In March, Warner Bros is bringing its sandbox title Lego Worldsto console after nearly two years in open development.
The PS4 and Xbox One versions – with Nintendo Switch to follow – overhaul controls and add in story elements, but remain a Lego fans digital dream: a massive palette where almost anything imaginable can be built out of Lego, without the threat of stepping on a misplaced brick.
WIRED speaks with Chris Rose, associate producer at developer TT Games, on Lego Worlds‘ differences to certain other brick building games, lessons learned from releasing the game on Early Access, and whether Lego Batman will be making an appearance.
Chris Rose: It's not just Minecraft – we get compared to all the different building games, I've heard just about every comparison out there! I'd say the biggest differences we've got would be the brick resolution, which improves the terrain. A lot of sandbox games are what we call voxel-based, so cubes, or smaller cubes making up larger cubes. Generally speaking, they're set to a few shapes, and that's how you build the world around you.
We were adamant we wanted to make sure the worlds were as natural looking as we could get them, using slopes and bricks of all sorts of shapes and sizes. We felt, being Lego, there's no ‘default' – every brick is as relevant and useful as the next one, so it was important the terrain looked like it included as much Lego as possible.
Then we have the active vehicles, things like drills and steamrollers; tools like bazookas to blow up huge chunks of terrain; creatures like dragons and T-rex that you fly and ride. I think we're at the point now [from Early Access] where people have finally recognised that actually, Lego Worlds is a very different game. The only similarity to other builder games is that, well, you can build stuff.
How does the difference in Lego brick shapes meaningfully change the experience?
It lets you create at a different scale. If you're building something that has a lot of roundness to it, you have to make it quite big when you've only got cubes available to you. We've given you the shapes to make objects on a much smaller scale. If you want a bigger scale, you can do that anyway, but it means you don't have to do huge recreations of stuff – you can build 1:1, or slightly bigger or smaller.
We've also added tons of door and window types. It sounds pretty simple but a bank vault door is pretty big – you want to make sure it feels weighty as well, like you can't easily destroy it.
You launched in Early Access on Steam in 2015. What have you learned in that time?
First and foremost how much people wanted this game to be made. We knew people would like it, but we were blown away by how positive people were towards it. Even the negative reactions weren't full blown “we hate this” – they were reasoned complaints that made sense. [It gave us] information to take on board, so we could reconsider some of the decisions we'd made.
[For instance], the UI has changed four times in the past two years, and one of those never even saw the light of day. We hated it, it wasn't good enough.
Mainly, we wanted to try out new stuff. Because we were in Early Access, we were in an environment where you can use some trial and error – people are a bit more forgiving when you have that approach.
Bringing the game to consoles, how have you adapted the more precise controls of mouse and keyboard?
We've iterated the controls four or five times, with all sorts of tests – bringing kids in, public tests, and feedback from the community.
We'd supported controllers [on PC], but with mouse and keyboard you can get in close. My approach was that [in any form] a pointer should act like a trackpad. I used to exclusively play Worlds in Early Access on a trackpad. I thought the [controller's] thumbstick should behave in a similar manner, so we used that as a focus. The pointer behaves in places like you'd expect a mouse to, just a very slow mouse, but the actual building tools themselves are finely tuned so they don't shoot off or snap bricks out of place.
You've announced you'll be allowing players to share their Lego Worlds creations – how will that work?
It'll be involve sharing models more than whole worlds, because the world data size is massive. We don't want to over-do it and eat up people's bandwidth usage. We settled on the models as they're a lot smaller – some of them are only a few megabytes. The idea is you'll use a tool in-game to copy what you want to capture, go into a micro-editor, and when you save it there's a tick box to upload it to our servers.
Will you allow world sharing if there's demand?
I wouldn't say it's inconceivable [but we'll see] if we get enough feedback. What we have said is that when the game is out we're going to do something very similar to what we did in Early Access – every once in a while, we're going to step back and absorb the information, listen to what everyone is saying.
We'll do that for the release of the title, as we're effectively starting over with more people involved, with Xbox and PlayStation players coming in. If people turn around and say they want to share their entire world, then we'll figure something out.
Will user-created content be cross compatible between formats?
The model file is Lego's own system. If you have the LDD tool – Lego Digital Designer – there's a filetype called LXFML. You could build something on the PC version now in LDD, import it into your save file folder, and it'll work in the game. Obviously you can't get into the directories on console, but it's still LXFML that we use, so shared models will be cross compatible.
Lego games are almost synonymous with licenced characters – will other properties be coming to Worlds?For now, we've taken the approach that [i]Lego Dimensions was the mash-up. We'd like Worlds to sit in its own bubble for a while and be free of those IP approaches, or being tied into all that. We're trying to focus it very heavily on the Lego themes – City, Creator, Minifigs for characters – and we've found that's working quite well. Some people are asking us “can we get a Star Wars pack, an Indiana Jones pack, a Lego Batman pack?” It's not that we don't want to, it's just that we think we've done those in other ways, so we don't want to over-do it. It's nice to have a game that isn't tied into any other franchises.
Lego Worlds launches on PS4 and Xbox One on March 10; the Nintendo Switch release date for the game has not been revealed.