Oldhammer Observations on the Later Decades of Codex Threadmill

The 1980s were characterized by a wild plethora of all manner of miniature releases, many of which were niche to boot, and which has later been mined for inspiration or reintroduction by studio people. A whole slew of fantasy Regiments of Renown and 40k figures (and background) such as Administratum, Mechanicus personnel, Genestealer Cults and Ambulls, serve as but a few examples.

Games Workshop since the 1980s has seen a growth of army book straitjacket, or codex threadmill, and a loss of freewheeling creativity. The format of producing extensive and growing army ranges made it harder for the studio to follow their fancy and jump on odd one-off releases where a couple of handful of sculpts in some cheap metal moulds sufficed to call it a day. Increasingly, the miniature releases turned ever more rigid into catering to the codex threadmill. The transition into full plastic ranges only exacerbated the army book straitjacket, since hard plastic moulds are so expensive.

This trend has been something the studio has always fought back against, as if they wish to recapture the freewheeling creativity of the 1980s. The 1990s saw a healthy number of Regiments of Renown, petering out with new iterations of Mengil Manhide’s Manflayers and Ruglud’s Armoured Orcs after 2000. Niched vignette pieces (e.g. animosity Orcs), summer campaign releases and things like Specialist Games and Dreadfleet all stand as proof of attempts to have an outlet for freewheeling creativity in niche areas. As do Forgeworld itself.

Yet the army book straitjacket was inevitable. To sell well, most releases had to cater to existing armies, or had to introduce whole new armies with extensive ranges (Tomb Kings, Ogre Kingdoms, Necrons, Tau, Dark Eldar). More exploratory half-sized new armies were repeatedly attempted up to the early 2000s, with everything from Sisters of Battle, 1990s Chaos Dwarfs, Kislev and Daemonhunters, many of which turned out to be neglected one-offs in the long-term codex threadmill.*

Gone were the days when Citadel could release a Nipponese rocket launcher with crew and call it a day. Things had to increasingly fit the big army books.

The 40k Imperial Guard range serve as one example of how GW’s freewheeling creativity was stymied over time (though it is not an example of peak freewheeling creativity in the 1980s):

The 1980s Imperial Army was standardized, all Necromundan if you so like. Plastic and metal.

The 1990s Imperial Guard sported plastic Catachans and metal Cadians, Mordians, Pretorians, Tallarns, Valhallans and Steel Legion in 2000. Lots of different regiments to hint at a vast setting with infinite variety.

The 2000s Imperial Guard sported plastic Cadians and a brilliant spasm of metal Vostroyans. There was no shortage in the early 2000s of new alternative Guard regiment descriptions and artwork, yet without models. FW also produced Elysians and Death Korps of Krieg.

The 2010s Astra Militarum was all plastic Cadians and Catachans. No White Dwarf exploration of other aesthetics without miniatures, since that could throw third party manufacturers a bone (IP mania is destructive for creativity).

Likewise, it may be noted that recent plastic kits’ inclusion of funky details like silly Nurgling minions, fly mutant Terminators or a scorched heretic for the Sisters of Battle is a way to do some fun niche stuff within the constraints of all plastic ranges. As is the tendency to more carefully (and less freely) pose plastic miniatures like you would a metal model, but previously not a multipart plastic mini.

As such, when you see funky old models making a return in Necromunda or niche box games, remember that the army book straitjacket was something the design studio always tried to break free from, seemingly to recapture some of the exploratory and freewheeling creativity that was a hallmark of Games Workshop in the 1980s.

It should also be remembered that while ranges of primarily metal or resin sculpts allow more creative freedom for the sculptors, ranges of multipart plastic allow more creative freedom for the hobbyists. It’s a trade-off, and no kit has ever struck a perfect balance between the two. The plastics released around 2000 were the peak of convertibility, but their poses were not as naturalistic as those of better metal models. The current trend of virtually pre-posed plastic kits is clearly an attempt to recapture some of the sculpting quality lost when previousy moving from metal to multipart plastic. Yet it occurs at the loss of Lego-like customizability for the hobbyist.

Just some observations on GW creativity through the decades. The spark has never died through all the natural style shifts, but the constraints have increased. That is one reason as to why the 1980s was such an outstanding creative rollercoaster. :slight_smile:

Cheers


  • Several newer half-sized armies in 40k and Age of Sigmar seem to have pulled off this stunt with more success, such as Harlequins and Custodes. Plastic sticks better. Change in CEO aside, this is one viable way for freewheeling crativity to explore niches of the setting with miniatures. It’s still an army, but the required work and investment is more limited than entirely new fully fledged armies require.
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Some excellent, dead on observations you’ve made.
Personally I prefer multi part models that allow a variety of poses for figures.
And with today’s modern slide mold technology for plastic sprues (a brilliant innovation originally from Japanese model makers) there’s really no excuse for GW to concentrate on pre-posed figures.
As a builder of plastic models for more than 50 years (yeah, I was building models before most of you were even born!), I’ve personally witnessed the evolution of plastic models over the past half century.
I truly believe that GW has chosen a path (lack of interchangeable modular parts) that intentionally stymies creativity of their customers, a profit tactic that keeps people buying GW releases straight off the shelf, instead of encouraging customers to build what they want, and how they want. It locks in their straight jacket approach to sell stuff, and killing of creativity in their roundabout way ensures that most people don’t “strike out on their own” , to look for alternatives or think outside of the “GW box”.
People are sheep in the eyes of GW.
Plain and simple.
But multi part plastic kits of figures can easily be molded, which allows people to build as “suggested”, but also allows interchangeable swapping of legs, torsos, heads, hands, equipment, etc for an infinite variety of poses…GW simply chooses not to.
Here are some 1/35 scale military figures I have on my workbench, all completely interchangeable parts and beautiful details :




These are kits from Japan and Ukraine, with masterfully molded details and a much better quality of plastic and sprue attachment points than GW.
GW has become a company that touts “creativity”, but in reality they squash it with their lack of interchangeable bits, straight jacket armies and gestapo lawyers (which is a hypocritical joke, considering that GW has blatantly robbed ideas from Tolkien, Heinlein and numerous Japanese sci-fi series to name but a few).

