product concepts  |  lead design  |  3D design  |  games


concept, narrative, and feature design to bridge from PC to plastic

I was hired by LEGO to develop interactive concepts to help bridge between playing with plastic models and using the computer. The two should complement one another.


My biggest project was to design the play concept and user experiences for a CD-ROM game to be bundled with a large LEGO Technic racing car model.


LEGO #8428 "Turbo Command" was released internationally  in 1998.

the context


The marketing group required that the CD-ROM include building instructions along with a storyline and game.


Research and user testing was limited to the perspectives of marketing and others who understood the deep idea of “LEGO.”  The new digital group in Denmark, called Darwin, was an international assemblage of digital talent, and the Danes felt it important that we all come to deeply understand the LEGO idea of play.


Darwin had maybe four engineers and three artists dedicated to these CD-ROM bundles.


my contributions


  • Come up with a back story and narrative and modest game, including environments and details, that tie the building instructions together
  • Work with visual designers to come up with the look and feel
  • Adapt and improve existing interactive building instruction prototypes, directing the visual designers




It is typical for owners of large LEGO Technic models to construct the model and then just leave it on the shelf.  LEGO wanted to find a way to change that by find the player's motivation and using it to inspire more play. The CD-ROM experience should enhance and encourage more LEGO play by leading the player into building the secondary models in the kit.

the process


This was a classic waterfall process. I took instructions from marketing and submitted design ideas for them to choose and comment. After four months  time I would have a spec for engineers.


I had casual collaboration with the engineers, asking them for reality checks and advice on my proposals. They stayed busy on other projects while I completed the design.  I worked with artists part-time to develop a visual style and to work out some specific elements of the environments.


My specifications were eventually turned over to a producer.


the concept


My idea was to get the player to look at each of the models and to appreciate their unique capabilities. Theoretically, by knowing more about the vehicle the more they would be inspired to build it.


I conceived of an environment and wrote for it an adventure requiring the hero to gain access to secret locations by using his vehicles, mapping each vehicle’s capability to some special accessibility challenge. And upon this, I created a full back story, characters, dialog, transitions, etc.



lessons learned


Darwin was a huge challenge for a company like LEGO.  The resulting product, once my spec faced reality, was a  compromise of the LEGO's values I had tried to respect.


It was a lesson learned all around. The design and development of Turbo Command soured me permanently on waterfall processes, and I now insist  on working closely with engineers and product managers. LEGO for their part decided to outsource and license their digital content, and that has turned out very well for them indeed!


Copyright 2016 Joseph M. Knight