It was there from the very beginning, the idea of somehow stuffing nearly two dozen classic Midway games into a Lego Dimensions expansion pack.
But initially the developers at TT Games weren’t quite sure how they were going to do it.
“I remember when I came into the project two years ago we had this sheet of paper with all of the things that were going to be coming to the game on it and Midway was right there,” said Mark Warburton, associate producer on the toys-to-life game. “I was kind of like everyone else when I saw it, thinking, ‘What is that going to be? It’s very nondescript.’”
What he and the rest of the team knew was that they had the license to emulate about 25 games. They knew that they were making a game that was meant to be a sort of living creation, a platform that could play host to a broad, ever-increasing variety of properties recreated in Lego form and turned into levels, characters or gadgets that snap, brick-like, onto the main game.
Those properties included films like The Wizard of Oz, The Lego Movie and The Lord of the Rings; television shows like The Simpsons, Doctor Who and Scooby-Doo; DC Comics characters; and even toys like Ninjago.
But Lego Dimensions only had one game inside the game, Portal 2.
The team felt that the Midway Arcade pack, which was meant to come out as one of the last announced updates for Lego Dimensions, was a chance to explore games in the same way the team has been so successful exploring other facets of pop culture.
“We wanted to try and introduce all of these great classic games that some of us know to a new generation,” Warburton said. “There’s never been a good avenue to explore classic games. Once a console dies it’s kind of hard to get ahold of those classics.
“And these are the founding blocks of what made the industry what it is today.”
Founded in 1958, Midway filed for bankruptcy in 2009, and Warner Bros. purchased much of the company’s assets.
That meant that when Lego Dimensions came around, TT Games was able to get ahold of and use all of the original Midway games and ROMs.
“They had access to the entire library,” Warburton said.
But the team had to come up with an approach that would make sense.
“What we wanted to do in the main game was to recreate some of these classics in brick form,” he said.
The original game included a level that touched on some of the Midway arcade themes, but didn’t really delve into all of those properties.
For this expansion, TT Games decided to come up with an interesting approach to weave a story around the need to hunt down and play a number of arcade games in their original form, while also dealing with some of the Lego-ized versions of the game characters.
Much of the level takes place inside an arcade gone amuck, which spills all of its characters into an unsuspecting city to wreak havoc.
Players take control of a Gamer Kid, a minifig that can summon special powers by swapping T-shirts and drinking an energy drink.
Early on, players also unlock the car from classic arcade game Spy Hunter and a magical Defender arcade machine, both of which come with the minifig as buildable Lego.
The rest of the add-on’s campaign has Gamer Kid solving puzzles inside the arcade to power up docks for the arcade machine. Once powered up, each location opens up a specific classic game. To advance, you have to play the original game, pulled directly from the ROM, and beat the high score.
After you do, the game lets you advance. But it also delivers a factoid or two about the game you just played. It’s an interesting way to introduce people to games like Joust, Defender and Gauntlet.
Warburton said there was early talk of taking the games and recreating them with Lego, but ultimately the team decided to maintain the original look and feel of those games by using the ROMs.
“Lego-izing could be cool, but at the same time we wanted to keep what made these games great in the first place,” he said. “We wanted to open people’s eyes up to the fact that good games are good games no matter how old they are.”
While the games you can play remain the originals, that doesn’t mean the team didn’t play with the art and characters from those games. Throughout your explorations, you run into Lego versions of characters from Gauntlet, Joust, Defender and other titles.
The open adventure world for Midway Arcade, which you can visit any time, consists of a mashup of settings from a variety of those classic games, all recreated with Lego. So you can visit a city in Rampage and help George destroy the buildings, explore a Gauntlet maze from a top-down perspective, check out the 720° skate park, or walk across the Cyberball Stadium field.
Better still, the heart of the free roaming world is home to 23 Midway arcade games, each unlocked by discovering them either in the Midway Arcade game level or by hunting through the rest of the game looking for hidden machines. After you beat the level, you have access to about a half-dozen machines. Then you have to go, for instance, back to the Yellow Brick Road in Oz to find Toobin’, or The Simpsons‘ Springfield for Cyberball.
Once you unlock a cabinet, you have full access to it forever, so Lego Dimensions essentially becomes 23 games within a game.
While Warburton said the team was able to include most of the games they wanted to in the level pack, at least two games didn’t make it in: APB and Mortal Kombat.
“There was an age consideration,” he said. “We had to take into account the typical age of our players and what sort of content we usually have. Some of the more mature games we decided we didn’t think was the right fit for the game.”
Now that Midway Arcade is out and only a few add-on packs are left from the original announcement, the team is focusing on what it’s going to do next.
“The cool thing is that we built something that we can do whatever we want in,” Warburton said. “At this point in time nothing is off the table.
“We’re very pleased with the success of Dimensions.”
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