Ahead of the release of The LEGO Movie 2 and The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame, Den Of Geek attended a preview event for the tie-in game and chatted to its director, Traveller’s Tales’ Jamie Eden.
This amicable Brit’s nerdy insights into the game and the process of making it were delightful to hear. For one thing, Eden explained what it’s like to work on a gaming franchise that has iconic DC characters like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Green Lantern plumbed into it.
“I think those guys have quite a unique personality of their own”, Eden explained. “They’re like parody, ramped-up versions of Superman, Green Lantern and Batman. So it’s kind of nice being able to come up with quests and missions that play up to that. So like, Green Lantern, in the movie, everyone doesn’t want to be associated with him. They’re always trying to pawn him off elsewhere.”
To expand these throwaway Green Lantern jokes from the film into a playable experience for gamers, Eden and his team built “a whole side-story that involves Green Lantern, and everyone treating him like rubbish. And then, you help him out and become friends with him. So yeah, you rescue Green Lantern!”
If you’re a Green Lantern fan, then, and if you lament the somewhat naff reputation that he has at the movies, this game effectively gives you a chance to cheer Hal Jordan up and help him rebuild that tarnished reputation. And if that doesn’t shift a few copies among DC fans, what will!
For more geeky facts from Mr Eden, and some thoughts from our hands-on preview of the game, read on…
Eden has been working on LEGO games for almost ten years, starting out as a tester on LEGO Indiana Jones 2 and first working as a game director on the first LEGO Movie‘s tie-in title. Across that decade, of course, a lot has changed in TT’s LEGO games.
“They [the characters in LEGO games] had no voices at the point”, Eden recalls of his early work with the brand, before noting how much the idea of ‘what a LEGO game can be’ has developed over the years: “There’s a lot more openness to trying to do different things, especially when they fit the theme of the game. So, in The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame… building is a big thing for LEGO and for the LEGO Movie universe, so [we’re] trying to do as much as we can with building.”
Having played a chunk of The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame, during an hour-long session set within the Apocalypseburg location from the film, we can report that these new building mechanics put a lot of power in the player’s hands. Rather than just smashing up random objects and holding down a button to build what the game tells you to, now you collect designs as you move through the game, and you must obtain the right colour bricks before you can build anything.
It’s almost like an RPG mechanic, allowing players to build up a supply of bricks and designs, which empowers them to craft whatever they might need/want at any moment. And although it takes a few minutes to rewire your brain to this new way of building, it does make the game feel more detailed than previous LEGO titles. Certainly, it is easy to imagine this new mechanic being brought forward onto future LEGO games.
A lot of players might even welcome it, as this approach feels less cookie-cutter and hand-holdy than just building pre-designated stuff by pressing one button. Also, there’s an area later on in the game where you can use the designs you’ve collected to build your own LEGO neighbourhood – there’s a lot of potential in that idea, which does tie together nicely with the film franchise’s focus on real-life building and playing.
Another big change you’ll find in The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame is the structure of its levels. “Doing levels that are more open world and free-roamy, versus linear story levels, is what people prefer”, Eden believes, having listened to player feedback as well as noting that players of other LEGO titles tend to “spend more time in the hubs and the free-roaming and exploring than they do in the story levels”.
Eden thinks that linear levels still “have a place” in gaming, but with this project he wanted to embrace the idea of open worlds and to give players more freedom: “you’ve got a choice,” he states, “you can either follow the story path or hang back to just explore the world.”
The Apocalypseburg world that we played around in is one of many sizeable environments that players will be able to discover in the game, and it must be said that there is plenty to see and do. It’s always clear which direction will lead to the next story beat, but there are also vast expanses of interactive experiences to explore and heaps of NPC’s with missions to dish out. As you’d expect from any LEGO game, there is a playful flair to these mini-missions, and so, hanging back and helping people out with their barmy problems hopefully shouldn’t feel like a chore in the finished game.
“You want to make sure that what’s there is meaningful,” Eden stresses, on the topic of making side-missions fun. “You don’t just want hundreds and hundreds of random things to go and find and tick off. There are lots of little missions that we’ve tried to make sure have got their own story or maybe characters from The LEGO Movie that we meet again in The LEGO Movie 2. We can have a bit of fun with them, like the guy from the TV show in the first LEGO movie… the ‘Where are my pants guy’… there’s a whole story around him just finding pants, trying to find the right pair of pants.”
As if helping Green Lantern secure his street cred wasn’t enough, this game will also let you collect trousers for a fictional TV personality. With all these silly errands to complete, it’s easy to imagine sinking hours into this game’s open world bits instead of constantly rushing to the next story segment. Also, the more missions you do, the more the game will reward you with new designs, rare collectables and playable characters.
Speaking of playable people, this game has absolutely loads. “There’s over a hundred characters,” Eden says, “which are split between your standard minifigs like Emmet, Wyldstyle, Batman, Benny, a couple of Unikitties… we’ve got different versions of her as she goes through the film and unique rare versions… and then minidoll characters, which are sort of the new thing in The LEGO Movie 2, like the Sweet Mayhem character.”
