‘Build With Chrome’ Makes Playing With Virtual LEGOs Fun, But It’s Not Quite Ready for Primetime

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Pile of Lego Bricks

LEGOs have been entertaining the young at heart for more than 60 years; but it seems that in 2014, LEGOs will be making a comeback of sorts. The LEGO Movie that is set to hit theaters next month and, in the meantime, Google has released a Chrome app that lets us play with virtual LEGOs. The app is called Build with Chrome and its promotional video elicits a “Whoa, that’s cool!” type of response:

The app can be used directly via its main website on Chrome and Firefox, without the need to install it as a browser extension. According to the Los Angeles Times, Google created the app to show the capabilities of its browser and to push boundaries. For LEGO, the app adds marketing juice for the upcoming LEGO Movie. A win-win scenario for both sides, really.

Trying the App

I logged into the main site with my Google+ account try out the app. The main screen presented me with three options: Build Academy, Explore All Builds and Start Building.

Build with Chrome

I figured that I would jump right in and start building. The app first assigns a plot to you, which I think is supposed to be tied to your actual geographic location. However in my case, it was about 300 miles off. OK, minor glitch. Moving on to build with some LEGOs! I was hoping that there would be guides or layouts of some cool little houses that I could make. But no, I saw just an empty baseboard and a selection of bricks.

Build with Chrome Plot

It was easy enough to select brick types and colors and place them into the baseboard. It was also very nice that I could rotate and zoom in on my work and see a surprising amount of detail and realism in my creation.

After making a few mini-towers here and there, I decided that I could use some pointers after all on how to make a cool little building. So I navigated to the Build Academy. From there a wizard/gnome/medicine man character guided me through various lessons on how to build cool things with my LEGOs. Just what I needed! Except I just could not navigate past the first lesson where I was taught to rotate my LEGO baseboard. I kept getting an error that said “something went wrong.” It is tough to say if the problem was with the app or with my computer, which seemed to be a bit slow in processing the transitions from area to area within the app. Either way, I tried to locate instructions on how to properly progress through the Build Academy, but I came up empty-handed.

Build with Chrome Academy

Well if I can’t build my own fabulous LEGO creation, I thought, I can at least browse and see what others are doing, right? So I ventured over into the Explore All Builds area. There, I could see the Google map, other markers and, along the bottom of the screen, structures that others had built.

Build with Chrome Explore

Unfortunately, this area didn’t work as expected either. Each time I tried to zoom in on someone else’s build, whether via the map or by clicking on the structure directly, I was presented with a red screen of death. To be able to browse what others are doing and create a sense of community among the apps users is a good idea, it’s just not executed well.

So let’s recap. The following features either do not work, or could be greatly improved upon:

  • Geolocation
  • The Maser Builder Academy
  • The ability to browse other people’s creations

What does work in the Build with Chrome app? Well, the selection and placement of LEGOs was pretty intuitive and realistic overall. I had no complaints about the appearance or flexibility with placing and building with the LEGO pieces on my computer.

In the end, though, I was pretty disappointed. Perhaps the app makers were on a time crunch and rushed this app out just a bit too soon. Hopefully Google can work out these bugs soon, and we can really start having some fun!

Did you have a different experience with the Build with Chrome app? If so, I would love to hear about it!

Photo by C Slack.

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