It's been three years since NetDevil started work on its LEGO-themed MMO, but there still haven't been any opportunities to try the game out. Those hoping for a hands-on session at gamescom were disappointed - there was nothing to see but some new screenshots, concept art and trailers, including a rather good one parodying the Mad World promo for Gears of War.
At least we got to sit down for a lengthy chat with LEGO bigwig Mark Hansen and Ryan Seabury, creative director at NetDevil. Read on to find out how LEGO Universe is coming along, and how you'll be able to build your own stuff into its online world.
Eurogamer: What was your initial vision for LEGO Universe?
Mark Hansen: The whole vision has been to develop an MMO where hundreds of thousands of kids can come and play this game. Building is a big part of it, the whole social aspect of it is very big, and then the LEGO playing - taking that from what they experience of the physical product into the virtual product. We're really trying to find those LEGO values and LEGO play and transfer them into this game.
As the name LEGO Universe suggests, it's not just about one theme. It's about the whole universe of LEGO, all the different play themes, all the different characters. It's about good versus evil. It's about building and creativity.
Ryan Seabury: I think of LEGO Universe as being almost like an actor. It can really express itself in lots of different ways. There's epic conflict and serious, heroic battle, but then there's also light-hearted fun. All of these things play out together.
Eurogamer: When will the game be released?
Mark Hansen: We don't have an exact release date yet, but it'll be in 2010. Everything is on time. We're very excited about it, so we're gearing up to start talking a lot more about it and show it much more.
Eurogamer: Is LEGO Universe an MMORPG? From the trailers you've shown it looks like there's more of an emphasis on platforming element within the game.
Ryan Seabury: We definitely lean more towards action in that regard. We want it to be a comfortable experience for the people who played the Traveller's Tales games, but with more role-playing elements to it. The big difference is in LEGO Universe you are the mini-fig - you're not playing Luke Skywalker or Indiana Jones or whoever. You're actually in the mini-fig, looking up at the world and experiencing it all in 3D in a real environment.
From that standpoint you can advance your character, customise them completely, get more abilities, get more powerful as you progress through the game-world and unlock lots of stuff. So there are definitely RPG elements layered in on top of the platforming.
Eurogamer: Regarding customisation - you only have the basic elements of the hair, the face, the torso and legs in LEGO Universe, whereas in a game like World of Warcraft the options are much more wide-ranging. Aren't you going to have a lot of very similar-looking characters running around your game-world?
Mark Hansen: No. Perhaps to start with, but it's all about the items you collect through the game. You definitely change drastically as you progress.
Ryan Seabury: I'd be willing to bet we probably have more unique items and accessories than any MMO I can think of in the game right now. When you think about it, yeah, there's only the legs and the head, they're all the same shape - but really that opens up the possibilities.
Because we have one animation rig, one skin model, from a technical standpoint we can make tons of stuff to fit. It's a modular system and LEGO's already developed for us, over the course of 75 years, hundreds and hundreds of unique accessories. Of course we add unique animations and effects to those. So I'm pretty excited about the depth of customisation you're going to be able to do.