Creativity has been part of the Transformers collecting scene for as long as I can remember, whether it’s been fan fiction, fan art or photography, but that creativity is not limited to words and images. Transformers toys have that signature selling point of changing between (hopefully) recognisable modes, and so unlike many toys, Transformers allow the imagination to take physical form in un-documented configurations, otherwise known as fan modes. Combiner Wars and Titans Return have been particularly good for fans who like to come up with their own alternate modes, since play value has seemingly been placed at the centre of the design philosophy instead of accuracy, simplicity or aesthetics. This week we explore the reasons why some collectors are so drawn to creating their own fan modes for Transformers toys.
When all I had were G1 Transformers, I remember Powermaster Optimus Prime, Micromaster base Skystalker and later sixchanger Sixshot providing me with early opportunities to experiment with unofficial modes. Increased articulation and a return to Headmasters means that Titans Return have completely re-ignited my desire to experiment with my Transformers and their accessories to create fan modes. TakaraTomy’s Diaclone Dia-Battles V2 was a great lead into Titans Return for me and helped me break that psychological and aesthetic reliance on official modes. The believability of fan modes in the Titans Return and equivalent Transformers Legends line, as well as the enormous inter-connectivity, unexpectedly ended up being core to my continued interest and subsequent completism.
As someone whose Titans Return Fortress Maximus fan modes have inspired me greatly, Gregg Milite (gbm on TFW2005) shares why he likes to explore unofficial fan modes for Transformers: “For me personally, it’s all about these new and recent line of figures (Combiner Wars, Titans Return) where the fan-mode process really shines. I feel like the golden age of Generation 1 figures are masterpieces of their own, and thusly should be left as that. In other words, they don’t lend themselves AS much to the creative tweaking process like these newer lines do. Having said that, CW and TR are a magnificent creative sandbox of ‘what if’ scenarios, and the more I find myself tinkering and mixing and matching, the greater the reward seems to be.
“In that regard, there is a part of me that truly believes the creative minds engineering these brilliant toys are well aware of the inevitable and various concoctions that will come from their initial creations. I have never been one to side with the ever growing argument of ‘Hasbro is so lazy’ and ‘I can’t believe how cheap this is’; rather I’ve always seen it as, they are now at the level of engineering to provide the consumer these creative channels to pursue these extra modes once the figure is in hand. With the plethora of joints, swivels, ratchets and universal joints these figures have nowadays, it’s no surprise that people are coming up with several alternate configurations to these figures. I can’t help but think that some designer at Hasbro is keeping an entertained and impressed eye on these fan-mode threads just as much as we the fans are.”
The idea of purposefully appealing to one’s imagination and creativity is supported by Kevin Gorman: “I’ve always enjoyed playing around with fan modes, from simple tweaks of a figures transformation to full on new alternate modes. But this has been taken to new heights recently with a few lines in particular. The release of Titans Return/Combiner Wars, the Diaclone reboot and Iron Factory and their customisable weapons has brought fan modes front and center. These entire lines are setup with the specific aim to let your imagination run wild, with interchangeable parts, heads, weapons and alternate transformations all being a standard and integral part of the experience.
“As far as the Diaclone reboot is concerned, I got a massive amount of satisfaction when I created a fan mode for Dia-Battles V2 with all of the standard parts integrated. And Iron Factory weapons, why not use them to create a mech walker with their Sonictech (Blaster)? There are many complex fan modes in CW/TR, but going in a slightly simpler direction, there are a few modes that have brought me a lot of fun. With TR Hardhead, a simple mistransformation of not extending the elbows fully can improve the proportions of the figure immensely. A simple fan mode, but a very effective one.“
Kevin’s experience with Dia-Battles V2, then Titans Return mirrors my own, and Gregg goes on to explain just why Titans Return lends itself so easily to fan mode exploration, specifically Fortress Maximus: “The best example, for myself at least, is the new Titans Returns Fortress Maximus. A figure met with a ton of praise, and an equal amount of backlash; albeit, for obvious reasons. On the surface, it would seem that very little effort was put into the alternate city mode of this figure; however after examining the numerous ways those aforementioned joints, swivels and ratchets can be contorted, there are a handful of outstanding ways this figure can bring the city mode to life (which was agreeably the weakest mode). It wasn’t until I watched a video review by FxFranz, that I saw him finagle with Fort Max and put him into a mode that breathed much needed life into the city mode. I immediately ran to my figure, and with his creation as the basis, I went on a fan-mode tear with this figure; coming up with nearly five or six different modes. I made use of every twist and turn of Fort Max’s appendages to come up with these modes; all the while dipping into the existing features of the figure to supplement these new configurations (like the knee cannons used as ‘towers-guns’, the flip-open legs, or the detachable archway which I now used on the underside of the entranceway). Throwing in spare parts/weapons from older figures with 5mm pegs, like Generations Jetfire’s chrome guns, and TR Fort Max became one of the most fan mode chameleon-like figures to date.”
