During April 2011 David Mapes was asked to attend the Activision press conference for Transformers Dark of the Moon The Game and Spiderman: Edge of Time on behalf of Auto Assembly. He was also given the chance to sit down with Sean Miller, lead designer on the Transformers Dark of the Moon game for a one on one interview.
Arriving at the event in Central London, just north of Russell Square, I was asked to sign an NDA (non disclosure agreement), along with all of the other invited journalist, stating that no information or images would be shown until the 3rd of May. Unfortunately images were leaked out by an over-excited European Games website, and immediately distributed throughout the Transformers community. Activision, being tight on their security, had these images removed within 24 hours. Now as the NDA has expired, we are able to bring you the stock images distributed to the attendees, and our thoughts on the game.
First up we were shown Spiderman Edge of Time, a game in early development, but looked very good - reminding me quite a bit of the War for Cybertron game engine - Spiderman fans should certainly purchase that game. We were then invited in to see the first look at Transformers Dark of the Moon The Game by Activision and High Moon studios. Sean Miller, the lead designer on the game, had been flown in from Los Angeles especially for the talk.
Sean took us through the history of how High Moon gained this licences, being asked by Hasbro if they would like to take on the Transformers Dark of the Moon game due to the response to their previous Transformers game, Transformers: War for Cybertron. High Moon jumped at the chance, having many Transformers fans on their design team. Hasbro went one step further, not only allowing them the opportunity to create a game on the film, but actually to develop the game as a direct prequel to the third live action Transformers movie.
With the licence attained, and the premise set, High Moon worked closely with Paramount Pictures and Hasbro to ensure that the story behind Transformers Dark of the Moon The Game would not only fit in with that of the new Transformers movie, but also with the other development that Hasbro was working on for the Transformers franchise. Hasbro allowed them the opportunity to cover some of the things missing from the new Transformers movie, such as how Soundwave makes it down to Earth.
The game itself utilises the Transformers War for Cybertron game engine, the controls are almost identical and the game play very similar. This time rather than being set on Cybertron he missions are set throughout Earth, including city (Chicago, a major plot point for the Transformers Dark of the Moon movie, and lush jungles).
Like Transformers: War for Cybertron, with Transformers Dark of the Moon players are given the opportunity to play as both Autobots and Decepticons, with one mission (level) per character. The characters are all voiced by the same voice actors from the Transformers Dark of the Moon movie, so you can play as Peter Cullen's Optimus Prime, Frank Welker's Soundwave (still with the Dr. Claw voice and not the synthetic Soundwave voice), through Ratchet, Ironhide, Megatron, Bumblebee, to new characters such as Laserbeak (as part of the Soundwave mission) and Mirage (a ninja who reminded me of Oded Fehr's character Ardeth Bay from the Mummy movies).
Sean explains that playing as both the Autobots and Decepticons was seen as an important part of any Transformers video game, as fans have their own favourite Transformers (both Autobots and Decepticons) so they like to offer people a chance to play as their favourites.
Whilst keeping the game engine very close to War for Cybertron, a new feature bought into the games was that of Stealth Force. Stealth Force is seen as the "key part" of Transformers Dark of the Moon, as was Devastator's introduction in Dark of the Moon, and refers to the Transformers using weapons in their vehicle modes to fight, without Transforming fully. Although having machine guns on a muscle car will seen a little "non-stealthy" the name came from the idea that the Transformers could "pop out guns, fire, then, pop them back in" which would be more stealthy then a full transformation into a giant robot.
This idea, that is set to feature heavily in the Transformers Dark of the Moon film, and used in the toy line, allows for vehicle combat in the game (something that was possible in War for Cybertron if you picked a character with weapons in vehicle form). Sean explains that by having this third "hybrid" mode, it allows for a more "seamless flow between playing as a robot and vehicle, as you don't have to think about how the controls have changed".
