|Release||September 26, 1997|
Lego Island is a Lego-themed action-adventure game developed and published by Mindscape. It was released for Microsoft Windows on September 26, 1997, as the first Lego video game outside Japan. It received positive reviews and inspired several preservationists and other fans, and was followed by two sequels: Lego Island 2: The Brickster's Revenge (2001) and Island Xtreme Stunts (2002).
Lego Island is a nonlinear video game played from a first-person perspective. The player can choose to roam around and customize the island, build vehicles with the help of a mechanic called Bill Ding, or complete a series of missions including pizza delivery, jet ski racing, and catching an escaped prisoner known as the Brickster. It features five playable characters—protagonist Pepper Roni, his caretakers Mama and Papa Brickolini, and police officers Laura and Nick Brick—who each have their own unique abilities. There are also Easter eggs.
While there is no necessary objective to Lego Island, a special mission will occur if the player has built the police helicopter and is playing as Pepper Roni. Pepper's caretakers, Mama and Papa Brickolini, who run and own the Pizzeria, receive a call from the island's jail. Mistaking the caller for police officer Nick Brick, Pepper is sent to deliver a pizza to the jail, which allows the Brickster to escape from his cell by using the pizza's fumes to melt the lock. He escapes in the police helicopter and steals the power brick from the top of the Information Center before heading to the residential area on the other side of the island. If the helicopter is not built, the Brickster will not be able to escape and will reject the pizza. Once the Brickster escapes, Nick and Laura Brick, the Infomaniac, and Papa and Mama Brickolini discover what happened and Pepper then embarks on a mission to recapture him.
After Pepper, Nick, and Laura reach the residential area, they discover that the Brickster has stolen the ambulance from the hospital and is planning to disassemble the town with a laser gun powered by the stolen power brick. Pepper chases after the Brickster, collecting individual helicopter brick pieces that the Brickster drops while he stops in random areas to disassemble any buildings and plants that are nearby. Should Pepper catch up to the Brickster while he is doing this, he will quickly move. After obtaining five pieces, the Brickster quickly heads for a cave entrance where he drops one more helicopter piece and disappears into the cave. After the Brickster has gone into hiding, Pepper searches around the island for the remaining four pieces of the helicopter. Any of the previous six helicopter pieces that Pepper didn't collect earlier can still be picked up. Once all ten pieces are recovered, the Infomaniac sends Pepper to the police station to rebuild the helicopter. Alternatively, if the Pizzeria, Information Center, and Police Station are the only remaining buildings and all five pieces are not collected in the meantime, the Brickster will instead dissemble the Pizzeria and the player immediately skips to the part where they must rebuild the helicopter. Once the helicopter is rebuilt, the Infomaniac, Nick, and Laura advise Pepper to use it to help them catch the Brickster using pizzas to slow him down and donuts to speed up Nick and Laura before the Brickster, now driving a stolen police motorcycle (it is unknown what happened to the ambulance), can disassemble the remaining buildings.
Two different endings can occur, depending on whether the player succeeds or not. If all the buildings have been disassembled (except for the Information Center), it will trigger the ending that shows the Brickster standing on the power brick, gloating about his victory with pieces of buildings scattered all around him. However, the Infomaniac then reassures the player that they can rebuild the island and the Brickster will be returned to his cell. The other ending unlocks if the Brickster is reached by the police, leading to the Brickster being caught and thrown back in jail, the power brick returning at the top of the Information Center, and everyone celebrating Pepper's success. The Infomaniac thanks the player, who is once again free to roam around the island.
Development and release
Lego Island was developed by Mindscape, a developer of edutainment software based in Novato, California. The head of one of the company's departments was looking for a partner company in the toy industry and, after some research, settled for the Lego Group, the producer of the Lego line of toys. Mindscape subsequently hired Wes Jenkins, who, in turn, brought on Paul Melmed. Jenkins and Melmed drafted a game concept based on the "Town" theme of Lego sets. Both attended the Toy Fair in New York City in February 1995, pitching the concept to the Lego Group.
Around the same time, the Lego Group (as well as other toy manufacturers) were trying to explore or gain a foothold in the video game industry. The previously only Lego-branded video game was Lego Fun to Build, which was released by Sega in December 1995 for the Japanese Sega Pico market. The Lego Group had established the Futura research and development group in Boston, which was looking at possible intersections between Lego products and digital media, including video games and virtual reality experiences. In 1995, the Lego Group employee Tormod Askildsen was tasked with exploring the company's potential venture into the video game market. He hired a handful of people and prepared a report, titled "Elvis", which he presented during a workshop on December 21, 1995. The report stated that the Lego Group's entrance into the video game market was a necessity, rather than an option. Mindscape and the Lego Group jointly announced their collaboration for a Lego-branded personal computer game on January 27, 1996, then targeting to release the game in the fourth quarter of that year.
