|Building The LEGO Universe|
January 20, 2011 | Cord Kruse
I recently had the chance to interview two of the developers working on LEGO Universe, the massively multiplayer online game which brings the fun and creativity of the popular children's construction toy into the digital realm. NetDevil's LEGO Universe Design Director Jordan Itkowitz, and Tech Director Erik Urdang answered questions about the game's popularity, childhood LEGO memories, upcoming content additions, and working with TransGaming to bring the game to Mac users.
Cord Kruse: What has the response been to LEGO Universe so far? How many subscribers do you have at present?
Jordan Itkowitz: We’ve had a lot of great reviews of LEGO Universe so far, with specific praise towards the game’s visual design, family-friendly gameplay and incredible and novel opportunities for creative freedom. That’s all been really gratifying to read, but what we really love to see is how much the players are enjoying the game.
Only a few weeks after launch, players in our core 8-12 year-old audience rated the game above a 70% NPS score, which is huge. That’s the score that measures how likely users are to recommend the game to someone else, so if the score is that high already, we should continue to see our Universe grow and grow! And sorry, can’t talk about the subscriber numbers at the moment.
CK: A recent press release revealed that players had built over 80,000 LEGO creations in one month alone. What's the current total?
JI: Yeah, we have a lot of busy builders - over 86,000 Property Worlds submitted to our Moderation team in December alone. I don’t know the total number just yet, but we’ve been seeing some really creative, and in some cases, mind-blowing creations. The level of detail and thought that some of our players have put into their Properties is truly impressive. It’s also been awesome to see them digging into the Behaviors system as well which lets them bring those creations to life.
We’re also about to release the first of our larger Property Worlds into the game, so we’re all excited to see what our players will build on them!
CK: Are there long time LEGO fans on the development team? Did childhood memories of constructing LEGO toys provide inspiration?
JI: Oh yeah, of course - I’d say everyone on the team is a LEGO fan! We all have fond memories of spreading out with piles of LEGOs on our bedroom floors or at the kitchen table and just coming up with whatever we could imagine. I think if we could all go back in time and whisper in our former 8-year-old selves’ ears that one day all of those spaceships and secret forts and race cars would come to life in this vast LEGO video game universe on some crazy future computer thing called the Interwebs, our little heads would explode.
And that’s what’s really amazing about this game – not only do we give players of all ages the ability to play and adventure together, but then they can build, create and experiment in an all-new way – and bring those creations to life for the entire LEGO Universe to enjoy. That’s a truly remarkable evolution of the classic LEGO experience where you build something and then show it off to your friends and family.
CK: Given the appeal of the LEGO brand to kids of all ages what is the age breakdown of your player base? Have you found that parents use the game as a way to connect with their children while adventuring together and sharing creations?
JI: Our core audience is 8-12 year olds, and we’ve been seeing the ratio of kids to older players go up and up, which is great. It means we’re reaching our target and those kids are enjoying it so much that they’re really becoming invested in the experience and in their characters.
Family and the ability for parents to play with their kids was a core goal when we were building this game. Many of us have kids, and it’s great to be able to enjoy a game with them and see how excited they get each time they explore a new zone, tame a new Pet or score a new piece of gear. We also did a lot of work to ensure that LEGO Universe is a very safe and friendly experience, and to make sure that parents are comfortable with their kids exploring everything we have to offer.
One of the biggest hooks for parents, I think, is when they see what their kids are actually able to accomplish in LEGO Universe. It isn’t just a game, it’s an all-new way for kids to express and explore their creativity with LEGOs. That’s really intriguing and satisfying to watch as a parent.
CK: In the game players join the Nexus Force in its battle to defend imagination from the attacks of Baron Typhonus and the Maelstrom Army. Will players get the chance to face off against the Baron at some point?
JI: Well, he is our chief villain - at least at this point - so yeah, I’d expect we’re going to learn a lot more about him in the future. In fact, we’ve just added a peek at the Baron in the game – play through the core mission chain in Forbidden Valley to come face-to-twisted-face with the dark power that haunts the Maelstrom!
CK: What new world zones are in the works?
JI: We recently announced the upcoming release of a new adventure zone called Crux Prime. It’s the largest zone available to date, and puts you in the center of a fierce battle as a sea of Maelstrom crashes against the planet’s edge.
Crux Prime also introduces the first chapter in an epic Ninjago storyline, based on the hot new LEGO toy line. You’ll learn a powerful new skill called Spinjitzu, which transforms you into a whirling tornado of pure Imagination. We’ll be releasing more Ninjago worlds and content later in the year – what you’ll experience on Crux Prime is only a hint at how cool it will get.