From a control method, the Stealth Force is activated by one button, and stopped simply by accelerating away. When in "Stealth Force Mode" vehicles are able to strafe when fighting. This allows you to "lock on" to an enemy and concentrate on firing, rather than having to worry about moving and aiming. This "lock on" and "strafe" features were some of the key areas that Activision and High Moon studios were keen to emphasis and although it does make controlling the characters easier, it looks a bit silly when you see a car sliding sideways (a manoeuvre which is impossible without rotating it's wheels).
Stealth Force is also not to be confused with Mech Tech, the other selling point of the Transformers Dark of the Moon toys. Mech Tech (in the movie) refers to weapons created by the Autobots and given to the humans to allow them to kill Decepticons.
Activision showed a verity of levels, Bumblebee (jungle), Ironhide (city), Soundwave (Jungle), Laserbeak (base), and Mirage (Jungle) and cut sequences for the game. One interesting cut sequence is the start, where we see Soundwave, in space attached to a NASA satellite, but with wheels on his vehicle mode. For those wondering Soundwave's alt mode is that of Mercedes.
It was interesting seeing some of the skins of the games, especially the in game messages (incoming missile) are exactly the same Transformers War for Cybertron. We were given an opportunity to play two levels of the game, the Bumblebee and Ironhide levels. It was interesting seeing one journalist getting stuck for over 5 minutes on the bumblebee mission trying to work out how to open a door. For the most part everyone picked up the controls fairly easily.
If you liked War for Cybertron then you'll love this game, it's basically the same with a few extra features, nicer looking levels (being on earth than on Cybertron), and if you didn't ... then you may want to steer clear of the game.
Interview with Sean Miller
As mentioned at the start of this article, I was allowed 5 minutes to sit down and chat with Sean Miller after the demonstration. Sean was amazing accommodating and great to talk to, being very relaxed and obviously interested in the subject matter. Below you will find a transcribed version of the chat I had with him.
(DM = David Mapes / SM = Sean Miller / PR = Activision PR Company)PR: Sean this is Dave, Dave this is Sean
SM: So you're from Transformers toys?
DM: Yep, or Transformers at the Moon as it's known, which we (Steven Mapes and myself) started in 1999. Obviously with the name of the new movie, having Moon in the title, it's kinda a cool link. However today I'm here on behalf of Auto Assembly, the largest Transformers convention outside of North America.
SM: Ah excellent (it's) always good to meet fans from a broader base. So are you a super fan?
DM: Yeah I guess so; I have a few toys ... over 2500, as well as comics, games, merchandise and so on
SM: **laughing** wow **more laughter** oh my god.
DM: Several websites and what not ...
SM: We've got a lot going on in our office. Even before we got to work on Transformers, they (the designers at High Moon Studios) would always bring in lots of toys to put on their desk, most of which were Transformers. Then when we got the licence to work on Transformers everyone was like ... YEAH! *stands up waving his arms in the air** So it's not often you get to work on licences which you grew up with, hell some of us still go out and get the toys now.
DM: But do you find that that brings more pressure, as it's a license that means something to you.
SM: Oh for sure, I think there is a respect for just how much people care about the characters and these toys. Everyone has their favourite and that can be a little stressful, like Megatron is a gun, but it doesn't work for our game, so we try to be respectful and try to build in something that captures that. Even with the movie game we look at it and thing what can we bring that we know about this guy and won't alienate the fans. So we try to put in little nods to those that name in the game, but it won't seem out of place.
DM: So you did War for Cybertron,
SM: Our team worked on it but it was different guys
DM: How hard was it to do this game to try to keep aspects from the previous one yet make it different?
