Colorado developer NetDevil has been showing off LEGO Universe gameplay for the first time in San Francisco this week, and Eurogamer was there to see it in action.
An ambitious MMO that attempts to pull all the disparate themes of the LEGO System into one cohesive world, the game is pitched somewhere between Second Life and World of Warcraft, and has been in development for more than three and a half years. It's due for release on PC next year, with a console version a possibility.
It's clear that NetDevil has an epic story in mind - the game opens on the bridge of a starship that's in the process of being ripped apart by a black hole. The black hole has destroyed the LEGO Universe, and you've got to put it back together. The first order of business is constructing a rocket ship (the method of travel between all of the game's different worlds) to escape the gaping darkness.
After arriving on the planet where the main game takes place, the action will be instantly familiar to anyone who's played a Travellers Tales LEGO game, with plenty of platforming and combat action - although unlike those games, here the camera is always centred behind your character.
LEGO Universe features largely invisible stats, with a levelling system that's closer to Nintendo's Zelda games than traditional RPGs. There are no levels, and progress is rewarded with additional items, skills and heart containers. Players can also increase the size of their private building space through questing.
Players can either follow the game's story-based missions, or retreat to their private space, where they can build blocky plastic sex organs to their heart's content. As LEGO is a licence that appeals to both adults and children though, every single model will have to be vetted (using a system of algorithms and moderators) before it can be displayed to the public or friends.
The game features two types of building - LEGO Star Wars-style quick builds that quickly assemble jumping blocks into pre-designated shapes, and full-on, free-form building. Construction is initiated by the wearing of a thinking hat, which fades out the background and places a protective forcefield around the player, allow him or her to build in peace.
Players will be able to see each other building, although the specifics of the construction will be hidden until the model is approved. Certain areas in the game are showcase areas, each devoted to a different object, allowing you to show off your creativity to passers-by.
Just as in other MMORPGs where spells can only be preformed if a player has enough mana, building can only be completed if a player has the requisite 'imagination level'. Imagination is found whenever crates are broken or enemies are destroyed, meaning youll never have to go very far to recharge.
Player accounts will be linked to the existing My LEGO Network website, allowing players to check up on each other's awards, equipment and player achievements.
Watch out for out full feature report on LEGO Universe soon - and be sure to take a look at the new screenshots in our gallery.