Like most nerds, I’m a big Lego fan. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have a small-but-budding collection of Star Wars Lego that is limited in size only by the space I have available at home. Needless to say, if I ever own a mansion there will be a dedicated Lego room.
As such, I’m a big fan of the Lego video games too. Although the games – like the toys – are aimed at kids, they also appeal to adults who have a bit of an obsessive-compulsive streak too. They’re among the few games where the need to play through to 100-per-cent completion completely overtakes my rational mind.
I’ve been working my way through an advance copy of the latest game, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, which hits stores today. My review should be up on CBC at some point on Tuesday (here it is), but in a nutshell: it’s a fun game even if you’ve never seen or care for the movies (I’m in the latter category). Here’s the trailer.
I had a chance the other day to chat with Phillip Ring, the producer of the Pirates game at UK-based Traveller’s Tales. Here’s a transcript of our talk:
This is a game based on a toy based on a movie based on an amusement park ride. Was it difficult to work on it given there are so many licenses involved?
It’s actually a very easy project to work on. We’ve worked very closely with Lego in the past on all of our titles and we also worked with Disney before on things like the Toy Story range, so right from the beginning everyone was on the same page with what we wanted this game to be. It was very simple for us.
The Lego games come out fairly frequently, with the last one – Lego Star Wars 3 – released in March. How do you keep them different from each other?
When we were looking at Pirates of the Caribbean, it was like, ‘Okay, what can Pirates of the Caribbean bring to a Lego game that we wouldn’t have been able to do in something like Star Wars or Batman or Harry Potter?’ There are environments, so places like Tortuga, [where] you can fight on the ships and some really great locations. But there is [some new] gameplay that comes with the franchise as well.
Pirating, all the sword fighting, all the swashbuckling, treasure-hunting elements that really suit the Pirates of the Caribbean world, it makes a lot of sense for us to create new gameplay features that people won’t have experienced in the past. If you look at the sword fighting, for example, we really wanted to make that the next step on from what we’ve done in the past. What now happens as you’re fighting… a low-end enemy may be able to parry you a couple of times, but if you’re fighting more experienced swordsmen like Norrington, he’ll parry your attacks and you can parry his. It’s much more like you’re involved in the combat, which is something that really suits the swashbuckling nature of Pirates of the Caribbean.
In the Lego games, people also found the jumping and platforming elements to be kind of tricky, with people ending up falling off of ledges and things like that. We really wanted to make the mechanics feel like people could do those things that mimic what happens in the film. For example, we’ve got these sticky platforms where if you jump on to it, you bind on to it, which means we can have people running along masts of ships 30 feet above the deck and having a swordfight with Davy Jones. It’s great for us because we can lay new levels out in ways we haven’t been able to do in the past.
We’ve got levels where you can go right from the bowels of the ship, the bottom deck, right up to the top of the mast by climbing up bits of rigging and swinging on ropes. They’re new platforming elements that suit the Pirates franchise.
Some game franchises have become oversaturated with too many releases. Do you see any signs of that with the Lego games?
It’s something we’re always very aware of. We spend a lot of time focus testing by bringing kids in to the office to play the games to make sure that all the mechanics are working correctly. One of the great things we do is bring in people who have never played a Lego game before, but also people who are big Lego fans. We take their feedback and we really want people to feel like they’re playing a different experience every time. We don’t want people to feel like they’re playing the same game only with a different skin, so if you’re a Lego fan and you’ve played Star Wars, Batman, Harry Potter that when you come to play a new game, like Pirates of the Caribbean, that there’s something new. You’re not just going through the same motions.
In our previous Lego games you’ve always had free play, where you play the levels again but you take whichever characters you like. What we’ve done in Pirates of the Caribbean is taken that a step forward where you almost have super free play. At any point in the level you can press and hold the character change button and it brings up the entire character grid. At any point in the level you can switch to any character that you’ve unlocked.
You obviously have separate teams working on different games?
We actually have some people that do work on a few of the different projects. So for example, the guys who made Lego Pirates of the Caribbean are the lead animator, designer and artist who have all been there for years. We have different teams that work on different aspects of games and we also share some resources. So you have some people who are really talented model builders who make all the Lego elements in games. They worked on Star Wars but they also made some of the ships [for Pirates] which Lego aren’t creating. The Lego version of the Flying Dutchman was something that was created by our guys in house. They just basically get paid to build Lego models all day, which sounds great.