on 10-05-2012 07:26 PM
I'm with you guys.
War for Cybertron was great, utterly great.
Co-op is gone this time but everything else will be upgrade and improved: bigger maps, new ability system, Dinobots and Combaticons, total customization online (we can "assemble" pieces/parts of different Treasofmers to create our own), better melee combat, and more...
I have already pre-ordered my copy and can't wait to play it at the end of August.
Wait, what? Co op is gone? It was actually one of the main reasons i bought War for Cybertron
10-05-2012 08:02 PM - edited 10-05-2012 08:09 PM
Gamecentral Interview with the game's director Matt Tieger (12th December, 2011).
GC: After seeing the trailer our first thought was that we wish the movies looked like that. Was it created in-house or did you use an external CGI studio?
MT: We work with this amazing house called Digital Domain and they've done some really awesome shows in the past and we had looked over their other work and felt that they were the perfect partner for us. So, we have a cinematics director here, his name is Dave Cravens, he's fantastic. And he, kind of at the ground level, works directly with them on storyboards and as they're building it. But they're actually doing the work.
GC: As far as we're concerned the way they look and move, that's how we think of Transformers. But are you worried that it's all so different from the movies? That newer audiences won't even recognise it's the same thing? How difficult is it to keep both Generation 1 (referring to the original toy line) and newer fans onboard?
MT: You know that's a great question. I try less to worry, because if I worried I'd get paralysed and nothing would get done. (laughs)
There's so many Transformers fans that I try and think of it as an opportunity. There's an opportunity, right, to show people how big the Transformers brand is and how many interesting stories and interesting interpretations there can be of Transformers. So in some ways it's a very unique brand because it's very polarising to a lot of people.
The people who are G1 fans, the fans of the movies, and there are people who are just fans of Transformers. They're just happy to get any kind of Transformers stuff. And actually the people that are most interesting to me are the people who don't consider themselves Transformers fans but see the movie and think, 'You know what, that's pretty darn cool. I want to know more about that.'
So honestly the spirit for what we were trying to get is… call it a celebration of Transformers. It's figurative what's going on in the movie, not literal. In my opinion. And really just trying to show people who really wouldn't consider themselves to be Transformers fans that… I almost cursed there for a second.
MT: 'Holy mackerel! This could be amazing, this could be really cool! I don't know anything about Transformers but I'm pretty interested'. That's really what our target was.
GC: We assume it must be possible, but we find it very hard to imagine that there's anyone out there that doesn't think the idea of a giant transforming metal dinosaur is a cool idea for a video game.
GC: But the concept is inherently silly, which is fine by us, but it must create some hard choices when trying to deal with a character like Grimlock (the Tyrannosaurs Rex from the trailer). Even a movie with racist robots and robotic testicles wouldn't touch that. So how problematic is it justifying him from a story perspective?
MT: Grimlock was super important to put into the game. And he was super important for the game and the trailer for a couple of reasons. He is one of these great… let's call him a feature and not even a character for a second. He's a great feature of the game, a great selling point of the game. Because he speaks to every potential gamer in a different way, but all of them are positive.
So if you're the hardcore Transformer, I dunno if you picked the top 10 most popular characters he's clearly in it. He's got an interesting back story, he's an interesting opposition to Optimus on occasion, he's super powerful, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
If you don't know anything about Transformers, or maybe you've only seen the movies, but you're a gamer I can just stomp around as a T-Rex. Strip away all the Transformers stuff away and the fact that there's a playable character that's a big robotic T-Rex that shoots flames… like you said, I don't know anyone that wouldn't play that. (laughs)
So, was I worried about the authenticity of Grimlock and a couple of story gremlins? No. You know what those are roadblocks to the greater vision of, 'He deserves to be in this game because he's got great story implications but even more important than that it's just great gameplay'.
So that's kind of how I focus on the stuff and if you want I'll happily tell you the story about why he's a T-Rex and where that comes from, if you're interested?
GC: Please do.
MT: One of the things - this is Kelvin's favourite story [Kelvin is the US PR guy sitting in with Matt] - is when we were originally starting the project Grimlock was important to me. He was important to me for the reasons I've delineated earlier. But we went to Hasbro, they were putting this giant binder together… this canon of what the Transformers brand was going forward and frankly the Dinobots didn't really fit for sort of the reason you mentioned.
There wasn't really a cosmology that made sense about their origin story and a couple of other reasons. But I pitched so passionately and so hard. I said, 'We gotta have 'em, they're super important for what we're doing. And I had a scratch story for why they were that form and we worked together to hash together something a little tighter and ultimately they said, 'You know what, they're back in'. And now they're really important again. So that for me was honestly the big victory when it comes to Transformers.
So the story is that Cybertron is dying, it's functionally a dead planet. It's a big computer system, technically it's a transformer itself, right. The Universe transformer called Primus. And the events that happened in War For Cybertron caused the planet to shut down, caused the computer system to stop working. To reboot itself. But the scale of reboot is millions of years of shutting down, which would then cause all the transformers on the planet to die because they need the energon that comes from the core of the planet.
