Bionicle: Masks of Power, a fan-made game based on the line of Lego toys, is coming to Steam after receiving guidelines from Lego. This 3D open-world adventure predictably has a lot of work behind it and an even larger backstory.
Despite being a small project by fans, it’s drawing from some massive influences. The game’s developers cite The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nier: Automata, and Horizon Zero Dawn as inspirations for the project. While those might sound like some lofty aspirations, the developers believe the somewhat niche Bionicle IP is worth the effort. In fact, they believe Bionicle is just as influential as the games the studio is drawing from to a certain degree.
“Horizon Zero Dawn is basically Bionicle without the trademark,” Bionicle: Masks of Power creator Jocool tells We.
We spoke with two team members from developer Team Kanohi — project creator Jordan “Jocool1231” Willis and Zachary “ASCII” Ledbetter, who is the project lead — about the origins and details of the fan game, as well as the amount of work that went into it. Just like Legos, the game is the result of several pieces clicking together.
So how did the project come about? And how’d you bring a team together?
Willis: OK, this is going to be a long one. So, I always wanted to make a game or work on something Bionicle-related, but I could never figure it out. My older brother knew how to code, and I asked him to teach me, but he always had too much going on. Come 2016, my family had a house fire and we got displaced from our house for a bit. During our hotel-living months, I started gathering assets and learning to rig things together using Bionicle Toa. Once we moved out to a temp apartment, my brother finally taught me how to code using that Bionicle game I wanted to make.
Come November 2016, TTV hosted the “Chroniclers’ Convergence,” a big compilation video of Bionicle projects in the works, and I submitted my video showcasing the game, which got a ton of attention. I basically put out a call asking for help with the game and the team came from there. Around the same time, a TTV member, LJ, left and did a video showing the game on his big solo channel.
Ledbetter: I’d say that’s where things really shifted because his videos drew in a lot of the current leadership for the project, myself included. When I first saw it, I was a game developer for a few years and was getting back into Bionicle, so I was thinking: “Yeah I can do something here.”
After that explosion of new project members we realized, we had a lot of skill between everyone. Around late 2017, we noticed a lot of fundamental issues that stemmed from it being a first-time programming experience from Jo … but it was all fixable [he laughs]. So we sat down and decided to basically restart the project with higher quality, and that’s basically where 2.0 started.
Willis: Now the timeline gets wacky … 2.0 was going through preproduction and I decided that I still wanted to work on something and not just do documentation. So I started working on the Legacy edition, which is essentially the original version. My excuse was just having a consistently updated game for the fans to play while waiting for 2.0. We finished that up in May with a bunch of new added features like automatic leveling, more item options, and decently updated combat.
Ledbetter: Yeah, and the last six months, after a year-and-a-half of preproduction on the final vision of 2.0, we wrapped up documentation.
Is it difficult to work with everyone online since the team spans so far?
Willis: Yeah, we’re an international team, and a lot of people have different schedules and different time zones. Like, there’s a group of people I call the “night crew” that are just Europeans and always come on at night my time. So with them, we’re always leaving messages like, “I need you to do this, because I need it for something else I need to do,” and just hoping they do it. Plus, we’re all unpaid volunteers doing this in our free time.
Ledbetter: Yeah, it’s like writing letters instead of having an actual chat. So there’s been a challenge there, but we make it work.
Were the talks of using the IP easy with Lego?
Ledbetter: Well, disclaimer, we’ve never stated that we got permission from Lego. We’ve spoken with a manager at Lego about the release, and they couldn’t give us concrete permission, but they did give rules and guidelines for how we present our product. So as long as we follow those, there won’t be any issues. They’re really laid-back about that as long as we aren’t making money or using logos and whatnot.
With how vast Bionicle lore is, was there a lot of research you guys had to do for the game?
Both: Oh, yeah.
Willis: I have learned more Bionicle lore than I ever wanted.
Ledbetter: We definitely have some Bionicle aficionados on the team, and others are more fans of the vague mythology of the whole thing.
Willis: And some don’t even know what’s going on. They’re just here to make a video game.
Ledbetter: Yeah, we definitely had to do a lot of research because when we plan out quests, we have to keep timelines and order of events in mind to know whether it fits or not. For just about every quest, we’re checking the timeline to see if it can work wherever.
Are there any gameplay inspirations you guys really pulled from?
Ledbetter: I wanna say that inspirations that strongly affected the project are Breath of the Wild, Nier: Automata, Monster Hunter, and Horizon Zero Dawn.
Willis: Yeah, Horizon is basically Bionicle without the trademark.
Were there any issues with the scope of making an open-world game?
Ledbetter: Getting the scope of the world was a bit of a challenge. But as of now, we’ve got all the size and scope elements nailed down, so we’re pretty comfortable with it. It’s not small, not massive, can’t talk specifics yet. But if you think 3D Zelda titles, we’re kind of in that range.
Are you following preestablished story or remixing things?
Willis: With 2.0, we’re trying to stick to canon and stitch things together. With Bionicle 2001, the game was told through comics, games, and playsets. We’re trying to put that together while adding our own stuff to fill in the gaps.
Ledbetter: Yeah, Bionicle was a big multimedia IP, so not every material was consistent. We had to consider a lot before deciding on presentations and implementations we had to go with. There are definitely some details that don’t make for a good game, so certain things had to be tweaked. We have to make sure, first and foremost, that the game is fun.
You know there’s a good 12 masks with an established story on how the Toa got them, but that still leaves another 43, so … .
Can you give us a scoop on any new exploration or combat additions in this version?
Ledbetter: We are kind of tight-lipped right now so we can have a nice reveal before the demo. We will be showing some gameplay sooner than you think.
I will say that for gameplay, we wanted to focus on the design pillars of good combat, which is where the Nier influence comes in. Engaging platforming, so the Toa have cool mask powers and movement abilities that let them get around in a fun way. We also focused on exploration and puzzle-solving. It’s half player abilities and half your engagement with the environment.
Willis: There’s a lot of cool things, puzzle and movement-wise, you can do with the masks. Floatation, speed, illusion, mind control. Lots of interesting things.
Ledbetter: And like in Breath of the Wild, there are multiple solutions to a lot of challenges and platforming obstacles. We want to give choice in dealing with the challenges.
Willis: If you do want a little preview, you can play Masks of Power Legacy. It’s not representative of the quality this version will achieve, but it’s a good preview of what we’re trying to do.
Ledbetter: Yeah, at this point, we look at Legacy as a fleshed-out tech demo.
You can check out more on Masks of Power, download Legacy, and find each developer of the game’s social media on Team Kanohi’s website. Be sure to wishlist Bionicle: Masks of Power on Steam and follow the team on Twitter for updates.