Games

A Hardcore Lego Fan Spent Six Years Making an Ambitious 'Bionicle' Fan Game

Even better, Lego seems to be okay with them making it.
September 8, 2020, 1:00pm
A screen shot from the video game Bionicle: Quest for Mata Nui.
Screen shot courtesy of Crainy

"Bruh, my 8 year old self would've literally had a heart attack if he saw this," reads a comment on a trailer for a game called Bionicle: Quest for Mata Nui. Based on Lego's Bionicle brand, Quest for Mata Nui looks like the kind of action game that would have been released at the height of its popularity in the early 2000s, with flashy graphics, an open world to explore, and robot scorpions to beat on. 

But the comment is one of hundreds reacting in awe at how a fan spent six years quietly making Quest for Mata Nui, a tribute to a strange but key piece of Lego history.

"Quest for Mata Nui was really a project with which I was creating a game that I had dreamed of playing since I was a kid," said the game's sole designer, Crainy, in an interview.

The game, made in secret for years and whose existence sprung onto the world in April with a trailer, stands out because it doesn't just look interesting—it looks legitimately good. If you'd told me this was something Lego was actually working on, I would totally believe it.

Lore is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the colored stacks of bricks called Legos. But that ignores how the company nearly went out of business in the late 90s and was ultimately saved by Bionicle, a wildly successful attempt to reboot Lego in the eyes of kids and teens by crafting a world and history for those same colored blocks that involved a darker sci-fi universe where cyborgs, called the Toa, wielded elemental powers.

Bionicle was hugely popular, made Lego relevant for a new generation, and left a huge mark on the generation of kids who grew up knowing it was possible for Legos to engage in war.

Crainy, who told me they're in their "mid 20s" and have a day job as a video artist, distinctly remembers the first commercial they saw for Bionicle back in 2001, and it's easy to see why it was so immediately appealing to someone in that age group. It pitched Lego as more than just creativity but a battle of good vs. evil. Oh, and it had games and comics and everything else we take for granted when a new property launches these days. This was pretty new.

"It always kept a hold on me," said Crainy, "I've closely followed the story of Bionicle from its beginning all the way to the end, which was nine years later. And even after that there was never really a point where I ever really lost interest."

Bionicle launched in 2001 and later wrapped up its saga through a comic released in 2010.

That it took six years to finally show Quest for Mata Nui wasn't the plan, but "it just happened" because the game has largely been made by Crainy on their own. Some have helped with building modeling, and there are now lots of people wanting to contribute since the trailer went live, but otherwise, Crainy says it's been a one-man development team.

When Crainy released the first trailer in April, they were taken aback by the response. Nearly 300,000 people have watched the trailer, more than 20,000 people have subscribed to his YouTube channel, and perhaps most importantly, it reportedly got the attention of Lego itself.

Crainy said they had a meeting where the company laid out guidelines for the project to keep itself from running into legal trouble, such as not charging money for whatever ends up getting released. Video game fan projects have a checkered history, with many companies being extremely aggressive about shutting down creations, especially high-profile ones.

They did not elaborate on the meeting much beyond that, and Lego Group, the company who oversees Lego products, did not respond to a request for comment from VICE Games.

"I can say that I am confident that I can complete the game according to my vision that I've always had for it," said Crainy. "Nothing has really changed in that regard."

The trailer was also shared by artist Christian Faber, one of the original Bionicle creators.

Six years is a long time, though, and it's unlikely Quest for Mata Nui will be released anytime soon. It means Crainy is devoting a huge amount of time and resources into a project that's based on a passion he had for a property that meant a lot to him as a kid, a property that ultimately was meant for kids to buy more Legos. But they didn't really view it that way.

"I don't really think framing a story as 'meant for kids' or 'meant for adults' is necessarily useful," said Crainy. "The original creators of Bionicle obviously put a lot of effort into creating a unique world and a thoughtful narrative and with this project I aimed to preserve the integrity of what they built as best as I could."

Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).