OK, so that's the history lesson on the last game. So bring in a really cool character, Shockwave. And, um…. it sounds like you know a lot about Transformers, right?
GC: We know too much.
MT: OK great, perfect. So Shockwave in my opinion…
GC: Shockwave is one of our favourite characters, we openly wept when we saw what they'd done to him in the last movie.
MT: (laughs) He's pretty different in the game. He's a very pivotal story character. So here's the way I look at the Decepticons, I think of the four main characters in the Decepticons: Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave, and Shockwave. By the way, which is incredibly confusing to non-Transformers fans because everybody starts with an 'S'. But think about it all in terms of loyalty. Starscream is loyal to Starscream, right? Soundwave is loyal to Megatron, and Shockwave is loyal to Cybertron.
So each of those characters and the things that they're doing is really based on loyalty in this game. Starscream, all things he does is all about Starscream. Soundwave all the things he does is all about Megatron. And Shockwave everything he's doing… he happens to be a Decepticon because that's the most logical choice at this point but really his loyalties lie towards Cybertron.
So he hatches this plan, he discovers this ancient, long forgotten technology - space bridges. The ability to open up wormholes in space, it's how the ancients used to travel and it's kind of a lost technology. Well, he's the mad scientist. He uncovers that technology and starts looking around the cosmos. Energon, I believe, is not just energy. It's not just crude oil, it's life force. It is a combination of raw energy and life.
So he's looking through the cosmos, he's trying to find more energon sources. Because what he wants to do is find enough energy to reboot Cybertron and get it back online. That's what he cares about. He spies Earth. The Earth that he spies, 65 million years ago is when dinosaurs are still stomping around. He doesn't find the Earth when humans are around, he finds primordial Earth, ancient Earth. And what he finds is this planet teeming with life and he can basically suck all that life energy out of the planet, killing the Earth and rebooting Cybertron. Which again comes back to what his loyalty is to Cybertron. He has no compunction about destroying a planet to save his own.
And in his investigations he sends probes through and he sees these lifeforms, these dinosaurs. He's also, as I've said, the mad scientist. So he captures a few Autobots and frankly he experiments. In this cosmology he's the progenitor of the Insecticons. There are some denizens of Cybertron in the below ground areas that he then converts into the known Insections. The next evolution of that is that some Autobots get captured - Grimlock and his team - and get converted into these dinosaur forms.
And the reason he does this is his philosophy is, 'I'm going to remove a lot of their brain processing power and put it all into raw combat power and therefore control them.' Obviously that never works, right? But what it does do for me personally is it gives a really great explanation for why Grimlock, who is the strongest of them, has the most work done to him and also has the problems vocalising his thoughts.
He's not stupid, he's not a dumb guy in anyway. I think of Grimlock as a person with a really bad stutter. It has nothing to do with how they think, it just has to do with getting the words out sometimes.
GC: As you implied earlier there is no single universe or canon in Transformers, it's a very fractured thing. My perspective coming from the UK is that the comics were the most important background for the characters, not the cartoon - which I think is the reverse of the situation in the US. But particularly in the early UK comics the Dinobots were this sort of elite commando squad. Grimlock never spoke funny, he wasn't stupid. But it seems like you've taken the later comic book approach where he's fully intelligent but he still has the vocal tick?
MT: You've actually nailed it. We really talked at length about it and the cartoon Grimlock was just… almost unloveable.
GC: Exactly, as kid I hated him. Why… how could a robot be like that?
MT: Yes, so now we have Shockwave trying to control him and him breaking out of that. His power, turning into the… he's a unique character in the game. One of the things in this game that's really special is the variety of what you can do. And we've really embraced the characters and made their abilities inherent in them. Grimlock is the only character in the game that you can't transform whenever you want.
The reason that is, is that he builds up rage. When he kills enemies - this is a very common game mechanic, right? - when you kill enough enemies you absorb some energon and then you go into rage and that allows you to trigger your transformation when you want to, when it's full.
But thematically what that does for me is that it ties it back into he's not entirely in control of himself. He's a bit of a Hulk character, you know? And so that also for me ties back into he's… where he has difficulty processing is a little bit in the emotional side, not in the cognitive reasoning side.
He's smart, he's tactical, he's intelligent. He just… his rage gets a hold of him sometimes. And on occasion he'll say things like, 'I can't process….' I'm paraphrasing here, something because of what Shockwave did to him. That is a much more adult, much more interesting, in my opinion…
GC: Yes, that seems a very neat way of handling it all. But will he still say things like, 'Me Grimlock!'?
MT: I think he might have one line from a campy point of view, but that's like a one-off. It's like in the last one Ironhide said the universal greeting from the animated movie. Frankly it's a little out of Ironhide's character, but it's like, 'OK, we'll just put that one in there'. It's not 45 minutes of Grimlock saying, 'Me Grimlock, smash'. That's not our game.
GC: So the other brand new element from the trailer is the combiner Bruticus [A combiner is a transformer composed of five or six other, smaller, robots]. What does that imply about the game? Is there a number of other combiners in there? Do you play as a combiner? Do you play as just one of their component parts? We assume you just don't play as someone's leg?
