A large open-world area, thousands of customisable toy bricks, six-player online multiplayer and cooperative play. Plus, a launch across PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Switch
LEGO 2K Drive is a big, bold, project that was announced in March and releases in just two months’ time – surprise!
But, it wasn’t the work of a moment. So often the case with video games, especially one being created from a cold start and not an iterative yearly release, projects take a lot longer to formulate than initially meets the eye.
Apollo 11’s mission may have lasted a scant eight days, but it took nearly a decade from John F. Kennedy’s evocative speech at Rice University to Neil Armstrong making one small step for man…
“It’s over five years ago since 2K was approached by Lego to form this partnership,” explains the game’s Art Director, Emmanuel Valdez, to Traxion.GG inside the American gaming giant’s London offices.
“Members of our team, from Visual Concepts South, represented 2K during a trip to LEGO headquarters and pitched several proposals – games that we could potentially work on.
“But then they asked us, ’but, what do you want to do?’ Which is kind of rare, right? They were kind enough to actually ask.
Since 2014, the Californian studio has only made WWE wrestling and NBA basketball games. You have to go as far back as 2007 to find the last title it released that wasn’t a sports title – a Fantastic Four film tie-in.
But, it didn’t suggest to the Danish brick-makers it should create plastic reincarnations of its existing franchises. No, it wanted to create a driving game.
“The team worked in earnest on a prototype for a while, and I joined about six months into the project,” continues Valdez.
“I saw the beginnings of a really great arcade-style racing game. Then we spent several more years with a small team before the project was greenlit in January 2020.
A team of 35 people worked on the early stages of LEGO 2K Drive, before Mark Pierce, joined as Executive Producer. The team is now close to being 80-strong.
“When I came on board, I saw the first playable [demo] which won the greenlight. I wasn’t expecting much, but the first-playable [build] was pretty much like how it looks now,” says Pierce.
“We’ve done all sorts of improvements with the user interface [since then], but the core game was already there.”
Despite sounding like such a significant departure from the studio’s existing work, Visual Concepts South does have team members with prior racing game experience. It then built upon that with some specific hires.
“The team has done a bunch of arcade driving games,” explains Pierce.
“I had done the same myself and I actually knew some of these folks from Midway while I was at Atari.
“And we went off and got more people hired for open-world experience too. So we custom designed this team to build this product.”
Previous arcade classics that some of the development team have worked on include the powerboat-based Hydro Thunder, and several of the Raw Thrills arcade cabinets such as H2Overdrive, Dirty Drivin’ and the Batman (2013) driving game.
Valdez and Pierce share a particular fondness for Cruis’n USA, with Visual Concepts South colleague Steve Ranck working in 1996 on N64 port with Raw Thrills founder Eugene Jarvis.
“To this day, I still hear ‘well, Eugene said this and that’,” jokes Valdez.
“When I was at Atari Games, I worked on RoadBlasters and Road Riot, and then when I took over as Executive Producer of the arcade studio, San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing was our biggest game,” highlights Pierce.
“At the same time, Eugene was doing Cruis’n World.”
“Plus, Steve was doing Hydro Thunder all at the same time,” says Valdez.
Once you understand that it’s a team filled with arcade racer experts, you can overlook the company’s WWE and NBA heritage, but the open-world toy-base driving game wasn’t unveiled until eight weeks before its finished release.
“It made like staffing up the team really hard because they knew us as wrestling and basketball, and when we reached out they would assume it was for those two products,” reminisces Valdez.
“But when we got them past the gate, and we could NDA them, all we had to say was ‘we’re working on this LEGO driving game’, right, and we got them ‘in’ right there.”
From our early hands-on with a non-final game code, the DNA of the aforementioned arcade classics is present, through the approachable vehicle handling, over-the-top characters and bombastic nature.
Whether or not the momentum is sustained over the full length of its career and online multiplayer, we’ll find out on 19th May when it launches for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.
You can also listen to our full interview with Emmanuel Valdez and Mark Pierce on the latest episode of the Traxion.GG Podcast, available right now on your favourite podcast app.