Interview with Dana McDonald from Custom Kingdoms

Dana McDonald took a break from casting resin buildings to chat with me about the latest developments at Custom Kingdoms. If you haven’t seen my review of the buildings from Custom Kingdoms, it’s right here.

Craven Games: First off, what’s on the bench in terms of new products for the future?
Custom Kingdoms: Very close to the horizon are some Hobbit/Halfling homes. Other than that I am working on a fairly large bridge, and I am going to have some castle wall sections soon as well.
CG: Will those be external-only like your current line of buildings?
CK: Yes. Most of my buildings will stay exterior only. I plan on building a dungeon set though, so it won’t always be outdoors only.A bird's eye view of the miniature buildings from Custom Kingdoms.
CG: Will the bridge be fantasy-themed and wooden?
CK: Fantasy themed and built from stone. The current plan is to build it so that I can add center pieces with arches that reach the ground so I can build them as long as I want, with the base bridge just touching the ground on each end.
CG: Sounds good! I’m looking forward to seeing it. Now what about your resin trees? What is the appeal or advantage of them over Woodland Scenics or another model railroad suppliers’ trees?
CK: I’m actually glad you asked about them, because I think they are rather unusual. I have never been fond of the standard model trees. They never seemed to quite fit in, or feel massive enough, and also they are one of the few things in miniatures that is not a hard surface and painted. They were kind of a personal thing for me, and I think they strike a chord with some gamers, but are not necessarily universal.

I haven’t really seen any other models like them, so I don’t know if many people really know what to think of them. I will say though that a tabletop with several sets of them along with painted miniatures and houses looks fantastic, and everything seems like it belongs.
CG: Yeah, I was surprised myself, because I’ve never seen the need, but Miniature Building Authority also released some recently too, I think, maybe soon after you did yours. Is it kind of like wanting to have Lego trees to go with your Lego town?
CK: I think that is a great example. It is kind of like when you use real rocks for your miniatures you still need to paint them to make them really fit.
CG: Haha, sometimes I skip that part. Do you only sell direct or do some retailers carry your fantasy buildings and mark them up?
CK: I only sell direct. I am not set up right now to work well through retailers or distributors. Some day that may change though.
|CG: You may be familiar with the Colbert bump. What about a Blue Table Painting bump? Did you see a noticeable difference in orders after Blue Table Painting mentioned your buildings?
CK: We have gotten great referrals from Blue Table Painting. They are a great company, and all of our contact with them has been positive. I hope I don’t offend anybody by not knowing about the Colbert bump though. Our orders tend to come in waves so it could easily have been responsible for one of the waves.
CG: How did you get the word out in the first place to get Sean’s order?
CK: One of our customers was also a customer of Blue Table Painting and told Shawn about us.
CG: So word of mouth.
CK: Yup.
The view from a 2nd floor down a street lined with Custom Kingdoms buildings.
CG: Besides your awesome Tudor buildings, you have a whole line of steampunk buildings. What drew you to that niche? There’s really not that many competitors in it that I’ve seen.
CK: I have loved steampunk for quite a long time (before it was the cool thing), but I didn’t really have a good enough excuse to build the buildings until I started playing Warmachine. After I started Warmachine I had to build some. On a sort of side note. I also plan on adding quite a bit to that line.
CG: What do you play for Warmachine?
CK: I have Trolls and Protectorate. The stone cottages are inspiration from playing Trolls.
CG: Who’s your favorite caster or warlock?
CK: That’s a hard question. I actually love playing Gunnbjorn (Dire troll bombers rock with him), but I don’t think my opponents enjoy playing against a ranged army that much. And of course my game seems to fall apart when a couple of heavys get in close. IF they get in close.
CG: And does your wife play? She works on the buildings too, right?
CK: She does play a little. The Protectorate army actually is more hers than mine.
And she is the reason I can do Custom Kingdoms. She takes care of all the business end and paints all of the houses.
CG: Tell her I said ‘Thanks!’
CK: I have a full time job, so I don’t have the time to do it all myself. I will.
CG: So who’s her caster of choice?
CK: The good old classic Kreoss.
CG: So she really likes to beat up on you and knock you down some?
CK: And kick me while I’m down! And I hate trying to kill those lousy Bastions.

CG: Speaking of full time jobs, you’re still with the company that makes Guild Wars?
CK: Yes I am still at ArenaNet. I love the Job and plan on staying there for a good while. I love the game too.
CG: I was just about to ask if you play much yourself.
A Custom Kingdoms Cottage next to a Tudor building.CK: I have played many many hours. Especially during some of the European conventions. During those the company comes in at around midnight and plays with the demo players who are in Europe all night, so we would play about 10 hours a night for 5 or 6 nights straight. Other than that we have regular play sessions and play on our own as well.
CG: Do you think the makers of the game are on average better at it than the playerbase?
CK: Right now for sure, since the player base hasn’t really been able to play except for at the demos, but I am sure that will all change shortly after release. Though there are a couple of devs that are just unkillable in PvP.
CG: And that’s Guild Wars 2. Who influences you in online environmental design, like what other MMOs, artists, or architects?
CK: I really don’t have any particular influences. With environmental design it is all about really paying attention to not only the structure, but the way that time and weather affect it. And a lot of those details are found in everything. But of course I have to mention Gothic architecture since it is the coolest (not that my buildings really show it).
CG: Well, speaking of your buildings, what terrain builders inspire you?
CK: I am going to have to give a really boring answer on that as well, and that is that I don’t have any dominant influences. I have been building terrain for miniatures since before I even knew about Warhammer (I started making my own out of Sculpey a very long time ago).