It’s a shame TakaraTomy’s Legends Fortress Maximus has the calves glued shut, immediately ruling out similar fan mode creations. One must accept that those were leftover features from Generations Metroplex and not an advertised quality of Fort Max. TakaraTomy have seemingly used that as a reason to address the inherent floppiness of the mould when those compartments are accessible. Some have taken to cutting the glued pegs, but that takes us into the realm of modifications as opposed to just arranging the parts in an original fashion. Chris H. touches on this when asked about what makes fan modes appealing:
“The question itself brought me to something of an epiphany. A warning to others who would tread the same path. Beware, fellow traveller, ‘Fan Mode’ is only an ‘E’ away from ‘Fan Mod’. That’s where this well-worn road took me, and it could take you too! But how can it be avoided? When trying to describe the fan mode there’s one word that springs to my mind: ‘intrinsic’. Thinking back I suddenly realised I’d been fan mode-ing since I was a kid. Who hasn’t made a ‘hovercar’ mode for an Autobot or two, maybe a submarine/boat mode when they had to battle at sea, maybe flipped the claws forward on Grimlock’s arm and slid them forward for a Power Punch Claw attack or at least left out Prime’s fist for a Torch hand?
“It hinges the crux of the Transformers play pattern that hooked us at the very beginning, things that become other things that can change their form and function plus a little bit of imagination. Clearly the writers/creators of the fiction that indoctrinated us first generation TF fans understood this, that a vehicle that turns into a robot could be just a disposable puzzle gimmick toy, unless you add a spark of imagination into it. Look at all ancillary non-toy gimmicks added in the cartoon for instance: Ironhide’s various nozzles and Sonadar, Jazz’s Speaker assault and grapnel line, the list goes on. We were sold the notion these toys could do more if we put our minds to it from the very beginning. We were encouraged to think about what they could do. Not just the supporting fiction, the toys themselves encourage fan creativity. I’m not even talking the triple-changers here, look at G1 Tracks & Wheeljack’s secondary flight modes, there’s a hair’s whisker between them and any given Fan Mode! I might even go so far as to say if you’re not fan mode-ing, you’re not fully engaging with Transformers! But beware with enough practice the imagination may become more flexible than they toys themselves, you may have a notion impossible to do without fundamentally changing the toy itself in some way and yet you feel have do it, and then you have done it, you’ve really done it – you’ve gone Mod!”
I admit there’s an extremely satisfying element to creating a new mode that not only looks good to me, but to other collectors who can suddenly enjoy another facet of a toy in their collection. I know how much enjoyment I’ve gotten from making Fort Max look like the Diaclone Great Robot Base, and I look forward to peppering him with the many Dia-Battles V2 vehicles and craft I’ve accumulated. Looking at the convincing powered suit configuration for TR Hardhead, the weapons platform Weirdwolf or my personal versions of Powermaster Optimus Prime and Sentinel Prime in base mode, made even better by the nature of the Titan Masters and their interaction with virtually any surface, I can completely believe the deliberate nature of this level of versatility. Here’s Gregg again with the final word on fan modes.
“In the end, the best part of fan-modes is not just the ability to create your own personal vision of a figure, but without a doubt it’s the enjoyment of getting lost in a three hour ‘play session’ in your room like you’re 10 years old again; and the ensuing camaraderie that occurs once you throw those photos up on a message board. When asked by Maz to contribute a small paragraph to share my thoughts on this, I enthusiastically replied, ‘Wow, I would love to! I live for these kind of conversations!’ I can go on, and on, and on about it all day …can’t you tell?”
Many kind and gracious thanks to Gregg Milite (gbm), Kevin Gorman and Chris H (Seeaich) for excellent contributions this week.
All the best