SM: You know that's a really good question, as it was really interesting to be able to take our background from the previous game. We had already learned what was fun and what wasn't fun to do on Transformers, so when it came to work on the movie licence, well we also had this big background of what they are and have a whole load of things that are defined. So the trick was to shuffle both of those things together and be able to build on what we know and what was fun and what wasn't. Overall I'd say it made it easier rather than harder. I'm not a specific fan, I'm more of a broader fan. I like the idea of Transformers so I'm not G1 vs. movie verse. I happen to think that, if you like it or not, with the style of the Michael bay movies you are treated to something that makes you feel like you could reach out and touch the robots. They feel real and I thought that was really important so you know, finding out how to make the Transformers mechanics would have been tough if we hadn't had that, and it allows us to deliver that experience. It helps us build on what we have done before, such as how long it takes to transform. I mean it would be great to have a long detailed transformation for sure, but it wouldn't be agile enough for the game. It has to be quick *snaps fingers* it has to be about 3 seconds, it would be awesome to look at but not fun to play the game, so it was good to have those sort of things already worked out.
DM: With the look for the Transformers movie, you earlier touched on the detail of Laserbeak's design (during the preview showing of the game) the Transformers are a lot more intricate that with other Transformers line, how much harder did that make it to work on/
SM: Yeah it did make it harder, they are more detailed and finding a way to make sure they always looked right, especially from some of the angles you get in a game, is a challenge. Just the sheer volume of the contents, the number of polygons, from a real technical aspect, and the textures make it harder
DM: When you were making the designs for the "cannon fodder" in the game, how did you come up with the designs and were they based on anything specific (authors notes that the green Cons had a Waspinator feel)
SM: Yeah actually we took a look, being the movie game the look is very important to fit in what they are doing in the film, so we took a look at some of the models that you will see in the film, and we based them on some of the aspects from there. When you see the film you'll be able to see where some of the ideas originated from. We had to make sure from a design, and story wise, that you felt like they would fit in. You'll some of the more obscure characters that you are running around shooting and how they fit in.
DM: Transformers Dark of the Moon The Game is a prequel to Transformers Dark of the Moon (showing events directly before the film, such as Soundwave's arrival on Earth) how did you feel when you were given that opportunity?
SM: It was an honour. Hasbro and Paramount were terrific to work with they didn't have to give us the freedom to do that and I, we really appreciate that - as did they with ideas that we were bringing to the table They helped us make sure that it fits in with the broader canon of what they are doing, and they worked with us to define it out to craft up the stories will become the new canon. I mean we are helping to make the Transformers universe (*starts to get excited**) I mean that one of the biggest honours I could imagine.
DM: I know on the High Moon website you ask for feedback from fans on your games. Do you get much, whether it is positive or negative, and have you taken any ideas from that in games?
SM: Oh yeah we go through and listen hard to what fans of Transformers and the games say. We can't take every idea and make it a reality, but every one of those comments, both positive and negative, are important as it helps us identify things which did or didn't work well. We'd be foolish not to, to see how we can make the game better. No game will ever been 100% flawless, there are always room for improvements and it's good to have a vocal fan base, who will tell you what they like or don't like. It's not always possible to every idea, something won't work on a broader audience, and if the world of transformers fans is bigger after the game then that would be fantastic. If someone walks away after watching the movie or playing the game, and they now feel like they are part of that community then that would bring us so much joy.
DM: You bought in Stealth Mode in the game (When the vehicles have weapons on them) did that help develop new ideas in for the game.
SM: It did, it did. Vehicle combat is very important in the new movie that we wanted to bring it in and take it to the next level in the game, which we have done It allows us to maintain a seamless transition from robot to vehicle, without having to change controls and making the gamer not ever not want to be a vehicle as you won't have weapons. The controls are very similar, once you get your head around how you can move so you can lock on to a target an manoeuvre around them, it opens up a whole new level of decision making. It was a great thing that allowed us to do this, and they (Hasbro / paramount) were OK with us extending this in the game to make full use of it.
PR: That's all we have time for
DM: Thank you very much for your time, I wish you all the best with the game and enjoy your time in London.
On behalf of Transformers At The Moon and Auto Assembly I'd like to thank Sean Miller for his time, Activision for their hospitality and Helen Little for her help.