In 2007, LEGO Universe was in early development. Very little about the game was known to the public at this point, but on December 20, 2007, the website’s progress log was given a brief update:
BBC Newsround’s Adam was invited to LEGO Universe Command Center in Denmark to try it out with some LEGO fans… Read more on the BBC website.
This BBC article had been posted on December 17, 2007. Just two days shy of a decade ago, as of the time of this writing. As far as I can tell, this is the first time the game itself was described to the public. There’s several interesting things in it, but this is the part I want to focus on:
Then we entered the 3D virtual world. We were allowed to explore a castle in a valley filled with purple fog.
Everything was made from the famous bricks – which you will be used to from the Lego console games.
A weird black goblin was hanging about. When we hit him with a hammer he collapsed into a pile of bricks and power-ups.
These days, we know exactly what he was describing – the Vanguard Outpost. The first world ever created for LEGO Universe.
Well, maybe not exactly. No screenshots or video of the world have ever surfaced.
Concept art by Jerry Meyer
Here’s some relevant pages on the wiki:
You can also see a decent amount of concept art on those pages, some of which (shown at the beginning of this post) was publicized on the LEGO Universe website back in the day, with descriptions from concept artist Jerry Meyer:
Jerry’s descriptions were intentionally kept vague back then, as the game’s development was still in full swing:
This is supposed to be a fortified wall that surrounds a giant city shortly before it is attacked by a giant spike-shaped projectile that originated from an enemy source.
A shard/spike came from the sky and passed completely through the large tower in the middle. It is not known where the spike itself has landed at this point. There is a giant water shield up on the wall that has been breached and is now pouring water off the side of the wall.
However, he later provided a more detailed description on the Imagining LU blog:
3. The Vanguard Castle, or otherwise known as the Order of The Shield complex was our first area we tried to develop and present to LEGO what was called a “vertical slice” of gameplay. Unfortunately everything except the terrain was 100 percent LEGO. You can imagine the amount of geometry the computer had to process to get a scene to render out. This was actually an interresting time because this was when we really got to see the incredible models that the LEGO User Partners (LUPs) produced for us. The LUPs were all offsite LEGO modelers that would produce digital models, and then email them to us after we emailed them concept art.
Vanguard was supposed to be the intro map for the game. An opening cinematic would show normal, happy life in a castle setting; and then suddenly a maelstrom projectile rips through the large castle building and creats a huge crater in the courtyard. Immediately you are thrown into a crisis situation. The story obviously changed quite a bit since then.
4. And yes, that last image was an early concept for Nexus city. The idea was to incorporate every LEGO building theme into one melting pot of a city surrounding the tallest tower, or Nexus Tower. The wall surrounding the city was an extension of the Vanguard outpost–the forementioned castle. This was also where we would introduce a lot of the City play set elements. It seems like as many times we tried, we could never get the City sets into the game.
Concept art by Jerry Meyer
We don’t know for sure if this art is of the Vanguard Outpost – but, given the 2007 date on the signature, it looks like it could very well be the interior of the generator room seen in the map above.
While it was the first playable world created for the game, it was unfortunately removed from the game data almost completely. All that’s left in terms of functional objects are a few NPCs, and three smashables: a gargoyle, Imaginite rock, and obelisk.
There’s also a small handful of physics components in the database, which reference long-gone physics files:
It’s not much to work with, but combined with the concept art, it paints a picture that’s closer in tone to the final game than you might expect.
Vanguard Outpost NPCs and a Grumpy Darkling, left in the final game data
Sergeant Maxx looks fairly close to the style of the Sentinel characters in the final game (Vanguard was merely an early name for Sentinel, just as Thunder was an early name for Paradox). The concepts of Imaginite and Maelstrom shards/generators found their way into the final game in one form or another. The logo the game had back then is somewhat tough and gritty looking; more akin to the style of the final game from 2010-11 than the bright and cheery aesthetic that it had shifted towards by 2008-09… And the concept of a possibly battle-focused “castle in a valley filled with purple fog” sounds much more like the worlds in the final game than the sunny, happy-go-lucky worlds of 2008-09.
Unfortunately, despite being a playable map back then, we’ve never seen a single screenshot or any video footage. If any LUPs, developers, or anybody else reading this have any light they could shed on this ten year old mystery – please do!
Personally, I’d especially love to see more about this map recovered, as the concept art at the beginning of this post was one of my first introductions to LEGO Universe, back when I first found and started checking the website in 2007-08.
One more thing, about that old logo… While the logo on the login screen was updated several times, the shadow beneath it never was. If you go into the final game today, you can still spy its silhouette!
A developer who worked on revising the character create UI once posted this – sorry I can’t seem to find their name!