Forestment's Clifftop Lookout is the Xth in a series of MOC's intendd to recreate the ambiance of the 80's.
I don't recall the precise moment of inspiration, it's lost behind the pain of this set's torutured evolution, but I do remember looking (admiring even) my Forestmens' Mountain Stash as it sat on my desk and thinking that I should do another Forestmens' set. From that musing the idea that there should be a cliff to act as a backdrop to the Mountain Stash clawed it's way into reality.
Once the idea of a cliff had been settled upon there is a wealth of fantasy art and literature around living-in and exploring mountains from which to start drawing ideas. A couple that came quickly to mind were:
Falling rocks or barrels
Steps in the rock
A clifftop lookout
Plenty of action and play features in that; but how to squeeze them all onto a 32x16 baseplate and retain the style and ethos of the 80's sets? More importantly how to achieve it all in a brick count that is in keeping with a lego set of the late 80's era! Like it or not it's going to involve BURPs, it's just not possible to get the height and bulk without resorting to BURPs.
In my mind I sketched out a general schematic. A ladder front left that could be used to connect to the lefthand rock formation on the Forestmen's Mountain Stash. The ladder leads to a rock ledge that can be bombarded from above with rocks or barrels, a slight homage to Donkey Kong. The rock ledge crosses to the right over a centrally positioned rope bridge that passes infront of a waterfall. I felt that the righthand ledge should be collapsible, our intrepid minifigs would be left clinging to steps cut into the rock face as the ground falls away beneath them. Stepping stones or a plank bridge across the top of the waterfall would lead to the barrel dropping mechanism and on the top right a simple lookout on tall wooden pillars. The cliff-face provides lots of height which creates space behind so if there is a way of turning the space behind into caves then we should try that as well.
There is precedent for this sort of forward facing playset, more so in the Adventurers theme in say the Temple Of Anubis, than the Castle theme. Large panels are used to create a fascia with rooms in behind. Rapid River Village or even Volcano Base are inspirations for BURP based rockwork.
I struggled with the first designs. Although the play ideas existed from the very beginning translating them into stacks of bricks proved exceptionally tricky. I just couldn't get the BURPs and other sections to line up correctly to give me what my mind desired. This design hasn't suited my particular way of working whereby all the design occurs in LDD whilst I'm travelling and I only comit to building in ABS as a final last step. Intricate rock formations aren't as natural to build in LDD as they are out of a pile of bricks and the mechanics for the collapsing ledge needed some proper brick based experimentation that LDD just can't achieve.
Above is the first design in LDD at the point where I abandonned it. The general structure is in place, the waterfall, bridge, cave and tower are all present. The collapsing ledge is just 2studs square, hardly a ledge.
The collapsing ledge sounds easy enough but creating a great playable feature is much more complex than a stack of loosely joined bricks that tumble down. The key point is that the ledge itself needs to be solid enough to attach figures to right up until the point where the ledge collapses. That solidity requires something to lock the stacks of bricks into place. My LDD design time came up with two mechanisms that I felt I should try in ABS form before proceeding further with the design.
Mechansim 1 involves a see-saw held firm by a tile topped bar. When the bar is pulled out the see-saw drops. Balanced on-top of the end of one of the beams of the see-saw is the stack of bricks that forms the ledge. Three different mechanisms for frimly locating the top of the stack of bricks were developed when the see-saw drops the stack of bricks the locating mechanism is disengaged allowing the stack of bricks to topple forwards.
Mechanism 2 involves a stack of bricks being pushed off of a supporting tile by a push-rod formed from a technic axle. Again some form of locating mechanic is needed to stop too much movement at the top of the stack of bridge. With this mechanism a Plate 1x2 with Slide locates into a slot on the back wall limiting the movement of the stack to a single direction.
Mechanism 1 will produce the most solid structure but is significantly more complex. Both mechanism allow the ledge to collapse progressively, so that an 8 stud wide stretch of ledge can collapse in 2stud increments allowing the minifigs a chance to escape. With both mechanics another key design criteria is that once collapsed the wall still looks like a cliff just without the ledge. There will always be some degree of compromise but the aim is that it looks like a natural disaster.
One evening I finally bite the bullet, I pull out my box of black bricks and build up test versions of the two mechanisms. There are some teething problems with mechansim 1, the pivot point on the seesaws is in the wrong place which stops the stacks from dropping far enough that the locking mechanisms at the top disengage. After shifting the pivot back to allow a greater drop the test piece works nicely. Mechanism 2 works but is nowhere near as smooth as the first mechanism. The stacks have to move a considerable distance before they drop, again adjustments were needed to get the pushrod into the optimum position for operation. From the tests I know that mechanism 1, the 4623 Plate, Modified 1 x 2 with Arm Up into a 3176 Plate, Modified 3 x 2 with Hole, is the most preferable.
Back to LDD and a clean start. I build up the collapsing cliff mechansin which neatly comes out at 10 studs wide, the width of a BURP. I spend some time tweaking the stack designs so that they look a little less uniform, one stack even conceals a gem. I want to use a ropebridge across the front of the waterfall but it's fairly obvious very early on that a 10studs worth of BURP, 16studs worth of Bridge and 10studs worth of Collapsing ledge aren't going to fit 32stud baseplate. I try angling the bridge but it still won't suqeeze and the plating assoicated with angling the bridge is creates more problems than it solves. I abandon the idea and revert to a plank and pole bridge that can be rotated to tip minifigs into the river.