MT: (laughs) You do not play as the leg. You actually get to take control of Bruticus. So there are sequences where you get to play as some of the other members of the Combaticon team and there is a section where you get to play as Bruticus. And frankly the fantasy there is that you are a god on the battlefield, right. You just tower over everything else and it is a… it's just a very memorable experience.
I don't know if there's a moment in the game where you feel more powerful then when you control Bruticus. It's super fun and he was a great choice for us because like you were mentioning with the Dinobots in the UK comics being a kind of Special Forces team, we kind of embrace that too. And the counterpoint to that is the Combaticons, because they're all different vehicles and we treat them like a Special Forces team.
GC: So in the game they're the opposite number to the Dinobots?
MT: Yes. There are five Dinobots and five Combaticons.
GC: So does that imply that there are other combiners in there or is Bruticus the first one in your universe?
MT: Bruticus is the combiner that we have. One of the most difficult things about the Transformers is if I say there are 75 transformers in the game then somebody says, 'Well, what about…?' And if I say there are 200 transformers then it's, 'Well what about Huffer and Gears and…'. Unfortunately it's the curse of Transformers.
GC: Sure, but we don't ask just because we want to see a favourite character, but because knowing whether there are multiple combiners running around implies something about the gameplay…
MT: Well they're all cool, and we actually laid them all out when we were looking at who we wanted to use. But honestly Bruticus was the most interesting to me because since we were using the Dinobots we wanted someone cool on the Decepticon side, so that cut the field in half.
And then as I looked through them we certainly could've done Menasor - who's all the cars - and actually we had some of those cars already in the game. We had Dead End and we had… but the thing is that's just five cars. That's not nearly as interesting as a helicopter, a jet, a space shuttle, a truck and a tank.
GC: That's exactly why I asked for that one for my birthday when I was a kid.
MT: (laughs) So obviously very tough decisions whenever you make a game but Bruticus was a very good fit for us because of the variety he provided in the characters before they become Bruticus. And then you've got… one arm is a helicopter! Just awesome stuff we can do with him. So he was definitely an easy choice for us.
GC: So one thing we didn't quite understand when the game was first announced is that it was described as a 'natural successor rather than a true sequel'? I'm not sure who said that but what does that mean exactly?
MT: That was me! There's a couple of reasons why we decided not to call it War For Cybertron 2. The first one is I think we did a great job of serving hardcore Transformers fans who also happen to be gamers. I think if you're gamer and a Transformers fan you're pretty happy with the product that we did, and frankly we're very proud of it. But we want to cast the net wider than that, we want to find people who maybe saw the movies but don't consider themselves gamers or people who are gamers but think Transformers are a little childish.
And so when we had those really pragmatic discussions what we said is, 'Well, actually we've built really strongly a solid foundation of what the gameplay is'. There's obviously some fundamental things we wanted to change, and those changes have resulted in some big direction decisions from what we had - which will be my second point.
But to finish up that first one, we felt that sometimes a sequel is a little intimidating if you've never played the first one. Sometimes that number two on it is, 'Well, I didn't play the first one so maybe I'm not going to bother with this one'. And so we felt that maybe we were drilling too much down into the hardcore and thought that via a rebrand of the name we would reach more consumers.
The second piece of that is that we made some pretty big design decisions. All, I believe, in pursuit of a higher quality gaming experience. The first is that I thought we had a good story in the last one, we just didn't execute particularly well on it. Or rather we executed OK on it.
GC: Well I thought… I didn't think the plot was particularly interesting but the dialogue and voice acting was excellent. I thought the game was really underrated in those terms.
MT: Well thank you.
GC: So I hope that hasn't changed at least!
MT: No, no. The banter between characters and that is very much alive. But one of the things when I originally started out is I felt that people are either Autobot fans or Decepticon fans. And so as a result we made two separate campaigns that you can play in any order and what happened is that I really ended up just making two tutorial levels, two first levels, two second levels, two third levels and so on.
And so once you'd played through one campaign you had seen all the tricks. So what it did is that it felt very repetitive to people. And the other things is that I realised that although people might label themselves as an Autobot fan or a Decepticon fan the reality is they're Transformers fans. They love the universe and they may be more inclined to one side or the other but the reality is they're actually very big Transformers fans.
So we reorganised the entire story in a very different way. It is a single campaign, it's not two campaigns anymore. The first act is very Autobot-centric, the middle act is very Decepticon-centric and then the last act is very Autobot-centric. And what that does is… what I believe we did in the last game is that we told an Autobot story and a Decepction story, this is a Cyberton story.
This is a story about how everybody is perceiving what's going on on their planet and how they're all either - in the Autobot case - fighting to survive or in the Decepctions' case fighting for an ideal. And so I think by having this interwoven story what that does from a gameplay point of view is I can much better have the game balanced for what you're doing when, how you're doing it, and all that kind of good stuff.
