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Project Darwin and LEGO's First Steps into the Digital World


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We've already seen most of it, but...


... What's that Adventurers thing at 2:44?






Many of the original development team went on to form Ghost DK, a well-established FX house (recent work on ‘Pacific Rim’ I see!), while one of the concept artists, the hugely talented, Kun Chang works as a Realization/Cinematics Director in Montreal.


For example, the 3D animation company Ghost born as a direct result of Darwin and has created a whole series of entries of the people who sat together at the time.

(via Google Translate)



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There's so much... stuff.





The newest preoccupied Dad at Darwin has not had time to tell us much
about Baby. But we do know that Lars Bo's boy was born on Saturday. He
weighed 3900 grams and is 55 cm tall. Perhaps next year we’ll learn the
name of this new LEGO customer.



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So Ghost is an offshoot of Darwin. Weeeeeird. It's almost like the project never really ended. I mean, apparently LEGO kept all of their early LDD work, and now apparently they were/still are the ones animating CG for LEGO.


I'm wondering if the Adventurers thing is tied to the CN show that's shrouded in mystery. SPU Darwin would have been a prime candidate for animating it.

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  • 1 year later...
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One thing led to another tonight and I ended up stumbling upon yet more stuff.


First, an early article on LU with a big comment left by a Darwin guy:




Some bits from the article:



Lego has had plenty of forays into the digital space over the years, from video games to products that let users design their own sets, but its biggest is the upcoming Lego Universe, a project begun in 1999 with the goal of bringing users online to not only play, but share their imaginations.


"It started with we were thinking of mass customization and how we could bring Lego play into the digital space in the '90s," said Hansen. "Dot-com was the big bubble, so we were starting in that area and designing the first applications of Digital Designer. It was all about how we could start making these tools so kids could use them and upload creations to the Internet. It was all about create, share, and bring things alive back in 1999. How would that happen? Virtual worlds. Of  course it wasn't called that at the time, but the idea of how you can get a real virtual space where kids can create and build and share was there."


Side note; here's another article that mentions this: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/111208/AGDC_Interview_How_NetDevil_Got_The_LEGO_Universe_Deal.php



The "hot thing" in recent months has been branded online worlds -- the industry's now got multiplayer spaces for everything from Hello Kitty to Build-a-Bear Workshop, and toy tie-ins like Webkinz are beginning to crop up everywhere.

But LEGO Group director of business development Mark Hansen was already thinking of an online play space based on his company's iconic building block toys back in 1999 -- and the toy company just had to wait for the tech to get up to date, he claims.

According to Hansen, the serious planning and partner investigation for building the upcoming PC downloadable LEGO Universe MMO began back in 2004. 

"Around 2004 and 2005, we started to see that more computers were coming into kids' bedrooms," Hansen says, noting that in order to develop a game like LEGO Universe targeted at 8-12 year olds, the era had to favor more kids having access to tech. 

"We took initiative and started searching for partners. We talked to over 26 different studios, and we picked one."

That studio was Auto Assault and Jumpgate Evolution developer NetDevil. Hansen said the decision came down to the company's personality, its tech, and its willingness to work with LEGO's vision.


Anyway... The comment left on the first article:



A little more background history... Much of the groundwork and original concepts in this area were laid out at LEGO in the years 1996-1999. I had the privilege of working at the company during this time with a great team of forward thinking artists, engineers, and researchers, tasked with exploring the implications of interactive 3D computer graphics for the company, as well as developing software based on and related to LEGO products. This group was called "SPU-Darwin", and was a special project of owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen.

One of the major efforts undertaken by Darwin was the development of a fully immersive (yes, with a head-mounted display) collaborative virtual reality system. The first effort was known as the LEGO Virtual Village, and was shown publicly in New Orleans at SIGGRAPH 96.


Building upon this, we developed a complete representation of the LEGO playset "Batlord's Castle" -complete with mini-fig avatar, body tracking, and physically based machinima tools- which was shown two years later in Orlando at SIGGRAPH 98.


Granted, this effort was a research project, but there we were 10 years ago, walking around inside of a high-resolution virtual world. Our work was widely seen at the time by folks inside and outside the company, but sadly the project was moth-balled during the company's unprecedented restructuring of 1999.

This past summer though, I was happy to attend the Darwin reunion in Billund, Denmark. There alumni were honored by the attendance of both Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen and Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, who each spoke glowingly of the Darwin legacy and the how the results of its work live on in the new generation of digital products being developed today. It was gratifying to hear first-hand that our early efforts have taken root, and it's simply thrilling to see LEGO Universe now coming to life!

BTW, the author of the VWN article was quite correct that Coupland's "Microserfs" was a big influence on those of us in there in the early days, as was the work of MIT's Seymour Papert. But the man with the original vision, and who deserves much credit in this regard, goes by the name of Dent-de-Lion Du Midi. He is the eccentric fellow who one day in 1995 knocked on the door at LEGO and convinced Kjeld of the coming age of digital bricks and virtual worlds!

Christian Greuel
Realtime Arts, LLC


The first link is now dead but is on the web archives (it was posted here earlier): http://web.archive.org/web/20141214191125/http://www.talisman.org/~erlkonig/lego/lego-on-sgis/Main.html


The second link is also dead, and not on the web archives - but, I found this, which probably has the same content:









Geez. They were really serious about this.


This page also lists a "Connected Worlds: The Future of Digital LEGO Toys" paper, but has no PDF. Its description is "LEGO Digital (SPU-Darwin) white paper".





You have to pay to access these, so I dunno what they contain.

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Cool stuff. Thinking over things now I suspect Brick by Brick probably played up the 'terribleness' of Darwin a bit to serve its own ends - the way it put things there's no way there would have been things going on like reunion parties in 2008. From what I remember the book also failed to recognize how Darwin sort of laid the foundation for LDD, which obviously has been huge for LEGO. I get why the author did it I guess (his whole thing was "LEGO sucked in the late 90s and then did all these things I explain in my book in the mid-2000s to save themselves. Buy my book and use these things in your own business") but it's too bad Darwin sort of got a bad wrap as a result.

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  • 3 years later...
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lol username



Some of the links here have gone dead since they were posted. I'd anticipated this and spent some time ensuring everything was on the web archives, so as far as I can tell, nothing has actually been lost.


There's also another corner of Alex Furer's website that'd gone unnoticed by us here, linked to in the about section:



Contains more information and individual videos, including some more on that Adventurers scene - be sure to click the different images to see the descriptions:


Would have been neat to see that idea go further (here's some footage of Alone in the Dark, if you've never seen it and have no idea what the website is talking about). We also talked a bit via email; it's really amazing how much passion the Darwin team had for virtual LEGO, and how far ahead of the time they were with technology.


Also - since Google+ is shutting down and deleting all content hosted on it, I made a backup of the videos that were on it, and included the other Darwin-related videos too just for the sake of completeness (and because this stuff is way too cool to risk being lost, haha): https://www.rockraidersunited.com/files/misc/project-darwin-video-archive-r297/


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