Talk to anyone at TT Games, and it’s impossible to overlook the enthusiasm they still carry for the Lego games. Rather than looking at each installment as yet another bullet point on a resume, the team approaches each game as a new challenge. While some critical elements have been there from the beginning – co-op, large character rosters, showers of collectible studs – the team has expanded on that framework with each iteration. Those creative opportunities aren’t lost on Jonathan Smith, head of production at the studio.

“We are so lucky to have all that variety and that always stimulates new ideas,” he told us. “At the same time, just as a matter of principle, we have to move on with each game. We’ve got new platforms coming which give us new capabilities on the technology front as well. Together those enable us to keep things fresh each time, because if we’re not doing that then we’re wasting not only our time but the player’s time and not only that, but even worse, children’s time, which is absolutely unforgivable.”

Smith took the time to walk us through the Lego series’ highlights, providing some insight on what kinds of new gameplay twists each one added, and a glimpse at the development process.

Lego Star Wars: The Video Game
“Lego Star Wars, the first one, that’s where it all began,” Smith says somewhat wistfully. The first game was not only notable for kicking off what would be a long partnership with the Lego Group, but for its ambitious approach to the license.  Lucasfilm let TT Games tackle three films in one game; it allowed the studio to release a game chock-full of Episode III spoilers two months before it hit theaters.

“Not only did we bring the co-op experience to that game, but also the free-play concept, framework, and design, and how it gives you great depth at the time.” Smith adds that it was critical from the outset that players were given the chance to experiment and fool around without being penalized. 

Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
Following the success of the first Lego Star Wars game, TT Games took on the classic trilogy. Smith says the team’s familiarity with the source material (as well as taking a second pass on the budding Lego-game skeleton) made it easier to improve on the first game.

“We were really on secure ground with the classic trilogy movies that everyone on the team knew intimately,” Smith says. “We had such affection for it, and that comes across in the storytelling scenes and the character animations as well. We had iconic scenes to play with on the level design. I think we also started to get a sense of how far we could push the dramatic experience in a Lego game. If you look back at Lego Star Wars 1, there’s lots that’s really nice and cute about it, but with Lego Star Wars 2 we have Hoth as a level and you get into an AT-ST and you stomp around in it. That was the moment that certainly on the team we realized that the game experience in a Lego game can be about much more than running around as a minifigure and being in a minifigure level in a world full of minifigures. You can trace a lineage from there through other big characters, big bosses, right up to some of the just incredible, overwhelming spectacle that there is in Lego Lord of the Rings.” 

Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures
Indiana Jones and Star Wars don’t have much in common, aside from Harrison Ford. TT Games took that into consideration when developing Lego Indiana Jones.

“[In Lego Indiana Jones] you can see a different flavor in the gameplay, with not only action and fighting, but also more puzzle solving,” Smith says. The team quickly realized that the Indiana Jones films had a much smaller selection of potential characters, and little in the way of any obvious heroes, aside from the whip-wielding, fedora-wearing star. “We added more flexibility with what you can do with your character and picking up and swapping weapons, because we knew the story gameplay was always going to be focused primarily on one guy: Indiana Jones. So rather than switching between a broad roster of different characters as we did with the Lego Star Wars games, we needed to make playing with primarily one character fun for Lego Indiana Jones. So it enabled us to do a lot more than the Star Wars characters could, and that’s again a theme we come back to from time to time – though certain universes don’t require it so much.”