presented during last year's con, it was unsurprising that much of the 2015-2016 FFG pipeline consists largely of expansions and enhancements to their existing titles.

The publisher's two best-selling games, Armada and Imperial Assault (with the former actually outselling the latter in this calendar year), will both be getting new miniatures. Imperial Assault will also be bolstered by the addition of not one, but two expansion sets. The first such add-on, Twin Shadows, will focus largely on the fringe elements of the Star Wars universe, specifically bounty hunters and elements that were heavily featured in the Edge of the Empire RPG. Twin Shadows is set to be released sometime in September. The second expansion will be the very robust Return to Hoth, which will feature not only new miniatures and missions, but new mechanics for the core gameplay. Return to Hoth is forecasted to be available for purchase sometime during the fourth quarter of this year.

The insanely popular X-Wing will also get more miniatures and a few expansions. Wave 7 of these forthcoming miniatures will include an imperial raider (made with direct input from LucasFilm) and an imperial assault carrier from the animated series Star Wars: Rebels. Rebels will feature heavily in Wave 8, which will include a Mist Hunter and a Ghost.

One of the most highly sought-after games of the year, Forbidden Stars, remains completely sold out and is expected to be on back-order for much of the rest of 2015 as more copies are printed and distributed. More than a few con-goers were disappointed that FFG was not even offering demos of the Warhammer 40K-based title during Gen Con.

While we're in a Warhammer state of mind, FFG offered a bit more exposition on Warhammer Quest: the Card Game. The still-in-development title is said to be a challenging (potentially cooperative) campaign-based card game.

Descent will be getting an expansion, titled the Mists of Bilehall, late this year. Three new lieutenant packs are also in line to be released for the game in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Mission: Red Planet, a resource-management title inherited from Asmodee, has been updated and will be re-released under the FFG banner. You can pre-order copies of the game here. Interestingly enough, aside from a few high-level remarks concerning distribution at the incept of the In-Flight Review, this was the only explicit mention of FFG's blockbuster merger with Asmodee.

Fantasy Flight's single most-requested reprint, Runebound, is going to go beyond the printhouse and get a brand new incarnation. Aside from the title and a few core mechanics, this iteration of Runebound will bear no other resemblance to other games that have borne the same name. FFG has painstakingly re-imagined the title and is slated to bring it to market in time for the holiday season.

Speaking of releasing in time for a holiday, the third edition of the classic Fury of Dracula will hopefully be hitting the market just before Halloween.

The Lovecraftian Eldridge Horror will get a new expansion: Strange Remnants. The add-on was designed to effectively gameify the use of the expansions without the game itself taking up the entirety of your gaming table. The title will be available for purchase during the third quarter of 2015.
  • Fantasy Flight reiterated that its offerings in the Euro-style marketplace, such as Tigris and Samurai, will remain niche and not comprise a sizable portion of their pipeline. 
  • The second edition of the A Game of Thrones: The Card Game was the single most successful Gen Con release ever in the history of Fantasy Flight. 
  • Star Wars the RPG: Force and Destiny is now out and in its final form. There will be no omnibus offered to combine the three rulebooks.
  • Finally, the publisher did confirm that games based upon the Star Wars: Episode VII are already in development, but could provide no details as to what these would be.
Flying Frog Productions

One of the most sought-after demos of Gen Con 2014, Shadows of Brimstone, continued to be a powerful draw for Flying Frog. The publisher garnered additional attention via an intricately painted 3D board depicting the worldscape of the expansion Swamps of Death.

USAopoly

Some of the most sought-after badge swag at the con came from the demo table for Nefarious: the Mad Scientist Game. This fast-paced card game pits the sinister machinations of the world's most dastardly villains against one another. Players seek to out-invent, out-scheme, and out-maneuver one another as they attempt to take over the world. Nefarious can accommodate 2-6 gamers and is designated as being appropriate for ages 13 and up.

Wizards of the Coast (WotC)

The 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons continued to reign over much of the convention. WotC allowed gamers to partake in the first scripted adventures associated with the Rage of Demons Adventurers League season that will be available at your friendly local game store beginning this September.