And although the characters in the movie sometimes get separated, the video game adaptation promises to never take a character away from the player once they’ve been unlocked. You have Emmet at the start of the game and you get Wyldstyle very quickly, and even with just those two characters at your disposal, the game throws up some fun ideas. For instance, the ever-misogynistic Batman will divulge information to Wyldstyle that he won’t tell Emmet.
It’s also possible, very early on, to build a sizeable version of Unikitty that you can ride around on. It costs a few bricks to make, but doing so makes it much quicker to travel around. Minifigures can do a lot in this game, but let’s not forget that their stumpy legs aren’t that great for speedy walking.
There’s one unlockable character, dubbed the “Crazy Giraffe Man” that Eden and his team particularly love playing with. (You can see a real-life minifigure of this odd creation in the image above.) As for why this character is so much fun to play with, here’s Eden’s description of Crazy Giraffe Man, which also doubles up as a neat little elevator pitch for what makes The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame feel like a really fun proposition:
“He’s just silly. There’s just a nice thing about running around – I know it’s not serious, because it’s a LEGO world – but for example, the Citadel is this wasteland, Mad Max sort of place where everyone’s gritty and grizzled, and it’s just funny running around as a guy with a giant giraffe head. Driving cars as him and fighting people. That’s kind of the charm of The LEGO Movie, in that you get all this mish-mash of characters coming together in a sort of semi-serious world and seeing them all play off one another.”
A sizeable challenge that faced Eden and his team was the task of converting a 90-minute movie, which was in development at the exact same time as the game, into an interactive experience that can keep players occupied for hours on end.
“One of the things to try and do there is just to try and tell broad strokes and not stick too rigidly to what’s going on [in the film]. In something like a Star Wars game, you’ve got say thirty years of history that you can delve back into and make nods and references and Easter Eggs. With this [The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame], we’re predominantly using the story – what’s the start point? what’s the end point? – and then in between [we focus on] what works for the game. How do we spread things out so that it works better for a game? How do we have the beat points [of the film’s story] work best for the game? But [you can] not contradict what goes on in the movie, as well.”
To complete the tricky task of turning a relatively short film into a game that’s worth forking out your hard-earned cash for, Eden employed an ingenious tactic: taking locations and scenes that are only glimpsed in the film, and working with the filmmakers, LEGO and his own team to expand them in organic ways.
One example of this thinking is a playable asteroid area, which Eden showed off with a video playthrough. As Eden puts it, “the asteroid field is very brief in the movie and you don’t get to see much of it because it’s sort of in one position. But [we explored] this concept of, what else is on here? What other LEGO things could we tap into that can fit this environment? Such as, including references to Benny [the spaceship-loving spaceman] and the classic Space range and the Blacktron range that comes with those, as well as sort of all the minifigs that fans of LEGO will appreciate too.”
We didn’t play quickly enough to get to the asteroid field during our demo, but it looked like a fun terrain to explore in Eden’s video. Eagle-eyed LEGO nuts will spot kits, characters and other assorted Easter Eggs in amongst the asteroid field. And fans of the film will be able to explore an area that they could have blinked and missed in the cinema.
With regards to expanding the movie world to make for a bigger game, it sounds like there wasn’t much in the way of pushback from the film or the retail teams at LEGO. However, Eden does mention that there was a bit of “going back and forth” when it came to adding certain ‘alien invader’ villains into the game. Although the movie touches on the concept of Duplo characters and other sisterly toys invading Emmet’s world, the video game adds loads more of them. These chaotic nasties are basically omnipresent.
Eden explains that the “big boss” versions of the alien invaders, which he describes as “Titan-or-Colossus-sized creatures”, did necessitate a bit of discussion with the other teams at LEGO. Everyone had to “make sure they fit that movie universe, so [the game team] came in with one idea, and then after a couple of chats, it’s like, ‘Ah no, this works better. This is far more fitting to that world.'”
We came up against one of these bosses right at the end of our time with the game, on a high platform, facing out against a giant beastie made of colourful bricks, which had something of a giraffe-like shape now that we come to think of it. This boss level was a lot of fun, and felt like it a had a scope that goes far beyond what we’ve come to expect from a LEGO game. As we rushed about, frantically building things and interacting with items to try and stop our colourful new nemesis, we couldn’t help but be impressed with what Eden has brought together.
The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame has shot up a lot of places on the leaderboard of games we’re looking forward to, essentially, and it should be fun to explore more of its worlds and see what challenges, suprises and Easter Eggs it throws at us. Already, it’s hard not to admire the thought and effort that has gone into this, expanding the world of the movie into something that feels less like a corporately-mandate tie-in product and more like a fully exciting game in its own right.
The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame will launch on February 26th for Xbox One and PS4, with a Nintendo Switch release following on March 26th. Also, if you’re interested in more LEGO Movie 2 stuff, check out our rundown of its coolest tie-in LEGO kits.