And it was such a fundamental change for us that we felt in a lot of ways it was a very different game. The other piece that we changed story-wise is… I'll give you the dirty secret of the last game, right? We built that game and we crowbared as much story as we could in. We found a hallway where nobody's shooting and said, 'Hey let's push some story in there'. And as a result I don't we executed as well as we could on the story that we had and could've made a better story.
This time around we have dedicated some space: two, three, four, even five minute spaces where you can explore a little bit, you are not pulling the trigger and you're just experiencing the world of Cybertron and what's going on.
And then you walk out the door and guess what: you're going to start shooting again. And 10 minutes later you're going to come across another story driven space. So there's a much better pacing and we really embraced the importance of story a lot more. This is all a long winded way of saying, 'This is a different game'. It's definitely built on the shoulders of what we had before, but it's a different game.
GC: I imagine you're avoiding the word on purpose, but it very much sounds as if it's essentially a reboot?
MT: I was slightly avoiding the word. (laughs) But it is. The characters and the visuals are definitely an evolution forward, but they are an evolution not a sidestep. Not a full reboot in that sense… the game looks stunning. Far superior to what War For Cybertron was. But here's the tie, the word Cybertron. Cybertron is the most important thing in the game at this point, I think. And we wanted to make sure the word Cybertron was in both titles. Like Dark Souls and Dark, erm…
GC: Demon's Souls.
MT: Demon's Souls! And there's another example of a game where they did it very well.
GC: It's very interesting to hear you mention those games. Just to digress for a second is there any sense that Grimlock's combat in robot mode might be influenced by those games?
MT: Grimlock is a sword and shield guy. He does not have a gun. If Grimlock wants to do something at range he picks up a Decepticon and throws him. So that's his gun! He's the only character that's like that. Everybody else is all about shooting and that kind of stuff. He is a sword and shield, he is a giant knight. That when he gets p***** off he turns into a T-Rex.
To me that is just so cool, that is so different to the other experiences you get and it was really important to us because it speaks to that variety of gameplay. You're going to be very comfortable with shooting and all the cool abilities like the grappling hook on Jazz and turning invisible and all this stuff.
And then the game's going to take a 90 degree turn on you and you're going to have to rethink your tactics. Because I've got a sword and shield and if I want to hit something far away I gotta throw somebody. And then I turn into a T-Rex. It's just awesome.
GC: (laughs) The fundamental problem with a Transformers game, but also the key to its greater potential, is finding a reason and a purpose for them to transform. In the first game there were quite a few racing sections and they kind of worked but they were obviously shoe-horned in there. So how has that aspect evolved in the new game? It seems to us that only a larger environment can really make transforming seem necessary.
MT: There's a couple of ways I'll answer that question. We have definitely improved our level layout design philosophy in regards to vehicles. Frankly there is no game that we can be looking at for parallel examples. Iron Man. Iron Man is basically Starscream, right? That's the only game, and frankly that was not a particularly good game.
GC: It certainly wasn't.
MT: But it's the only one to look at for level design examples. So we really are blazing a trail, in my opinion, in that you can be a vehicle at any time and do whatever you want to do. We've done a much better job than we did in the last one, just because we're much more comfortable with the idea of transforming.
It takes some huge technical issues, because the spaces that are required are tremendous in size. We have one area where you're playing as Vortex [a helicopter] from the Combaticons and it is a section as big as the Unreal [Engine 3] grid can make a section. It's colossal in size. So we try and approach that from a… let me try and talk philosophical for a second.
We had experimented with areas where we forced you to transform and you had to play a section as a vehicle. And we didn't feel very comfortable with that and I realised that the reason we didn't like it is that Transformers at its core, philosophically, is all about choice. There's no difference between an Autobot and a Decepticon mechanically, it's a choice.
The Autobots are often defending the rights of those that can't defend themselves but it really does all come down to the choices that you make. Back from the cartoon and even the comics, in the cartoons I think it was a message to the kids: 'You can make the choices in your life and things like that'.
So when we thought about forcing you into a driving section we realised it's actually kind of off brand. You should be able to choose to drive whenever you want to drive and you should be able to choose to fly whenever you want to fly. That's actually on brand - to give you that choice.
So when we freed ourselves up from that we thought, what we do is we give you tools and we give you tactics and then we give you the opportunity to decide how you want to use them. So in Vortex's level it's this giant jungle gym [a climbing frame] section, it's this huge colossal thing and you can approach it by flying and zipping around and staying in your vehicle mode 90 per cent of the time, if that's what you want to do.
Or you can fly to a spot and transform or you can do this hybrid approach. And what we find is most people do take that hybrid approach, because it's easier for people to grock their vehicles in the flying sections. Because you don't have a ground it makes a little more sense to people.
The ground-based vehicles are a little tougher. Usually what we find is that people are using them to cover great distances or ramming guys, and they find that fun. I see a lot of people using it to flank enemy positions, because you can move faster than they can react - which is pretty cool and you don't necessarily have that ability in other games.
But I think there's definitely, you can say we struggle with the 'reasons to transform'. I think we've tried to embrace the idea that the reasons to transform are up to you. If you don’t want to transform for most of the game don't. If that's not fun to you then don't do it! We thought about forcing people to do it, but it's just not fun. So we kind of backed off.
