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“Lego Dimensions” And The Great IP Roundup

No other video game has managed so many franchises in one product playing nicely together. Maybe there is hope for world peace.

If it sounds hard enough to get two brands to peacefully coexist, try 14.

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Lego Dimensions has gone where no other video game has gone before, incorporating 45 characters, plus multiple vehicles, from 14 disparate, sometimes competing, brands cohesively into one universe. These brands range from The Wizard of Oz, Back to the Future, Lord of the Rings, and Doctor Who to DC Comics, Scooby-Doo, and Portal. It’s a synergistic avalanche of copyrights.

“Nobody’s done anything like this before. There’s no game—really, no medium—out there that’s tried to mash so many brands together,” says Doug Heder, a producer with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. “The closest thing was The Lego Movie, but a lot of those were nods, and cameos, and fun little winks. This is where we’re bringing really true representations of all these different IPs into one setting.”

“There’s also been mash-ups of characters from their own stable, like Nintendo’s Mario and Yoshi,” adds associate producer Mark Warburton. “But this is the first time a game has taken brands from across pop culture and put them all together.”

Mark WarburtonPhoto: Susan Karlin

Lego Dimensions—a local console multiplayer that launched September 27 for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Wii U—enables characters like Gandalf, Batman, and the Twelfth Doctor to go on adventures together in a broader universe. Each level reflects a different intellectual property, with its own unique artistic style, and voice-overs from several stars from the original franchises, but the characters can move around the levels together.

The idea came eight years ago from Jon Burton, founder and creative director of TT Games, which developed Dimensions for Warner Bros. Preproduction began about three years ago.

Doctor Who’s Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi at the Lego Dimensions press conference at San Diego Comic-ConPhoto: Susan Karlin

“It stemmed from, if you have a toy box, you don’t necessarily have one set of toys, they all mash together and mix up,” says Warburton. “If you’re doing a game, why can’t you do the exact same thing? The Lego Movie opened doors because it was the first such mash-up on screen. On the back of that, we were able to have conversations with license holders.”

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“Getting everyone to play nicely was not as difficult a task as it might look like from the outside,” he adds. “People wanted to be a part of this, they got the concept very quickly. Lego’s humor allows you to bend the rules with each IP in ways you couldn’t in traditional video games.”

Lego Dimensions displayPhoto: Susan Karlin

A technological overhaul was integral to the storytelling. Lego Dimensions features new hardware and software, called Toy Pad, developed for Lego by Performance Designed Products. Earlier Lego gaming technology had memory constraints. Dimensions’ overhaul enables seven characters in the game concurrently and multiple combinations of characters and vehicles.

“Before, you had to set parameters of what you wanted,” says Warburton. “Here, we don’t know what people are going to buy or characters they’re going to use, so we have to make sure whatever they want to do is constantly available in memory.”

About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.

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