Ninja vs. Zombie vs. Pirate: Anything’s Possible in the new LEGO Universe MMOG

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LEGO UniverseLEGO Universe

LEGO Universe

Are you a fan of the LEGO video games? Have you enjoyed playing a minifig version of Luke or Batman or Indiana Jones and solving puzzles in LEGO worlds where no one really dies, they just get blown up into their base bricks? Are you a kid at heart? Then I think you’re going to love playing LEGO Universe (with your children, that is; you’ll love playing it with your children).

Last week I had the honor of being (I was told) the first member of the media to see a demo of the new LEGO massively-mutiplayer online game (MMOG), called LEGO Universe. The scene was a conference room in a small PR office in downtown San Francisco, with the demo being run off a couple laptops and shown on a nice 50″ flat panel TV. What I saw was something special.

The game starts aboard a starship in the clutches of an enormous black hole that’s ripping up space and starting to cause problems to nearby worlds. And don’t be surprised if you don’t feel a bit if nostalgia for Disney’s “Black Hole” – there’s a bit of intentional visual similarity here.

You are a minifig. You can customize your minifig. You then have to go find some special pieces to assemble the escape rocket you need to get off the starship. This is all a means towards teaching you about how to get around and interact with the universe of LEGO Universe. It’s all pretty easy to pick up (especially if you’ve played the previous videogames), and soon you’ll be on your way to the first world in this vast (one might say “massive”) game.

Once you’ve landed, you find the black hole has caused the creatures being studied at a research facility have all “gone bad” and broken out. You need to help stop them. But that’s just a generic backstory. The world you’re on has a huge array of small challenges and puzzles to explore, either on your own, or with friends online. You can earn skills and health, collect a huge variety of LEGO bricks and pieces, build things in game (including free-building with whatever bricks you have), and grow your “spirit of imagination.”

Indeed, that last part is important. No character can die in LEGO Universe. While your minifig may get blown apart, like most of the other creatures in the game can, your imagination endures as a floating ball of light, and can animate a new minifig so you can continue the game. A good feature for younger kids trying what will probably be their first MMOG.

And let’s be clear, this is not a MMORPG. You don’t advance you’re character in stats and experience like WOW or D&D Online. You do build them up to have greater life points, and the equipment and armor they find can help you survive later more difficult challenges, but the long-term perks of play are more about discovery and creation.

Yes, there are Pirates. Also Ninja, and Zombies!Yes, there are Pirates. Also Ninja, and Zombies!

Yes, there are Pirates. Also Ninja, and Zombies!

In the demo, I got to see the starting space ship, and two worlds – one the vaguely sci-fi world of the research station, and another a tropical world with marooned pirates, ninja, and (yes) a dark force that was taking over minifigs and turning them bad. Turning them, really, into zombies. Yes, there was an opportunity to have Ninja and Pirates fighting Zombies (a HUGE selling point as far as I’m concerned).

Each of these worlds were filled with plots and campaigns and side games galore, to the point that each one is probably equal in gameplay mileage to one of the LEGO console games. Considering there was the suggestion (though not cofirmed) of perhaps 10 worlds or more (maybe not that many at launch), and the opportunity for an incredible depth and longevity of experience is huge.

And of course it’s an MMO, so you’re playing online with your friends (again, I mean your KIDS are playing with THEIR FRIENDS). The folks at the demo were very careful to point out the highest priority they will be putting on making LEGO Universe a safe, secure online environment for kids to enjoy.

Obviously, I was really impressed with this game. While it’s intended for a younger audience, I know of many geeky parents who have enjoyed the LEGO console titles, and can easily imagine them exploring and enjoying LEGO Universe right along with their kids – especially since the environment will hopefully preclude the kind of hardcore gamer that can often ruin other games for newbie player. I’m totally looking forward to it!

LEGO Universe will launch in the 2nd half of 2010, and will be available for Windows-based PCs. You can sign up at the website to be kept up-to-date on the launch.

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