April 19th 2003

Did you say "Lego"?

Lego sets were a big part of my childhood. I had a lot of them, 95% of which were space-related sets. I never cared much for the town and castle series. My favorite activity was building elaborate space ships and bases, and I swear, some of my creations were good enough to be sold as official Lego products.

I've seen Lego make the jump to software some years ago, and I must say most of the Lego-related games have been rather disappointing so far. In my humble opinion, the main reason for this is that these games do not offer the one thing that gamers really expect from a Lego game: The ability to build things with virtual Lego bricks. The Lego company can't really be blamed for this, since before now, only PCs could run such building-oriented games, and chances are if you're old enough to own a PC, you're probably too old to play with Lego bricks. Kids are more into video game consoles, and with the power of today's consoles, it seems like we could finally have the kind of Lego game that everyone wants to see.

The Microsoft X-Box, with its built-in hard drive and online capabilities, could be seen as the platform of choice to support this kind of Lego game, but I prefer to place my chips on the Nintendo Game Cube, mostly because the Lego game I would like to see bares more than a passing resemblance to an existing Game Cube game: Animal Crossing. Allow me to elaborate...

Introducing "Lego Master Builder"

I like to call this proposed game "Lego Master Builder", because it pretty much describes the ultimate goal of the game: To become the Master Builder of your Lego town. But it actually goes much farther than that, as you will see. I haven't explored all the possible ramifications of this game design, but I'll try to organize all my ideas coherently.

First, a little introduction: You live in a small and peaceful city on Lego Island. The game begins with a mystery that is baffling the local authorities: The town's Master Builder, Xavier Patterson, has dissapeared. He was under contract with city hall to build a large bridge between Lego Island and the main continent. Now the bridge has been left half-built, and no one in town seems to have the know-how to complete it. Even worse, the mayor decided to close off the island until mister Patterson has been found, so no one is allowed to set foot on or off the island.

Seing how the local police is making no progress with the investigation, you decide to take on the challenge of becoming the town's new Master Builder. If you succeed, the mayor may let you finish the bridge that Patterson had started building, and perhaps you will solve the mystery of Patterson's dissapearance in the process. But becoming a Master Builder is no easy task! You must prove yourself by building a good reputation, and by developing a network of connections to help you speed up your work. Patterson was known worldwide as a top-level Master Builder. Can you achieve the same level of public recognition?

Opening your workshop

When you start the game, you can customize the appearance of your minifig character by choosing from a large variety of Lego leg, torso, head and hair pieces. The game assigns one or two random family members to you, and generates a town using randomly placed buildings and roads.

Your first task is to build your own workshop. This is done by going to city hall to buy a lot of land, and then going to the city library to pick up the blueprint of your future workshop. Once this is done, you must go around town collecting Lego pieces, in an effort to find all the pieces that the blueprint requires. You'll be using this time to get better acquainted with your town and its inhabitants, and once you workshop has been built, the real game will begin.

At your service!

Your job as builder is to fulfill building contracts for a variety of clients who live in your town. When a client drops by your workshop (this can happen even while you're away) or makes a request via Legonet (which is the in-game version of the Internet), he/she gives you a blueprint of what he/she wants you to build: A piece of furniture, a car, a boat, even an entire house! These blueprints work just like the step-by-step building instructions found in real Lego toys. Accepting the contract and promissing to deliver the requested item within a certain time limit is the easy part. The hard part is finding the bricks and pieces listed in the blueprint, and that's what you'll be doing during most of the game.

There are many ways to find Lego pieces. Here are a few of them:
Once you have acquired the necessary pieces, all you need to do is go back to your workshop and build the item. You can do this manually (brick by brick) using a cursor-based assembly interface, or if you want it done quickly, you can ask the game to assemble the pieces for you automatically. When you do manual work in your workshop, the game's timer is slowed town, so you won't be too penalized for spending a lot of time building stuff in your shop.

The client later comes to your shop to pay for the completed item, and your reputation level increases depending on how much time it took for you to fulfill the contract. Improving your reputation is the key to reaching the next level of the game (more on that later).

Further details about the game

There are thousands of Lego pieces to be found in the game, and each piece is available in different colors. Some pieces are quite rare (especially the printed ones) and make certain blueprints hard to complete. On the plus side, completing the more difficult blueprints gets you more money and greatly increases your reputation meter as well. Some of the blueprints themselves are hard to find: Finding such rare blueprints and building the items printed on them can get you a lot of attention from all kinds of people.

Sometimes, clients will come to you to have something repaired. This usually involves finding a few replacement Lego pieces, and then fixing up the damaged item before giving it back to the client. These small jobs don't give a lot of money, but they're good for your reputation, expecially if you find the replacement pieces very quickly.

You can also get blueprints at the public library, and build the items on those blueprints for yourself, given you find all the required Lego pieces. You can store these completed items at your workshop and sell them to customers, if they're interested.