GC: That sounds very encouraging. I didn't particularly like the racing but the Star Fox type levels, they were very good. The controls worked very well, I remember playing along in flying mode and then you would stop on an island to take stock - so I guess that's pretty much what you're talking about but on a larger scale.
MT: Yes, so those were the best received vehicle levels and we've done more things like that. And we've improved on that design.
GC: Cybertron obviously has an interesting backstory and it allows you to concentrate on the transformers without boring humans getting in the way. But the problem it creates as a setting is that, particularly in the last game, a lot of it did all look the same - just a lot of very grey environments. Is that also something you've addressed in the new game?
MT: There's another thing that humans provide that actually is interesting, and that's a sense of scale.
GC: That is a very good point.
MT: I'll talk about the visuals for a second. Cybertron is an all-metal world. Most games have metal being 1 to 2 per cent of what is in their game and so it doesn't really matter if it's realistic or not but when your whole world is metal it presents a whole bunch of different challenges. How do we create variety in that?
In the last game we struggled with that. So we redoubled our efforts and we put some tech time into really embracing all the different kinds of metal - rusted, pitted, steel, nickel, chrome - and then allowing the artists the ability to use those pieces whenever they want.
On top of that we are trying to go to some places that are kind of new for us, which is the Sea of Rust. It's called a sea but it's really more of a desert where the sand is actually metal flakes. And so that's very much in the light browns, very traditional desert kind of look.
You combine that with some of the really pristine interiors from some of these other metallic places and I think you get a real big difference there. We have a couple of art sets that are brand new because we completely recognise, and it's a totally valid criticism, that the colour flow of the original game was all in the same kind of vein.
The other piece that we added, which might sound like a simple thing but was kind of important to us, was terrain. Everything we had in War For Cybertron you're walking on flat ground. And by adding terrain it makes vehicle driving way more fun, now that we got some hills - and those hills are piles of debris or in the case of the Sea of Rust dust piles of metal.
But it works really well at giving you a whole new kind of brush to paint with when it comes to making your environments more interesting and engaging. So terrain was actually a pretty big one for us.
GC: Our last question, and we hope this is all being received as constructive criticism as we did like War For Cybertron, is that the weapons in the original game were kind of boring. In the tech specs for the original toys very few of them had just ordinary machineguns or lasers. It was always acid guns, or flamethrowers, or weapons that messed up internal circuitry… have you tried to embrace that more in the new game?
MT: Absolutely. You know the weapons felt okay in the last game and I think there's definitely a place for generic-feeling weapons. Because that's the comfort zone. You need to have the touchstones that people are familiar with, where a shotgun's a shotgun.
But what happens is that because weapons all fulfil a certain category everything feels kind of mundane. You have three or four short range choices, three or four medium range choices and two long range choices. And therefore nothing felt that interesting. So we definitely have some weapons that fulfil the traditional roles: the shotgun, the sniper rifle, the heavy machinegun.
But then we divorced ourselves from that and said, 'Now let's get a little crazy. Let's try some things'. And honestly I was just demoing the game yesterday for the president of Activision and the lightning gun. Man, it is awesome, it is super cool.
You just don't get that in other products. You're shooting out this big lightning beams that are bouncing off walls and electrocuting guys and it's a whole different kind of experience. And that's just one of the more fantastical type weapons that we've created.
So there's definitely the core weapons that you're used to from every other shooter. Every shooter has to have a shotgun, right? But that's 50 per cent of the weapons that are in the game. Whereas in the last game that was 100 per cent of the game, for traditional Earth guns.
GC: I think you also implied that characters have special abilities like invisibility and being able to fly…?
MT: Yes, we really tried to embrace what the characters could… who the characters were and what was innate to them that they could do. There's a couple of places where I break the rules a bit for the sake of gameplay, so people will have to forgive me, but you know what? Too bad.
Because it's more important for the game to be fun than to be to the letter of the law. So absolutely Jazz has a grappling hook, it was in the G1 cartoon and he's had it in every incarnation of Jazz he's had a grappling hook. It was super important for us to do.
But there were other characters that perhaps don't make quite as much sense from a historical point of view, but who cares? It's super fun!
GC: We've always thought that whether it's cool or not is all the justification you need. And we don't mean that from a facetious point of view, but from the point of view of the transformer. If Grimlock thinks it'd be cool for him to turn into a Tyrannosaurs Rex then that's what he's going to do, it doesn't matter if you think it's silly or not. Oh, but now I'm answering my own questions without even asking you…
GC: But yes, I think that's the cue to end. And thanks very much for your time.
MT: My pleasure, my pleasure.
10-05-2012 08:07 PM - edited 10-05-2012 08:15 PM
Gamecentral preview and second interview with director Matt Tieger (5th March, 2012).
Covering a new Transformers game is always a test of our journalist integrity. We like to feel we've remained objective over 2010's almost-excellent War For Cybertron and last year's disappointing movie tie-in. But that objectivity did not extend to holding in a girlish squeal of excitement when we saw Metroplex - a giant half mile tall citybot - stomping around in the new Fall Of Cybertron.
