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Building the LEGO MMO 116

Posted by Soulskill
from the brick-by-brick dept.
Gamasutra has a lengthy interview with NetDevil's Ryan Seabury, creative director for LEGO Universe, which is due to launch next month. He talks about some of the difficulties in graphically optimizing a game with so many discrete, interactive objects, and mentions that they'll be keeping an eye out for inappropriate contructs to avoid problems similar to those that cropped up with Spore. "One thing we can say is when you build models you have your own property, and you can share that if you want to. If you share something publicly, it will be monitored by a human before it's seen by other people." Seabury also explains their desire to keep the game simple, using players' creativity as a driving force, as well as NetDevil's decision to stay away from a micro-transaction business model.
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Building the LEGO MMO

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  • One with little lego caltrops.
  • What do you expect to see as entrance to the MMO lego city?

    1 - Two majestic statues of great kings of the antiquity.
    2 - A large lego WOW-like portal.
    3 - A giant penis.

    If you answered anything but 3, please select "noob" difficulty, as you clearly know nothing of online gaming.

    • by MrDoh! (71235)

      heh, totally.
      Freerealms has had some freaky constructs, Everquest is just about to release housing where you can build structures for all to see. Amazing the creativity (and depravity) of players!

    • by Taco Cowboy (5327)

      If your answer is "3" you ought to be working for Disney.

      One of their cartoons has a giant penis in the background.

  • by zoward (188110) <email.me.at.zoward.at.gmail.com> on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @03:58AM (#33720324) Homepage

    "Giant lego penises": while it seems like a foregone conclusion that this will eventually happen, I played pretty extensively in the beta for over two months and never saw anything offensive. The areas where you can free build are human-checked before they are open to the general public. Chat is limited to a pre-defined dictionary list. Every name you type in for either yourself or your pets is human-checked for offensiveness or trademark violation before it is approved. Hopefully I'm not overstepping the bounds of their NDA by saying all this - my point is that I had no qualms about letting my 7-year-old play unattended. And that's saying a lot for an MMO.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Lonewolf666 (259450)

      Sounds like the kind of hyper-censored environment that even a 7-year old will be bored in. Let alone older kids.

      I won't play that game for certain.

      • by LordLucless (582312) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @04:25AM (#33720440)

        Hey, I played lego heaps when I was a kid - and we had no chat, or public areas to share the creation in. If the game is close enough to the real thing, the censorship will be a non-issue. Of course, I doubt it will be - tactile sensation and physical objects aren't replacable by images.

        • by Nesman64 (1093657)

          Ah, memories:
          Nothing like the feeling of a red 1x1 in your foot in the middle of the night.

        • by Chelloveck (14643)
          But how will they simulate a chipped tooth as you try to get two of the flat plates separated?
      • It's hyper-censored in the sense that everything is checked before it's let loose on the general public. But it's not meant to be extremely restrictive.

        But you're right that LEGO should be careful. If a 7 year old kid in there is told "that spaceship looks too much like something naughty", or "we don't want you building LEGO crossbows" once too often, he'll be out of there.
        • "we don't want you building LEGO crossbows"

          i doubt this will happen, considering lego actually sells crossbows themselves (and spears, swords, axes, maces, rifles, pistols, blasters... etc) Sure Lego never really openly built modern warfare type stuff, but they always have opposing factions in their medieval/pirate/ninja/space themes, with copious amounts of weaponry thrown in. They may not make a main battle-tank, but they ship a mean catapult!

          And short of making a few 1940s wehrmacht sets, i'm not sure if they can make sets more "evil" then the pl

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Lonewolf666 (259450)

          Actually, I think the "Chat is limited to a pre-defined dictionary list" will be the most obvious and annoying restriction. Because each typo means you have technically entered a word that is not in the dictionary and your message will be blocked. Maybe a few common typos will be allowed for convenience, but I don't think that will really solve the problem.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by dangitman (862676)

            Actually, I think the "Chat is limited to a pre-defined dictionary list" will be the most obvious and annoying restriction. Because each typo means you have technically entered a word that is not in the dictionary and your message will be blocked.

