LEGO vs. Mega – An Analysis – Part 4

In the world of bricks – for better or worse – the overall impression of a model hinges a lot not just on the shape of the constituting parts, but also on their color. Hence it becomes an issue of some importance, how consistent those colors are reproduced every time and how they approximate real world surfaces. As a graphics artist of course this is a subject I could discuss for hours on end, both in how technical aspects figure in just as well as individual subjective perception under different lighting conditions, in different environments, against different colors and so on down to debating historic color models as employed by painters and scientists of a given era and how those have changed and evolved. Since this would likely be endlessly boring and there’s already tons of books and info on this subject, I will forego delving into academic debates and focus on the more practical and relevant facets.

As far as Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx is concerned, there are three distinct types of colors: The regular solid colors, their transparent tinted counterparts anda large group of what I call “textured colors”, i.e. specific shades and colors that contain mixtures of different colors or pigments to create certain effects. The latter can be further classified into three sub-sets – metallic, marbled and speckled. There is of course overlap here, as for instance many marbled colors have a metallic component and a basic color one. This makes it hard to sort them in a logical way, even more so since I have yet to find an official list of colors from Mega themselves plus the colors appear to be used and remixed on an “as needed” basis, not so much a fixed pattern. Or in other words: Where LEGO is often reluctant to produce items in a specific color, Mega seem all too willing to come up with ever new combinations or even introduce new colors without much ado.

Precious Marbles

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Metallic ColorsThe marbled colors are very prevalent and predominant on many spaceship and military models as a means to either simulate camouflage patterns or ageing effects like rusty drizzles, oil specks or just generally give vehicles a futuristic or alien vibe. Created by mixing differently tinted granules of plastic and relying on the random mixing of the molten plastic as it is transported through the injection channels and molds in the machine, the one big disadvantage is of course that this is completely unpredictable and essentially each individual part has a completely unique and different pattern.

The downside to this is that you can end up with parts almost consisting entirely of only one color, parts with nicely sized swirls and stripes in relation to the part or model size, parts with too tiny mixing zones and anything inbetween in every combination thinkable. This is evident in the image. As a result different areas on your model can look as if they were built from completely different sets. Therefore it is almost always a good idea (and quite necessary) to sort through identical parts before building and group them in a way that the color usage makes reasonable sense.

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Camouflage Colors

Determining and naming a given shade is equally difficult under those conditions. As can be seen, depending on the actual percentage of a given color component contained in a part, the colors will seemingly be a mix of many hues and to make things even more complicated, in particular the metallic tones will of course also shift around under different lighting conditions. A prime example for this is the Pale Gold/ Brass color which can sometimes look just plain golden, but most of the time looks like a rather pale yellow with a green-ish touch and a metallic effect. Naturally, when combined with browns it can also look like copper or that orange-y metal flake paint you find on custom cars/ muscle cars and that was made famous by some Ford Mustang models.

Plain Metal

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Metallic Colors

Other metal colors are a bit more forgiving with the blue-ish grey one so far being my favorite. Several of the colors also appear a bit redundant in that they are barely distinguishable from their counterparts when they are used on some specific parts. For instance the plain gun-metal grey and the marbled metallic grey/ black in the image can barely be told apart just like the metallic nature of the black element is hard to recognize. This is of course only because they are 2×1 plates with only small parts of the texture visible. On larger elements this would be a different story. Still, it can be confusing and is often unnecessary.

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Metallic Colors

Freckle Speckle

The speckled colors are a bit more straightforward since there aren’t as many possible combinations based on the requirements of the technical process. That includes the need for a certain amount of contrast between the colors, a minimum size for the grains to even show up and an even distribution in the containing medium/ surrounding plastic – not too few, not too many, no clumps, no empty areas. All examples I have seen feature a relatively bright base color with dark specks, though in theory it would be possible to also sprinkle very bright and opaque colors into slightly translucent dark colors. Of course Mega already make their lives complicated by combining marbled textures with speckled ones, so there’s that thing with theoretically endless combinations again.

Military Commander

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Camouflage Colors

Somewhere in all the regular colors, the textured colors and the metallic ones there is a group of “military colors” that represents a cross-section of all the aforementioned categories and contains examples of each and every specialty. It warrants a separate mention as of course Mega does a sizeable chunk of business with selling figure sets, a majority of which represents soldiers/ troopers from the games they were licensed from. As you can see in the image, to that end there is a lot more variation than just a single olive color or just one dark grey, though my poor photo probably isn’t as telling as holding one of the figures in your hands. Even then the differences are often so subtle you can barely tell which is which.