Our fetish for giant transforming robots aside there's a lot for anyone to be excited about in Fall Of Cybertron, and last week we were treated to a series of snapshots highlighting different characters and locations from the game.
The first centred on Decepticon Vortex, who is part of the Combaticon team of combing robots and transforms into a Cybertronian helicopter (the whole game is set before the Transformers travel to Earth). Working with team-mate Brawl (a tank) he's been tasked with destroying a giant bridge, whose supports are being defended by a number of Autobots, some of which transform into artillery pieces.
As promised in our previous interview the scale of the level is hugely impressive - apparently the biggest that Unreal Engine 3 can manage. There's no way to get around but by transforming into a helicopter, and this allows Vortex to hover and weave around his enemies, taking them out with relative ease. With a press of what looks like a turbo button (all the demos were hands-off, so we can't be sure) he can also shift forms slightly into more of a jet than a helicopter.
Each Transformer also has a special ability and Vortex's is a shockwave effect that sends Autobot soldiers flying. The second sequence showed Vortex transforming into the arm of Bruticus - the 70 foot tall combined form of the Combaticons. This is the first time a combiner has been playable in a Transformers game and wading around tipping over small bridges at your knees, and stepping on hapless enemies below looks like great fun.
Bruticus also has a range of special moves, including using Vortex's rotors as a shield, a powerful energy beam and a ground pound effect. The impression of scale is very convincing and although this section appears much more linear than the others it does seem an enjoyable change of pace.
The third sequence we're show seems the closest to the first game, as you control Optimus Prime himself - as he and a few other Autobots storm a Decepticon-held building. At this point in the game the Autobots are apparently almost defeated, although they do have a weapon of last resort: the gigantic Metroplex who can be seen in the background swatting away enemies like something out of a God Of War boss battle.
Prime's special ability in this sequence is directing Metroplex's attack. At one moment an enemy ship is instantly destroyed by mortar fire, at another Metroplex himself steps over you to punch a building to the ground. It looks great and there's also a quick look at the game's weapon upgrade system in this sequence. Accessed by what looks like a shop kiosk each of the weapons have several different upgrade points, so it's not just a binary choice of whether to improve the weapon but picking what elements to enhance.
Next up are two short sections with Cliffjumper, the first of which features no action at all. Instead the diminutive Autobot is exploring some sort of planetarium, which clearly shows an image of our solar system. Cliffjumper is impressed, but over the radio Jazz (who sounds just like he does in the cartoon) is desperate for him to move on. 'But it's so beautiful', says an awestruck Cliffjumper. 'Then write a poem about it and hurry up' quips Jazz in return.
As with War For Cybertron the scriptwriting is well above the video game norm, something we feel the original didn't receive enough credit for. In the next sequence we see Cliffjumper in a very different situation: creeping around trying to avoid the gaze of lanky looking robots called Guardians. Cliffjumper can turn invisible (he can't in the usual mythos of the franchise but we'll let that slide) but the Guardians are able to see through his cloak if they get a bead on him. At this point they transform into a more barrel-chested robot with guns for arms.
The developer playing the game purposefully gets caught to demonstrate the mechanic and it seems an enjoyably tense sequence. Once the Guardian is defeated though another one turns up, with a couple of more ordinary robots in tow - which Cliffjumper is able to take out with a couple of stealth kills.
The next sequence features Jazz in what we assume is the climbing frame sequence described in the interview below. Jazz's special ability is a grappling hook that seems to work just like Metroid Prime. He has to make good use of it too, as he swings about from platform to platform avoiding some spider-like robots that transform into sniper rifles that stick to the wall.
These and the Guardians are used to demonstrate what High Moon describes as their 'transforming AI', with the spiderbots able to track Jazz quite effectively - ensuring he can never rest in the same area for more than a few seconds.
The final gameplay sequence is very short but involves fan favourite Grimlock, who High Moon's Matt Tieger introduces as a 'big f****** space T-Rex'. For reasons explained in the story (in short he's a science experiment of Shockwave) he can only transform when he's built up a rage meter, so at first he's battling a swarm of Insecticons (exactly what they sound like) with a sword and holographic shield.
Previously Tieger had told has that the sword-fighting was inspired by Dark Souls, and although we can't verify that ourselves we can say that it looked a great deal of fun. Although transforming into a giant metal dinosaur and melting robot insects with flame breath looked like it might be a bit of a wheeze too.
Judging by the briefing document Activision gave us this section was supposed to be proceeded by a sequence featuring Starscream, as he watches Shockwave working at his experiments from the shadows. He then taunts a captured Grimlock, and tries to convince him to join the Decepticon cause. We were shown the sequence with Jazz instead of this though, which is presumably why Tieger is talking about seven playable characters in the interview below.
The last thing we're shown is a quick look at the multiplayer customisation tool, which has advanced considerably since War For Cyberton. There are still four basic class types - Infiltrator, Destroyer, Titan, and Scientist - that determine what you transform into but otherwise you seem to be able to customise just about everything, from individuals body/vehicle parts, to weapons, special abilities, and even your paint job.
