Nimbus Station is a hub of activity for LEGO Universe, a waypoint where new players learn more about the games four factions Assembly, Venture League, Sentinel, and Paradox before joining one and heading off for further adventures. All manner of mini-figures (or mini-figs, as theyre commonly known) roam Nimbus Stations central area. Various paths lead to Red Blocks Amphitheater, a race track, the launching pad for travel to Gnarled Forest, and other points of interest.
Im here with LEGO Universe creative director Ryan Seabury. As I take in my surroundings, I reflect that perhaps Christiansen might have foreseen the existence of such a place, albeit in a more limited form. After all, a strong imagination is the only key needed to unlock LEGOs multitude of possibilities, and this massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) brings that concept to the forefront.
LEGO isnt just a toy; its a way of thinking and a language all its own.- Ryan Seabury, creative director
The LEGO Group approached us in 2005 to create an online world based on the LEGO play experience, Seabury recalls. When I saw their initial email come through, I almost did a back flip out of my chair. I cant imagine a cooler online universe to build, because LEGO worlds can exist in past, present, and future, in every genre imaginable, and still make sense.
The LEGO Universe story takes place many years after a group of mini-figs set out to find the last essence of pure imagination. Unfortunately, one of them, Baron Typhonus, decided to demonstrate pure imaginations capabilities by building a giant spider, which pulled him into the source of creative power and created the chaotic force known as the Maelstrom. Now innocent mini-figs are being turned into dark creatures called Stromlings, and youve been recruited by Nexus Force to help defeat the Maelstrom.
There were a few iterations of the storyline over the years, Seabury explains, although weve generally stuck to the thread of the Imagination vs. Maelstrom theme, which is about bringing order to chaos through creativity. A lot of people look at this on the surface and see it as good versus evil, but we dont look at it that way.
He adds: Im specifically directing the game to avoid making that kind of statement of absolute morality. Its really about the creative mind shaping the universe around us shaping a pile of LEGO bricks into something meaningful is an expression of this idea, and we wanted LEGO Universe to express it as well.
As for what influenced the creation of the storyline, Seabury cites a wide range of inspiration: Im a pretty huge Dune fan, so youll no doubt pick up on some influence from the themes in that series. Other influences range from Star Wars and Harry Potter and of course the LEGO game interpretations of those series to 1970s kung fu everything, Pixar, Legend of Zelda, The Neverending Story, and just about every comic book in existence, to name a few.
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[LEGO Universe is] really about the creative mind shaping the universe around us shaping a pile of bricks into something meaningful is an expression of this idea.- Ryan Seabury, creative director
The tongue-in-cheek humor youve come to expect from LEGO videogames can be found here too, such as that aforementioned amphitheater in Nimbus Station (a nod to Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado) and the Assembly faction non-player character Mardolf the Orange, whose name is a take-off on Gandalf the Grey (later Gandalf the White) from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
A New Kind of End Game
As Seabury and I watch the activity around us, he ticks off the things you can do in service of Nexus Force: You create your own character, you battle bad guys, you collect tons of loot and gear to equip your character to look cooler and gain special abilities, and you complete tons of missions and unlock lots of achievements. Beyond that, you can buy and sell stuff at shops, trade, emote, and chat with other players, tame pets, play mini-games, and do lots of other things that you can do in any MMOG.
He pauses for dramatic effect and looks at me. But where LEGO Universe really separates from the pack is in its creative play. As part of your overall mission in the game, youre sent to reclaim worlds from the Maelstrom. Once you clear off the Maelstroms influence, pieces of the world become your own property and you can build whatever you want with the bricks and models youve been collecting during the game.
Not only can you build really cool-looking LEGO creations, but you can bring them to life with our behavior system. Then you can share your world with your friends, or the rest of the LEGO Universe if you want, and create your own stories, your own movies, and your own gameplay. This is really a new kind of end game for an MMORPG, where your own ideas drive you back into the gameplay.
A Language All Its Own
In fact, one of the first things you get to do in the game is claim a piece of property as your own. You travel there as well as all other realms within LEGO Universe via your personal rocket ship, which also happens to be your first creation. Any time you visit your property, you only have to slip on your thinking hat to switch to build mode and unleash your pent-up creativity. Ive seen some very impressive player properties, including one that features a multi-level water slide, a pirate ship, and a swimming pool.
Seabury nods as I relate that description and says: LEGO isnt just a toy; its a way of thinking and a language all its own. LEGO bricks can be recombined and interpreted in so many ways, its always something new. Its truly a magical idea that will always resonate with the human mind.