LEGO hired me to help move LEGO NEXO KNIGHTS into its second year after its initial launch. NEXO KNIGHTS was about a group of futurist knights that collect shields to download special powers, with the help of Merlock 2.0, and battle Jestro and other evil-doers. The play experience for year one happened in two parts: the physical play contained collectible shields and a mobile game that went along with it. In the game, kids could scan in the shields for their digital knights to use while battling through a beat-em-up-style game.
As this was my first LEGO project, I had a lot of onboarding to do, but I jumped right in and was assigned how to transition the NEXO powers into a system that kids could understand when they combined them with the new combo-scan.
I was assigned at LEGO was creating a combo system for NEXO KNIGHTS' NEXO Powers. This was the big push for the second year of the NEXO KNIGHTS product line. In the NEXO KNIGHTS experience, kids collected powers from LEGO sets and scanned them into a digital game app. In the second year, we were going to allow kids to scan in three powers at once to create combo attacks. While working on this project, I worked closely with our game vendor to make the system for how the powers should combine and the user experience around scanning them into the game. Below is a Combo Power promo and some more images of the digital/physical play.
The initial NEXO powers were thought to be a 'candy-like' collectible. There was no consideration for a system of color matching with a specific knight and their ability or a theme of those powers. In games like Pokémon, there is a clear system of what card type is (grass, fire, water, etc.); for the NEXO powers, we had to re-engineer them to work in some way for kids to understand so that when they combined the powers, we could do something with them in the game and not have unlimited possibilities. But these are physical toys, so we could not change aspects of what was already in kids' hands.
Unbeknownst to me, my process started even before I was hired. LEGO often gives designer case studies to do during the interview process. Mine was specific on how you would expand the digital/physical play of the NEXO Knights theme in year two. After diving deep into the app and play experience, I gave assumptions and in-game recommendations and developed four essential concepts. The last concept in my deck, along with the image above, read:
"Combo-Scan: Allowing kids to scan multiple powers at once could be an added benefit to multiple concepts in my case. This could also add to the idea of forging powers together to create new NEXO-powers. The combinations would have to be pre-determined since so many base elements allow kids to explore or solve combinations in the game."
This little blurb and image got me my job with LEGO and put me on a path to solving this complex problem.
I started documenting and cataloging all of the NEXO powers and trying to see if they would fit into a system.
In this exploration, I started assigning attributes to each power. This may not be a strict 'type' like Pokémon uses, but through play testing, we could determine that kids understood it enough and had fun experimenting with the combinations. Now that we had these attributes, we had to decide how we wanted to use them in the game. This came down to trying to be as smart with Unity's assets and animations as possible. When we scanned the combo powers, we would say that the top power would be number one, and we would go clockwise for two and three.
So for the above example, the attributes that we might have assigned to powers may have been bird (blue), animal (green), and royalty (red). The power out of this scan would have been given the name corresponding to those attributes in that order (Flying Beast of the Throne!) But if the order shifted, your name might change (Royal aviation of the beast!). In this example, the power would appear the same and have the same effect in the game because it has the same base attributes, but the name is different. The below video helps illustrate the system a little more as well.
I also needed to work closely with our app partner to determine how the combo powers would fit into the app flows. For example, if a kid scanned a new power in a combo scan, when would they 'unlock' the new power? We also needed to determine how the attributes stacked up against different enemies in the game based on strengths and weaknesses.
After figuring out year two and the combo powers, we added a small incremental innovation in year three. This added the corrupted powers and Merlock's (Golden) powers. So the screenshot from the app below illustrates how those were used in the overall experience.
NEXO KNIGHTS offered a lot of fun play for kids, and I learned a lot about how the LEGO project came together while working on this project. After year three development, the theme was canceled, and I moved on to other projects. I think one of the reasons that the theme didn't take off as quickly as LEGO had hoped (sales started to rise later in its life) was that there were too many elements in the play, and they did not all align with one another. Marketing elements, the TV show, the mobile app, and the toy were all telling slightly different stories, and there was a lot for kids to understand and digest. If LEGO could have stuck to a straightforward message around future knights collecting powers, there could have been more hope in seeing future sets.