We still haven't been able to get hands on with the game, but knowing the good work High Moon did with War For Cybertorn, and that they've had a full two years to make this new game, we remain optimistic that it'll not only be a good Transformers tie-in but a genuinely innovative and distinctive action game.
Not that we didn't have some pointed questions for game director Matt Tieger afterwards, as we had a quick catch up over the progress of the game…
GC: You spent a lot of time there talking about the Transforming AI system, and I could see the enemies hiding, and flanking and so on. But I didn't see any of the smaller robots transforming at all?
MT: Well, they change their physical shape. So the tall, kind of lanky one will change into a much thicker, heavy type of character.
GC: But what the ordinary grunts? Nobody ever seemed to transform into a car to get away, or anything like that.
MT: The basics ones, in the cases where we were showing today, don't. One of the interesting things about Transformers, that's actually a big challenge, is transformation means different things to different people. All the different ways that it can be thought about. So what we try to do, is do it as often as possible and in ways that make as much sense as possible, but that doesn't mean that every character transforms all the time a hundred different ways… we can't possibly build that.
So we focus on the areas where I feel like it can provide the most meaningful impact in what you're doing. And frankly the cannon fodder guys are simply that. They're much simpler, the simpler we make them the more we can get on screen - that's one of things we kind of wrestle with in terms of the cost of things.
If you notice the guy that looks for you, he's called the Guardian, you don't fight a lot of them onscreen at one time because they're frankly more expensive [in terms of processing power].
GC: So those guys and the kind of spider ones transform, but other more ordinary enemies don't? So even though you've got these giant arenas, most enemies won't necessarily be able to follow you around them?
MT: Not everyone… there's a lot of variation. Some of them do a lot of transforming, others not so much, and others don't do any in terms of the AI. But over the course of the game you're going to be experiencing lots of different transformations within the context of the AI system. Does that kind of make sense?
GC: I think so, I think so. But moving on, I haven't seen any sign of any racing sections, as there were in the original game, have they now been completely removed?
MT: There are still places where you race. But I would say that there's a smaller percentage of them than we had before. We've kind of incorporated vehicles a bit more into the base of the gameplay of the experience. Lots of big open arenas that you have a lot of choice in. But that doesn't mean there's not one or two little chase or race sequences, 'cause actually I think there's a place for them.
GC: Sure, and they were okay, but it seems like you've found a lot less contrived reasons for the player to transform now. The Star Fox style sections are still in the game though aren't they? They were really good.
MT: There are quite a few jet sequences, Vortex being one of those. And sometimes you have the big giant jungle gym… I don't know if you call that that here?
GC: Climbing frame. I had to look that up from the last interview!
MT: (laughs) And other times you have islands that you're flying between, or you're flying through some really tight corridors. So I really think we've evolved our level design from War For Cyberton, which I really do believe is a flawed gem…
GC: Oh yes, yes. We'd definitely describe it that way.
MT: And I think this time around we've really fully embraced those vehicles in our levels.
GC: So obviously you've got Grimlock, but are there any other playable characters in the game with non-standard transformations or abilities? You have the Insecticons as enemies at least…
MT: Most of what you're playing as has some sort of traditional vehicle component. I think that's the core baseline of what the game is. There is… well, Bruticus transforms into one big guy, which I guess is not a vehicle. Obviously we've revealed Grimlock. I don't know that we're ready to reveal everybody but in the large part, the majority of the game is trucks, cars, planes, and tanks.
GC: That certainly seemed to be the limit of the customisation. Although 'limit' seemed an unfair word for me to use…
MT: Yeah, yeah. And that's because there are four classes and so - I didn't go into it too deep - but each of those vehicle types has inherent abilities, weapons, skills, that are all unique to them. And so it's a class based system that we have.
GC: How many playable characters are there in total?
MT: I don't know if I'm ready to put a number on it yet, but we've talked about - let's just go through what we've showed today: Cliffjumper, Jazz, Vortex, Bruticus, Grimlock, Optimus Prime… so that's seven [it's not, it's six but we think Starscream was supposed to be in there too - GC]. And I've got plenty more to talk about in the coming months.
GC: So are we talking twice that number or…?
MT: I've been told not to put an actual number on it. (laughs) But more.
GC: (laughs) Okay, but it doesn't sound like it's just one or two more?
MT: No, no. There's more (laughs).
GC: We always felt War For Cybertron was very underrated in terms of the script.
MT: Thank you.
GC: And the line about Cliffjumper writing a poem, that was great. But who's writing that, is that all done in-house?
MT: This time around… I do a bit of writing, not that I'm a great writer but I understand Transformers pretty well and I can usually get us moving in the right direction. Our cinematics director is actually a very good writer, his name is Dave Cravens, he does all of our movies and how the story unfolds in the game. And he's also done a huge amount of writing, and on this project he's done the lion's share.
And then what we have is a writer named Dan Jolley, who has written some Transformers novels before, who we send to for kind of like an authenticity pass. So he might say that, 'Actually Jazz's phrasing would be more like this…' that kind of thing. But the creative component we do mostly in-house.