The lefthand side is made up of stacked BURPs, with simple barrel launchers mounted at the very top. The lookout tower comes across unchanged from the original design. I tried my best to get the steps to the upper level onto the righthand side but the use of the BURP on the righthand side was problematic. This means that there's no zig-zag approach to the launchers which is a great shame. All told the design weights in at 331 bricks with 4 minifigs putting it on a par with 7418 Scorpion Palace which fits neatly into the next pricing bracket up from Forestmen's Mountain Stash.
Now that I'm now happy with the design in LDD I start pulling together Bricklink orders. As ever the problem is the availability of parts in Old Dark Grey. I was expecting the 1x5x4 arches to be hard to source as they only ever appeared in some NBA sets; sets which probably weren't great sellers in the UK given that we're a nation of football (soccer for the US readers) not basketball lovers. Indeed, I'm right, I end up sourcing them from Germany and the Czech Republic.
The real sticking point was though is the 3176 Plate, Modified 3 x 2 with Hole. They exist, they are available but there was only ever one in one set and that set just happens to be one of the rarest of the SW sets produced, 10123 Cloud City regularly commands hundreds of pounds when sold on eBay. Bizarrely enough a UK Bricklink seller happens to have five of the pieces but they're £6 each, a hundred times more expensive than the black or old grey equivalent. Thankfully I spot the price before I commit to the order and I hesitate; I don't think I can justify those sort of prices for such a small piece even if they are hard to find, especially when they're primarily going to be hidden. I'll have to compromise and use black or old grey.
As ever I've ended up using one piece that doesn't exist; Lego have never done a 3754 Brick 1x6x5 in Blue. I'll have to resort to a stack of 1x6 bricks to build up the waterfall.
As the Bricklink orders are slowly winding their way towards me from across Europe I take another look at the design in LDD. I think to myself that the back is a little empty I can dress the caves better. The supporting structures to the rear are pulled apart in LDD and rebuilt to allow a trapdoor to be fitted beneath the watchtower with a ladder that leads to a treasure chamber. In the lower cave I add a simple fire-pit with goblets and a saucepan and an extra two Forestmen who are ready to burst out through the waterfall to surprise the attacking Lion soldiers. I'm much happier now that there are play features on the back of the set. The brick-count has climbed, it now stands at 382 bricks, we're close in count to Forestmen's River Fortress.
A week later, I'm still waiting for the last Bricklink order to arrive so I use the spare time to write up my design notes, this very page. Whilst complaining that I wasn't able to get the rock-cut steps onto the righthand side of the cliff I realise that I just haven't tried hard enough. I bring the design up in LDD and start on a 4th iteration pulling the waterfall and upper righthand side completely apart. The first thing to be rebuilt is the steps, since they're the key element that I'm trying to reposition, they're added to the righthand side. The righthand BURP goes back in next with the trapdoor and watchtower ontop.
For some reason I decided that using a BURP as the back of the waterfall would be a good idea. I humour myself and follow the process through, the waterfall now cascades off the LURP and there is space around the back for steps to the upper level. It all looks very nice, the cascading water is almost MOC like. I also spot a 2stud gap where with the use of a pivot brick a secret door can be introduced. Not only have we fixed one fairly important play feature we've added one more. All the changes have pushed the brickcount right up to 428, that makes this set the Forestmen's equivalent of a Black Falcon's Fortress with it's 430 bricks and 6 minifigs.
Am I happy with it? I feel that the BURP might have been a bad idea and whilst I like the cascade falls it's costing 30 something bricks rather that the 5 in the first designs. The LURP also complicates some of the brick-work and plating around the rear which could be significantly simplified if more sensible pieces are used. I manage to save 3 bricks when building it for real because when building in LDD it's not always obvious that you can combine bricks standing side-by-side, eg. two 1x2s standing side-by-side can become a 2x2. It's still not quite enough to get me back to the 400 brick mark.
Storyline - For once there's plenty of storyline, both assaulting the mountain from a Lion Knight's perspective but also domestic life living in the mountains from the Forestmen's perspective.
Buildability - There's nothing particularly complex, there are no fancy techniques but it's a reasonably lengthy build due to the number of bricks.
The hardest part to explain in diagram form would be the assembly of the collapsing ledge.
Playability - Lots, in the final design the playable features are:
Zig-zag path through the traps
Secret passage and Tilting Bridge
Stepping stones and Hidden cave
Lots of things to encourage play and combine in a myriad of different ways, as well as both strands of storyline. I expect the assualt storyline will be the most popular but the cave dwelling/mountain living could play a part as well.
Consistentcy - It's fits nicely alongside my Forestmen's Mountain Stash, which itself isn't too far removed from the Forestmen's Hideout. The anachronisms are the BURPs which are from the early 90's and part 6091 Brick, Modified 1x2x1 1/3 with Curved Top which is also early 90's. Dark Grey was rare until the 90's but I don't think it looks out of place and I recently discovered that the 1x1x6 columns of the lookout are modern additions to the catalogue (and not available in black!)
Shown here alongside Forestmen's Mountain Stash
Cost - With a final count of around 430 bricks it's the equivalent of a Black Falcon's Fortress. As ever it's difficult to compare with modern sets because they use a significantly higher number of much smaller pieces rather than the classic sets did. If 7947 Prison Tower Rescue is £45.99 for 365 bricks and 5 minifigs then I'd expect this Forestmen's Clifftop Lookout to be nearer the £50 mark, another interesting comparison point is Forestmen's Mountain Stash is close in size to 6067 Guarded Inn and this Forestmen's Clifftop Lookout is close to 6074 Black Falcon's Fortress perhaps my next move in fleshing out my mountain retreats should be a proper 700piece set that's the equivalent of 6080 King's Castle, or maybe I should do the sensible thing and go the other way towards a 100 brick set like 6041 Armor Shop.