            I've found the opposite. Words that are in an English dictionary are usually banned. Words that are misspelled or not in the dictionary have a much higher chance of passing the filter.

        • by dangitman (862676) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @05:18AM (#33720600)

          It's hyper-censored in the sense that everything is checked before it's let loose on the general public. But it's not meant to be extremely restrictive.

          Except that it is. The chat system is so restricted that it's almost impossible to communicate. It's actually forbidden to say phrases in chat that actually appear in chat generated by the game itself! It's so bad that I feel it's dangerous to children's development. I'd rather have it uncensored, than have children think that this kind of out-of-control censorship is an acceptable model.

          • by uncledrax (112438)

            The worst part I found was I've had my PASSWORD for the system rejected because apparently a sub string of it was offensive in a different language (Russian, I believe, but hey, now I know a new cuss word in Russian.. Thanks LEGOUniverse!).

            I have to agree that attempting to 'chat' in game is annoying and difficult to say the least. I realize they want to create an 'all ages' environment, and I guess any in-game 'guilds' will just use a VoIP-like service anyway.

            • The worst part I found was I've had my PASSWORD for the system rejected because apparently a sub string of it was offensive in a different language

              Because storing it in unencrypted form is obviously teh smartest idea evar! They probably have something like this:

              if ( form.user.name = 'uncledrax' AND form.user.password != 'merde' ) // oh noes! rude!
              status = error;
              doPopupError('invalid password');
              elseif ( form.user.name = 'cowboyneal' AND form.user.password != 'Ice Hook' )

          • I'm a bad beta tester. I only played the beta a couple of times -- my friends and I got a few keys at Comic-Con. Perhaps they've improved things in the past couple of months that have elapsed since I abandoned the game, but I have to concur that the chat system was terribly restrictive. At the time I played, I couldn't even say people's names, like "how are you today, Nancy?" The word "wife" was banned, so I had to refer to my friend's significant other as "girl friend" (a concatenated girlfriend was a

            • As far as I know, question marks are legal now, but it hasn't gotten much better. Almost all forms of number words (and their corresponding numerical representations) are still banned, and a lot of quest-objective words are off limits as well.

          • by BlackBloq (702158)
            You don't have kids. Simple as that.
            • by dangitman (862676)

              You don't have kids. Simple as that.

              Why do you say that? Not all parents are hysterical idiots who want to teach their children to be stupid. If you were a parent and you tried this game, you would want to keep your child far away from it. I'd rather have my kids play an "adult" game that doesn't treat them like moron, and doesn't teach them that they can't use the English language.

      • and older kids who do won't be missed.

        Censorship is sometimes a requirement in a society who use the anonymity of the internet to be dicks. People also forever underestimate the desire of many people to play in environments free from jerks. Let alone keep them away from their kids. When growing up jerks tended to be hauled off by parents or teachers. We have gone from real playgrounds to virtual ones but we still need supervision.

        • by dangitman (862676)

          People also forever underestimate the desire of many people to play in environments free from jerks. Let alone keep them away from their kids.

          The problem is that the Lego MMO's system is much more inclined to create jerks than to dissuade them. It's extremely fucked up. You're probably imagining it as some kind of utopian system that makes everybody nice. But in reality, the restrictions cause so much trouble that it's basically asking to take griefing to a whole new level.

          Bottom line is: if you are so worried about your child's social interactions online or otherwise, why would you even let them near an MMO, even if it is dumbed-down to be supp

          • A parent shouldnt have to make a choice for a 5 year old between being a sociopath and a bubble boy. There is no free speech right
            to show virtual wangs to children. In fact the free speech right is on LEGO's side. Its their content and their right to make editorial decisions about how their game should function. That IS free speech, the right of the editor to decide what they will publish and not publish.

            This is not an adult MMO it is specifically designed for kids. Mmos are part of life now, and there shou

            • by dangitman (862676)

              A parent shouldnt have to make a choice for a 5 year old between being a sociopath and a bubble boy.

              What are you saying here? That if a parent doesn't let their child play Lego Universe, they will become a sociopath? Why the false dichotomy?

