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Looking at LEGO, Part One

Michael Bitton Posted:
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I recently traveled into the city here in New York to check out a demonstration of NetDevil's upcoming family-oriented MMORPG LEGO Universe. As you might guess, LEGO Universe is a game based on the LEGO building blocks many of us grew up with and love to this day.

Ryan Seabury, the Creative Director at NetDevil, took us through the demo which attempted to compress the game's many features into a roughly hour long event. Ryan kicked the demo off by taking us through the login screen and commenting on how even something as simple as the logging in process takes into account the team's emphasis on playfulness, as the UI featured a very "bouncy" presentation and Ryan demonstrated the interactivity by toying with the LEGO mini-fig on the screen who attempted to snatch his mouse pointer as he dragged it near him. NetDevil is also taking child safety very seriously (we'll talk more about that later) and even the login screen itself reflected this. As Ryan typed in his password, the LEGO mini-fig at the screen covered his eyes, which is a subtle thing they put in to remind kids that their passwords should be a secret!

Ryan then took us through the character creation process, which features numerous options for the players face, hair, torso, and legs. The character creator is pretty robust and the random generator came up with some pretty snazzy and crazy looking characters. Once you're done designing your mini-fig you can give your character a name. To start, players choose from a selection of three different words to form a single name; for example our character was named BromiFrostLaser. Custom names are possible as well, and you are given an option to create one, however, it will not become your character's name until it has gone through moderator approval, and Ryan took this opportunity to note that all user generated content in LEGO Universe will require moderator approval before other players can see it, and this includes pet names, character names, and the creations you build on your property world.

With Ryan satisfied with BromiFrostLaser, we entered the game and were treated to an opening cinematic narrated by Captain Picard himself, Patrick Stewart. The cinematic introduced us to LEGO Universe's backstory which begins with four space-exploring characters who find themselves before an unusual cube-shaped world that housed the Imagination Nexus, a long lost source of pure imagination. The Imagination Nexus could bring any idea to life, and three of the four explorers dreamt up some fairly mundane things, while the fourth had much more sinister intentions. This tophat-wearing cane-wielding fellow sought to use the Imagination Nexus to control creation through the use of destruction, however, the creatures he spawned were not loyal to him and all hell broke loose as the Nexus mutated into a destructive maelstrom which tore the planet apart, creating an array of smaller worlds. In order to save the universe, players will have to retard the corruption caused by the mutated Imagination Nexus by using their creativity to counter the Maelstrom's destructive nature.

Once the cinematic completed, we were treated to a brief introduction to the game's starter experience which runs players through the game's basics, including the creation of their first rocket using modular and customizable parts. The rocket is important to LEGO Universe players as it stays with you throughout the game and is used to travel from world to world. Players begin aboard the Venture Explorer where they are set to join the Nexus Force, the group created by the original explorers in order to combat the Maelstrom. Unfortunately, the ship is hit by the Maelstrom and is heading towards a black hole, requiring the player to escape aboard his shiny new rocket.

Once the player makes it off the Venture Explorer, he sets out to the game's first world Avant Gardens. Avant Gardens was once a peaceful place, but has been tainted by the corruption of the Maelstrom, and this is where players are introduced to the different members of the Nexus Force. Joining the Nexus Force is the only permanent decision players will make, and they will have to choose between four sub-factions, the Assembly, the Sentinels, the Paradox, and the Venture League. Each of the factions represent different play styles, for example the Paradox are generally darker characters, while the Venture League are upbeat adventurers such as Buccaneers.

Ryan took this opportunity while discussing factions to discuss the game's "specialty kits", which are basically sets of gear that are exclusive to a particular faction. This allows players to specialize without choosing a class, and each kit confers a number of abilities to the player to use. It's important to note that is the basis for how LEGO Universe works, "you are what you wear", to take a line from SOE's The Agency. We got a look at the Sorcerer, a Paradox specialty kit, which gave Ryan's character access to sorcery (d'uh!) and this came in the form of several nasty AOE attacks. Ryan noted that specialty kits are unique to LEGO Universe, as they are not available in the physical LEGO toy line. However, NetDevil hopes that down the line players will be able to commission their tricked out LEGO Unvierse mini-figs as real life toys to put on their desk. This sounds incredibly cool.

Following our introduction to specialty kits, we took a quick run through the rest of Avant Gardens, where Ryan made note of a subtle touch that emphasizes the whole creativity vs. destruction theme when our hero destroys a giant Maelstrom robot. The destruction of the robot feeds the destructive energy, causing the robot to respawn quicker, however, if a player decides to build an allied turret out of the robot's parts right there in the world, the robot will respawn slower.

Next up was an introduction to the game's pet system. Players in LEGO Universe can time a wide variety of pets in the game, ranging anywhere from cute dogs and cats to ferocious dragons. The process involves the player executing a special emote near the pet-to-be getting its attention and then trying to assemble the object it is thinking of from a selection of pieces on the screen. The catch is there's a timer, and if you fail to create the correct item within the window you have (in this case, our dog pet-to-be wanted a ham bone), then you lose the pet's attention and have to try again. If you successfully tame the pet you can name it and have it follow you around and do tricks. Pets currently feature no combat functionality, but Ryan notes that these are just "Pets 1.0" and they intend to layer on additional functionality over time.

We've got tons more LEGO Universe to talk about, so be sure to check back soon for part two of our eyes-on report!


Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB