Transformers: War for Cybertron

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PC, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Activision
Developer: High Moon
Release Date: June 22, 2010

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'Transformers: War for Cybertron' (ALL) Developer Interview

by Adam Pavlacka on March 17, 2010 @ 8:25 a.m. PDT

Transformers: War for Cybertron takes players to the Transformers characters' home planet of Cybertron for a new look into the epic story of the grand civil war that spawned one of the most brutal rivalries of all time.

Transformers: War for Cybertron features two distinct storylines: the Autobot campaign tells a story of heroism to save their home planet against overwhelming odds, and the Decepticon campaign tells a story of an unquenchable thirst for power to control the universe.  For the first time in a Transformers title, fans will be able to play the game with their friends through team-based online co-op, or go head to head in a variety of intense, online multiplayer game modes.  The game features a sci-fi art style that introduces to fans the entire living, metallic world of Cybertron, as well as all-new visualizations of the iconic Transformers characters in their original Cybertronian forms.

WP: Who has the honor to speak with us? State your name, rank and occupation!

I'm Matt Tieger, and I'm the game director at High Moon Studios.

WP: Can you tell us a little bit about where you got the idea for this game? The Cybertronian War is an area that of Transformers lore that's been touched on in some of the cartoons but hasn't really been done in-depth in either the cartoons or the comics over the years.

MT: Personally, as a Transformers fan, I'm really excited to explore the mythos that is Cybertron. Hasbro has worked with lots of people on some comics and little bits in the television show and other things, but really, as an opportunity to explore that as a 3-D space, to take your time and look at it? I think this is the first time that fans are going to get that. We took it really serious. We really spent a lot of time figuring out what the different areas look like and how we made this all-metal, alive transforming world.

WP: Look and feel is obviously a big deal with Transformers. When the Transformers movie came out in 2007, a lot of fans were cursing the redesigns. You've got a game that's set on Cybertron. There are no Earth vehicles, so to speak. How did you go about reinterpreting the character designs to try and keep them authentic without pissing off every fan out there?

MT: Transformers fans are a little intimidating, I'll honestly cop to that. They are very smart about what they like and what they don't like, and my confidence levels grew as my relationship with Hasbro got better and better and better because those guys know what Transformers like and dislike. I would create designs, work with them on modifying those designs in a way that took shape and was grounded in G1 style but modernized up. With Hasbro's blessing, my confidence is supremely high at this point because they know what Transformers fans like.

WP: When you started doing this, did you know that there was going to be a toy line based on the designs, or was that kind of a surprise?

MT: I would tell you that it was my secret hope when we started, but it was not in the cards, it was not a plan, and we never even spoke about it because we didn't want to jinx it. When they committed to it, when they decided, when I got to hold the gray model in my hand, it was an awesome experience for me.

WP: There have been some movie-based Transformers games in the past, going back all the way to the Commodore 64.  It would be kind to say that not all of those games have been excellent. What are you looking for in the core gameplay to ensure that War on Cybertron is fun and not just Transformers models in an average game?

MT: My philosophy in developing the game was create good, solid core gameplay first and then layer Transformers fiction and style on top of that, not the other way around, not start with the license and then figure out gameplay that fit within it. By doing it that way, we use controls that are going to be really comfortable to people who are third-person action gamers. We're not remaking controls. We use the traditional language of how to interact with games, what weapons should be and how they should function and UI. All that stuff is, frankly, standard, but again, styled in a way that feels Cybertron and feels like it fits in our world.

WP: You've got these standard controls, and you're running off the Unreal Engine. What is it that makes this a Transformers game versus just another third-person shooter?

MT: Obviously the standout is transformation. The thing that makes this a Transformers game is the fact that you can be a vehicle at any time. What we don't have is cover, like in Gears of War or other third-person shooter games.  We are very fast and nimble, and we control the battlefield by switching into our vehicle form whenever we want to. There are reasons to want to be a vehicle, based on different weapons and different abilities, and there are reasons to being a robot — again, weapons and abilities.  Players are going to control the battlefield in a way that's different than any other game because I'm a vehicle whenever I want to be.