              In fact the free speech right is on LEGO's side. Its their content and their right to make editorial decisions about how their game should function.

              Did I say anything about Lego not having the right to publish this game the way it is? That has nothing to do with the issue.

              It is my right to say that it's a terrible game that nobody should let their children near.

              This is not an adult MMO it is specifically designed for kids. Mmos are part of life now, and there should be some
              kid friendly ones.

              And it's designed badly. It's designed in a way that is not good for children, that stifles their natural creativity and learning. As for MMOs being "part

      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I was also in the beta. Trust me, you'll get bored of the shallow, crappy gameplay long before you even notice the censorship.

      • by MaWeiTao (908546)

        Boo hoo... You wont be able to get away with building a dong. All the aspirations of children around the world have been crushed! Apparently you've reached the limits of your imagination quite quickly.

        I find it rather obnoxious how offended people get when they aren't allowed to do something offensive or lewd. Do these things define your existence? You can't just once accept that people might not want to be exposed to this, especially in a kid's game?

        Personally, I wouldn't lose any sleep if my daughter came

      • If you read the article, they actually seem to have a halfway decent compromise going.

        Essentially, you can be un-censored and un-reviewed in anything you say or share with people on your friend's list, it's just public chat and anything shared for general consumption that gets reviewed. Which seems not intolerable for a kid's game.

        So you and your friend can make giant lego penis starships, you just can't go park them in front of the city gates. At least, that's what the developer seemed to be saying.

    • I wouldn't rely on whitelists to restrain human language. Innuendo will evolve faster than the mods can keep up with it. It's probably fine for your 7 year old, who's probably not linguistically sophisticated enough to understand that sort of thing, but older kids will be able to subvert that sort of stuff without too much trouble.

      • by Eivind (15695)

        Certainly. Letting humans communicate, but preventing them from saying "bad things" by way of black or whitelists, or even pre-determined phrases (if you can call that communication at all) is a lost battle.

        How'd the disney-story go again ?

        I want to put my strong giraffe in your fluffy rabbit ?

    • by Greyfox (87712)
      Could enough user conspire to build structures that seem innocuous on their own but which make an incredibly giant penis when viewed from above?
    • Chat is limited to a pre-defined dictionary list.

      Indeed, and it's why I haven't bothered to *use* the in-game chat. It's useless. I was trying to get another player to work with me to get one of the goodies, and I couldn't tell him "we need to build all four at the same time", because "four" is not in the dictionary. Indeed, almost none of the number words (or numeric representations) are in the dictionary.

      Every single time I try to use the chat to either ask for help or get help from another player, I end up having to say it in the most roundabout way

  • If they can make it open enough (and dialing the censorship back to a bare minimum) so as to harness the incredible creativity that's seen in all the Minecraft videos online, then they may be onto a winning formula.
    Because that game is more than a little bit addictive.

  • by emj (15659) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @04:09AM (#33720364) Homepage Journal

    Minecraft [minecraft.net] seems to be doing "fine", http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qss4uy6C_g0 [youtube.com]

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by trooperer (1305425)
      Minecraft should be made contraband, just like Heroin
    • by Supurcell (834022) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @06:23AM (#33720784)
      I just started playing Minecraft two weeks ago. Last weekend I joined my first public server with a buddy of mine. Fantastic creations as far as the eye could see; monstrous spires that tickled the clouds and pyramids made of solid gold. That's when my friend turned to me and asked what we should make. I told him we should build a penis.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Better yet, find a lava flow source and make that be in the hole at the end of the penis. Call it Mount Gonorrhea.
    • Blockland [blockland.us] is more LEGO-like than Minecraft, and has been doing this since 2007.

      Vehicles and a character designer are the main advantages that Blockland has over Minecraft.
      What it lacks over Minecraft is you don't craft stuff so much as interact with bricks in the environment.

      The lights and guns and bows and what not are a nice touch though. It feels more like the LEGO Starwars/Indie games than a Minecraft clone.