If you need money and have a lot of spare Lego pieces in your inventory, you can go to your workshop and assemble random pieces together to make abstract objects. You can then go to the city museum, and show them to the museum's curator, who may buy these objects from you. He's a sucker for abstract art. :-)

You can record your inventory of Lego pieces, as well as all the other game progress data on a standard memory card. Unlike Animal Crossing, the town doesn't continue "virtually existing" when you turn your Game Cube off. When you resume a saved game, you continue from the point in time at which you last saved.

The e-Machine: Lego pieces on e-Cards

If you have an e-Reader and the GBA-to-GC Link Cable, you can use special Lego e-Cards to manufacture Lego pieces as you need them. To do this, you must first build the e-Machine, for which you can find the blueprint at the library. The e-Machine requires some pretty rare Lego pieces, so building it will be a challenge that you will only be able to complete much later into the game.

Once the e-Machine is built and ready, you can setup a link between the Game Cube and the e-Reader, swipe in the e-Card with the pieces you need, and let the e-Machine create the desired pieces out of thin air! You can make as many Lego pieces as you want this way!

Here is an example of a Lego e-Card:

Each card has four long data strips (two on each side), and each data strip contains four Lego pieces, for a total of 16 pieces per card. But the actual number of distinct pieces you can make is actually much higher, because you can select the color of each piece! The only drawback is that the e-Machine cannot make transparent or printed pieces, so you'll have to find those the old fashion way. There would be about 50 different e-Cards to collect.

The social variables

Searching for Lego pieces is only half of what this game is about. The other main aspect is the quality of your relationships with the other characters you meet and live with. The game actually keeps track of your social interactions with each of the in-game characters, and this social data is used to build a realistic evolution of the social model of your town.

Here are a few examples:

A little competition never hurt anyone...

You are not the only building workshop owner in your town. There is usually one other randomly-generated builder present, and you need to keep an eye on this particular character because you will be in constant competition with him/her, for both money and reputation points. If you allow your competitor to gain too much public recognition, you'll get fewer and fewer clients until you are forced to close your shop, which in this game means "Game Over".

So you have to stay on your toes at all times, and work to improve your reputation and get more clients than your local competitor. If your reputation level reaches the point where your competitor is forced to close his/her shop, you will gain the title of Master Builder, and you will move on to the next level of the game.

Level two: Finishing the bridge

With your title of Master Builder comes the responsability you've been expecting: You have to finish the bridge between Lego Island and the main continent. The mayor will provide the blueprint, and you will have to find the necessary Lego pieces. Not only is this a huge job, but not all the required pieces can be found on Lego Island!

You will therefore need to build a boat and travel to the main continent, where you will visit three other towns on your quest to complete the bridge. You will meet new people, including other Master Builders. Some of these will be potential clients who will ask you to fulfill contracts for them in exchange for some of the rare pieces you're looking for, or money which you can use to progress in your quest. At this point, your reputation as builder will be undisputed, but you'll still be tracking down lots and lots of Lego pieces, as any Master Builder is expected to do.

You may also participate to special events, such as helping the Alpha Team in a mission against the evil Ogel, or participating in large projects such as building a passenger train. Completing these special events successfully will usually get you valuable rewards.

Finish the bridge, and the mayor of Lego Island will throw a big party in your honor, and that's where events will take a weird turn...

Level three: Time travel!

After the party, you will receive a visit from a strange and mysterious professor, who will give you serious clues related to Xavier Patterson's dissapearance, as well as the blueprints for a time machine! As soon as you find all the pieces and build it, you will be able to travel to the dinosaur era, medieval era, the pirate era, as well as the futuristic space era. During your travels, you will encounter familiar castle, pirate and space sets produced by Lego during the eighties and nineties.

Your main goal will be to find Xavier Patterson, who apparently built a time machine of his own and got lost somewhere in time. As Master Builder, you will need to talk to people in all those eras, find elusive Lego pieces and build things with them, from old castles to space ships. You will notice that some of the actions you perform in the past produce effects that change the present and even the future.

If you manage to find Patterson, he will tell you what led him to build a time machine, and as you learn the truth about the mysterious professor who gave you the blueprints for your own time machine, you'll find yourself in a race against the clock that will test all your skills as Master Builder! Can you save the day?


I'm sure I could come up with several other interesting features for this proposed game, but I think I've given enough details.

I think it would be cool to have the ability to link up with other players online, via the Game Cube's modem, and trade pieces, blueprints, completed items, and perhaps even brand new Lego creations built from scratch.

You might say that this game is an obvious clone of Animal Crossing, and you would be right. But to me, this is poetic justice, because Animal Crossing is a rip-off of the Fabuland series made by the Lego company during the late seventies and early eighties! ;-P