Not so transparent Transparencies

Transparent pieces have become a prominent part of most brick-based systems these days, not just for windows and windshields. Whether this always makes sense is another question, as I often think that opaque versions of those tiny bits would look better – if only they were available in more colors. If you get my drift: A transparent yellow 1 x 1 tile doesn’t really look like a car headlight when set against a dark grey plate and a faint purple doesn’t look like a disco light against white, either. Rather you would need something like in traditional painting – a base color brightened up with white, light blues and yellows (depending on the actual tone), possibly as semi-transparent items or you print a “light halo” on whenever you need it.

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Transparent Colors

Now if you are a bit cynical like I am you could argue that Mega Construx are halfway there. Unfortunately their transparent pieces are all too often not so transparent at all and have a slightly milky, foggy appearance. For some elements that is inevitable like the marbled transparent blue/ opaque white parts – some undesirable mixing is bound to occur along with the intended marbling. For others it seems like an unwanted side-effect. The actual cause is ominous, but there are a few things I can think of:

  • Residue – The separator agent used to prevent the plastic from sticking to the mold could react with the plastic even after years. Similarly, it could cause dust particles etc. to stick to the surface when it hasn’t been removed fully.
  • Imperfect mold surfaces -The molds could require additional smoothing to remove microscopic irregularities. Those may not show up on regular pieces, but only on transparencies due to refractive and reflective effects.
  • Not ideal temperature control -The materials could be injected too hot, leading to partial decomposition of some ingredients or they could be cooling too fast, causing internal microfractures.
  • Contaminated raw materials – Though quality control should prevent this, it’s possible that on rare occasions unwanted substances are brought in with the raw plastic already. They may either pollute the material directly or react in ways similar to what was described in the previous points.
  • Initial choice of material – There is not one single type of plastic that can be used for all purposes even when it’s “just” for a brick-based toy. In effect this means that the manufacturers always use different materials to begin with and naturally are always looking for ways to reduce cost. They may decide on less suitable materials to save a few pennies, in turn taking chances with quality. if you need proof on this, check out some discussions on LEGO‘s recent changes for transparent pieces and the issues surrounding them.

Not all is lost here, though, as sometimes a bit of slight fogging is useful, regardless. A good example for this are the neon transparent colors, which as per the first paragraph in this section benefit from being a bit more opaque and appear even more glowing. For most other colors it will depend in which context they are used and how important the see-through effect is. Despite my niggles you will find it perfectly acceptable most of the time, being that Mega somehow still get it right for large parts like vehicle cockpit canopies and only smaller parts are affected by some of those issues.

Off-register Normality

Of course the special is nothing without the mundane and in this case this means the regular solid colors. Due to the massive reliance on the metallic and marbled colors the basic colors are actually sometimes pretty rare in many of the collectible Halo, Destiny, Call of Duty and so on sets, but are used to good effect in sets like the Pokémon series or movie-based set for the Despicable Me / Minions franchise. Due to the near impossibility to obtain a broader selection of sets at reasonable prices my view on this is of course limited, but let me try to explain my observations, regardless.

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Colors

The first thing you will notice with many Mega colors is this “almost, but not quite” feeling with regards how they match up with original LEGO colors. They are always just a tad too light, too blue, too yellow etc. when compared directly. A good example here is the Sand Blue 1 x 4 plate in the above image which next to the LEGO 2 x 1 brick seems to get more bluish the longer you look at it. In contrast to that you don’t need to keep your eyes glued to the picture for long to see how dull the Orange looks.

In the photo below it’s easy to see that the Light Rose/ Light Pink color is warmer for Mega, meaning it contains more yellow, making it shift towards a more orange-y shade. Conversely, the Azure color, while a close enough match to LEGO‘s Dark Azure, has a tinge towards the lighter Medium Azure from the same company.

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Colors

Other colors are even more tricky like the Dark Red. Mega Construx‘ version is much more red. It’s difficult to gauge this just based on a picture with two isolated elements next to each other, but the tonal disparity will eventually become quite apparent when you use those elements in bigger numbers to cover larger regions. This, BTW, applies to all colors discussed here.

