Thursday 28 July 2011

Extraterrestrial life in 15mm and the Preponderance of Humanoid Aliens

We can be reasonably confident of the existence of extraterrestrial life given the vast size of the observable Universe and, though our understanding of extraterrestrial life may be in its infancy, we can be reasonably confident it won’t look like us.

Sci fi shows such as Star Trek and Babylon 5 (with the exception of the Vorlons and the Shadows) have often been criticised for 'aliens' who are just humans with pasties on their foreheads and a particularly extreme expression of a particularly aspect of human culture. Partly this was down to budget limitations, the special effects available at the time, and partly it was down to the imaginations (or lack thereof!) of each show’s creators.

The issues that have limited the types of aliens we have seen in some TV shows should not limit the types of aliens we game with should they? What limits aliens in the miniature world is the sculptor’s imagination, an alien’s ‘cast-ability’ and saleability to the sci fi wargaming community.

So why do we have such a preponderance of 15mm aliens that could easily be a human in a rubber suit? Could it be that sculptors are more familiar sculpting human dimensions and find it easier to then give it a protruding alien head, extra fingers and the like rather than design an alien from scratch?

Perhaps the buying public are also more familiar and accepting of aliens with ‘human’ dimensions. Do humanoid aliens sell better than ones based on other dimensions, or is it just that the non-humanoid aliens currently available just aren’t as good?

The Dropship Horizon Crew would like to hear what you think, and also what sorts of humanoid and non-humanoid aliens you like to see sculpted in the future!


  1. I agree. We need more really alien aliens. I'm a little fed up looking at earthlike animal aliens - there are way too many dog heads, cat heads, crocodile heads, lizards or insects already - or the two arms/two legs/head on top.

    We need aliens that are outside our comfort zone, that may just look too strange or wrong at first glance. Weapons and vehicles should not even be recognisable as being such. Khurasan's Molch aliens are as close to this as I've seen.

  2. I also agree with this post and Colin. More "alien" aliens would most cool.

  3. Seeing many want "not-aliens","not-predators","not this" from this movie or "not that" from that TV show", I don't think that consumers are really much more imaginative than companies or sculptors. Even when they speak about non-humanoid,they often think as something they already saw on Deviantart or read in some book.
    But that being said,let's get back to the point.
    There are some people claiming they'd buy non-humanoid aliens but do they really mean it? Some companies have already tried that. A couple of examples. Khurasan has made non-humanoid aliens. They have a bit of a Lovecraft feeling but they could be used as weird aliens.Zombiesmith also made a few of them and despite they're 28 mm ,they could be used for 15 mm too. Size shouldn't be a problem since we're talking about non-humanoid and weird.
    Perhaps they're just not good enough? But some 15 mm humans aren't good either and they probably sell better.
    Now,let's imagine a non-humanoid is made and it's okay (meaning it looks wrong but not too much?). Some people will then pretend they don't buy it because there is not an entire army of them. ;)
    I am all for variety and I also would like to see more strange aliens but I don't think there are many people who actually want weird things...and most importantly would buy them...As much as I agree with people asking for weird aliens,I think they're a vocal minority.Nothing wrong with that,just saying.
    So,in my opinion,there's a great risk for companies of losing money.The only way I could see them try this would be to make stand-alone models and see what sells or not.
    It kind of answers what I thought about the previous question too.

  4. I would love to see more aliens that have distinctly different feel from humans. For instance the aliens from the movie Battle: Los Angeles had their own military feel to them but where not humanoid by any means. I don't want to see giant alien ants or squids either. I want an alien race that is alien. No better word for it. It should have an other worldly feel. The fantasy guys tend to do a good job coming up with crazy stuff. Take some of that and add a few scifi bits and we have a decent start.

  5. Not sure how I feel about this one. On the one hand, I kinda like having aliens I can get my head around and be for lack of a better word "believable"?...on the other hand I can see the need for "alien" aliens...something completely foreign. Then again, I say "believable", but it's science FICTION for a reason...LOL!

    I'd like to see the Ixx GZG range expanded...they kinda have a Fallen Skies-"skitter" look to them.

  6. I think the most truly "alien" aliens that I've seen are in the Battlestations! range. But I'm not sure how viable those miniatures are for army-building.

    Khurasan's Cnidarians and GZG's Ixx are probably some of the most "inhumanoid" alien lines right now. I wonder how well they sell compared to Felids, Garn, Crusties, and Kra'Vak?

  7. As for more choices, many 15mm companies are very small and have limited budgets for new releases, let alone completely new lines. Someone can release an alien race they feel is groundbreaking and end up selling only 5 or 10 squads because no one happens to agree. No costs are recouped and the line is considered a bust.

    My input would be that any space faring race would need to have some way to manipulate their environment, whether it's hands or claws or gooey strings of goo. That goes double if they are aggressive and carry weapons. As long as that can be conveyed in a mini, you have a potential winner.

    Here's an interesting side-bar: Would some special rules for alien races give incentive to release more of them?

    I think it's great that you bring these things up for discussion.


