I had the chance to sit down with Chris Sherland, Lead Producer for LEGO Universe. Again, this Q&A starts off with a little bit about what LEGO Universe is and then I start shooting my questions.
Answer: It’s a full featured, age appropriate, MMO for kids, based on the Lego play set. So basically anything you could imagine around that idea, we tried to get in the game. Question: Can you throw out some examples?Answer: Sure. There’s two games going on here, there’s your WOW clone, it’s an adventure game. It’s about battling evil forces, it’s about gaining reputation, it’s about getting achievements, completing missions and quests, teaming up with your friends and playing mini-games, it’s all that. Then there’s a building metaphor that goes throughout the whole game. So that starts with quick build, which if you’ve ever played Lego Star Wars, in that game there’s a little pile of bricks on the ground and you just hold a button to turn it into something. It’s not a creative endeavor but, you say “oh look I built this thing”. Then we have modular building which is basically, all of our vehicles in the game, our rockets and race cars, there’s a limitation and a construct that says what parameters those things can be made within. What we will do is stock the loot tables in the game with modules that are pre-built. If you’ve ever built a car out of Lego's, you might not have the pieces; you might not have the talent to make a really good looking car. Question: Hey man, I’m standing right here...Answer: Ha! I was speaking figuratively. But what we do in Lego Universe is we pre-make modules for you and then you’re just combining them but, even with that, your car is never going to look like my car because we will have found different parts and colored them differently and they will still both be functional race cars. Question: How do you handle the model builder?Answer: Well to start off there’s that modular build but on top of that, everybody in Lego Universe gets their own little planet that they have to defend from the evil forces. You do that by battling and building. Have you ever used Lego Digital Designer?Question: No.Answer: Okay so what we have is a CAD program in Lego.com that allows you to build with bricks. You can then order those bricks form Lego and build your design in your living room. Question: Knowing that exists makes me a much happier person.Answer: Good. We basically imported that software and all of that functionality right into Lego Universe. So when you’re on your own little planet, by yourself, you can build whatever you want. Question: So this is like pre-school auto cad?Answer: Exactly and it’s fun too. Getting a CAD building program to be fun was not easy; it took us a long time. Are you familiar with WeDo or Mindstorms? Those are Lego projects that use block based programming languages. So if you do this, that happens and when that happens it shifts into something else. It allows you to basically make robotic stuff out of Lego; we also imported that into here as well. So you can build your own things and them make them do stuff. You can make elevators, you can make platforming games, you can make animals, you name it. Question: Along with the adventure game-play you have level building in this as well?Answer: Yes, it’s almost like a Second Life in that way, you can build anything you want. Question: This is ambitious. How well did it all come together, trying to combine all of these elements?Answer: The first two years were horrifying. Literally, the hardest project I’ve ever worked on. We had a lot of starts where we would get deep into some prototype and then just toss it all out, we did that over and over and over again for four years. We spent a year and a half on the first fifteen minutes of the game. In the end the biggest challenge has been getting the build metaphor right; making it playable was not easy. Question: What did you have to leave out that you regret now?Answer: Well there was some things like public display of models and sharing models, sort of like in a showcase metaphor, that was a really great feature that we weren't able to nail down in time. Don’t worry though we’ll probably roll that out in time. Question: How large is the Universe?Answer: We have five main planets at the moment, surrounding those are other smaller planets that are instant scenarios, like a planet that just has a race track around it. Then there are all of the planets in Lego Universe that are player owned, so as many players as we have, that’s how many planets there will be in the Universe.Question: So this works on a monthly subscription?Answer: Yeah and the reason we went that way was to make sure that Lego Universe was populated with serious players. Also if it was free we would have everybody and their pedophile uncle on it, so a lot of the decision was done for safety reasons.
Thanks again to Chris for spending some time with us a PAX 2010. LEGO Universe is set to come out on October 26th in the US. You can find more information about the game at http://universe.lego.com/.
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