Wizards also enjoyed a very strong showing at the annual ENnie awards, taking home the gold for Best Aid/Accessory, Best Cover Art (for Rise of Tiamat), Best Interior Art, Best Electronic Book, Best Family Game, Best Free Product, Best Game, Best Monster/Adversary, Best Production Values, Best Rules, Best Supplement, Best Publisher, and Product of the Year.

Independent Developers

As in previous years, the vast majority of my Gen Con trip was spent with small and independent game developers. Also akin to other years, those developers put forth some truly innovative and impressive offerings. The following titles definitely succeeded not not only providing a memorable playing experience, but lingered long after the dealer hall had closed.

Aetherium (Anvil 8 Games) - This was my very first demo of the con and it set the bar pretty darned high. Take many of the core mechanics from Imperial Assault, add in several fun tactical twists, and set it all in a phenomenally well-imagined cyberpunk universe. It was one of the most satisfying and fine-tuned miniatures games that I've had the pleasure to play. Do yourself a favor and check out the website.

Campaign Trail (Cosmic Wombat Games) - This clever game runs players through, as the name suggests, the run-up to a presidential election. Careful resource management will allow you to level up from basic grassroots campaigning to call upon a mighty war chest that will bring you to the Oval Office. The title can be played head-to-head or co-op with teammates taking on the role of Vice Presidential hopeful. This game will be the subject of its own Kickstarter beginning on September 14th.

Tesla vs Edison (Artana Games) - The end product of one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of the year, Tesla vs Edison generated quite a bit of convention buzz despite being tucked away towards the back of the dealer hall. As the name suggests, Tesla vs Edison allows players to shape the course of electricity development in the United States via the invention of new technologies and ruthless business practices. It's marketed as a 'medium-level' strategy game, which is a pretty spot-on descriptor, and will appeal most to fans of euros and those gamers who can't get enough Power Grid. Fair warning, if you're a person who doesn't like stock market or bidding mechanics in your games, this title probably isn't for you. That being said, Tesla vs Edison does an admirable job with its theme and, if you're into its mechanics, is absolutely worth a try.

Zephyr (Portal Dragon) - This competitive tabletop game continually surprised throughout the course of the demo. Set in a beautifully crafted steampunk universe, Zephyr was as satisfying to play as it was on the eyes.  Players captain, outfit, and equip their own airship in the hope of successfully resolving the missions set before them. Zephyr is a wholly modular experience that can appeal to both board game novices and seasoned veterans alike. The game is set to be featured in its own Kickstarter during the fourth quarter of this year.

Overarching Thoughts on Gen Con 2015

The Indianapolis Convention Center definitely seemed more crowded this year, and that sensation was validated when Gen Con released attendance figures. 61,423 unique con-goers graced the halls, a 8.49% increase over 2014's turnout. While that increase is markedly smaller than what we've seen in previous year-over-year periods, the fact that we're now dealing with over sixty thousand con-goers was palpable. It'll be very interesting to see what future years will look like given that the infrastructure in and around the ICC is already highly strained.

As for costume news, our steampunk take on the Justice League was very well received. It was the first time many of my friends had ever cosplayed and they all really seemed to enjoy the experience. Seeing them having so much fun gave me all sorts of happy feels. Maybe we'll make this whole group cosplay a regular thing for Gen Con. We costume up pretty nicely, don't you think?


I'll go into all the details about the individual components of Steampunk Hawkgirl via updates on the tutorial posts. On the whole, not gonna lie, it was simultaneously the most rewarding and most frustrating costume I've ever done. A lot of things went wrong at the last possible minute, resulting in a handful of components going unused. Similarly, a few of the functions of the costume weren't behaving as they were supposed to on Cosplay Saturday, so they were effectively shelved. That being said, the final product didn't turn out too badly.

Until next year Gen Con!
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All Aboard for Gen Con 2015!

