Massively: Funcom had a rough year with downsizing and a team merge that affected all three of its extant MMOs. What made Funcom think now was the right time to tackle a new MMO? What will the impact be on the other MMOs in Funcom's stable?
Lawrence Poe: We announced and began preproduction on LEGO Minifigures Online prior to the launch of The Secret World. The team needs were outlined before the downsizing took place and were factored into those decisions. The other MMOs are being supported and updated by our talented Live Team in our North Carolina studio, while LEGO Minifigures Online is being developed in the Oslo studio. The biggest impact the projects have on each other is that we all work from the same tech base, which we've been building upon and fine-tuning over several years and has powered all of our MMOs, so any improvements one team does to the tech can be adopted by the other, which is a win-win for everybody.
It's impossible to avoid comparisons to the now-defunct LEGO Universe, which initially sported a subscription fee that was prohibitive to the family audience. How will this new take on a LEGO MMO differ from the earlier on in terms of business model and creative design? On what points is it the same?
Poe: We'll be revealing more about the business model in the months ahead.
Would you say the game leans more toward the themepark or sandbox style of play? That is, will players primarily be fighting LEGO enemies or freestyle-building with blocks?
Oscar López Lacalle: The game is definitely a themepark, a place where players can collect cool minifigures and take them on awesome adventures with their friends.
Since LEGO is all about building, are there ways that players can piece together LEGOs to make in-game creations and structures of their own? Can other players access these creations?
Poe: Our game is based on the LEGO minifigures toy line, which is all about collecting. Staying true to that, LEGO Minifigures Online is a game about collecting crazy cool minifigures and using them to adventure in awesome worlds while righting wrongs and saving the day. Building will play its part both in succeeding in the world and in PvP. For instance, in PvP you will be able to build turrets that can help you defeat your enemy, while out adventuring you might encounter a river where you have to construct a bridge to get across.
How do players go about collecting the minifigures?
Poe: Players will be able to collect minifigures in a variety of ways like completing missions, defeating bosses and minibosses, earning achievements, and even finding them hidden in chests throughout the world. Players will be able to select three minifigures to have "equipped" at any given time and can freely switch between.
Are there ways to customize the minifigure characters' outfits, hair, and faces?
Poe: The minifigures themselves are quite iconic and packed with personality! Players are collecting the minifigures from the toy series and using them in their adventures as opposed to creating their own unique characters. Because we want to preserve the iconic nature and personalities of the minifigures from the toy line, we have decided not to allow players to alter the appearance of the minifigures they collect. However, players will be able to customize certain statistics and RPG characteristics of their minifigures.
Can you talk about some of the special abilities that the minifigures have? How do they work?
Poe: Each minifigure will have two unique abilities: a basic attack and a special attack. Don't get too hung up on that word basic, though. Many of the minifigures will have a basic attack that synergizes with either their own special attack or another minifigure's. For example, the Fairy fires a magical star with her basic attack. Her special attack summons three sprites that circle around her. The sprites can do two things: They can absorb incoming hits, but they also serve as charges to power up the basic attack, turning it from a direct single projectile into a cone-based attack with three projectiles that can deal very high damage at close range or provide nice area damage from longer range. The fact that you have access to several minifigures at any given time also means you have access to a wide range of abilities, and part of the strategy is figuring out which minifigures and abilities to use in different encounters.
Poe: Each minifigure has several levels to progress through. Leveling a minifigure will make it more powerful and unlock new properties for its abilities. The DJ's Bass Drop, for example, starts out as an area-effect snare; upgrade it once and it does damage in addition to snaring. Upgrade it a second time and it will transition from a snare to an outright root.
What are some of the themed areas that are in the LEGO world? Is it an open-world, or are there instanced areas?
Poe: For the most part we have tried to build out the world with classic LEGO playthemes that both kids and their parents will be familiar with. A couple of the early themes that players will encounter are classics such as Pirate World and Medieval World. We've also got some brand-new themes that we've worked with LEGO to develop for the game, themes they haven't covered themselves in the physical LEGO products . The first example of this is the Mythology World, which we revealed at Gamescom, where players travel through areas like the underworld and battle mythical creatures such as harpies and minotaurs. We've got a few other themes under development, both classic and entirely new. The game is a mix of open world areas and instances, loosely divided into outdoor/indoor. The Hub (which is probably not anything like what you expect; we look forward to revealing it later!) and the outdoor playfields will be open world where players will encounter loads of other players. The indoor experiences are instances that are private for the player and their group of up to four players.
Lacalle: Most of the playfields are open, using our soft grouping tech that allows all players to obtain progress in their quests and activities as long as they are in the vicinity of the objectives. Players can smash pieces of the environment into pieces and defeat monsters together. They can also build things cooperatively, with all involved players contributing to the speed of the building. Some players will be looking for a more focused, small group experience. Those players can get together in teams of up to 4 and go into epic Dungeon adventures. Dungeons contain more difficult boss encounters and events that will put their teamwork to the test.
How do the player-vs.-player battles work? Will they be kid-friendly?
Poe: We will be revealing more about PvP in the months ahead, so what I would like to do is talk about the philosophies that are guiding us as we design a player vs. player system for children.
Child-friendliness is paramount, and the first thing we rejected is that PvP has to mean two teams where everyone is fighting each other. There's no fighting in basketball or baseball (most of the time, at least); there are two teams competing against each other. The team concept is a powerful driver. Teams compete and everyone wants to be part of a team. More importantly, they want to feel that they're able to contribute to the success of the team. So what we've tried to do is create a PvP design that provides for those who want to fight other players and those who don't but still allows both types to contribute to the success of the team.
How did you tackle the issue of making sure the rest of the game is kid-safe (like chat, social interaction, etc.)?
Poe: We've been focusing on child safety since we started, and we'll never stop. Child safety is the first and last thing we take into account for every theme, feature, and system we put into the game. At a high level we're designing the systems to be collaborative as opposed to competitive. The only loot you see is your own. For instance, if you have a mission to destroy pirate surf boards and someone else on your screen destroys one, you get credit too. From a social standpoint, we are working very closely with LEGO and other partners to ensure that we provide the safest environment possible.
Since it's a game aimed at both kids and adults, are there mechanics you chose to implement differently than you did in other Funcom titles?
Poe: Straight away you will notice the controls are greatly streamlined, limiting the amount of inputs a player is expected to do in order to be successful in combat. Movement is on the left mouse button, and so is the basic attack for each minifigure. This will enable the youngest players to easily run around in the world and smash things. Switching between minifigures, improving their abilities, and using the special attacks and capitalizing on the synergies between the various minifigures will provide depth for the more advanced players.
If you look at Age of Conan and The Secret World, things can be quite grim and brutal. In LEGO Minifigures Online we're keeping things light and humorous. There will be no fatalities here; things get smashed, and then they can be rebuilt. I think a lot of people hear Funcom and they think about Age of Conan and The Secret World and wonder how we can go from mature themed hardcore games to a more kid friendly game, but c'mon, we're game developers -- not grown ups!
Lacalle: We understand the need to keep the adults entertained and challenged intellectually. To achieve this, we are adding several different layers of depth and complexity to many elements of the design. At the surface, the mechanics are easy to grasp and straightforward to use. And they need to be in order to make sure that the younger audience enjoys the game. But if you look under the hood, you will see how there are extra layers of depth there. For example, there are pretty elaborate synergies between the abilities of different characters . There are also little details in the handling of abilities in combat that reward players with better motor skills and a better understanding of the capabilities of their team of three minifigures.
Thanks so much for answering our questions!
When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!