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Astute comparison to better historical multipart plastic kits and accurate observations.

Now that you mention it, it does tie in with observations raised by Luetin09 (maker of wonderful 40k background videos), in his 40k & the Death of Creativity, as regard scenery. The complete phasing out of scratchbuilding scenery articles for manufactured scenery only, and the new hobbyist who did not understand what was happening when sand was glued to a base: “Why are you not using texture paint?”

Games Workshop has stopped selling DIY terrain books, and it has apparently even stopped selling sculpting tools and ordinary green stuff, now selling only liquid green stuff and tools to go with it, so that hobbyists can only fill in gaps in models and not sculpt anything themselves. How many handsculptors who sculpt for casting nowadays didn’t start out with Citadel sculpting tools and green stuff? That can no longer happen in the future.

It’s a sad anti-creative picture for their hobbyists. In this regard, the glory days are solidly locked into the past.

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Ah yes, that’s another point I overlooked, that GW doesn’t sell any green stuff epoxy and sculpting tools anymore.
Heaven forbid people should make their own creations, versus buying overpriced GW kits off the shelf.
Gone are the days of White Dwarf featuring articles on sculpting, step by step tutorials or interviews with sculptors.
And gone are the days of GW articles that offered ideas using basic household items to make scenery, etc.
The new hobbyist who doesn’t know that you can use sand (or in my case, ground Thai chili peppers) for texturing a base is both funny and sad.
It shows how effectively GW has killed innovative ideas, squashed imaginations and brain washed the younger generation to think there’s only one way…all in the name of their profits.

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I know. This is such a shame. I mean I didn’t buy it from them anyway but it’s indicative of how they wish to present this hobby to the new generation isn’t it

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I’m just thinking back when I used to have a GW chapter store back in the 4th and 5th edition days…which was a real pain in the @ss because of the massive requirements for ordering new releases and the constant (nagging) monthly requirements of sending store pics (and pics of customers playing at our in-store gaming tables, etc) to the GW overlords in Baltimore to meet their approval.
Not to mention minimum weekly requirements of ordering blister packs, in-store displays, paints, etc.
They ended up canceling our store status because one of the pics I sent them had a customer with a tattoo.
And it was a 40k Ork tattoo.
But no!
GW said that tattooed customers don’t promote a family atmosphere.
I ignored their request that I send new pics, and they quietly and quickly ended our chapter store status.
Utter nonsense on their part, but illustrates the GW obsession of complete control of every little aspect of a hobby, and dismissive of anyone, or anything, that doesn’t fit in their prepackaged world order.
Anyways, I’m rambling, but once we had a kid ask for GW super glue, I told him we don’t carry it, and cheaper just to buy some super glue at a grocery store or hardware shop.
He looked at me, confused, and said “But GW glue is specially formulated for their models!”.
:frowning:
Thank you GW for killing creativity and imaginations.

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That’s positively backwards. Surely that wouldn’t be the case now?

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@Oxymandias
This was almost 30 years ago, I’m pretty sure they’ve relaxed standards about tattoos etc.
I do remember that at that time, I dug through a dozen or so back issues of White Dwarf, determined to find any possible pics of people with tattoos.
I didn’t find any.
But again, times have surely changed.

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Lots of interesting points in this, a good read through.

To lend something to the conversation, potentially on the other side of the hobby, and a little from my experience of sculpting and green stuff over my decades in the hobby is that there have been very few sculptors that would build/buy armies worth of stuff.

A lot of the sculpting I have seen and been involved with, outside of CDO of course, has been for Golden Demon and other competition entries. Could it also be a factor that they just didn’t sell enough of the stuff back in the day and 90% hobbyists found it easier to just buy stuff off the shelf and play and the lesser 10% gets broken down by competition hobbyists and the rare breed of army wide sculptors who are talented and invested enough to sculpt and convert entire armies :thinking:

@Fuggit_Khan you are a rare breed among rare breeds to sculpt at such a high level and such high numbers.

As much as I enjoy some of the newer GW stuff, the only good value sets (big boxes sets like Dominion) are moulded in a way that makes it sooooo hard to convert. Random connections of legs to heads that fit through the torsos in the craziest of ways :scream: granted it’s almost as impressive as Lego seeing some of the shapes come together from a converters eyes its crazy to try and make the stuff your own.

Absolutely right there has been a clear move away from actively encouraging this side of the hobby, I wonder how much this whole keep our IP pure has played a part? For example if they wanted feature a highly converted army in White Dwarf, with the way they run their exclusive GW thing now days they would need to search through every mm of the pics to make sure there’s no 3rd party conversions in there which would need to include an encyclopedic nature of 3rd party parts so they could which are 3rd party parts and which might be sculpted…it’s silly just writing it down, it’s got to have played a part in the lack of push for that side of the hobby right?

I used to love looking in the back of the all the old white dwarfs, where parts where listed individually with their codes so you could order a mix of bits from any kit.
You could call up and tell someone you wanted to order and they could work out what conversion you were trying :grin: good times

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