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Why LEGO 2K Drive was five years in development

A large open-world area, thousands of customizable toy bricks, six-player online multiplayer and cooperative play. Plus, one launch on PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch

LEGO 2K Drive is a big, bold project that was announced in March and will be released in just two months – surprise!

But it was not the work of a moment. As is often the case with video games, especially those built from a cold start rather than an iterative annual release, projects take a lot longer to formulate than first meets the eye.

The Apollo 11 mission may have lasted just under eight days, but from John F. Kennedy’s powerful speech at Rice University to Neil Armstrong’s smallest human step, it took almost a decade…

“It’s been over five years since 2K was approached by Lego to enter into this partnership,” Emmanuel Valdez, the game’s art director, told Traxion.GG at the American gaming giant’s London offices.

“Members of our Visual Concepts South team represented 2K during a trip to LEGO HQ and suggested several games we could potentially work on.

“But then they asked us, ‘But what do you want to do?’ Which is kind of rare, isn’t it? They were kind enough to actually ask.

Since 2014, the California studio has only produced WWE wrestling and NBA basketball games. You’ll have to go back to 2007 to find the last non-sports title released – a Fantastic Four film.

But it didn’t suggest Danish brickmakers create plastic reincarnations of its existing franchises. No, it wanted to create a driving game.

“The team worked seriously on a prototype for a while, and I got on the project after about six months,” continues Valdez.

“I’ve seen the beginnings of a really great arcade-style racing game. We then spent a few more years with a small team before the project got the green light in January 2020.

LEGO 2K Drive Garage Builder

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 almost 80 strong.

“When I came on board, I saw the first playable one [demo] who got the green light. I wasn’t expecting much, but the first one was playable [build] was pretty much what it looks like now,” says Pierce.

“We’ve made all sorts of UI improvements [since then]but the core game was already there.”

While it sounds like such a significant departure from the studio’s existing work, Visual Concepts South has team members with previous racing experience. It then built on that with some specific settings.

LEGO 2K Drive gameplay

“The team created a series of arcade driving games,” explains Pierce.

“I’d done the same thing myself, and I actually knew some of these guys from Midway when I was at Atari.
“And we’ve gone ahead and hired more people for open-world experiences as well. So we designed this team specifically to build this product.”

Previous arcade classics that some members of the development team have worked on include the motorboat-based Hydro Thunder and several of the Raw Thrills arcade cabinets such as H2Overdrive, Dirty Drivin’ and the driving game Batman (2013).

Valdez and Pierce share a particular fondness for Cruis’n USA, with fellow Visual Concepts South Steve Ranck working on the 1996 N64 port with Raw Thrills founder Eugene Jarvis.

“To this day, I still hear, ‘Well, Eugene said this and that,'” jokes Valdez.

LEGO 2K Drive presenters

“When I was at Atari Games, I worked on RoadBlasters and Road Riot, and then when I became Executive Producer at Arcade Studio, San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing was our biggest game,” Pierce says.
“At the same time, Eugene was making Cruis’n World.”

“Plus, Steve was doing Hydro Thunder at the same time,” says Valdez.

Once you understand that they’re a team full of arcade racers experts, you might overlook the company’s WWE and NBA legacy, but the toy-based open-world toy was only unveiled eight weeks before its final release.

LEGO 2K DRIVE cover

“It was really difficult to cast the team because they knew us as wrestling and basketball and when we reached out they assumed it was about those two products,” recalls Valdez.

“But once we got them through the gate and we could give them NDA, all we had to do was say, ‘We’re working on this LEGO driving game,’ right, and we put them ‘in’ right there.”

From our early hands-on with a non-definitive game code, the DNA of the aforementioned arcade classics is present through the accessible vehicle handling, over-the-top characters, and bombastic nature.

Whether or not the momentum continues across career and online multiplayer, we’ll find out on May 19 when it releases 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 in the latest episode of the Traxion.GG podcast, available now on your favorite podcast app.

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