GC: That's quite unusual nowadays, to have most of the work done in the studio.
MT: It is actually.
GC: I wonder if that has a more beneficial effect on the game than is necessarily realised?
MT: I think it probably does. It's hard when… Dave is great at it but he's also [spread] really thin because he also directs all of our in-house movies, he works with our external movie houses as well, I wish I had an in-house dedicated person to write but what it does do is it provides much better integration of words with action in the game.
Especially when we're really moving to this place where story kind of unfolds in the game, and you can pull that story towards you when you want it. As opposes to pushing it in a movie. The speed of games and the way that we make games, the speed of development is very different than a writer's delivery timetable from a far distant place.
GC: So often you see external writers, even quite well known ones, becoming involved in a game… I'm thinking of a very recent example right now, that I better not name, but despite the writer's experience the game script was just derivate and predictable… it was very obvious he just delivered it one day, said 'Here you go' and left. So what kind of difference does it make to have someone in-house?
MT: I think what people are starting to fundamentally understand - and I think you can have a very successful offsite writer…
GC: Oh, sure.
MT: I'm sure you can. But games are a different media than books and they're a different media than television and they're a different media than movies. And I think as a viewer of a movie you are not… the story is pushed at you and you are absorbing. And it's delivered in the perfect way that the director and the writer wanted it. It's from the exact camera angle, the pacing of everything is exactly the way they intended. That is not the way that games unfold at all!
In fact with one exception, which I would say is Uncharted, gamers don't want the story pushed to them in movie format. What they want to do is experience it on their terms. And so that's just approaching the narrative from a 180 degree perspective, and I think on the game team that is the way we're used to thinking about it. At the same time it's a very frustrating process because games evolve.
The idea that you're going to write a 200 page design document and then just take two years building it is ludicrous. Games are changing and evolving over the course of the two year development, so that the script is never what it was a week ago - let alone a month ago or six months ago.
GC: I'm always very critical of storytelling in games, I think it very rarely works as intended. But it was interesting that that scene with Cliffjumper - that would've been a cut scene in many other games. But presumably there you could've just run up the stairs and ignored the story elements if you wanted?
MT: If you hate the story there's nothing I can do to help you like it. If you're just not interested in the story, you just want to shoot, that doesn't mean you can't have a good time with the game. It just means there's no point me pushing the story at you. Just let you bypass it if you like it.
GC: Are you worried that non-Transformers fans will just dismiss the storytelling, and the game as a whole, because of its background with the cartoon and the fact that it's based on a toyline, etc.?
MT: I'm banking on the fact that if I'm not ramming story down your throat that all of a sudden you're going to realise you're interested in it. You're in control of it. So I think what's going to happen for people that wouldn't consider themselves story people, there's going to be some little piece, some little hook, that's gonna grab them. And they're going to realise that they're the ones that took it and then they're going to be interested.
GC: But isn't the danger that people will assume the gameplay is also unsophisticated? That they'll just assume it's for kids or Michael Bay fans or whatever?
MT: I don’t think so, I don't think so. I think our challenge is not, 'Are we telling a good story?' The challenge is can we make people care about these giant robots? And I think our VGA trailer [the one below - GC] set the tone for that. People actually cared about that, even without voices they cared about it.
GC: That's great thank you.
MT: Thank you very much.
on 11-05-2012 02:48 PM
All the info and the videos just make me want the game to come out earlier... like today!
I'd love to see Hardhead, Chromedome, Brainstorm & co turn up in a future game.
on 14-05-2012 01:48 PM
I had ONE problem with War for Cybertron.
The map packs weren't even remotely close to competently implemented.
And High Moon have openly admitted that they screwed up with that and said they won't be making the same mistake this time around.
Missing out on co-op's a shame, but it was never one of the main features I was interested in. I DO hope they include Escalation mode again though.
on 15-05-2012 10:03 AM
on 16-05-2012 10:35 AM
The only thing I didn't like in War for Cybertron was the health system in multiplayer.
Fall of Cybertron instead will have a new health system, shield has been introduced (the blue bar over the health bar) and they will recharge over time but health will not.
This for me is a great solution since Scientists will still be useful since they are the healers and at the same time classes with less health won't be too easy to kill.
Also I would love to see more weapon balance for Scouts & Scientists sine they had the weakest weapon and the lowest health; really the sniper rifle took 5 bullets to kill a soldier while a poor Scientist died in 2...too unbalanced.
When I first heard they were doing regenerating health this time around, I got the impression your base health was fully regenerating, which worried me. Kind of mostly invalidates the role of healer, which was my favourite in WfC. This sounds a LOT better than that what I was previously expecting. I quite liked the segmented health regen, but I can see that combined with a shield as an improvement, as long as it's well done.
16-05-2012 12:30 PM - edited 16-05-2012 12:33 PM
I admit that I am not 100% sure of the new health system (no preview or video spoke/showed it yet) but all signs points to that: shield will be there for sure and the presence of Energon cubes suggest that only with health items, or weapons, we will be able to regenerate ourselves.
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