All Systems Are Lego
Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the first patent approval for the Lego brick.
Lego has to be the greatest and most enduring of the mass-produced toys.
The Lego Group started out as a wooden toy manufacturer based in Denmark. Operating out of the workshop of one Ole Kirk Christiansen from 1932 onwards, the company only began calling itself “Lego” (literally, ‘Play Well’) two years later in 1934 before expanding to produce plastic toys in 1947. Despite a staggering variety of block subtypes and pieces that have emerged since, every single brick is compatible with the others.
The company’s not been one to rest on its laurels and is constantly at the forefront of design innovation. In Wired editor Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail, the company’s cited as being one of the most successful proponents of the concept thanks to its Lego Factory software, a program that allows anyone to design and build virtual creations, then upload them to the company to be made into kits.
To celebrate, here are some awesome Lego-themed links and some thoughts on the company’s recent successes in videogames.
First up, an awesome book by Ulrik Pilegaard and Mike Dooley, former employees of the Lego Mindstorm robotics division, entitled ‘Forbidden LEGO: Build the Models Your Parents Warned You Against‘. Inside you can get instructions and plans for how to build working models including a candy catapult, a gun that fires Lego plates, and a continuous-fire ping-pong ball launcher.
The Telegraph called the book “the Anarchist Cookbook of the nursery” while, with ugly tabloid pith, ThisIsLondon said, “Kids could make atomic bombs out of Lego, and just think what would happen if some Islamic terrorist get[s a copy].”
Um, they’d get really good at Ping Pong?
Secondly, to commemorate the patent anniversary, Boing Boing Gadgets has posted a useful and interesting Lego time line .pdf outlining the company’s evolution and various forays into sub-genres and collaborations over the years. Download the file here.
Next, here’s a three minute-long time lapse video of someone constructing a Lego Milenium Falcom – the largest Lego set ever produced. It took them four hours to finish.
Last year I interviewed a guy called David McNeely, a Lego hobbyist who took apart his Guitar hero controller and rebuilt it as a functioning Lego model. Gadgettastic has some images of his work. Perhaps even more impressive than that is this fully-working, fully-Lego PlayStation 2 that he worked up. Incredible. Check out his other works here.
Finally, this forum-made competition has challenged contestants to recreate any vehicle from the Star Wars universe in the steampunk style. The range and quality of these homespun designs is astonishing and, to anybody who still dreams that they might be an inventor when they properly grow up, is both exciting and inspiring. Scroll down the page to see some of the entries to the competition and work out how they did it.
Lego’s first triumph in videogames came in April 2005 when British developer Traveller’s Tales released the cross-platform title, Lego Star Wars. Based on the more recent trilogy of films the game oozes personality and solid, reliable design. Every scene, object and character is constructed from authentic Lego designs and there are few interactive moments as satisfying as hacking through a level, lightsabre in hand, a fountain of plastic pieces exploding from your every swipe.
One interesting thing about the Lego Star Wars games is how, in the UK at least, the games have been so lauded by videogame journalists, not just for their inherent goodness but also thanks to one particular member of staff on the team. Jonathan Smith is development director at the company. He’s a lovely, lovely man who is open, honest, never-condescending and an attentive and interested listener. He makes you feel important and valued by asking questions like: ‘What movie IP do you think would be suitable for us to look at in the future?’
Of course, he’s just being polite because, as this year’s forthcoming Lego Batman and Lego Indiana Jones games demonstrate, he’s not short of suitable movie tie-in ideas. But still, you only have to read through the comments for Lego Star Wars the Complete Saga in Eurogamer’s Top-50 games of 20007 article to see the value of having a friendly and affable staffer working on your games.
Finally, to round things off, here’s a Youtube video of Super Lego Mario. Enjoy!