WP: What about weapons? Optimus has his gun, plasma sword and battle ax. Can you use all the cool stuff right away, or do you have to build up your character? How do you handle progression in this game?

MT: We created weapons. Some characters have weapons that are just for them. You can't get away with Megatron not having his cannon. Every character has an Energon melee weapon, and those are really styled straight out of 1984, to be honest, from the cartoon. They've also got a variety of weapons, some of which I'll kind of grow into as I find the way they're laid out throughout the campaign, and other ones I'll have access to from the beginning. What we wanted to try and push is different play styles as best as we could through different characters.  Bumblebee's going to start with different weapons than Optimus because we feel like they should be playing a little different.

WP: Speaking of how you play, how do you choose your character? Do I pick one character through the whole game? Is it force-fed to me? How does that work?

MT: Every level allows you the choice of three characters. Sometimes, you see similar characters more than once, and sometimes you might only see them in one level. The reason for that is we wanted to spread out as many of the main characters as we could, but also, the story is critically important to what we put together here. When we started, it was one of the core tenets of what we wanted to do: tell a great story — a mature, real story, with character growth through Optimus and through Megatron and the reasons why they're doing all the things that they're doing. By putting together three characters for every level, we were able to engineer a story that we knew which characters were around. Couple that with three-player co-op, and you can drop in and drop out whenever you want. By having three players, it's a team. Transformers is a team; it's not a buddy picture. You've got to have three characters to do that teamwork, using different abilities, combining and working together.

WP: As for the co-op, when you don't have teammates, the two other characters are controlled by the AI. Can you switch on the fly during a level? Do you just pick beforehand? Can you give orders to your AI teammates, or do they just react on their own?

MT: Your AI buddies are with you the entire time. They stay with you, and they take cues from you, so if you're transforming, they'll transform. If you decide to use a certain tactic, they'll try and do something similar to you. You don't issue them orders; they're actually very smart. They'll heal you if you get down; Ratchet will use his repair ray on you. You commit to a character when you start a level, so you make that careful choice about who you want to be, and then you play through that level as that character. You can absolutely go back and play that level as somebody different and see how the experience changes.

WP: With all the work on the lore, I'm sure you've received lots of questions about what's in the game, but I'm going to flip it around. What are the major Transformers lore bits that aren't in the game? What aren't you covering and what aren't people going to see? What did you have to leave out because it was just too much?

MT: There is such a huge mythos around Cybertron and Transformers that there are literally hundreds of cool Transformers. They have this civil war that has lasted millions of years. One of the things for us was that we really wanted to tell as much of the story as we could but make sure to do it well, so we picked the last waning moments of that civil war as our story to tell. I personally was very interested in how Megatron started the Decepticons, how he got moving, how he got this war and initiated it and how they got to this place at the end, but it was just too much. It was too grand to tell in one story, so we had to laser-focus that down. Autobots and Decepticons have been at war for millions of years, so we focused on what we felt was that most critical part of that story.

WP: If you had to sum it up in two to three sentences, what really makes Transformers: War for Cybertron a game that's worth playing?

MT: Transformers: War for Cybertron is, first and foremost, a third-person action shooter game that has Transformers put on top of that. What you're going to get is controls that feel tight, frame rate that is good, transformation that feels seamless and is integrated into your combat strategies. It's not going to feel clunky to you; it's going to feel like a game made by gamers who also happen to be Transformers fans.

WP: No Transformers interview would be complete without the obligatory question: What was it like to work with Peter Cullen?

MT: First of all, he's a phenomenal voice actor. It's kind of funny because I think he actually personifies Optimus as a human being more than anyone else on the planet. He's a genuinely nice guy, he's really enjoyable to talk to, and he's been very nice to everyone who has come up and interacted with him. He's just a great guy.

WP: Is there anything about the game that we haven't talked about that you wanted to add?

MT: Yeah, multiplayer, which we'll be talking about relatively soon. It's a super awesome feature.
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