Warner Bros. will enter the toys-to-life category later this year with LEGO Dimensions, which will compete against established franchises like Skylanders, Disney Infinity, and Amiibo. With its lineup of characters from many major media franchises, including Lord of the Rings, Batman, Portal, Jurassic Park, and more that we learned about today, Dimensions certainly has a chance to appeal to a wide audience.
To learn more about Dimensions, we spoke with developer TT Games founder and creative director Jon Burton about the project. In our interview, Burton discusses the origins of LEGO Dimensions and the nature and complexity of working on a game where Gandalf and Bart Simpson can interact.
Also in the interview, Burton reveals one of the concepts that his team thought about for Dimensions, but it’s probably not what you think.
He also reveals that, while Warner Bros. won’t release a new Dimensions Starter Pack in 2016, the publisher already has a content roadmap for the game through 2018. Check out our full interview with Burton below.
For more on Dimensions, be sure to read our new hands-on preview.
Getting to play across licenses has been traditionally very tough. Can you take me through some of the steps of getting here? How did you manage to let the various license-holders get to enough of a state of trust that they entrusted their characters to you?
We’ve been making games based on licenses since 1993, and have made two Sonic games, two Crash Bandicoot games, Toy Story 1 & 2, as well as all of our LEGO games, so license-holders can see how carefully we treat licenses. Most of our LEGO games are popularly seen as love-letters to the IP they are based on, which I think gave license-holders some comfort. We understand and love each license we work on, and it shows in the games. The biggest hurdle was getting different license-holders to agree to have a mix of licenses in the one game. The LEGO Movie introduced cameos of different licenses into a consistent LEGO world, which certainly paved the way and opened a few doors. Finally, we explained how we were digitally recreating the way kids play with LEGO sets, and if they owned a Lord of the Rings set and a Batman set no one could stop them combining the two in the real world, so why stop them in the digital world?
“Most of our LEGO games are popularly seen as love-letters to the IP they are based on, which I think gave license-holders some comfort.” — Burton
What sort of role did your previous LEGO titles–and of course The LEGO Movie–have in getting some of these licenses across the line?
Being an executive producer on The LEGO Movie gave me a good insight into how license-holders thought, and what they were and weren’t happy with when it came to seeing their licenses mixed together. The previous LEGO titles gave them the comfort I mentioned above.
This will be the first time the team has been able to craft a narrative from scratch. How tough was it to get to that concept that tied the whole thing together? Can you tell us how you came up with it?
I knew from the start that I wanted to have many different LEGO themes combined into one game, and from a gameplay point of view, mixing the worlds together was very important. I went through several different approaches at first, including one where the “villains” of the piece were finally revealed to be the original LEGO family set from 1974 who were angry they had been replaced by minifigures. We also looked at starting with a previously released LEGO game and adding physical toys to that. In the end I just figured out what the gameplay needs would be; having a reason for characters to come and go at any point, a reason to jump from world to world and so on and then crafted a plot to support those mechanics. It took a long time to get to that point, but then a treatment only took a couple of days to write after that.
How much freedom do you have once you have these various characters and licenses in the game? Are you able to freely use the characters, or are there usually guidelines for you to follow?
Obviously, license-holders have the rights to approve anything, and we would show them every instance when anything other than the characters and vehicles appeared in the game. We didn’t really have any pushback from anyone; we were really surprised how happy they all were to have everything mixed up. In terms of the characters and vehicles, there are no restrictions at all on when and where they appear in the game.
The whole concept of being to able to mix and match characters from various franchises is very much more akin to how kids actually play. Is that what you were aiming for with Dimensions?
“We already have plans for the next three years and plenty of companies have approached us to get involved.” — Burton
Absolutely, it is the foundation of it. I was really interested in how LEGO had packaged the Bionicle toys eight years ago. You got a $15 tube with the character in it, and it was a great price for a gift and was very popular. I wanted to sell bite-size games, say five levels, based on a single IP or film, in a $15 package. But if you had more than one game, then the characters could go from game to game. You’d be able to buy five of these games and they would all freely mix. But there wasn’t a distribution model for it at that time (no DLC), and the license-holders wouldn’t have allowed the mixing from game to game, so I kept my eyes open for a model that could support it, and then the toys-to-life category came along and I thought “Ah…”
You stated that LEGO Dimensions will be a platform. Does that mean you plan to add in more worlds and characters? Any hints on what types of worlds you’re thinking of, or what characters/licenses lend themselves well to the game?
We absolutely see Dimensions as a platform. They’ll be no new Starter Set next year, but lots of new content that will be compatible with everything we release. We already have plans for the next three years and plenty of companies have approached us to get involved. We’ll have lots of exciting new announcements in the new year.