Posted in Artwork

More than just Bumper Stickers

Why Visual Identity is Essential in a Game’s Storyline

Since the dawn of eyeballs, Humans have relied on symbols, icons and logos to quickly and positively recognise the meaning of a thing. We see this all around us, every day; the use of a crucifix to identify a Christian place of worship; a blue, white and red roundel proclaiming an aircraft as belonging to Britain’s Royal Air Force, and huge, curved, yellow ‘M’s that tell us “Caution: Unwanted kilos ahead!”

Wargamers are particularly aware of the important role that identity plays in their appreciation of their tiny warriors. The look of an army is just as significant as how it performs on the table. That’s why they labour for hours, covering fingers, furniture, and occasionally models with paint, decals and varnish. Even the most die-hard, tournament-centric, power-gamer will usually concede that a well-painted force, upon which much attention and detail has been lavished, is a thing of beauty, and something its creator can justly take pride in.

But how can identity apply in a game about flying saucers? Do saucers even have identity?

Flying saucer undergoing identity crisis

Every Club needs a Badge

From Simple Heraldry Cheerfully Illustrated by Iain Moncreiffe and Don Pottinger

Back in the days when knights in full armour hammered each other with sword and mace, there was a great need to distinguish foe from friend on the battlefield. When your visibility is limited by an armoured visor, or because you’re reeling from the anvil chorus being played on your noggin, you have to be able to identify the good guys from the baddies — fast!

To achieve this, knights and their followers took to wearing some form of identifying mark, and a clear combination of colours that left no doubt of their allegiance. This was known as a ‘livery’ and it formed the foundation for European heraldry.
We continue this tradition to this day, in both military markings and sport team strips.

Are you a fan of a team sport? If you are, you’ll instantly know what I’m aiming at here.
If you’re dedicated to your favourite club, you’ll immediately know their badge or motif. Manchester United have their ‘Red Devil’, for example, and it is very distinctive.
The Greenbay Packers have that big ‘G”, and fans who wear cheese hats. The Toronto Bluejays have — well, a bluejay. You get the idea.

Saucer War One kicks off in 1952 with three rival forces vying for supremacy. Two of them — The Venusian Noordcans and the Moon-conquering Mondreich — use saucers that are very similar, so they need their own ‘liveries’ to identify them from each other.

Part of their identity comes from their colour schemes. The Noordicans, in keeping with their ancient origins, maintain the gold, silver and bronze embellishments with which the Annunaki decorated their Sky Chariots. The Mondreich use the unique ‘splinter’ style camouflage patterns of the Luftwaffe. (You just know you’re going to want to paint those!)

But, wargamers are a very individual bunch. I can be certain that someone, somewhere, will want to paint their Noordican collection in sinister, jet black, or their Mondreich fleet as the My Little Pony Space Empire.

(Seeing pictures now, ain’t you? But hey, who am I to suppress creativity?)

So, how to link these many saucers in many schemes to a common identity? That’s where the factions’ symbols — their logos, if you will — come in.

Here’s the symbols of the three initial factions of Saucer War One. I’ll elaborate the rationales behind the choices of the first two in a future post, but for the moment, let’s focus on what proved the trickiest of the three to design: That of the Mondreich.


To Nazi or Not to Nazi?

Without saying too much (because spoilers), creating the Mondreich as a faction for Saucer War One was a real challenge. That might surprise those of you with an interest in Ufology or alternate history. ‘Nazis in space’ is a pretty well established sci-fi trope nowadays, after the many ‘revelations’ of German wunderwaffe flying saucers that were supposedly developed in World War Two.

But it wasn’t the background story of how the Germans got their saucers, or into space that was the pachyderm in the room. It was the Nazis. No matter how we might like to think of them as zany bad guys in Hugo Boss greatcoats and leather, let’s get serious for a moment: The Nazis are the people who plunged Europe into the most terrible conflict in human history, murdering millions in their insane quest for racial ‘supremacy’.
While no ideology was entirely innocent during the dark days of 1939—1945, a great deal of the burden of guilt is rightly dropped on the shoulders of National Socialism.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my Nazis dead. So, I made the decision to keep Nazi symbolism out of the Mondreich’s identity*.

That pretty much left me with the Balkenkreuz — the national marking used by German forces throughout World War Two — as a base for the Mondreich symbol. That allowed me to keep a connection to that conflict, but turn my back on the Nazis, and get away from them. (Had to. They smell funny…)

So, I worked up some concepts, and then shared them with a number of Facebook wargaming groups for feedback:

Early passes at Mondreich Symbol

One of the things many people commented on was the ‘Islamic’ vibe they felt was apparent in #3. (Although the crescent in middle east iconography actually dates back to the Byzantine Empire.) I had no desire to offend anyone’s religious sensitivities for the sake of a game, so changes were needed.