It’s finally happening guys! Gen Con 2015 is upon us! Our bags are packed, costume bits have been shipped, and our dice are itching to be rolled. This year is extra special, as it’s the very first time that we’ll be covering the Best Four Days in Gaming as a member of the official Gen Con press corps. It’s going to be a very busy and, hopefully, all-around awesome few days and we’ll be bringing as much to you live from the dealer hall as we possibly can.


Woot for live coverage! What can we expect while you guys are in Indy?

We’ll be arriving in Indianapolis on Wednesday evening and will be covering the entire four days of the convention. Aside from a few logistical/fun updates, our actual coverage from inside the convention center will begin at approximately 7am EST on Thursday, July 30th.

Where can we find your newsfeed? Will it be here?

All of our live coverage will be on our social media pages only. We’re going to do our best to link all of them together so you don’t have to worry about one page containing more information than another. However, if you’d like to select one social media page to start with or use as a base of con-following operations, we recommend that that page be our Twitter account.

So, will any Gen Con information make it back here to this site?

Definitely. We’ll post a giant convention wrap-up within a week or so of us getting back from Indy similar to what we’ve done in previous years.

I'm going to be at Gen Con too! Can I find you and say hi during the con?

Sure thing. We'll be providing live updates on the social media pages. If you do happen to see us, by all means come say hi!

Can I stop by your panel?

We'd love it if you did! Our panel, "It Takes a Village to Make a Game" will be taking place on Thursday, July 30th at 8pm EST in Pennsylvania Station A of the Crowne Plaza hotel.

What day or days will you be cosplaying as Steampunk Hawkgirl?

Steampunk Hawkgirl will be making her big debut all day Saturday, August 1st. I'm planning on being in full costume for as long as possible that whole day and will be participating in the annual costume parade.

It's so soon! Ah!

<<giddy squeal>> We look forward to bringing you all the news from Indianapolis!

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This Week in Geekdom

Ok guys, we're at the FINAL COUNTDOWN! A little over three days from now the doors will open for Gen Con 2015. The GIR and I are in the midst of packing, shipping out some of the components for Steampunk Hawkgirl, and trying to staunch the small-child-on-Christmas-Eve levels of excitement that are abounding in the house. There will be a separate post up early next week detailing our full schedule and how you can find us/say hi during the con if you'll be joining us in Indy. In the meantime, as a nice little distraction, let's get down to the Week in Geekdom!

Games

10 years after its release, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II got an official update.

The Electronic Sports League announced on Thursday that it will be implementing a drug-testing regimen for those seeking to compete under its name.

It's a question that's come up more than once among gamers: Are there too many titles on Steam?

Movies/TV

We know we're a bit biased, but this may be the greatest video mashup in the history of mashups


These are the 10 minutes that convinced ABC to make a new prime time Muppets show.


We may be seeing Benicio del Toro in Star Wars: Episode VIII.

Science/Technology

Ok, so it's the year 2015 and more than one person has asked, "Where are our flying cars?" If the MIT-affiliated company Terrafugia has anything to say about it, the answer may be this.

Lexus is trying to take the concept car to a whole new interactive level with this one-off vehicle that uses biometrics to display the driver's heartbeat. 

NASA, fresh off the discoveries of the past few weeks, announced that they had been able to locate what is the most Earth-like planet we've seen outside our solar system to date.

It was a mystery that stood unsolved for 300 years, but we finally have hard evidence that Saturn's moon, Iapetus, is actually half-light and half-dark.

Researchers at the University of Alberta are toiling away at the development of a pill that would allow those afflicted with celiac disease to be able to tolerate gluten.

Speaking of grains, the latest issue of Nature contains this research indicating that a new GMO strain of rice not only produces very high yields, but also significantly less greenhouse gasses.

Google's new Timeline feature will show you everywhere you've traveled (and just how much information Google can collect from you).

General Awesomeness/Feats of Nerdery

What if Star Wars had been animated as a set of ukiyo-e woodblock prints?

This week we learned the official cause of the explosion that led to the failure of SpaceX's CSR7 mission. Yesterday, Kerbalnaut Scott Manley created this dramatic re-enactment of the launch and fateful explosion using everyone's favorite Space Program.

