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Lego Universe's quest: Build on toy's offline success

June 29, 2010 |  5:34 pm

In a galaxy not so far away (near Boulder, Colo.) brews a game with ambitions to be the online focal point for millions of people who hold a peculiar fascination for colored plastic bits.

Lego Universe, set to hit Earthly computers Oct. 26, is a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game in the same genre as World of Warcraft or EverQuest. But there are two important distinctions. Whereas WoW and EQ are primarily for teens and adults, Lego Universe is meant for kids aged 8 to 12. Avatars in the game are customizable "mini-figs" who try to save the universe by collecting bricks and using their imagination to defeat an evil force called the Maelstrom.

The second, key feature is a software tool that lets players build virtual Lego models, drawing from an assortment of 80,000 bricks that Lego has sold over the years. Once a virtual model is built, say, a bunny, players can program it to perform certain actions. The bunny can jump, run away or explode when approached, for example. To see the software in action, watch the video above.

Lego afficionados will recognize elements of Lego Digital Designer and Lego Mindstorms in this tool. For the rest of us who are not in the know, Lego Digital Designer is a software tool that Lego's master brickbuilders use to design new Lego sets. A free version of the software is also available to anyone. And Mindstorms is a kit that lets players build a robot out of Lego bricks and customize its movements.

The game is being developed by NetDevil, an independent studio in Louisville, Colo., with design support from Lego engineers imported from the company's headquarters in Denmark. Like other MMOs, the game will require players to buy a disc for about $40 at a retail store and pay $10 a month to access the online world.

-- Alex Pham