Mega Bloks/ Mega Construx, Colors

While we’re already in the brown tones, the actual browns are a thing of their own. When building with LEGO I often find that the available choices are a bit limited in that they do not necessarily look natural when used on plants, trees and wood elements. The Reddish Brown feels too red, the Dark Brown is so scarcely used it’s almost sunk into obscurity (and parts in that color therefore being rare and expensive) and on the other end of the spectrum similar issues can be observed with the Medium Dark Flesh, Dark Orange and Dark Tan color. Mega‘s browns, at least to me, are a bit more satisfying in that regard. I especially like the Latte Brown, which exactly captures this feeling that I would want.

Something you perhaps already have noticed in a good chunk of images throughout the article is the lack of opacity in many of the Mega colors. If you haven’t, please have a look again and you should recognize how light seeps in from all directions and makes the edges look lighter. This kind of translucency is usually not an issue, but still undesirable. Point in case: It makes the perception of the actual color even more dependent on factors like which background colored elements are placed against, how thick walls are and how great in turn their ability is to block light and, worst of all, regardless of how well you build your models, you will always have elements that look oddly semi-transparent because light creeps into the smallest gaps and scatters inside the parts.

This is something the company need to address eventually. I’m totally aware, though, that this will be a tricky thing as changing the mixture of the materials is a complex problem that has a multitude of potential repercussions. Newer models with tweaked settings could give a completely different perception, colors may require to be dialled back or dulled down to compensate and even the production process would be affected as more pigment could mean the plastic becomes more brittle and more difficult to process. It’s a touchy matter.

Printed Parts

Before we leave, a few short words on printed elements and the quality of the prints. In contrast to LEGO who still insist on making use of a lot of stickers, by now most alternate manufacturers have moved on and realized that users do not necessarily want to put up with this potentially frustrating process and crooked results and therefore use prints whenever technically possible and feasible in terms of cost it may incur. For Mega this more or less should be an easy proposition, given that due to their massive focus on their figure lines and the accessories that come with them, many of which are printed and custom painted extensively, they should have the technical capabilities and experience in producing reasonably printed bricks as well.

That’s a bold assumption, of course, and the reality of it is naturally a bit different. I can alleviate any fears of something being fundamentally terribly wrong, but there are a few minor issues that I can’t ignore, either. The most glaring of those is the roughness of many paint jobs. From the paint being too thick to actual pigment size to micro bubbles to unwanted reactions of the solvents with the plastic surface this could have a million causes, but clearly I think it could be improved. It’s not every set and apparently the latest 2018/ 2019 releases (of which so far I haven’t been able to procure one) seem to already have ramped up quality, but it could be a concern, if only a small one.

A bigger problem for me are the all too often way too toned down/ dull colors. This issue first and foremost affects military models and everything else that has a (pseudo-) camouflage, including space craft made from marbled bricks, but it needs to be pointed out. Let me be clear on that – as someone who has been interested in military aviation all his life I totally “get” the meaning of low-vis(ibility) markings and the like, but as you can read in pretty much every scale modeling magazine, you need to account for the “scale effect” when translating a real vehicle into a model. this means that you need to either brighten or darken colors, shift their hues ever so slightly or play with the level of glossiness to get a perception that closely matches the original. I feel that this doesn’t always happen here and printed bits get swallowed by their surroundings.

Last, and I promise that will be my last complaint for now, are the dysfunctional glow-in-the-dark colors. The graphics designers that do the marketing photos hopelessly exaggerate this aspect. Understandably there are limitations to these types of colors in the first place, but it seems the flavor chosen by Mega simply doesn’t deliver at all. Therefore I would prefer that they just settled on bright standard colors for those situations.

Final Thoughts

At first Mega Construx colors take quite a bit of getting used to, especially if you dive in head first and buy one of those sets that uses metallic or marbled colors as your first one. However, they quickly kind of grow on you and you find yourself thinking more and more how perfectly they make sense. Some models wouldn’t look nearly as interesting in more plain colors, which I suppose is in itself a statement: Some of those colors can enliven a model considerably by tricking your eyes into perceiving more details without actually having to use more parts. That is of course in conjunction with strategically placed gaps and edges and the shape of the elements themselves.

The regular solid colors are a bit of a letdown on the other hand. The lack of opacity on some of them diminishes their vibrancy and as a result those models do not always look as good as they possibly could to the point of avoiding certain lighting situations because the light seeping in will only make the problems even more visible. Let me reiterate, though, that this assessment is based on the limited number of slightly older sets I actually was able to obtain and that this could already have been improved on the latest releases. In fact I’m pretty sure things will improve from here on as after the troublesome last two years (with Mega being absorbed into Mattel) things seem to be back on track and we could see more sets being turned out in better quality again.