Project Proposal by Jennifer Lapell , additional contributions by Anselm Hook, Randy Linden
I N T R O D U C T I O N
LEGO (an exclusive trademark of INTERLEGO AG) is a unique toy which has long been among the world's most popular among young children. And while few adults will admit to it, many still posess an uncanny fascination with the little interlocking blocks wh ich are the core of the LEGO play system.
These blocks are available in a rainbow of colours, with literally hundreds of shapes to choose from. They can usually be purchased in two distinct types of sets: BASIC sets, which contain between 300 and 500 base building blocks, and, for older childr en, "LEGOLAND" (TM) sets, which are made up of specifically shaped pieces for a particular LEGOLAND "Environment" (for example, outer space, or a mediaeval kingdom).
The BASIC shapes are essential to LEGO constructions, but there is a limit to the level of sophistication allowed by these (for the most part, square) blocks. The LEGOLAND sets, on the other hand, fill this need by providing more finely-detailed (but st ill interlocking, and fully compatible with BASIC lego) pieces. In the Space Environment Sets, for example, helmets are provided, along with certain types of rails or "spaceship equipment".
LEGO: Construction Set is a new idea on the age-old theme of building blocks and, while it is a theme which has been expounded upon again and again, it is always popular. And while drawing and CAD packages have become available on most types of personal computers, the two have never before met, at least in such a conducive time. Personal computers are capable of such high level graphics that computer displays are often indistinguishable from photographs. And computer simulations are some of the best-s elling software products available. So now we are pleased to introduce the concept of a fully-interactive computer simulation of these plastic LEGO blocks.
The full line of LEGO: Construction Set products will be available for the following ranges of personal computers: Commodore Amiga, IBM personal computers, Apple MacIntosh and Atari ST computers.
We are very confident that LEGO: Construction Set will take the computer using world by surprise in terms of its elegance and sophistication, but also in terms of its fun value. That is, we will keep in mind at every stage through the design process tha t LEGO is a fun toy, and above all else it must remain fun. That is the secret at the core of LEGO: Construction Set.
Although the idea may at first seem strange to veteran LEGO users, LEGO is almost perfectly adapted to the computer environment. Computers are used extensively for intricate CAD (Computer-Assisted Design) and three-dimensional sculpture or modelling app lications. LEGO, however simplistic it may seem, is actually a very high-level design environment, allowing the imagination to run wild. With a LEGO "design system", no additional tools are required, blocks lock together and stay together until they are separated, and the "designer" is immediately rewarded by being able to see and examine every detail of his work.
The drawbacks to LEGO are very few, but among these, the most major is that the finished models are not interactive and although a wide range of moving, motorized, and even electronic sets are available for the "advanced" LEGO user, the model remains sta tic, and eventually uninteresting, to be torn down or forgotten.
Possibly the most minor, but certainly one of the most irksome problems is that the pieces, especially some of the tinier LEGOLAND parts, are very easily lost into carpets where their sharp corners give a nasty surprise when stepped on, into vacuum clean ers, where costly repair bills give mothers reason to consider not buying their child an additional LEGO set for Christmas. And of course, if the part has been lost, it can't be used and as one's LEGO set slowly dwindles, eventually there will come the d ay when you haven't enough pieces to build that castle or dream home.
With "LEGO: Construction Set" both of these age-old problems are solved! The blocks, or "pieces", are digital, stored on magnetic media which is not harmful to feet or vacuum cleaners. And the pieces cannot be "lost" from the disk. With the enhanced I NTERACTIVE SIMULATION features of "LEGO: Construction Set", the LEGO modelling system is combined with the attributes of today's personal computers to provide an entirely user-oriented interface which is at once an ergonomic, helpful, friendly toy and a p owerful lightspeed design and modelling workstation.
Current LEGO products are timelessly distinctive in their design and the marketing strategies behind the alluring plastic "bricks". LEGO: Construction Set would be planned with the same basic concepts in mind.
The packaging of LEGO toy products is in instantly recognizable, brightly coloured boxes bearing photographs of completed models. The two-colour LEGO logo is prominently displayed in the upper right-hand corner of all boxes. Because the logo and the pa ckaging design have remained similar for so long, buyer recognition of these features is almost instantaneous.
It would be very counterproductive and probably even damaging from a sales perspective if a software LEGO product were packaged and marketed in a manner inconsistent with that of the actual toy company and care must be taken in these regards. A computer games buyer is a person who is likely to have had childhood experience with LEGO, and a LEGO: Construction Set will have to conform to and grow from his earlier experiences with LEGO. If early stages in the marketing cycle (such as advance advertising o f the product) fail to meet his expectations, he is one potential product buyer who has been lost.
LEGO: Construction Set is to be released in parts, in a similar manner to conventional LEGO, as a "BASIC" Construction Set Package, and additional "LEGOLAND" diskette packages.
The "BASIC" Construction Set Package will contain a diskette holding the actual Construction Set program, along with a respectable arsenal of many-shaped, coloured and tinted little "pieces". Standard with this set would be such accessories as wheels, d oors, windows, and, of course, the respectable citizens of LEGOLAND themselves, the miniature "LEGO-man" people. (This "LEGO-man" is in himself an important feature of any marketing strategy, as he is used as one of the main trademarks of the LEGO toy set s.)