If you're a pinball fanatic and happen to be in the vicinity of Ronks, Pennsylvania then that town has a train that's pretty much custom-made for you.

As always, best wishes for an excellent week ahead!
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This Week in Geekdom

Happy weekend everyone! We're in the very last stages of preparations for Gen Con 2015, which itself is a little surreal. The countdown now somehow stands at single digits, costume pieces need to be shipped, and bags will soon need to be packed. At this point next week Steampunk Hawkgirl will be 100% complete and, hopefully, on her way out to Indianapolis. In the interim, there will be at least one or two more posts that speak to the making of that costume and probably one other post describing where you can find the GIR and I if you're going to be joining us out at Gen Con. In the meantime though, let's get down to the week in Geekdom.

Books

Star Wars: Aftermath, one of the first new canon novels in the Star Wars universe, depicts the tragic fallout after the destruction of the second Death Star. The book will be available on September 4th. 

Comics

Did the concept for Spider-Man's costume come from a 1950s era child's Halloween costume?

Archie Comics will be bringing the Ramones into their paper-and-ink world in 2016.

10 actually comics-based announcements from San Diego Comic Con.

Games


Movies/TV

We posted the trailer on our social media pages earlier this week but, in case you missed it, here's our first glimpse of the X-Files reboot.

Artificial Intelligence has been a recurring theme in movies for decades now, but which films treat this technology correctly?

The saga of Dr. Doom's struggle to break into the Marvel cinematic universe.

Science/Technology

One of the biggest science stories of the week was undoubtedly the first images of Pluto that were sent back to us from the New Horizons probe. Here are some of the incredible pictures from our most distant neighbor in this solar system. 

Speaking of NASA-originated awesomeness, these are the ideas being bandied about for a post-Hubble deep space telescope.

The other headline-grabbing bit of science news we were treated to this week was this discovery out of CERN that researchers have discovered a new subatomic particle: pentaquarks. 

It's nothing like the summer camp your parents may have been sent to: this is the NSA's cybersecurity summer camp.

Buckyballs, not just a fun desk toy that's been pulled off the US market, but a tool that is still helping researchers unravel long-standing mysteries concerning interstellar space. 
Image Credit

The latest edition of Nature Communications includes this bit of research about a novel type of ceramic developed at the University of Tokyo that holds onto heat until the release of such is purposefully triggered.

Speaking of novel substances, scientists at Rice University have successfully combined titanium and gold to create the first itinerant antiferromagnetic metal.

We talk a lot on here about the sometimes-unsettling advances in the field of robotics. Well, researchers at the University of Hertfordshire are trying to allay our fears a bit with their efforts to teach robots to play soccer.

General Awesomeness/Feats of Nerdery

San Diego Comic Con, the Musical.

If you've been reading here for a little while, you're likely aware of just how much we love Mad Max around here. So we were extra giddy when we came across this fan-made, Doof Warrior inspired ukelele.  

Adam Savage and Chris Hadfield went to Comic-Con incognito while cosplaying as astronauts. Jaime Lee Curtis did the same at EVO 2015 while cosplaying as a Rule 63 version of Vega from Street Fighter.
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Cosplay: the Thing With Feathers

We are under two weeks out from Gen Con 2015! Holy mother of the Avatar. Aside from the flurry of preparations, the last-days-before-a-convention nightmares have started in earnest. You know the ones; you arrive at the convention woefully unprepared or having forgotten/lost/broken some critical component of your cosplay kit. Those are just going to be a regular feature of my sleep cycle for the next couple of weeks. Fortunately, the construction process is well in hand, so we can chat a bit more about Steampunk Hawkgirl and how she came together. If you’re just joining us now and would like to catch up, you can read about the corset, the leggings, the worbla bits, and the wing fundamentals using those links (though, honestly, the order in which these are read doesn’t matter especially much).

Today we’re going to cover how to make the feathers, how to attach them to the ‘bones’ of the wings, and how to get them to fan out like those on a real bird’s wing. Fair warning, there is a LOT of repetition in the building of this part of the costume, so your best bet is to line up a good TV series, movie marathon, or excellent song playlist to keep you company.