  8. @Mad Robot - Regarding special rules...very good point! I guess part of the issue with creating outlandish aliens is the accompanying outlandish rules that should compliment them. I mean what's the point of having a 10 tentacled alien with a mental-blast-heat-ray gun figure range if there are no special rules to cover how it moves, it's abilities, motives, weapons,tactics...etc...

    The other side to this, (IMO) is that most Sci-Fi rules give the ability to create your own aliens/characters, so the unique aliens could be created by the user I suppose, and they could use whatever freaky alien figure line they want...kinda like "just add salt" in a recipe.

  9. "Weapons and vehicles should not even be recognisable as being such."

    Well there is playability to consider. You need to be able to recognize your opponents', and your own, units and distinguish which weapons they are using etc. Also, basic physical principles underlie certain tech - eg. a bullet-firing gun powered by combustion will need to be somewhat long and straight in order to work well.

    And frankly, our aesthetics tend towards things that are at least slightly familiar - this is why various attempts at "biotechnology"-using aliens just seem like a blobby mess to me. Aliens that look like random assemblages of tissue, holding unrecognizable objects, will probably not garner as many fans as things we recognize as "people". But yes, I agree, fewer earth-fauna knockoffs and bipedal humanoids!

  10. There will always be room for more alien species no matter how weird or wacky they are, Khurasan Miniatures are on the right tracks with their range of Molch in some of their guises and Critical Mass Games with their first Merc pac, I think a few of the miniatures from these ranges just need to be expanded so that gamers can field a reasonable sized force with enough variety in their poses to keep everyone happy. However if you want some really weird alien races and need some insperation I think it might be a good idea to dust off the old D&D Monster manual and have a flick through the pages, creatures such as the Xzorn, Krell, Otyugh. Beholder, these are just a few monsters that i can remember that are defiantly weird enough to be called a totally new alien species...

  11. The Cnidarians did not sell very well at all, from what Jon's been saying. I'm not sure what they upfront costs on those three were, but I think he may have saved some cash... I'm pretty sure that they're all based on the same dolly.

    I like them, myself, but the manufacturer fluff (which I sort of use) doesn't really justify buying more than one or two packs of the figures, since they're effectively command figures.

  12. With you all on this one. I love reading the Culture novels by Iain Banks and one of my favourite alien lifeforms were basically two catherine wheel type objects with a stem in the middle joining the two. However - we are talking wargaming here - but how about big tri-ped type of big alien. 15mm scale does not mean they have to be human size. I have considered those plastic GW genestealer type aliens as possible. Khurasan have some great aliens and the Chewks out now are just great (opposite end of scale from big three legged types I know!)

  13. Actually, many leading scientists believe that spacefaring aliens will indeed be very much like us in terms of body layout (including Steven Hawking btw).

    Non-humanoid aliens are a major problem as once you leave the bipedal human shape, it's a matter of personal preference what the creatures should look like, with a likely majority of gamers thinking, "erm, not quite.". It's one of these things that gamers cheer for but then don't actually support by buying. Of course someone may very well find the sweet spot, something non-human but convincingly militaristic (a pile of goo just doesn't do it).

    As an aside, the Cnidarians are the lowest selling of all my sci fi 15s, period. No, astranagant, they were not made from dollies, each one was a unique sculpt.

  14. Funny...I guess that stands to reason as to why a majority of the alien figure ranges are human-ish...I never really thought about it, but I do tend to pass on aliens that don't take on a humanoid for the most part.

    Cool to have someone in the miniatures business weigh in on this topic!


  15. "Actually, many leading scientists believe that spacefaring aliens will indeed be very much like us in terms of body layout (including Steven Hawking btw)."

    That's a lot of the research/ speculation I've seen as well. Of course, all of the known speculation is from a humanocentric point of view.

    I have to look at aliens from a production point of view. Blobish shapes... not so much of a problem. More than two legs and odd symmetries ... things get a bit weird for the mold making and casting. Centauroids... now I have to design multi-part models or make super-restricted poses.

    And then after one designs a way out race, folks want human army TO&Es for them.

  16. LOL, exactly, where are the heavy machine gun teams???

  17. I did not realize that the Cnidarians were fully unique sculpts; that means that actually was a fair bit of cash for a line that doesn't sell well.

    With that being said, I think that gamers probably really do want far-out aliens. The particular far-out alien that is wanted is also probably unique for each gamer, and that's why it's probably a waste of money to try to accommodate their individual tastes.

  18. look at battlestaions(link on the right) They have some odd non human aliens

  19. Ravenstar Studios29 July 2011 at 06:39

    Well for me i started out just doing spaceships at a time when few compies would touch them unless there was a box game to go with them . the standard BSG , trek and other releated ships with big back grounds informations , always do well. and then when i do lines like my Newstar 1 or tinmen line is a gamble , so you will always have hits and misses. The misses always hurts , due to ever thing is out of pocket , a miss on one or two items is doable , a miss on a complete line , can kill you. so i can see where is not easy to step into doing truely alien looking creatures and thier vehicles. there are some great subjects out there to do and i am very sure some of us will come up with some cool stuff, but just because we think its coo donst mean it will still sale , so again a hit and miss eseacailly with 15mm having such a tight and small return , meaning we are selling a $20 to $80 28mm mini like GWS stuff. so its more of the love of the scale than the money for sure i would think.
    I really love the Garn and the felid that Khuasanminatures do , and will get more over time, . these of course are humanoid in shape , but thats fine with me , i purchase what is pleasing to my eye and taste. Ive got some alien sculpts in the works , two are not humaniod ,2 are ,once i am done with them i will see how they do , if the non humanoid minis dont sell of course , i probabley wont do anymore , but you never know.

