When I named Lego Universe my best of show on our post-E3 podcast , a few of my compatriots were really surprised, so I wanted to run down a few of the details that got me so excited about this kid-friendly, adult-liberating game. If E3 showed me one thing about the industry, its that developers are realizing en masse that games are more dramatic and exciting when they get real relationships involved--your opponents need to be real people and your allies, your real best friends. I saw examples of just about every genre making the leap into persistent online worlds: shooters, puzzle games, classic RPGs, space flight sims--you name it, it was there.
But those are all existing genres with some MMO features mixed in--although many of them were incredible (and almost got my pick for Best of Show), none of them felt as inspired as the brick-by-brick playground of LEGO Universe . It's tough to nail down exactly what genre LEGO Universe is. It's surely part RPG--you run, you accept quests, you smash enemies—but you also climb rock stages, assemble guitars and wail on your brick axe for a roaring audience. You build cars to race against your friends, you build rocket ships to fly around the world, you build a fort and fill it with chickens that moo at any of your friends that show up.
The focus of NetDevil's presentation at the show was on the free-build areas of the game. You're given a completely blank slate to build whatever your imagination wants—it's like having every single LEGO set you've ever envied on TV fall out of the sky onto your lap (and none of those annoying these-two-bricks-feel-like-they're-stuck-together-with-invisible-super-glue moments). The characters' resource in-game is “imagination”, but you're going to need it as well. The editing tools are incredibly robust, allowing you to quickly build with themed sets, tweak it brick by brick, or build the entire thing manually. Controls are intuitive and here's the kicker-you can tweak the AI of anything you build.
One demo I watched (and you can too here ) shows the developers adding a knock-knock joke to their fort's gate, allowing only friends who know the joke to get in; making chickens moo and run around when a player says “release the hounds”; a T-Rex that chases anything that moos and sections of the fort wall collapse when touched. If these were simply drop-down menu selections, I wouldn't be very impressed. It would be limited; it would be disappointing—but its not! The AI is handled through a drag-and-drop programming-based logic that leaves it ripe for creative players to invent advanced actions and events.
More than anything, LEGO Universe is my pick for the Best of Show because it reignited in me a feeling that video games have left dormant in me for so very, very long: imagination. I can't wait to create a whole new set of memories of playing with digital LEGOs for hours, creating huge worlds out of bricks and bringing them to life.