Lego 2K Drive: The challenge of making an all-new type of Lego game

Creating "a brand new Lego experience" was a lofty ambition gaming company 2K had with Lego 2K Drive, its new family-targeted title, but it's one art director Emmanuel Valdez, a 30 year veteran of the gaming industry, says has kept him going over the past several years.

Valdez works at Visual Concepts Entertainment and is responsible for the look of the new game, which has been published through 2K, a brand usually associated with their annual sports franchises or the Borderland games.

Lego 2K Drive was launched on May 19 and sees the player take on the role of a racer in Bricklandia in a third-person arcade racer that shares the same kind of DNA as the Forza Horizon series. With destructible environments, a swathe of mini-games, multiplayer online games, split-screen racing and a chance for players to create their own cars from over 1000 Lego bricks, it's not short on ambition.

"We really wanted to try to create a brand new Lego experience. There's been many other entertainment properties done in the past, games and movies," Valdez laughed, his greying goatee twitching as we talked on Zoom.

"We've been working out for several years in partnership with Lego, of course, but it combines the best elements that you find in an open-world game chock full of racing, online play co-op, mini games, quests, challenges, collectibles - you name it. I mean, everything you would find not only in an [open] world, but also with this type of [racing] game."

It's a crowded marketplace for Lego games already - from Harry Potter to the Hobbit, the toy brand's previous partnership with Traveller's Tale Games stretches back decades, garnering plenty of critical acclaim before ending with the release of Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga in April 2022.

Valdez knew the pressure was on 2K to bring something new to the table, while similarly retaining the trademark humour and bright colour bricks mentality that's become synonymous with the franchise.

"First and foremost, we had to really understand what that means to the brand. And from there, what can we do that's innovative and interesting on top of that. We also look at inspirations from other past products and even TV shows and movies," he told Newshub.

Lego 2K Drive sees different environments for players to enjoy.
Lego 2K Drive sees different environments for players to enjoy. Photo credit: 2K Games

"There are so many Lego properties out there and everyone kind of has their own sort of take on it. Ultimately when we ended up with something that worked with a sensation of speed, with scale, the things that you kind of want in a driving game experience, we knew it was right. But yeah, it's a big world."

Early reviews have praised the manic gameplay and the "colourful imaginative car racing game", with the open-world and seemingly endless challenges all being lauded.

Key to the game's USP is the look and feel of the various modes of transport as they transform before your eyes depending on the terrain you're in. You may start off on a road in a car, but head off during a race into rougher climes, and suddenly you're on a quad bike; leap off roads into the water and without warning, you're speeding around in a boat.

It's heady stuff, a kind of swirling that might be similar to placing Lego bricks in a blender and turning it on - but Valdez says it was one of the portions of the game's development that they spent the most time on, with much of the debate focussing on minor details that will pass most gamers by.

"How fast should that be? It is near instantaneous. It's within a second or a fraction of a second. So we got the feel for it first. Then visually, outside of the game, we actually started prototyping in different 3D applications, [working out] like, 'How does it look when it is transformed? Are we going to have each brick sort of like change on the fly? Should they spin, or should they fly in?'

Key to Lego 2K Drive is the garage where you can build your own creations.
Key to Lego 2K Drive is the garage where you can build your own creations. Photo credit: 2K Games

"So we tried all these different methods, and what you see in the game is sort of a mixture. You know, it's a blink of an eye, but that whole process took weeks, maybe even months."

The game was mostly developed remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the teams chatting on Zoom and Slack to meet their goals - as well as share their different Lego vehicle creations.

Valdez says he drew on his youth to fuel his own craft creativity, citing the old style of Lego which was just a box of bricks without instruction as being an inspiration to innovate.

"I grew up in the '70s and '80s and then my Lego kits, which are now called the classic kits, were just random bricks, right? You don't have instructions to build something? Yet you use your imagination and build whatever you can.

"I think that really helped me and especially a lot of other vehicle artists where we actually went in and it's like, 'we don't need instructions, we kind of have a vision in our head'. We had to work really closely with Lego and, you know, they do things a certain way, right? So they taught us a whole lot.

There's a variety of worlds to explore.
There's a variety of worlds to explore. Photo credit: 2K Games

"I have so much respect for Lego designers because they deal with a lot of things that we don't have to deal with within the virtual world!" he said laughing.

As for what the future will bring for Lego and 2K's partnership, Valdez is tight-lipped, proffering up a somewhat coy answer about DLC and what's ahead for the game's season pass.

"We are already working on that, so I can't wait to share what we're doing. We had a lot of other great ideas that we had to put on the back burner - perfect for updates,"  he revealed.

For now though, he is more focussed on the one thing that matters: what the players think of Lego 2K Drive.

"Please - explore and just drive around and have fun!" he laughed.

One final question - given Lego's hit rate of success in spinoffs in TV series and movies, it's too delicious to not ask if he'd love to see a Lego Drive movie or toyline hitting shelves soon.

"We're an original line. I'd love for them to have us on the shelves along with Ninjago, and Creator - I'd love to see a Lego 2K Drive line. We have the vehicles, we have the characters. It is its own universe!"

Lego 2K Drive is out now on all platforms.