  • by Nursie (632944) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @04:14AM (#33720394)

    "As a comparison, a two by eight LEGO plate brick, a very simple brick, is about twice the polygons of say, a World of Warcraft avatar."

    Eh?

    Ur doin it wrong?

    Maybe they're not, and I'm sure that they know what they're talking about after such a long dev cycle, but that just doesn't seem right to me.

    • by Henour (1513727)
      WoW Avatars (without equipment) are not really complex model wise, so i can imagine that to be true. If you take an WoW character with some fanc gear equipt i'm sure the equation is moot. (As each piece probably has more polygons then the Avatar itself :o)
      • WoW Avatars (without equipment) are not really complex model wise, so i can imagine that to be true. If you take an WoW character with some fanc gear equipt i'm sure the equation is moot. (As each piece probably has more polygons then the Avatar itself :o)

        1. As someone who's dabbled into 3D modelling, you'd be surprised how fast the polygons go into something that actually doesn't look all that detailed. Especially if you make it for 1920x1200 screens, not for ye olde 320x200 VGA mode. You can sink a few hu

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by damien_kane (519267)

          I mean, let's do some maths. The bulk probably goes into the nubs on the brick. Let's make the cylinder actually a 16 sided prism, which from my experience looks smoothly round even for a gun barrel or polearm shaft you're seeing in first person. That's 32 triangles for the cylinder. The top is 16 triangles (think dividing by lines from the centre to the corners.) Let's round the transition nicely from sides to top, for which actually three steps of increasing slope is more than enough. (Heck, at the size of those even one is enough, but let's be generous.) That's 3x32 more triangles for that. Grand total: 80 triangles.

          But wait, we have to do the hole on the other side too, and let's do it at the same level of detail. (Although here that rounded transition is really overkill with 3 segments, but ok.) So it's another 80, for a total of 160 per nub.

          A two by eight brick is 16 such nubs, for a total of 16, which needs 2560 triangles. Add a few more for the plate and you're still under 3000.

          It doesn't sound like you included the hollow cylinders [ ($length - 1) * ($width - 1) ] times, for a 2x8 brick that's 7 hollow-cylinders. These take a lot more polygons than the solid nubs at the top.
          Add in the LEGO logo on each nub, as raised text, and you've added a lot more polygons.
          From TFA, though, a lot of this extra is taken out when the finished model is sent to their modelling cluster for general display, as the top nodes used in connections can be removed and the bottom cylinders which are comp

          • Actually, it still sounds stupid to me, although more in the way of whatever were they thinking when they based an MMO on that.

            Even if you remove the bits used in connections, there will still be plenty which aren't. As a trivial example, any sloped roof made of Lego bricks will still be a huge brush of nubs.

            Basically think even a small city like Stormwind, if it were made of Lego. Even after removing the bits used in actual connections, you're still left with several million polygons just in nubs and cylin

            • by steelfood (895457)

              There are some aspects that textures can simulate, e.g. the slope bricks' rough surface.

              But the initial assumption of 16 sides to a circle (both on top and on bottom) is probably on the low side. Most 3D engines get away with it because they use fancy texturing to simulate the smoothness of the circle. But with so many studs and bottom tubes on the screen at one time , I have to wonder if this trick is feasible.

              In LDraw, the low-resolution circles are 16-sided, and they're not great. The high-resolution cir

              • by Moraelin (679338)

                TBH, I'd hardly count using normal maps as fancy texturing. They've been standard stuff for years. And, heck, even if you somehow managed to get a graphics card which lacks that, simple lighting interpolation based on corner normals has been standard in, well, any hardware-accelerated card I know of. And even in ye olde days of doing it in software, Phong or Gouraud shading were rather run of the mill stuff.

                But at any rate, as I was saying, I _have_ used polearms and maces with 16-sided or even 12-sided sha

          • by julesh (229690)

            Add in the LEGO logo on each nub, as raised text, and you've added a lot more polygons.

            This is what bumpmaps are for. You shouldn't be looking at them closely enough to see they aren't actually raised.

