EXCL: Matt Tieger on Developing Transformers: War for Cybertron

On June 22, Activision is releasing "Transformers: War for Cyberton" and SuperHeroHype talked exclusively to Matt Tieger, Game Director at High Moon Studios, which developed the game.

"Transformers: War for Cybertron" challenges players to become the ultimate weapon as a Transformers character in the final, epic war that will determine the survival of their entire race. Armed with a diverse arsenal of lethal, high-tech weaponry and the ability to instantly convert from robot to vehicle at any time, players will engage in heart-pounding battles on land and in the air in this gripping, 3rd person action shooter set in the Transformers’ war-ravaged homeland. Complete with several multiplayer modes, "Transformers: War for Cybertron" allows gamers to play through story missions with their friends in drop in/drop out online co-op and compete in blistering head-to-head multiplayer modes.

SuperHeroHype: What was the origin of making a Transformers game set entirely on Cybertron?

Matt Tieger: Activision approached High Moon Studios with the idea of making a non-movie based "Transformers" game. We then created some concept art, put together a story and met with Hasbro. That first meeting set the tone for everything that followed. We have had an extremely collaborative relationship with Hasbro which is based on a mountain of mutual respect. Generally, I pitch ideas to Hasbro about where the games needs to go and they work with me on ensuring that those ideas are a perfect fit for the "Transformers" universe.

SHH: From what’s been shown of the game already, the scale of the world looks huge. Was it a challenge making a world that big?

Tieger: Cybertron is a big place. The immense scale of the levels was driven by 2 factors: gameplay and sense of scale. 

Gameplay – when every character has unlimited access to a fast-moving vehicle, the levels need to not just support vehicles they need to encourage their use. 

Scale – Their world is built for them, so it should fit them. However there is a scale expectation with Transformers as big robots and we express that through a huge scale world. The short answer to your question is ‘yes’ we had to reorganize our thinking about gameplay spaces.

SHH: With the entire world being built out of technology, was it hard to keep the entire game from looking mostly the same?  How do you go about bringing variety to the locations?

Tieger: That was a significant challenge for us – Cybertron is an all-metal world, and metals all generally have a similar look.  We did an enormous amount of lighting work to give each place a sense of uniqueness and drama. This was a very iterative process, often relighting areas to get it just right. We also worked on material treatments for metals – rusted, painted, burnished, etc.  And finally we do have a few other materials to work with such as Energon (which has several forms) and force fields.

SHH: They don’t have any American car dealerships on Cybertron. Did the vehicle forms all have to be invented fresh for this game? Tell us how that process worked.

Tieger: Transformers have always transformed, even on their world. All of the robot and vehicle designs are brand new. We reverse engineered the style of the vehicles from the 80′s G1 cartoon and then added our own unique style. The core concept was that when you look at a Cybertron design it has a ‘natural’ form that the Transformers would choose to copy when they eventually get to Earth. Bumblebee was a VW bug in G1. Obviously we didn’t make a VW bug but we took some elements from that car and incorporated that into the Cybertron design. When Bumblebee gets to earth he would naturally gravitate to the VW bug because it has similar style.  Maybe I think about this stuff too much, but I believe it matters to the fans.

SHH: You’ve said before that this game was designed from the beginning to be a co-op campaign experience. Can you explain how that works? Are there differences in gameplay based on which role you choose?

Tieger: Developing games is tricky business; it takes a long time and the creation process is a complex one. The more things that you can commit to at the beginning the better the end product; co-op was one of the day-one decisions. Without getting too technical, that decision dictated the kind of assets we made, how expensive they were (FPS) and our verification procedures to make sure we are always working over the network throughout the entire development process. 

There are, in fact, some big gameplay differences between the characters. Each character has a unique combination of abilities, which can be used to help themselves and their team. Starting weapons are also different between the playable characters. Finally there are some big differences in the vehicle – each type has a special ability, a unique driving experience, and has its own weapons.

SHH: Transformers don’t just turn into land vehicles, but also planes. Are there specific levels for flying gameplay or is that integrated into the normal run ‘n’ gun levels?

Tieger: There are specific jet levels. The jets are so different than the ground based vehicles that they needed their own levels. This freed us up to do some crazy stuff in the jet levels and for the ground-based levels allowed us to mix up the available vehicles for cool combinations.

SHH: Are there characters or bosses that we’ll see that have never been seen in "Transformers" shows before? Did you create any new characters for this game?

Tieger: Transformers is a HUGE license, there are 100′s of interesting characters and I could spend the rest of my career bringing the known guys to life, so there were definitely more than enough characters to draw from!

"Transformers: War for Cyberton" will be available for the Nintendo DS, PC, PS3, Wii and Xbox 360. Visit the official site for much more on the game!