Mike Rayahwk LEGO Playthemes
Knights Kingdom 2004 Castle Concepts
Knights Kingdom 2004: Transforming Castle Concept - pen and marker, 2003
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2005

 

It's very, very rare that I get permission to show LEGO ideation and concept work. In fact, all of the pieces for which I've ever gotten permission come from a brief two-week window in the beginning of 2003, right before I got drafted out of the Concept Lab and directly into Knights Kingdom Product Development in Denmark for a couple of months.

Fortunately, the couple pieces that I am allowed to show include this early development work on the "Transforming Castle" that eventually became The Castle of Morcia, as well as an initial concept painting for the evil Vladek.

Book of Morcia Map
"Castle of Morcia" Model
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Book of Morcia Map
8781 "Castle of Morcia" Product
Copyright LEGO ©2003
Awards
Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award Winner, 2004
Children's Choice Award by Canadian Toy Testing Council, 2004

Toy of the Year Award 2005 (Boys category) by the Toy Industry Association, for LEGO Knights' Kingdom

When they handed me the assignment, we were looking at the theme as a future fantasy, much in the spirit of He-Man or the Thundercats. (It was later switched back to straight magical medieval fantasy, which was the smart move with The Lord of the Rings movies hitting the theaters.) The early idea was that these future knights were each based on a specific animal, and their castles were built to reflect it. While all the hero knights' animals had already been decided, the King hadn't had any development work yet, so I was just told to pick whatever seemed appropriate. On a lark, I picked the lion emblem from LEGO's original 1984 King's Castle, with cameo appearances by King Leo from the earlier 2000 Knights' Kingdom theme. The emblem and character stuck, and so this theme became Knights Kingdom as well.

All of this is a kind of long-winded explanation for why the King's castle is a blue lion and Vladek's castle is a red scorpion.

I spent an afternoon pumping out a bunch of different sketch ideas for how the castles might look and how their transformations might work, and I was pretty proud of these two in particular. When I showed them to my manager, though, he wasn't convinced. He said we wanted a castle that transforms, not one that you take apart and rebuild a different way. He'd said something similar about a concept I'd done the day before, and I'd gone home and built a functional Lego prototype to prove him wrong - I think he just got a kick out of making me build prototypes.

 

Castle (King's Version)
"Castle (King's Version)" - digital, 2003
Castle Transformation
"Castle Transformation"
- Maya animation, 2003
Castle (Vladek's Version)
"Castle (Vladek's Version)" - digital, 2003

 

But I didn't have the space to pull off another major building spree that night, so instead I plugged my sketches into Maya and modeled the castle and its transformation out in 3D. It had a bunch of cool little features - I've always thought that a gaint scorpion tail was the only appropriate throne for Vladek, and who wouldn't want a castle with giant grabber claws? Best of all, any minifgs who got scooped up by the claws fell out the back into a hidden dungeon cell as soon as the claw retracted. I had it all figured out.

Now I'm almost certain we could have produced this set within our $90 price point, especially considering the size of Vladek's Dark Fortress the following year. But as I learned in great detail over the next month or two, there's a lot more that goes into set design than just whether we can afford the production costs. In this case, the sticking point was the 7+ age rating on the front of the box. If we'd even had an 8+ rating, a lot of these functions would have been feasible, but LEGO is very serious about making sure that if there's a seven on the outside of the box then a seven-year-old will be able to build the model inside, and they have decades' worth of research showing exactly what building techniques are possible for each age group.

Not that we didn't try; Hans was sweating over the design of this set for weeks. But in the end, the story was shifted away from the overt animal-themed architecture, and the transformation was reduced to a couple of rotating bits and some castle sections that could be lifted out and reversed. But all in all we came out with a great set regardless. The Castle of Morcia was a huge hit in 2004 and went on to win all kinds of awards, including a Toy of the Year award from the Toy Industry Association and an Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award.

I still get a kick out of this original design though. One of these days I'm going to pull out my stash of castle bricks and build it out for real.

 

Mike Rayahwk
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