Early on when I was in high school I would get inspired from the terrain that was in White Dwarf, and the Warhammer Armies books. It is kind of funny, but a lot of that terrain looks pretty bad now. I think the Hobby has come a long way in the quality of the miniatures, and also in the quality of the terrain that the studios make. Now I browse the web and look at video games (and watch the special features on the Lord of The Rings DVD’s), and look at cool buildings on Google images.
CG: I agree about the progress in the hobby, but a lot of the cardstock houses GW did in the 80s still look good to me.
CK: I have had to do a double take a few times when I have seen good cardstock buildings. They can look quite good with a casual or distant look.
A view down a street lined with Custom Kingdoms miniature buildings.
CG: So what do you play for Warhammer?
CK: I am going to have to confess that I haven’t played much Warhammer for quite a while now, though the main army I always played was Chaos.
CG: Blood for the Blood God!
CK: Of course the generic Chaos doesn’t mean much now does it? Kind of shows how much I have played recently. I started playing Chaos when Chaos was all one, then when it was 3, then one, then 4, or whatever it has become. It is just very Chaotic! I have to say though that the new giant monster miniatures are killing me. I really want to get some and stomp on some troops.
CG: No, not at all. You mean the Goblin Arachnothing? Or the Tomb Kings big Dragon Ogre looking thing?
[Or the less technical Arachnarok Spider and Khemrian Warsphinx.]
CK: Yes, I love the Big Goblin spider, and the Tomb kings thing. I always wanted to play the game with huge monsters, and about the time I stopped playing is when they finally started making them. I am actually considering starting all over again and building up a new army slowly. I have many fond memories of staying up all night playing Warhammer.
CG: You should have enough buildings for it!
CK: Of course!
CG: How tall will the castle walls be roughly?
CK: About 51/2 to 6 inches to the top of the battlements is what I will probably start with. I think that is close to what GW’s castle walls are.
CG: Troops stand at the 3.5 inch mark and the top of the crenellations is about 5 inches up. I have two of those boxes.
CK: Nice.
CG: Yeah, they’re maybe in the background of the videos. I think they could be a bit taller. I’m diverging here, but I was going to try to make my own from Hirst Arts. Mine were like 10 inches high, you can probably imagine the weight of plaster for just one section.
CK: I’ll bet you were scared to ever have one of those fall off the table. Or collapse it
CG: Yeah, it never got that far at all, haha.
CK: Speaking of Hirst Arts I need to take the opportunity to say that the first things I learned about making molds was from his website. I owe a lot to him.
CG: But we’re alike in both learning about mold making from Bruce Hirst.
CK: When I found his tutorials it was like finding the Lost City of Gold. I devoured his tutorials.

CG: Lastly, do you think we’ll ever see Custom Klingons or some other science fiction terrain efforts from Custom Kingdoms? Bruce did start out with fantasy and branched out into those cool sci-fi corridor sets.
CK: Yes, I do want to do sci-fi scenery. I would like a good sci-fi game to inspire me to do it sooner though. Maybe I should start 40k instead of fantasy again.
CG: If it will get us more terrain, then the Emperor commands it!
CK: How can I refuse now? I am sure the Inquisition will make sure it gets done.
CG: Amen. Thanks, Dana!
CK: Thank you, it has been great talking to you.

Custom Kingdoms Buildings

I first became aware of Custom Kingdoms existence when Sean from Bluetable Painting posted this series of battles on Youtube beginning with this video. If Bluetable ordered them, the company must be quite legit, I reasoned (and I think many subscribers have too). The turnaround on ordering was quick; within a week I had several gorgeous painted buildings to use for gaming. The buildings are facades and hollow on the inside. They come painted to a pretty high standard as you can judge for yourself from their pictures, mine, or my YouTube video on them.

Their cottages are certainly quaint, measuring xbyx, or 1×1 Custom Kingdoms panels. Dana McDonald has made molds that fit a standard size and then casts the components in resin, assembles them, and then paints them. But back to the cottages. I have three different varieties for, well, variety. All of them are taller than most other manufacturers’ cottages or similar structures. As with the rest of the buildings, you can choose from green, red, or blue tiled roofs.

Where Custom Kingdoms really shines though is with their Tudor line of buildings. I particularly love my Tudor 04 design with its overhang and my Tudor 05. The Tudor 03 is useful for putting a few select troops on in battle. This is where Custom Kingdoms’s prices start to take off though. The Tudor 10 is a 2×1 footprint, but has two floors, a balcony, and a $75 price tag. It’s a pretty little balcony and that is 12 panels, but it will have to go on my wishlist for now.

Also on my wishlist and something that I’m much more likely to be getting soon is CK’s Windmill. By adding the blades to what is essentially a Tudor house, CK has intelligently created a new product and a new reason to fork over some money to them.

An aside: there is a lot an enterprising individual could learn from Custom Kingdoms. As already mentioned, with the Windmill, he took an existing product, added a new component, and has now put something new on the market. Maybe I need to spend more time browsing around, but I’m not familiar with another windmill on the market. The second thing is Custom Kingdoms whole lineup of Steam Punk products. I am not a huge fan of the genre, or even a fan. I doubt I will be buying any of his steam punk themed products, but he has really found a nice niche with that line of buildings. The last little lesson to be gleaned right now is maybe reiterating the effects of your product in the hands (and on the gaming board) of an influential person, aka Sean from Bluetable. Sean corroborated the value that I think we can all see visually in Custom Kingdoms’s products.