As you can imagine, keeping the feathers as light and mobile as possible is the name of the cosplaying game. There are a couple of ways you can accomplish this: making the wings out of canvas or similarly sturdy fabric, out of paper or cardstock, or out of foam. After some initial experimenting, I chose craft foam, as it was both lightweight and could hold a shape nearly of its own volition. What you end up selecting will likely depend on what your wing ‘bones’ are made out of and where you plan to place your feathers. For example: wings that center on your actual arms can bear canvas feathers quite beautifully. If you do end up also choosing to use foam, I'd recommend getting at least three rolls of approximately this size to ensure you have enough for this project.

Once that decision had been made, it was a matter of actually making the feathers. To do this, I laid one of the wings out on the floor in its fully extended position. I then cut a roll of easel paper into 3” x 36” (7.62 x 91.44 cm) strips and arrayed the strips over the wing in a fan-like pattern, then trimmed them into varying lengths to mimic a real bird’s wing. This process was repeated with a second layer of feathers 2.5" x 24" (6.35 x 60.96 cm). Once I had a full “set” that covered all portions of the bones as I wanted them to, I copied the designs onto the craft foam twice so both wings would mirror one another. I ended up making a handful of wider feathers for the very bottom of the wings to create a more organic overall appearance, but it's entirely up to you if your project will have need of these.

The paper templates
First pass with the foam feathers


With the future wing covers in hand, thus began the long process of turning plain white foam strips into something that actually resembled feathers. After priming everything with gesso, I used ordinary hot glue to apply 1/8" (0.32 cm) dowels of balsa wood to each strip, then painted them with acrylics in the patterns I wanted. The dowels are necessary if your feathers are close to the dimensions I used in order to provide a bit of structure; omitting them will result in floppy feathers. As mentioned earlier, this process can be extremely time consuming, so a good bit of background noise will likely be very helpful.

Once all your feathers have been painted and buttressed you can begin mounting them to that they lay against the bones. The way I did this was to cut this aluminum screening into two strips 28” x 10” (71.12 x 25.4cm). The aluminum provides a sturdy surface on which to hang your feathers without adding too much weight to your rig. I bent the strips around the primary vertical bones of the wings, then held up each feather to where I wanted it to rest, marking the screen at this point with a sharpie. Using the punching tool from this kit, I cut 1/4” (0.64 cm) diameter holes into each feather and, with the help of a pair of tin snips, did the same at the sharpie-marked points on the screen. After that, it was a matter of aligning the holes in the screens and the holes in the ends of the feathers and joining everything together with some of these grommets. The grommets are also lightweight and allow the feathers a degree of movement if you’d like them to fan out or otherwise deploy. This whole process was repeated with the second, shorter layer of feathers.

Once all the foam had been attached to the screen there was the small matter of ensuring that the feathers would stay open and beautifully fanned out. To accomplish this, I joined each feather to the one above and below it with some carefully tied (and painted over) lengths of fishing line. This process is also extremely time-consuming, but definitely worthwhile as the finished effect is stunning. It also helps spread out the weight of the wings over the full surface of the 'bones' so you minimize the potential for stress-related snafus during wear.



Over top of the screens I molded a few strips of Worbla both to cover the former and to create a metallic, steampunky effect on the wings themselves. For the basics on how I worked with the Worbla, visit my earlier post on what thermoplastic can do for you. For pieces this long, however, it can be useful to work in small sections at a time (though it can be tricky to ensure that all sections are heated evenly as a result). Also, these steps were necessary for my particular project, as I needed the wings to be able to break down so I could ship them out to Indiana ahead of Gen Con. You can experiment as you see fit, especially if you’re ok with your wings having a more permanent configuration.

After the Worbla had been added, it was just a matter of priming it with gesso, painting it, and adding fun details to make it look like real metal. Just a heads up: Worbla is not at all a lightweight material even before you add things like primer and pain, so if you’re planning on adding any details to your wings it’s a good idea to keep them to a minimum.

We're almost to the end of this series! See you guys in the next installment!
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