Thanks to the great feedback I received from dozens of people, I was able to whittle and hone the designs down to these:

Aside from comments about #1 being a rivet, and #2 looking like a German condom (ahem…) the reaction to these designs was encouragingly positive. People recognised the symbolism of the Moon with the Earth rising in the background, the balkenkreuz superimposed over the Moon upon its ‘dark’ side.

But a final pass was warranted, to make sure I had it right:

I kept the ‘rivet’ because I could imagine the first Mondreich saucer groundcrews quickly making this minimum effort modification as they struggle to keep their charges in the air in the early days of Saucer War One.

The other variations provide two options (always nice to have options!) for modellers when I release decal sheets for the Mondreich kits.

As I said, I received a lot of useful feedback from many people during the process of designing these symbols. But no design is ever completely finished, because it changes with each interpretation applied by fresh eyes. So, if you feel so inclined, do let me know what you think of the designs, in the comments below.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next time!


*Just who the Mondreich really are, is a secret I’ll keep for now… stay tuned for future developments!

Posted in Background Writing

SW1: The Story So Far…

SW1: The Story So Far…

Millennia before Human civilisation began, an alien race came to Earth with a sinister purpose. They were the Annunaki; A species of giants with intellects to match their stature, but utterly lacking in empathy for the millions of Earthlings they enslaved to serve their galactic empire. For thousands of years, the Annunaki robbed the Earth of its treasures, despoiled its lands and fouled its seas. Maliciously, they twisted and warped the DNA of Humankind to suit their ends, then sent millions of altered slaves to work mines on Venus and Mars, never to see their native Earth again. They built a mighty floating continent for themselves, from which their demands for tribute grew ever louder, for the Annunaki ruled as gods, and laughed at the ignorant savages that grovelled in worship before them. 

Then, as suddenly as they arrived, the Annunaki vanished. In a day and a night, their floating continent sank beneath the waves, and the survivors fled for distant, dark corners of the galaxy. On Earth, the Annunaki became mere legend, entangled in the mythologies of the ancient world. Ignorant of its past, Humanity resumed its own course down the road of civilisation. 

In the middle of the 20th century, the forgotten past returned. The ancient sky-chariots of the Annunaki began to reappear all over the world. They were rarely welcomed; Dim race-memories of dreadful things stirred in the minds of those who saw them. But where had they come from?

It was the Noordicans — descendants of the slave-miners of Venus — who had learned to master the flying machines of the Annunaki, and they were returning to Earth. Desperate to escape their dying homeworld, they brought with them a message of peace and love, but it was ignored by those who lusted after the ancient, war-winning technologies the machines possessed. In Nazi Germany, the secrets of the sky-chariots were unlocked, and fleets of menacing, field-grey discs escaped into space while the Thousand Year Reich burned and died. 

The Noordicans retreated and tried again, but they returned to an Earth gripped by the first frost of the Cold War, where paranoia and suspicion ruled the day. Their sky-chariots were branded ‘foo fighters’, ‘flying saucers’ or ‘ufos’, and were greeted with fear and alarm wherever they went. 

Only a few souls, innocent or foolish, were willing to hear the Noordican’s pacifist teachings. Those naive disciples sought to prevent an atomic war that seemed increasingly inevitable, as East and West rattled their sabers. Through these ‘Contactees’, the Noordican’s disarming creed began to spread. 

While the Contactees preached the Noordican’s gospel of universal peace, other Earthlings suspected the Noordicans had ulterior motives. Why were these visitors from another world so adamant on nuclear disarmament? What was their true reason for abandoning their mysterious home of Venus? Why were the ships of these ‘pacifists’ armed with incredible weapons that could destroy anything sent up against them? In record time, a secret army — code-named ANTIC — was created to defend the Earth. With hidden bases spread all across the globe and equipped with the latest, most secret weapons Humanity could muster, ANTIC was prepared for the worst. 

In the early 1950’s, it became all too clear what the worst might be: The Noordicans were emboldened by the hordes of Contactees clamouring for their salvation from nuclear destruction. Pressure was building on the governments’ of Earth. The Noordican incursions became more and more brazen, their saucers challenging the world’s air forces for supremacy. Earth would soon be engulfed in a new war to decide its destiny: Would it remain under the mastery of Earthlings? Or the prodigal sons returned from Venus? 

It was the summer of 1952, and the invasion had begun.