The Funcom offices remind us of those ugly-ass PC cases that disguise the powerhouse underneath. Awful on the outside, awesome on the inside.
All the staff's technical expertise is crammed into a boring warehouse on Oslo's west side, but looks can be deceiving. Behind the front doors you'll find a space where game development and Lego have come together in sweet union. Amidst computer screens covered in pink post-it-notes, and books on algebra and calculus, you'll find Lego. Lots of Lego.
The team lives and breathes the little blocks these days. They're building digital Lego, as well as physical Lego. Every workstation has at least a few toy-figures lined up next to it, and in the back of the room you find a meter long Lego version of the Super Star Destroyer from Star Wars. We're told the whole team took part in building it.
It seems they're the right team to build Lego Minifigures Online. Lego in general has a relatively young target audience. The game must naturally follow in the same footsteps, and be capable of captivating young children.
Even so, we're talking about an MMO here, and the biggest challenge for Funcom is quite clearly to make a solid contribution to the genre, without losing younger players along the way. Extra care needs to be taken with the decisions they make. For instance, when designing the monkey enemies in the game, the team originally planned for them to dissolve into small lego blocks when their health bars reached zero. This however, is practically the same as watching the monkeys die, so instead they changed it so the monkeys simply run away once you're done with them. The tigers on the other hand, fight to the bitter end. Because, you know, tigers are evil.
The game is based on the physical Minifigures series Lego introduced back in 2010. As in real life, the idea is to buy sets of collectible minifigures that all have their own clothing, facial designs and accessories. If you've ever collected Dracoheads or Pokémon cards you'll feel right at home. In the game you get to play with the characters as well (not just collect them), and if you buy a Lego Minifigures set in real life you also get a download code to use that set in the game. Neat.
After a quick guide of the Lego filled scenery, we moved onto the Lego-filled digital world Funcom are currently building. We played as a team of four people - three journalists and one developer. First up was a dungeon, where you have to fight through waves of enemy troops in the build-up to a glorious boss fight.
The first thing we noticed was the simplicity of the controls. Apart from basic movement, you have a normal attack and a heavy attack, and that's about it. Luckily you can also quickly switch between the three figures you have chosen to play with for added variety and different combinations of attacks.
In spite of this we had some issues with the controls. Not with the design - movement, two attacks and switching is well inside our comfort zone. The problem was the responsiveness of the characters. Or, to be more precise, the lack thereof. Hopefully this is something that will be ironed out once the development gets closer to the launch date, but as it looks now it takes too long before your inputs transform into action in the game. After all, when we press attack we want the attack to occur immediately, not a second later.
Even so, the game has potential, and one of the features that are sure to attract many players is the cross-platform support. Funcom loves to talk about their game engine, DreamWorld, and this time cross-platform play is the headline. The action will unfold seamlessly across PC, iOS and Android, making it easier for the players to meet up and play together.
With that said we must admit that we're not overly excited for Lego Minifigures Online at this point in time. As kids we appreciated games that challenged us. We appreciated games with depth. There is reason to fear that Lego Minifigures Online might miss the mark on both counts. We wouldn't mind getting more attack combinations to play with, and the Minifigures world needs a higher level of interaction. These elements need to be in place in a solid MMO, and based on our rather brief test the game in its current form is at risk of becoming repetitive. The concept of unlocking lots of minifigures appeals, but our excitement levels would be a lot higher if every one of those minifigures were to introduce unique attacks and abilities.
Because of this, as we walk away from Funcom's Lego playground, we're left with the impression of a decent game that sadly won't be fun in the long run. At least in its current form.
At the same time we admire the passion and dedication the team has for this project, as made obvious by a quick glance at any of the Lego covered workstations. They have already made a pretty game, and it's filled with enjoyable references for children and adults alike. The only thing that's really missing is added depth, and it doesn't have to be an ocean of new features either. Just enough to get us, and keep us, hooked.