This evening we trucked down to Louisville to visit my friend Bill at work. He’s at NetDevil, the company who’s writing the upcoming MMO game Lego Universe. It’s a pretty cool game, wherein players get to design their own minifigure characters, build castles and fortresses and cars and boats and whatever, and race around doing stuff. Although I don’t know a lot of details about the game itself, it was really cool to see how Bill and the other two hundred employees of NetDevil work together to design all of the in-game Lego creations and interactions.

Although I was interested in the programming and the creative side of actually writing a computer game, there was no doubt the kids were interested in the rows upon rows of Lego bricks along one wall of the huge facility. There were literally millions of bricks there. They’re used by the game creators to experiment with models for different portions of the game– after being built and approved, they’re converted to digital models and inserted into the game itself. All of the employees have their own Lego creations scattered on their desks.

We talked with Joel, one of three Builders (not Master Builders, he was careful to point out). His job, quite literally, is to build Lego all day. Sometimes he’s asked to create certain things which will be used in the game– for example, a car or a house. But other times he can sit around making up whatever he wants. His desk and several tables around it were scattered with amazing Lego creations: dinosaurs, spaceships, a model of the Death Star trench (complete with flying X-wings and a Y-wing in the process of exploding), even a full-size broadsword. Everything, and I mean everything, was done with Lego. There aren’t other props inserted into his creations, and he stressed that true Builders never ever use glue to keep things together.

I spotted a model of the Millennium Falcon. It’s the largest, most expensive Lego set currently available for sale. There are actually two of them: a smallish model that retails for around $100, and this behemoth that’s upward of $500. It was enormous: fully three feet long with all kinds of amazing detail.

The highlight of the tour was the end, when Bill took us over by the bins of bricks and invited everyone to build their own minifigure to take home. They had hundreds (maybe thousands?) of sliding drawers full of carefully-sorted pieces. You could choose from probably a hundred different faces, then select from about forty sets of legs and another fifty or sixty chest parts. The most fun was accessorizing: there were hundreds of headpieces, weapons, tools, and just goofy add-on things. I think we spent half an hour picking pieces and laughing about our characters.

Woo hoo! Here’s what we ended up with.

I made King Arthur (note the Holy Grail) and a pirate complete with a parrot, treasure map, and buccaneer sword.

Zack chose a hilarious assortment of stuff and ended up with Boba Fett in swim flippers, Buzz Lightyear with a robotic grappling-hook hand, and some kind of weird robot.

Kyra made some girls. She had a cat (shown here) and a rat (lost somewhere in the van on the way home). There’s even a little book that opens. Who knew?

Alex put together some knights, one of whom packs a machine pistol and the other holds a lightsaber and has a speargun for an arm. But hey, that’s what Lego is all about.

At first Laralee didn’t really get into the spirit of it, because she couldn’t think of what to make. I gave her a few ideas, and she ended up making two characters from her favorite book series, The Hunger Games. This is Peeta and Katniss.

All in all it was an awesome time. Every kid (well, every boy anyway) dreams of designing video games and playing with Lego for a “grown up job”. And Bill gets to do it!