Transformers: War For Cybertron interview

Michael takes a look at the upcoming Transformers: War For Cybertron game, and talks to its development team about the project...

It has been less than twelve months since Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen was released in the cinemas, and subsequently took in 800 million dollars. Likewise, the same amount of time has passed since we first cast our eyes on the film’s tie-in videogame, yet fans of the franchise don’t have to wait long for their next fix, as Transformers: War For Cybertron is coming this summer.

We recently had the chance to see some scenes from the game, which is shaping up to be a very different beast from its predecessor. Unlike Revenge Of The Fallen ‘s area-based, free roaming approach (which brought games like Desert and Jungle Strike to mind), War For Cybertron looks mightily like a Gears Of War-style shooter, with a grey, gritty paint job slapped over the Generation One Transformers universe, and a reliance on an over-the-shoulder camera.

Narrative-wise, it’s reminiscent of the origin stories that have been used by many long-standing properties. This time, we’re taken back to an early period of the Transformers’ timeline, way before they came to Earth.  

Instead, there is trouble brewing on their home world, Cybertron, with the Autobots and the Decepticons engaged in civil war. Here, focus is on large-scale encounters and huge boss battles, like the epic Battle of Decagon, or a final showdown between Megatron and Omega Supreme, the Autobots’ last line of defence.

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We didn’t get a hands on, but we did chat with producer Jason Ades, who is working with High Moon Studios (Darkwatch:Curse Of The West, The Bourne Conspiracy) on the game, asking him about the major aspects of War For Cybertron, its style, narrative and its relation to the films of Michael Bay.

This is coming only a year after the tie-in game for the Transformers 2 film. How is War For Cybertron different? What was it like working on a non-movie license game?

You’re correct, War For Cybertron is not based on a film. In fact, this particular game is very strongly influenced by Generation One. So, for the guys at High Moon Studios, for myself, we’re very big fans, we grew up with it. So, finally, everybody gets to be involved in the kind of game that we really wanted to play, for like twenty-plus years. So, it’s pretty nostalgic, going into work every single day to work on something that you love.

But in terms of making a great game, the most important thing to note about that is, because it is not tied to a film, people have had the time to treat this as we would any original IP within Activition. So, the collaboration between High Moon and Hasbro, we’ve given that the time to breathe. Not only develop a story, but give the time to develop, to polish, to get it out when the game’s ready. And that is now.

You’ve taken quite an interesting approach with the story, taking cues from the original Transformers universe, but going back to a very early point in the timeline, of a civil war on Cybertron, where most of the familiar faces haven’t yet developed into their iconic forms. It’s quite an origin story, with a bit of a darker, grittier feel to it. How was it working with Hasbro on the that?

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Hasbro and High Moon Studios collaborated very closely on this. We were very passionate about a couple of things. One: they’re Generation One Transformers. And we wanted to take that… Obviously, all of those who grew up with Transformers have grown up – the idea is to take the Generation One, and to grow it up a little with you. But it’s also matured with you a little bit.

The most important thing is, they’re really passionate about telling the story that hasn’t been told. So, everybody knows the Transformers came to Earth. We know that there was a civil war on Cybertron, but what we’ve never gotten to see is the actual civil war. We’ve never gotten to go to Cybertron. So, there was a lot of passion for allowing players to experience that pivotal time in Transformers lore and history, to literally be on Cybertron, know what it’s like to be Optimus Prime just as he’s becoming leader of the Autobots and stepping into those shoes, to know what it was like before Starscream was literally working with Megatron, and how that alliance came to be. How Bumblebee came to be allied with Optimus Prime.

There are a lot of really cool stories to be told during the civil war, and that is what you, as a gamer and as a Transformers fan, get to experience.

So, it’s filling in a lot of the blanks that have grown up over the years…

And what has been created between High Moon and Hasbro really becomes the canon for future Transformers stories, which is really exciting!

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And you’re showing Cybertron, something that hasn’t been seen before. How do you approach that?

[Laughs] With a lot of care! I think the guys at High Moon Studios said it best, you know, when you are working on a property such as Transformers, they are aware that, every single day, they’re holding everybody’s childhoods in their hands. And, that’s a huge responsibility that they take very, very seriously, and they put a lot of thought and care into exactly how they approach the story, and how they treat the characters, from the visualisation of it, to the narrative of the story, all the way down to the gameplay. Everything has had a lot of thought put into it.

You mention the gameplay. This is a little more like an over the shoulder, third person shooter approach, not unlike Gears Of War. What was the thinking behind that?

Yeah, you’re right, the game is a third person action shooter. So, I think that everybody recognises that we’re going to have a huge breadth of an audience coming to play this.

We have these really recognisable core characters, so clearly we’d want to make sure that, by making it a third person game, you really get to see some of the recognisable characters you know and love.

By making it a first person game, you don’t really get the chance to get close up enough to really see the characters. So, the decision to make it a third person game, not only creates a game that can be frenetically paced, well-scripted, well-crafted, but also gives it the chance for the camera to be out just a little bit from the characters, so you always know exactly who you are. And you always remember, you are Optimus Prime, or you are Bumblebee, you are Ratchet, you are Starscream.

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The core components of this game are shooting, driving, flying and melee. And the fact that you get to do this with the backdrop of this huge civil war, in this key time in the world of Transformers, takes everything to a whole new level.

The campaign is split between the Autobots and the Decepticons. How does that work out in terms of the overall narrative?

The way that the single player campaign has been crafted allows players to play the Decepticon campaign and the Autobots campaign at any time. But the way the story has been treated, and the missions and the structure of the game has been created in a way that it is a linear storyline, so that no two missions are the same, you’re not just playing the flip side of the coin.

If you play as the Decepticons, you’re right at the beginning of the timeline of the story, and you play it until a pivotal point in Transformers‘ history. Right at that point is where the Autobot campaign begins, and takes you through the end of that particular story.

So, you can start in the middle of things, if you want to play as the Autobots, or you can go back to the beginning of the timeline with the Decepticons.

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This game seems very much geared to the older fans, those that have memories stretching back to Generation One. Is there a hint of resentment towards the Michael Bay Transformers films there?

I don’t think there’s any resentment towards the Michael Bay film franchise! First of all, I recognise that there are people out there that are huge fans of Generation One that are not fans of the film, and I think that’s fine. But I also recognise that people like myself, who grew up with Generation One, when Michael Bay made the films, he created a new world for new people who hadn’t been introduced to it before, in a way that spoke to them in this generation now.

And I think that is fantastic, because, at the end of the day, we’re all Transformers fans. Sure, we can argue about whether Optimus Prime should have flames or not but, at the end of the day, he’s Optimus Prime! [laughs] We’re all fans of Optimus Prime. So, I think there’s a place for both.

I certainly am just a big Transformers fan, period.

Jason Ades, thank you very much!

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Transformers: War For Cybertron will be released in Summer 2010 for PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii and DS.