A fantastic opportunity for any little boy obsessed with computers, games and toys, I was commissioned as a scriptwriter and audio director on a number of early LEGO multimedia products.
All the products (CD-ROM plus a case of intelligent bricks) worked with an adaptation of the LEGO MindStorms collaboration with MIT – a series of kits featuring software and hardware to create small, customizable and programmable robots.
MindStorms was the natural extension of LEGO’s ‘just imagine’ principle, connecting the simple premise of building something with bricks with basic programming ideas.
I worked with a talented development team over in Billund, then given the top-secret moniker of SPU-Darwin. Over the years, the producer of the projects, Bo Nielsen, became a good and valued friend. Recently I even, turned up a picture of myself, Bo and Lars having a whale of a time with some of the prototype toys.
Many of the original development team went on to form Ghost DK, a well-established FX house (recent work on ‘Pacific Rim’ I see!), while one of the concept artists, the hugely talented, Kun Chang works as a Realization/Cinematics Director in Montreal.
Set in Technic City, this first product introduced kids to early programming ideas using the core ‘PBrick’ and adding touch sensors to build your robots.
I devised the product guide characters, Taxi Jim, who flew you around the city and the main guide, Joe, a friendly scientific mini fig type who led you through the learning programmes, aided by his accident prone robots ‘Beep’ and ‘Bop’.
The core of the product was to construct two battling ‘bots ‘Crusher’ and ‘Stinger’ for arena-style tournaments. Once properly constructed, kids could try to score points by hitting the sensor areas on the ‘bots.
*I tried unsuccessfully to get Bo to lobby to have the name altered from something sounding less like a virtual sex toy.
A follow-up to Cybermaster, this add-on pack enticed kids with the prospect of building a cool-looking aircraft and flying missions via briefings I scripted to be played from the PC.
A neat take on the ‘programming and missions’ set up established in the earlier titles, in this product we created the scenario of you as a special agent primed with the task for building ‘SpyBots’ to take on secret adventures.
The pack consisted to a Mission Impossible-style CD-ROM briefing, with various maps and gadgets, along with the bricks to construct your SpyBots – Shadowstrike, Gilgamesh and Snaptrax.
Droid Developer’s Kit’ & ‘Darkside Developer’s Kit
And just to round out the boyhood dream, in this final sequence of MindStorms experiences, I scripted a title in which children are trained by the ‘JediMaster 2000’ to build and programme their own ‘Droids’. Lego and now LucasArts – bliss.
The JediMaster computer resided on Tattoine in a workshop featured in this sequence – we knew about the forthcoming Phantom Menace at that time, so the idea was to evoke the young Darth’s tinkershop.
The core droid in the pack, and obviously its key USP, was to build your very own R2-D2 unit. I seem to remember we had one running around our Shoreditch offices back in the day…
The follow-up pack was a nice offshoot idea – children could cross to the Darkside and build an AT-AT.
Come to think of it, I’m not sure I scripted it that you could ever return though – once gripped by the Darkside, I think that’s pretty much it – you kids just don’t know the POWER!!
This was a project I took creative director and producer role for Macmillan Childrens books, who approached Pat & Pals – the children’s publishing company I had helped found with Ross Sleight and Jacqui & Colin Hawkins.
Macmillan were keen to explore a multimedia version of the original best-selling title written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.
This was pre-iOS and Mac Appstore days, so the idea was to create a desktop download, which would be available for purchase via Patandpals.com – which in turn was powered by Macrovision’s DRM system (now part of Rovi group I believe.)
Armed only with the original source material, an audio recording voiced by the comedienne, Josie Lawrence and some of Julia’s own musical compositions, we set to work.
Creatively I wanted to make sure we didn’t mess with the book too much. It was important that we struck a balance between the multimedia ‘effects’ and the simple purity of the illustration.
In addition, due to the gentle lilt of the storytelling, it was important to reflect this rhythm in any animations we created.
The delightful animation and clever flash programming was created by the team at TWP – who I would heartily recommend on any childrens-related interactive work.
I’m very proud of the finished work – which is sadly no longer available for purchase and download. Largely due, I suspect, to the appearance of the TV version over Xmas 2012*.
The final product featured all sorts of lovely things – the animated storybook, some fun flash-based games – ‘Broomstick Dash’ and ‘Dodge the Dragon’ (thanks to Atari’s ‘Defender’ and ‘Pac Man’ respectively), a drag-and-drop ‘Story Maker’ for kids to create their own Room on the Broom adventures; and some thoughtful printouts – a theatre, a board and card games. Thanks to Tobias for working hard on those!
I’m not able to put up the application it self – but I’ve included some relevant grabs in this post, which you can view larger like if you click the thumbnails.
Macmillan also featured the final product as a CD-ROM on a reprint of the title.
*An odd bit of family serendipity. My sister, Sally, voiced the green bird in the TV version!
‘…the witch tapped her broomstick, and WHOOSH! They were gone.’