    • the brick itself is simple, with six sides of two polys each, but the nubs on top, which are round, probably eat up a lot of polys. And in this day and age they probably felt make the round nub an octogon just isnt good enough anymore, the bottom shape is even more complicated

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I don't have any lego bricks handy(all my lego toys are in my parent's house basement), but if I remember correctly they had the "LEGO (tm) (c)" logo embossed all over them, especially on top of every nub.

        My guess is that they are reproducing it like in the real bricks. I imagine that doing this with an high detail level will heat heaps of polygons.

        I'm sure a programmer or 3d modeler would never do such a crazy thing and just use some good texture...But I can see managers getting picky about such a detail n

        • by Gordonjcp (186804)

          I'm sure a programmer or 3d modeler would never do such a crazy thing and just use some good texture...But I can see managers getting picky about such a detail notwithstanding any technical problem.

          Surely you'd do the logo (and any surface texture) with a bumpmap?

          • by dangitman (862676)

            Surely you'd do the logo (and any surface texture) with a bumpmap?

            A bump-map is just another type of texture-map.

    • by Rhys (96510)

      Most likely, no, they're doing it right. Circles/spheres are hard on the poly count. Each stud on top, plus the offset lock rings on the bottom (which are hollow too, so they count twice) is a circle that needs to be high poly so it doesn't look 'wrong'.

      The LEGO Group is big about that sort of thing.

    • by llZENll (545605)

      Your answer is already in the article. Basically LEGO will not allow their bricks to be simplified to simple 6 sided cubes.

      "LEGO is uncompromising about how those need to look."

    • by Animats (122034)

      That's about right, if you show the detail of a block in free space. Texture mapping doesn't help much for Lego blocks.

      However, as soon as a Lego block meshes with another Lego block, you can drop most of the now-interior detail. A block in a wall comes down to one rectangle on each side. Big flat areas can be reduced to texture-mapped rectangles covering many blocks. From a distance, you can drop the model of a block top or bottom to a rectangle with a bump map.

      Worst case is a fly-through over a si

  • by dangitman (862676) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @05:29AM (#33720624)

    I got the feeling playing it that the developers just aren't competent. Sure, it was a Beta, but it was horrifically bad.

    As I noted up-thread, the "child friendly" measures are so out of control that they offend the intelligence of even the most stupid people. It's almost an insult to humanity and the wonderful vehicle of verbal communication we have evolved. It's absolutely an insult to the spirit of Lego. I wonder if the upper levels of management have any idea how this game is dragging the good name of Lego through the sewer. It is absolutely antithetical to what Lego represents to many of us: creativity, fun, ingenuity and quality.

    You can actually type improperly-spelled gibberish into the chat system, and it will allow this through, before it allows a properly spelled polite sentence. And it gets crazier. You can't even give this feedback and register your objection on the game's forums, because they have a ridiculous character limit, and anything meaningful that is said will be censored. Absolutely horrific.

    • by Bieeanda (961632) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @07:53AM (#33721078)
      It's Netdevil. They've had one game go into beta and fail, then years later go beta, go live, and fail, and years later have plans to go live again (namely, Jumpgate and Jumpgate Evolution). Their other 'big' game, Auto Assault, limped along for about a year after launch. How they got a license like LEGO, with that pedigree, is a mystery.
    • It may seem offensive, but it is aimed at kids and I bet the sentences that you can write carefully avoid "The pool's closed", "I'd hit that" and "For the lulz".

    • The game's fine. It's got the exact same level of controls that every other kid-targeted MMO does. The people who are really disappointed with this game are adults who were hoping this was going to have the complexity of WoW/Eve/etc in a Lego-themed environment. I played the beta for a weekend and it really wasn't my cup of tea, but I can certainly see kids loving it the same way they love Lego Star Wars video games.

      By the way, based on your other posts about Lego Universe and this one, I'm not surprised

      • by dangitman (862676)

        By the way, based on your other posts about Lego Universe and this one, I'm not surprised you were censored on the Lego forums. You have an extremely derogatory and insulting writing style.

        Except I don't write the same way on the Lego forums. This is slashdot. We're supposedly adults here. Nothing I could say could be as insulting or as offensive as what the Lego MMO people are doing. They can go fuck themselves for this perversion.

