Posted September 29, 2015 by Peter in EGX

EGX: Interview with Mark Warburton (Lego Dimensions)

Lego Dimensions logo
Lego Dimensions logo

It is one of life’s inevitabilities – any child with two or more Lego sets is going to start mixing and matching pieces until it becomes impossible to remember if that castle originally had spacemen and race cars on it anyway. When Mark Warburton, associate producer of Lego Dimensions, mentions the numerous brands involved in the game I tell him how my childhood toy box became this mix-and-match of Lego types, and he enthusiastically agrees.

“That was the concept of the game. The whole idea [...] was if you have a toy box full of Lego, that box is not just one brand of Lego, that is everything in there all mixed together. You’ll have a Batman cowl on Gandalf’s head, that’s how you play – why are we not doing that in videogames? It’s fun.”

The game is a new addition to the Toys To Life genre, being mostly played on screen but also having a physical base to sit figures on. This base is subdivided into three sections, and in the level I chose to play through on the EGX show floor often involved swapping Lego models from one section to another, causing the strange union of characters on screen to separate where situations – usually puzzle sections – required it.
Lego Dimensions screen
Batman, Gandalf and Wyldstyle from the Lego Movie are the core three characters to play as, but this mash-up is the tip of the iceberg, with fourteen different franchises all thrown together. Many of them are current, and quickly recognised by anyone, such as the Simpsons, Doctor Who and Portal 2. But there are some which may be more quickly recognised by the slightly older members of the audience (dare I say it – likely the parents of the generation that the game is ideally aimed at), with content taken from the Ghostbusters and Back to the Future movies.

“Some of them are brands that were when I was a kid, the likes of Ghostbusters - we grew up with those,” Mark explained. “I think one of the cool things about our games, is [...] it becomes like a window and a doorway for a new generation into these things.”

He gives the example of Lego Lord of the Rings, where the movies (2001 – 2003) gained a 12 rating but the game (2012) was aimed for eight years up. The result is children later seeing the films and recognising them from the games. “So with Dimensions, we go to the next level – things like Wizard of Oz, Ghostbusters and Back to the Future.”

Yes, the Wizard of Oz. I admitted that if I’d had to come up with a list of titles to include in a mash-up game, I’d still have never thought to include this. However, for the team pitching ideas to go into the game it was more natural than that, with ideas like the Yellow Brick Road and “you’re not in Kansas any more” being pop culture references. Mark explained further. “What better opening can you think of for a game than Batman being thrown onto the Yellow Brick Road, and then his head comes up and you see Oz? It’s just so surreal, that it makes sense.”
Lego Dimensions screen
He openly acknowledges how last year’s Lego Movie helped pitch the game. “This idea has been fermenting for a long, long time, but the Lego Movie came out and proved that the concept of the mash-up universes could work. There was all sorts of different brands in there, and they’re treated with respect.”

This respect – and success – have also resulted in an enviable cast of voice talent, in many cases getting actors from the source series and movies to revisit roles. Sean Astin is Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings, Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd are Marty McFly and Professor Brown in the Back to the Future sections and so on. But Mark reveals his fandom of Doctor Who in his excitement for getting Peter Capaldi to play the Time Lord. “You just sit there and pinch yourself!” he explained with some enthusiasm. “Especially [...] when you’re sat there with the likes of Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez, Peter Capaldi, and it’s all being watched over by Steven Moffat! Yeah, ok – this works!”

There is a longer term approach here too. “Lego Dimensions is not a one-shot thing,” Mark explained. “We’re not putting this starter pack out, a couple of level packs, and moving on – we want people to put the toy pad [base] under their TV and for it to stay there, just like you do with your consoles.”

While characters from three franchises form the story of the core game, it still visits the worlds of each other franchise. Additional packs are due to be released in waves following the launch, with a schedule into 2016 already planned, adding characters and vehicles, as well as levels and adventure worlds to play them in.
Lego Dimensions screen
The gamer in me stops to think on this, wondering if it might leave the game feeling incomplete without some or all of the expansions. I make the hypothetical case if someone doesn’t like Jurassic World and skips that expansion, something will feel missing from the main game. Mark is adamant this won’t be the case. “No no! The starter pack will get you platinum trophies, your gamerscore, there is a full story from beginning to end. [It] cautiously teases you the other things, teases of the other worlds, but there is nothing like ‘oh no! You [can't do that]‘. You still get a full experience, it’s just up to you what you want to add to that.”

He then jokes about my hypothetical point, mentioning for people who do like Jurassic World that the Lego game of it is already available, but that does actually raise another point. With pre-existing games in several of the worlds being visited, have the team felt free to try new things instead? “It has to be [designed] from the ground up. If you push Lego Dimensions and it was Lego Batman 3, Lego Jurassic World, Lego Lord of the Rings tacked on with a few others I think you’d be disappointed.”

That said, references to the previous games are in there to reward fans of the series. “So the intro for the game, the first time you see Lego Movie, Lego Lord of the Rings, Lego Batman, they actually take inspiration from their individual games, then we throw the portal in and pull them straight out of that world. So it’s almost saying ‘if you’ve seen it before, you’re not going to know what’s going to come next.’ It’s a complete break – it’s a new thing on a new platform.”

A Lego game parodying Lego games – perhaps the most meta-humoured statement you can make about the Lego series. And as Mark puts it, “If we can’t poke fun of ourselves then we’d probably get shouted down for poking fun at everyone else.”

Lego Dimensions is released today, September 29th, in the UK; and has been available since September 27th in North America.


Peter can be described as an old, hairy gamer, a survivor of the console wars of the 1990s, and a part-time MMO addict. He has an especial fondness for retro gaming and observing the progressions in long running gaming series. When scandalously not caught gaming, he can also be found reading comics and fantasy fiction, or practising terrible photography.