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Sites and CD-ROMs Build Up Lego Mania

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you’re older than 14 and still addicted to Lego building sets, you no longer need feel alone.

You perhaps feared telling your friends because they might laugh at your elaborate castles, spaceships and housing developments made from the knobby, colorful, plastic model pieces imported from Denmark. But in cyberspace, you can find fellow addicts. Lots of them.

Type “Lego” into the search engine at the Yahoo index, and up pop 73 major sites, including the official company home page at https://www.lego.com. You can gaze at projects created by others, trade gossip about Lego kits not yet on the market and even make bids on discontinued parts.

And if you are in the United States, you can get a preview, on the official home page, of Lego’s first foray into CD-ROMs. (In Europe or Australia you can already get the real thing.)

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The CD-ROM, which will be marketed here in late summer, is called Lego Technic, a title that means little to those of us who are not members of the clan. But as devotees know, the Technic line, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, was created to incorporate motors, lighting sets (including fiber optic systems on some models) and other devices into Lego models.

The CD-ROM depicts several underwater models, including an elaborate yellow submarine and a multifaceted base for launching deep-sea operations. A look at an advanced copy of Lego Technic suggests it will find favor mostly from committed Lego fans.

Though beautifully designed (rippling water--a staple on CD-ROMs for some reason--has never been so spectacularly well depicted), the disc calls for little creativity on the part of the user. In animation clips, it shows how the submarine and other models are put together, using standard Lego parts. But the user can’t manipulate the parts on-screen to make changes. Much of the disc seems a big Lego infomercial.

Due this fall is Adventures on Lego Island, a children’s adventure. A copy of that CD-ROM was not available.

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Surprisingly, a non-Lego CD-ROM comes closer to the creative spirit of Legos. Gryphon Bricks, a hybrid Mac / Windows product, allows users to use their imaginations in creating on-screen models that can be as simple as a little cube or as elaborate as a Medieval castle scene, complete with model horses and other animals created out of the “bricks.”

The user can choose from more than 300 brick shapes, all of which have the little knobby connectors similar to those used by Lego. The bricks are not quite as handsomely designed as Lego parts, but you’ll never run out of them (the CD-ROM can create a virtually unending supply) or lose just the one you needed under the sofa.

In addition, you can change the colors of individual bricks or whole models with the click of the mouse. Of course, the big disadvantage is that when you are done, you won’t have a model that exists in the real world. Given the klutzy design capabilities of some of us, that might not be an entirely bad thing.

Gryphon Bricks is available for about $40. Information: (619) 536-8815.

* Cyburbia’s e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.


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