        Seriously, it's not cool to treat kids this way. We should be trying to raise an intelligent generation who can lead us into the future, not a bunch of coddled accomplishment grinders.

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Tuesday September 28, 2010 @06:14AM (#33720754) Homepage
    And we challenge you to defeat our censorwa- AAAAAAAAAAAARGH! Our brains! Our soft, sensitive brains!

    Is pretty much how this looks like it'll play out. I might - might - give this a brief trial, if it's free, but paying even a month ahead looks like a recipe for losing money in the inevitable shutdown when it collapses under the 4Chan lulz.

    • by schn (1795404)
      I'm sure 4chan can come up with some variations of p3|\|15 that will make it through the filter.
    • Never underestimate the power of 4chan. They will drown you under their flood of shemale anime porn.
  • This just in: LEGO MMO against penile erections.
  • 1) Create a set of objects representing the letters of the alphabet.

    2) Produce as many of these as necessary

    3) Use to form words bypassing the chat censorship

    4) ????

    5) Profit!!!

  • by Keerok (870468)
    My 12 year old plays it, a lot. I can't get into it (it seems horribly broken sometimes), but they have managed to keep it fairly clean, the chat hasn't yet gotten out of hand, some of the creations are quite nice, and my son can now type about 60-70 wpm. Its crazy the number of Games kids have created, and the apparent ease that a kid can pick up the tools and get creating. Its even getting my son interested in Lua scripting, which is quite neat.
  • I know it is by designed for young people, but is it fun for adults without kids/children? I have beta access, but read that it isn't fun. :(

    • by HanClinto (621615)
      I played through a fair chunk of the beta with my brother-in-law. It got kindof boring when we had maxed the endgame, but it was still fun to go in and hunt dragons and work on building up my second tier of equipment. There is a TON of stuff to collect in the game, and the achievements were fun (I didn't max nearly all of those). Lots to do and explore, and it was getting better every week in the beta as far as making it more fun to coop with friends. Not a traditional MMO by any means, but if you can e
      • by antdude (79039)

        Interesting. I don't think I have played Puzzle Pirates and Traveler's Tale games before. I play WoW, Warhammer Online, Star Trek Online, SW:G, etc. Those were cool but didn't last long for me due to lack of free time, repetitive, and don't like subscriptions. ;)

        • by HanClinto (621615)

          If you don't like subscriptions (like me) and are able to play with most of your friends locally, then I think I could have quite a bit of fun just sticking with the Travelers Tale games (Lego Star Wars, Lego Indiana Jones, etc).

          The beta was a good time, and especially if I had remote friends that I wanted to play a family-friendly online game with, I'd definitely consider subscribing.

          • by antdude (79039)

            Oh, Lego Star Wars, Lego Indiana Jones, etc. I have played their playable demonstration/demos. on Windows/PC. They're decent, but don't last long for me. Basically, I wouldn't get the full games to play. ;)

            • by HanClinto (621615)
              Okay, yeah. If you're not a fan enough of LEGO games to even buy LEGO Star Wars, then there's almost no way you'll find LEGO Universe worth it. :)
              • by antdude (79039)

                Thanks. So it's pretty much the same. Run around, collect, shoot, puzzles, explore, etc. :)

                • by HanClinto (621615)

                  Oh no -- it's definitely very different.

                  You run around, you smash things, you collect things, but you also do a lot of building, a lot of racing, and a LOT more customization than is present in the TT games. You're building up your character -- clothes, equipment, weapons, armors, special pieces that give abilities. You're competing -- there are foot races and car races -- you're building specialized space ships and hunting around for hidden treasure chests that hold rewards.

                  The TT games had very limited

                  • by antdude (79039)

                    Oh wow, that's a lot of features. I guess I better check out the beta before it ends (does anyone know when?) then!

  • From TFA:

    "We came up with this idea of best friends, which I think is a really cool, innovative concept."

    You had better patent this "best friends" idea before Jeff Bezos does!

  • it will be monitored by a human before it's seen by other people.

    Oh good.

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