Jenkins headed the project as its creative director, while Melmed acted as the education and research director. Other leads included senior producer Scott Anderson, director of development Dennis Goodrow, project manager Mari Collings, and the lead 3D artist Dave Patch. The lead programmer, Jim Brown, was hired at Anderson's request. The development team eventually grew to more than 100 people, which allowed for the inclusion of multiple playable characters. As proposed by Melmed, who had a background in psychology, each of these characters would represent a different form of intelligence as described by Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.
The development team created a bespoke game engine, which was to be used for Lego Island and potential sequels. The DirectX technology set was used to render 3D environments. According to Brown, graphics accelerators were in their infancy, so Lego Island was designed to work on computers that did not have one, while simultaneously being able to take advantage of an accelerator if one was available. Jenkins, his wife Kyle, and Anderson created a real-world model of the game's island, and the development team invited children to play with the set, observing how these children would interact with the various elements. According to Anderson, girls tended to decorate the island, such as with trees, while boys were more interested in racing elements. Subsequently, more of the game's elements, including the sky and trees, were made customizable with the goal of incentivizing girls to play the game. In so-called "Yes meetings", team members could present any further ideas they had to the rest of the team. If another member agreed, the proposer would sleep over it and, on the next day, try to frame a realistic implementation of the feature.
During 1996, the Lego Group established Lego Media as its video game division based in London, invested US$2 million in the development of Lego-themed video games, and created Darwin, a "Strategic Product Unit" that absorbed most of Futura. Mindscape regularly communicated with Lego Media and Darwin, which led to the inclusion of further buildings and vehicles in the game, as well as the exclusion of non-Lego elements like ropes. In January 1997, Mindscape and the Lego Group reintroduced the game, now titled Adventures on Lego Island and scheduled for a release in the third quarter of 1997. As Lego Island, the game was released worldwide on September 26, 1997. One day prior to the release, Mindscape fired the entirety of Lego Island's development team. The company had a program for bonuses in place, so several of the affected employees believed that Mindscape laid them off solely to avoid paying royalties. Jenkins died on September 24, 2017.
Lego Island won the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences' 1997 "Family/Kids Entertainment Title of the Year" award. In 2016, Sam Loveridge of Digital Spy ranked Lego Island as the 14th best Lego game in a list of 15.
In the United States, Lego Island sold over 909,000 copies between 1997 and 1999, making it the 15th-best-selling computer game of that period. It was the country's 11th-best-selling computer game in 1997, with 323,085 units sold and almost $12 million earned in revenue. It reached eighth place on the United States' chart for the January–November 1998 period. It ultimately placed seventh for the full year of 1998, with 404,858 sales. Its revenue that year alone was over $10.2 million. The following year, it dropped to the 15th position on the annual sales charts, with 309,698 units sold. The success of Lego Island revived Mindscape's business, which was in trouble at the time. The company's total sales rose by 70% in 1997, driven primarily by Lego Island.
In partnering with the Lego Group, Mindscape had gained the rights to produce multiple Lego-branded games. Prior to the Lego Island developers' dismissal, they had been conceptualizing and prototyping a follow-up to the game, titled Beneath the Phanta Sea. This follow-up would have explored the "importance of ecology and environmentalism from an educational perspective". However, after the release of Lego Island, the Lego Group terminated Mindscape's license for future Lego-based games. Silicon Dreams Studio eventually developed two sequels: Lego Island 2: The Brickster's Revenge (2001) and Island Xtreme Stunts (2002). During the development of the prior, the studio was aware of the original Lego Island and Beneath the Phanta Sea but decided to build a new concept from scratch. Island Xtreme Stunts became the final entry in the Lego Island series.
Lego Island has inspired a number of preservationists and other enthusiasts. Among other things, fans of the game have created documentaries with archives of old production material, produced podcasts, and developed unofficial patches. A fan-made sequel, Project Island, was initiated as a solo project by Floris Thoonen in the mid-2010s. The game was formally announced around Lego Island's twentieth anniversary in 2017. As of 2020, around 50 people are working on Project Island with varying degrees of activeness, with all of them contributing during their spare time. The project team irregularly publishes update videos and intends to release a demo entitled Port Pizza, featuring a small island with a limited scope.
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