Finally, there’s the reason we’re all travelling to Crux Prime in the first place – to protect Nexus Tower, which is being built to guard the central beam of Imagination. And yes, it’s a real place – so stay tuned to find out when and how you’ll be able to explore it – and the worlds beyond!
CK: LEGO Universe includes fan created zones such as the Moonbase. What are the advantages of including player created content?
JI: Zones like Moon Base, Deep Freeze and Portabello aren’t just player-made content, they were created by a group of LEGO fans called the World Builder League. These are dedicated, lifelong LEGO builders that worked with us throughout development, learning our tools and processes to create their own worlds. Those are all available through the Starbase 3001 portal world in our game, and we’re all looking forward to seeing what the WBL creates in the future!
CK: Are there any expansions planned for LEGO Universe? What can fans expect?
JI: Well, we’re not really going with the traditional expansion paradigm. Instead, our goal is to ensure that each month, there’s always something new in LEGO Universe. Some months will see large updates like the soon-to-be-released Crux Prime zone or Nexus Tower, while others may see new types of gameplay instances or seasonal zones like December’s Frostburgh update. We’ll also release new collectibles, model sets, Property Worlds, game features and other goodies each month to keep expanding LEGO Universe.
CK: Players recently had the chance to enjoy some winter themed events in the Frostburgh zone. What sort of events and special activities are coming up for LEGO Universe players?
JI: Our Community team has an extensive calendar of events lined up, and so far we’ve been getting great response from our players. To start with, each month we’ll be doing four contests – three are targeted at instances (racing, battling, etc), while one is a month-long Creative Building Contest. Best of all, the prizes for these contests are huge – we’re not just giving away cool in-game content (rare gear, Faction Tokens, etc) but actual LEGO sets are also mailed to the winners!
We’re also doing some special rewards for some of these contests as well. January’s Creative Contest is to build a rocket like the ones you use for travel within LEGO Universe, and we’re hoping to turn the winning rocket into a real modular set you can earn and assemble in the game!
We’ve recently made in-game adjustments that make it even easier for players to save photos (screengrabs) of their Property zones for submission to the LEGOuniverse.com Creation Lab. This means there will be tons of UGC-related contests and events to come there as well. You can also expect more seasonal content updates in addition to our regular patch releases.
CK: TT Games has been very successful with its various LEGO movie tie-in action titles such as Star Wars and Harry Potter. Is it possible players might see some of those licensed properties appearing in LEGO Universe in the future?
JI: That’s what’s so great about LEGO Universe – the possibilities are endless. You’ll just have to stay tuned…
CK: Are there plans for cross promotional tie-ins with physical LEGO products? For instance, codes in LEGO toys which unlock special items in-game, or perhaps toy versions of some LEGO Universe creations.
JI: The Ninjago content we’re just starting to add to LEGO Universe is only the first of those crossovers. I’ve already seen some of the 2012 toy lines and I’m not only excited to get some of it into the game, but also just to pick up those new LEGO sets!
As far as the kind of promo stuff you’re talking about, I can’t talk about anything specific just yet, but like I said above, the possibilities are endless. We’ll be working closely with the other departments within LEGO to discover new ways to share content and ideas.
CK: TransGaming develops the Mac version of LEGO Universe. How does that process work? Do TransGaming developers work closely with the NetDevil team?
Erik Urdang: TransGaming uses a proprietary piece of software called "Cider" which runs on the Mac and acts as a sort of Windows emulator. They don't actually port the game in the traditional sense (i.e., they don't rewrite the game code to run on a new platform); rather, they provide Cider and then make any changes necessary to it to get it to handle any game functionality that wasn't already available in their pre-existing middleware.
During this process, we discovered a (very) few situations where the game didn't run perfectly on the Mac; in these cases TransGaming worked with us to resolve the problems. Overall, the process worked extremely well and we were able to ship the Mac version at the same time as the Windows version, something we would not have been able to do in this time frame by natively porting the game ourselves.
CK: Many MMOs never make it to Mac gamers. What influenced the decision to partner with TransGaming to bring LEGO Universe to Mac OS X?
EU: Pretty simple, we want as many fans as possible to be able to enjoy the LEGO Universe experience.
CK: Will Mac gamers get the chance to play your upcoming space combat MMO, Jumpgate Evolution?
EU: Can’t say just yet, but thanks for asking about it!
For more information about LEGO Universe follow the links below.