Blacktron Reloaded

The Lego games are a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. I enjoy Lego a great deal so I find them already appealing in this regard. But they are also interesting from a game design standpoint. The forgiving difficulty suggest a shallow experience aimed at younger players. But it turns out to be a necessity when you start playing the game as it is meant to be played – cooperatively. Instead of difficulty, there is a surprisingly deep and consistent language of abilities that can be used to explore and re-experience the game’s world. It’s pedantic completionism as usual in some regard. But due to the light-hearted nature of the game in general, it always retains at least a spark of innocent discovery. “Oh look, it turns into a catapult!”

All the Lego games lack polish in some areas. One of them is often level design. Playing through LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean with my girlfriend recently, we hit one or two rather nasty snags. They are mostly associated with poorly designed boss fights or confusing actions sequences. They seem to be only there to satisfy the requirements of re-telling the story of the licensed movies. So I always wondered what would happen if the team made a Lego game that isn’t based on a license.

For this reason, I was very excited when Lego City Stories was announced at this year’s E3. Not only is this a first proper Lego game that isn’t tied to a second license. Open-world sandbox mechanics could potentially be a good match with the playfulness of Lego anyway. It made me consider other Lego themes that would work well with games. And if you are a Lego enthusiast, you might see where this is going…

Blacktron AD


Lego in space. But specifically, the Blacktron (Future Generation) / M-Tron era. The Lego space sets made quite an evolution. The started out as being very close to actual NASA moon landings hardware. I’m guessing that this (sadly) wasn’t exciting enough. So they went more colorful and Sci-Fi. I think they peaked at the Blacktron / M-Tron era during the early 90ies. The sets had a striking look with neon color schemes. Each “fraction” had a unique technical gimmick going on. The Blacktron guys had space ships with modular cockpits. The M-Tron dudes had magnets. How do they work?

I think the most important part was that there was no CLEAR good vs. evil. Sure, it was implied that the Blacktron guys were more sinister in nature. But it was just a nuance rather than a solid, embedded narrative. It was up to the kids to invent the story.

Since then, I feel like the space theme wend downhill. Ice Planet looked ok. After that things went steeply downhill. There were multiple iterations of either space police or humans fighting aliens. Right now, they seem to be doing X-Com. The problem with those sets is that they never really inspire any imagination. The sets pretty much spell out the story. A a child can do with them is to re-play the same tired trope over and over again. It seems like it would get old fast. And to top it off, there is less technical ingenuity at play.

Anyway, what I wanted to get at is this here.

Apparently the talented concept artist Niklas Jannson shares this fascination with Lego space. He sat down and created a comprehensive set of wonderful concepts drawings to re-invent the theme. The designs are pretty radical. He came up with new parts, better articulated mini-figs, some beautiful anime-inspired robots, space ships and vehicles. He even attempted at fleshing out the backstory and bringing it together into a complete Lego space universe. I find the sheer amount of material and the attention to detail quite shocking. I doubt that the Blacktron era will ever return as video game. But what Niklas has created offers a stunning peek into what could happen if it did.

So if anybody knows people, who work at TT Games, please send them the link, will you? For anybody else, it’s simply a wonderful source of inspiration for all sorts of Sci-Fi related projects. Enjoy!

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

3 responses to “Blacktron Reloaded”

  1. sirleto

    Arne! Yayyyy :-)

  2. James

    Actually, the first original Lego title was “Lego Island.”

    It was a PC game back in the 90’s. I remember having a lot of fun with it, though its probably very dated by today’s standards.

    There was no clear goal to the game. You played as a young pizza delivery boy. Initially you deliver pizza to the various residents of the island as an introduction to the characters, location, and gameplay style. As you progress you gain access to bikes, skateboards, cars, helicopters, planes, boats, jet skis, and more.

    The missions you had were always well incorporated into the game itself. Like you have to help fix a car so that a racer can begin his job, or building a jet-ski so you can save a resident from a shark attack. With each new vehicle you build, you also get to use it for free roaming. The creation process was a little more limited than Lego Creator. The main game’s focus was on the character interaction.

    Its an old game, but I remember having lots of fun with it when I was a kid.

    When I saw Lego City Stories, I was immediately reminded of Lego Island. This game basically seems like a spiritual sequel to Lego Island, albeit bigger and better.

  3. sirleto

    i just found out by browsing bricklink that i remeber MANY pictures of sets, it seems to me that i owned (before age of ten) all futuron ( and nearly all space police sets (

    i bet my parents did throw away all packages, but my autistic behaviour already in that age should’ve helped store ALL manuals somewhere. i guess i have to visit my parents home ASAP to mine those treasures!


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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