"LEGOLAND" diskette packages, like their plastic counterparts, would ensure the ongoing perpetuity of the game with more "advanced" users who tend to build more challenging structures, as well as catering to those "architects" with more specific interest s. Among planned LEGOLAND packages is the immensely popular Space Set, featuring "rocketry" components, and working lights, gears and wheels.
LEGO: Construction Set is not the average shoot-em-up arcade-style game, but neither is such a game very interesting, and many have a lifespan of no more than a couple of weeks, after which the player tires of it. LEGO: Construction Set is destined to b ecome one of the few immortals, a game which one can't tire of. As it was perfectly stated in the words of one of the advertising campaigns for LEGO toys, "It's a new toy every day."
The Interactive Simulation aspect of LEGO: Construction Set is what will set the LEGO Construction Set even further apart from any product currently on the market. Once a model has been sculpted, it may be manipulated in ways that conventional LEGO user s have only dreamed of. Suddenly, they can actually enter the dream home of their own designs, fill it with furniture, even hang pictures! And at the end of a busy day of designing and building, they can take a "snapshot" of their house, rocket, castle or ship, which can be saved to disk so they can return the next day, and the next.
A co-operative, easy-to-understand graphics editor will be at the core of The Interactive Simulation. One unique feature of this editor will be the ability to "LEGO-ize" pictures from industry-standard paint programs on all computers for which LEGO: Con struction Set is available (For example, "DPaint" IFF files, on the Commodore Amiga). Once a picture has been "LEGO-ized" it may be manipulated like the rest of your creations. The editor will also be able to take "snapshot" pictures of a LEGO layout wh ich is saved either in a standard graphics format or in a new LEGO format which will make them accessible on any computers supported by LEGO: Construction Set.
Another outstanding feature of this editor is full-scale animation. Imagine building a complete LEGO city and then being able to "fly" through your city, circling among the skyscrapers, and then coming to a landing on the heliport or lawn of your choosi ng. You can even "videotape" your flight, saving it into a standard ANIM file or the innovative LANIM (Lego Animation) format through which it can be viewed on any of the LEGO: Construction Set machines. For those with a fear of heights, you can choose to drive through the streets you have created, or even take a leisurely stroll window-shopping down sidewalks. Other objects may be moved as well and the user has full control over such factors as camera angle and zoom.
The Interactive Simulation will also allow LEGO users to perform a full range of powerful graphics utilities, such as shrink, stretch and manipulate, on any LEGO image. As easily as turning on a light switch in your own home, you can supply power to lig hts either individually or in groups, or to mechanical pieces such as gear sets or propellors.
More than anything else, LEGO: Construction Set is a toy, and it is a good toy, fun to use, it never wears out, never breaks. But that doesn't mean that it can't take advantage of a serious user interaction mode. One which is designed to guide the user , not baffle him. One which is designed to help him get the most out of his LEGO set, but which won't have him poring over manuals or spending long frustrating sessions fighting with the computer.
The Interactive Simulation Editor, with its truly innovative graphics editing capabilities, is not only the core of the LEGO: Construction Set, it is part of the magic behind Software Alchemy. To move constantly forward, to push to the limits of the cap abilities of the machines and the software designers. And to amaze.
This product will certainly be on the leading edge of current software technology used to produce it, and quite a challenge to the programming team. And even though such a product would be a new and dramatic break from existing games, the time is ripe f or such a move, because the market is currently flooded with all- too-similar games that anything that is the slightest bit different is widely acclaimed by reviewers and the software-buying public.
Three-dimensional sculpt and modelling packages are also becoming quite popular, but it is difficult to find one which is consistently a quality product, and this is what LEGO: Construction Set will be. With real-time ray-tracing and full user interaction on in the design process, LEGO: Construction Set will likely be seen as quite a major and powerful presence on this frontier as well as that of light entertainment.
The program will be distributed in the multiple-disk format described in the Marketing section (above). The advantages and disadvantages quickly come to light. In favour of this format, the Construction Set is infinitely expandable. Against it, howeve r, is the fact that all pieces must be interlocking, and that with this increased specialization the pieces lose some of their compatibility and usefulness on a general scale. For example, a LEGO tree or flower piece cannot be used as a building block. In fact, it cannot be used to represent anything else at all. This marketing format is often seen in the shape of font diskettes for the popular desktop publishing, write or paint programs.
The full line of three-dimensional graphics, image processing and rendering tools may not be available on all machines, depending of course on space available within the individual machine. Requesters would appear to warn the user that not all modes wil l be available to him in his present configuration.
It is expected that LEGO: Construction Set will be able to run on all implementations of the four computers mentioned on the first page. One system under serious consideration for future development is the NeXT computer, but unfortunately this computer is not widely available to developers at the time of this release.
For ease of viewing and altering LEGO images, a LEGO snapshot picture will be able to be saved to a CAD format (such as Videoscape 3D or Sculpt-4d object format) or to another format used in popular paint programs particular to each type of computer. Th e LEGO format itself saves the image as a .LGO file which can be used on any other LEGO: Construction Set system. For animated LEGO sequences, the LEGO Anim format can be used, with the same universal portability inherent in this method, or another avail able animation format can be selected.