  20. Well all this talk about new Extra terrestrial life forms got my juices flowing so ive desided to build a small budget but fun to play weird alien invasion force, ive got no idea how this is going to pan out but i just purchased 2x
    Monsterpocalypse Phobos from E-Bay $1.50 each, the best way i can describe these are tall organic tripods with bulbus spore like centers with a couple of tentacles hanging down from the under belly, hows about that for weird now to find some more crazy critters maybe a few packs of SPUG's at £1.25 for 6 different figuers....

  21. Spugs are just humanoid bugs though. And you will run into the problem of how the tentacled creatures actually fight to give you interesting battles in a shooting based game.

    I think this is all a matter of finding plausible rifle toters, and those are mostly humanoid in shape (plausible to the eye anyway).


  22. Here is a photo of a Monsterpocalypse Phobos that has been repainted by a wargamer, i will be attempting to try and copy that scheme but have both the side holes painted a much darker shade of the base color to try and make them look like launchers of some sort.
    As for the SPUG's i agree they are just insectoids in a human body configuration but their price tag really appealed to me, im so cheap at times...

  23. I have actually been thinking of sculpting some strange non humanoid aliens out of green stuff. Something like the Jophur from David Brin's uplift universe. From Wiki "Physically, they are a stack of waxy, living rings. Each ring serves a different purpose, and they connect to each other to form a single being by chemical means via an electrically conductive, sap-like substance that flows down the center to bind the stack together. A Master ring provides a strong sense of individuality to each stack and enforces this with corrective electrical shocks to non-compliant rings." Should be doable with even a small amount of sculpting talent. I just have to figure out the weapon types. Maybe specialized manipulator rings with arms/tentacles or even weapon rings. For vehicles I was thinking of taking some large 4, 8 or 12 sided dice and modifying them with weapons turrets on each upward face and some kind of antigrav domes on the bottom.

    And there's always the proxy zerg - Khurasan space demons and GW Tyranids.

  24. I'm all for weird alien creatures in all shapes and sizes. But when it comes to sentient beings to use for games I think its best to go with the more humanoid type of sculpts for many of the reasons others have already expressed.

    I would be down with some more low tech aliens rather than stranger non-humaniod aliens. I think an alien resistance force with rifles instead of ray guns would do very well.

  25. The thing I hate about alien races is the guns always look like humanoid guns. why would they, unless you had a multi digit hand and opposable thumbs.

    So it makes sense on a felid, etc. But it always looked dumb on a Termagaunt or Tyranid.

    Make the weaponry fit the biology.

    That's why I liked the bugs from Starship Troopers. The weaponry they had fit their biology. I don't need a bug holding a rifle. If they are fierce hand to handers, then they gotta take the fire coming in. Same with Aliens.

    Nature has all kinds of crazy adaptations for survival on our planet. Imagine if you grew some of the adaptations to 6-8 foot tall and they were used as weapons. Look to good sci fi and even good rpg's. They have already done the heavy lifting for you.

    3 races that need to be done in 15mm - Vrusk, Drasalite, and Yazarian from Star Frontiers. Now it was science lite, but they did think about the biology of the original races and how they used technology.

  26. A few points that have struck me.

    1. No matter how alien the figures on your battlefield are are if you use the same rules for them as humans then what is the point of having them?

    2. If the manufacturer of the weird aliens doesn't supply a fairly comprehensive background on their alien figures then it leaves the player with the job of coming up with his or her own ideas and then modifying their prefered rules set to match. Some gamers enjoy this sort of thing but not all.

    3. Guns will look like guns. Sort of. At least they will if your technology involves firing aerodynamic lumps of metal at your enemies. A barrel is a barrel. A receiver can take a few different forms but they are all pretty similar so the only 'alien' part would be the furniture - the stock and handgrips (tentaclegrips?).

    From a personal point of view, I dislike aliens in Scifi because of the problems of making them both alien and plausible. I lack both the imagination and the will (but, let's face it, that's my problem)

  27. One of my favourite aliens was the Amnion from Stephen Donaldson's Gap Cycle novels. Truly alien but humanoid enough to be imaginable...

    I'm away to get some green stuff ;)

  28. Inspired by this thread I've made an attempt at sculting a non-humanoid alien race. What do you think?....

  29. "Anonymous said...
    I have actually been thinking of sculpting some strange non humanoid aliens out of green stuff. Something like the Jophur from David Brin's uplift universe."

    A GREAT source of alien ideas. Everything from the wildly weird Jophur/Traeki to the (vaguely) birdlike Gubru to the stubby Thenannin would make for good minis.