Behind the LEGO Ice Spikes Set

We talk to the brains behind the bricks

If ever you needed proof that LEGO bricks and Minecraft blocks are a great fit for one another, you should see the speed with which the prototype samples disappear from Mojang’s merch cupboards. I’m a particular fan of the Nether Fortress set, which I’ve bashed together with two Nether Railways to create an intricate, high-risk rollercoaster above a lake of lava.

I had a quick chat with designer Robert Heim about the recently released Ice Spikes set. It’s the fifth set Robert’s been involved with, and introduces some cool new ideas that the LEGO Minecraft team will probably adapt to future sets. It’s super cool, in every sense.

So how did the LEGO designers settle on this particular biome?

“Each year, we sit down and brainstorm what kind of new environments we can use," says Robert. "New structures, characters and so forth. I was pushing for the Ice Spike biome as it’s actually my favourite in the game. I could immediately imagine how it would look - it’s got these nice colours that would work really well in LEGO bricks. The challenge was more about finding a story to fit around the set. Why are you there? What can you do there? We always try to find a story that you can play out, which makes sense within the world of Minecraft and allows us to introduce special characters or items to the set.”

“We had a number of ideas for this set,” says Robert. “I think the starting point was going to be a little base. When you discover this area for the first time, you want to stay there for a while because it looks so interesting and different, so you need to put down roots. But later the idea evolved, and became the story of using the enchantment table for the first time.”

"Why are you there? What can you do there? We always try to find a story that you can play out."

Robert explains: “Our thinking was that if you want to build something with the material that’s unique to the Ice Spike biome - the packed ice - you need a pickaxe enchanted with Silk Touch. So I thought it could be a good idea to use the enchantment table here for the first time and give you an enchanted pickaxe.”

“Another cool feature about the set is its modularity,” says Robert. “You can take the towers apart in modular chunks, so you don’t need to destroy the entire model to build something else. You can make your own layout and change it quite rapidly.”

As we talk, Robert speedily reassembles the set into a singular, imposing enchantment tower - a huge stack of ice topped off by the enchantment room.

“That’s a theme with all the LEGO sets - we don’t just want people to build them as we’ve envisaged them, but to come back to them and reassemble them in their own ways. We’ve always encouraged rebuilds, but it’s often hard for builders to want to destroy something they’ve just built. With the modular design it’s much easier to change the model without destroying it, and put it back to the original layout again. So we hope this helps people to customise the set even more, using their own LEGO brick collections.”

Robert shows off another feature - a snappy interactive element, that lets you build a snow golem. Pop a pumpkin on top of a stack of snow blocks, and, with a subtle click, a hidden mechanism whips them out of sight, to be replaced by a snow golem.

"We don’t just want people to build sets as we envisage, but to reassemble them in their own ways."

“For every set we try to implement some functions like this,” says Robert. “It’s a nice way to get the player’s attention and get their imagination going. We often notice in playtests that the player starts using the functions before moving on to play with the set in their own way.”

The set has a lot of other neat details - banners, bread in a chest and pockets of lapis ore. Robert admits it’s not common to find lapis this close to the surface, but it makes sense given the story the set tries to tell: lapis lazuli is an important part of the enchanting process.

There are other ways in which the LEGO team has to tweak the world of Minecraft to fit. Though LEGO sets are brick-based, and Minecraft is a block-based game, there are still some challenges in melding the two:

“The scale is a bit different,” explains Robert. “In the game, a character is roughly two blocks in height, but LEGO bricks are a bit smaller compared to the size of a minifigure. This is why our beds are three blocks long instead of two, as it is in the game. Meanwhile, we have to make doors four bricks wide so the character fits through!”

I’m not sure the Ice Spikes will make a fitting addition to my Nether lair, but I’m already greedily eyeing up the Snow Hideout set our art director has stashed by his desk.

A frozen fortress is just begging to be built from the two!

Written by
Marsh Davies