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E3 2010: Expanding the LEGO Universe

MJ Guthrie

While E3 offers a glimpse into the imaginations of many developers, one game stands out as focusing on the imagination and creativity of the user: LEGO Universe. Where else can your mooing chickens randomly attack each other? In fact, creativity and imagination are the focus of this game, literally (imagination is a stat used to power your abilities!). With the game releasing on October 29th, 2010, we spoke with the guys at NetDevil to get a scoop on some of the unique features to look forward to, including customization, safety, levels of building, and their behavior system. Then Creative Director Ryan Seabury treated to an entertaining demonstration.

Build a bridge over the cut for the interview highlights!

I want to be unique -- just like everyone else!

Let's start with customization. Everyone wants to be unique, and here is where LEGO Universe shines. There are over 3 million combinations just at character creation. Then, we are told that within minutes of entering the game, new items such as shirts and hats drop to give you even more customization. And unlike most other games, there is nothing preventing you from wearing a mage's hat, carrying a shield, and shooting a bow. With so many choices, individuality will be refreshingly rampant. But that's not all! Bricks that are dropped in game are actually white, allowing you to paint them as desired. So there's no need to pull your hair out hunting down that ONE red brick you need to finish your fancy Spanish villa.

Keeping safe

Another key feature that was brought to our attention is the security measures inherent in the game. While both younger and "older" children (I prefer not to admit to the term "adult") alike enjoy LEGOS, NetDevil admits that their prime demographic is 8-12 year old boys, and they take the safety of their users very seriously. With that in mind, they have developed features to help safeguard children in game. One way they will accomplish this is with their permission settings; each property will have three settings: Private, Best Friends, and Public. All properties and items will be moderated before they are given public designation. Ryan Seabury assured us that this means before it can be viewed publicly, a real human would view the item in question and accept or reject it.

The Best Friends setting allows for families to give permission for their youngsters to interact together, visit properties, and share items without having to go through a moderation process. However, this setting is not like in your average MMO where you simply click to invite and accept. Instead, users will have to go through the official site and be verified by real-world identity. This "enables kids to play in a safe environment and at the same time, opens up the creative possibilities and the social side of the creation," says Ryan Seabury.

The nuts and bolts of building

Another juicy detail was the breakdown on actual building within the game. LEGO Universe is catering to all levels of ability and creativity with three construction levels: quick build; modular build; and ultimate build.

As many 8-10 year old boys (and some impatient adults I know!) don't have the patience to piece things together from scratch, the world offers instant gratification by way of the quick build. Here, you come to a pile of bricks and with just a click it morphs into a predetermined object, just like in other familiar LEGO titles, such as Batman and Harry Potter.

The next level grants more creative freedom and involves more active participation. With the modular build, you gather parts as well as modules for cars and rockets as you adventure throughout the world. Then, when you reach a build area, you can open you inventory and mix and match the parts you have collected to build a more personalized creation. Your parts are also dependent on where you collected them; if you ran through a pirate world, your car may resemble a pirate ship!
The final level is the ultimate build. This one is the brick-by-brick construction known by LEGO aficionados. Although this is the most difficult, it is certainly the most personalized. Using the programming available with LEGO Universe, you can design any creation from scratch. Ryan Seabury tells us that "through that scripting language, [you] can bring it to life and make it do stuff. You can submit it to, and then you can have it sent to your house in real parts, with building instructions." Talk about having something unique!

Bring the world to life

Now about those mooing chickens... The behavior system was a great feature to see in action! Building in LEGO Universe is not just about stacking blocks together, but also about building an interactive world that truly comes to life. While some blocks are static, the game introduces behavior blocks. Behavior blocks can be snapped together to make your creations interact with you, with your visitors, and with each other. For instance, you can script a creation to have a specific reaction when it is touched. Perhaps your chair says "ouch" and moves away when someone touches it. Items can also react to cues in chat -- so your super cool clubhouse can have a secret password. Say the wrong thing, and the door won't even open. The system also can animate creatures. This is where the mooing chickens come in. A really great part of watching the fruits of imagination is when all was said and done -- the results can be unexpected! Once the little flock of chickens was animated, one decided to chase around and attack the others! Don't like your unexpected result? That's where the reset button comes in handy.

Young or old, if you enjoy stretching you imagination and cracking those creative knuckles, LEGO Universe is worth look. Very few -- if any -- other titles out there give you the creative freedom offered here, and security measures make it safe for family playing.

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