2010 was a great year in gaming overall, but it was especially great for me personally. In addition to some stellar new franchises such as Bayonetta and Metro 2033, Transformers fans were finally given the tribute to their classic franchise that they had waited so long for; High Moon Studios’ Transformers: War for Cybertron delivered the experience many of us had been waiting for since our childhood in the early 1980‘s and I for one was very thankful for that. Recently, I was fortunate enough to sit down with one of the men responsible for that great game, Sean Miller. Sean let me pick his brain about all things Dark of the Moon in preparation for the new Transformers release coming later this month...
Could you please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a little bit about your role at High Moon Studios?
I’m Sean Miller, the game director for Transformers: Dark of the Moon and High Moon Studios.
Did you work on the War for Cybertron project as well?
Yes... I was apart of the War for Cybertron project as well.
What can you tell us about Dark of the Moon? When and where does this take place and how does it fall into the Transformers canon?
What we did was build a unique, single player campaign that is a supporting prologue to the film. Rather than doing a sequel where you “play the movie” kind of experience, we wanted to give you some of the background. We’re big Transformers fans so this was a great opportunity for us to marry what we love about Transformers with what’s going on in the Michael Bay universe. They were great about letting us in on what is going on so that we could build a story that supports it. It sets up some of the key characters and some events that build up to what is going on in the film.
Were you guys allowed to create your own story for the game or were you given a pre-set story and instructed to “make a game about this”?
No, we worked closely with the creative staff at Hasbro as well as people from Paramount to make sure that it fit in with the established movie-canon and then built on it in ways that married-up some of the backstory and lore that we know and are really familiar with.
You guys (High Moon) did a wonderful job with War for Cybertron thanks to the freedom that you were given with the franchise; did you feel “limited” in any way having to create a game that ties into the movie versus being given complete freedom to do whatever you want with the project?
That’s a really good question because its “interesting” when I think about it. Rather than looking at it as restrictions, I looked at it as guidelines. It gave us stuff that we could now build on and it was a different way of defining the different things we got to use to make what we felt was a good Transformers game. The approach that we take, as a studio, is that we want to make a Transformers game that we want to play. By taking the approach of creating a prologue experience, it gave us some of that freedom. Hasbro was great at allowing us to build things around the experience that we wanted to create, so it just changed the challenge rather than making it more or less challenging. Now we have these characters that all look a certain way, so now I don’t have to worry about how they look, I can worry about what they do. It really just changed the things that we focused on.
What can we expect out of the game, are we going to see another situation where we see two separate campaigns, one Autobots and one Decepticons? What sorts of modes will we find in Dark of the Moon?
In our single-player campaign, it is a single campaign. Much like a movie, it tells a story that builds to a climax; the game takes a similar, “narrative” kind of a structure. The trick is that you have got all of these Transformers that everybody loves and everyone wants to be a different Transformer. In order to accommodate that, we built the game with each level built around a single Transformer. When you are playing as Bumblebee, we can tailor the gameplay and the objectives around what made you unique as Bumblebee. When you are playing Starscream’s level, it’s something that is more appropriate for a jet-character. We don’t have the swapping between characters because we wanted to make sure that we were able to focus on creating a quality experience.
That again leads to that authentic feel; the more characters that we have to support, we can’t necessarily make as tailored of an experience to a particular character. Much like in a movie, your perspective changes based on what you know took that same pattern of growth for our “film”. When you are moving from Autobot to Decepticon, it’s because you have learned something... we wanted you to commit to being an Autobot for a while and then when you are a Decepticon, you are going to commit to being that for a little while. One of the weird and cool things about being a part of the Transformers’ universe is that each character has their own goals. The Decepticons have things that they’re after; even though they are “bad” guys, they have goals that make sense to them. As a player, you get to invest in their goals just as you do the Autobots.
We will see the same multiplayer options that were so great in War for Cybertron?
With multiplayer, what we did was look at the modes that were the most popular with gamers and Transformers fans in general. This allowed us to create the best experience that we could and focus the development. We have Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and something called Conquest. That is sort of a “King of the Hill” mode where you get to capture nodes and get points based on how long your team holds onto those nodes. Being that we take the philosophy that you are :showing up” to the game because you like a particular Transformers, we want you to be able to play as your favorite Transformers. You can play as your iconic Optimus Prime, you can play as Starscream but in addition though, you can customize them. If you want to customize colors much like you can do a custom paintjob if you buy the toy(s). The idea is kind of like “hey, I have my toy and you’re going to bring your toy and we are going to play in this world”. The levels are built around the single player experience in terms of the environments but you have got the ability to customize your Transformers’ abilities based on the classes which focus on the vehicle types in the game.
That sort of answers my next question, which is whether or not we would be seeing a return of the classes that were established in your first Transformers game. Will we be seeing the same classes that we have gotten used to in that game?
They’re a little bit different. Taking the Transformers from Cybertron to Earth required some different things and different thought processes. We still have the classes though, largely based around the vehicle types. That really helps us balance the play experience and creates some things that make it unique to wanting to be a truck versus being a car. Your Scout class is based around your car vehicles; your Commander class is based around truck vehicles; the Hunter class is based on the jet vehicles and the warrior class is based around the tanks.
Will we be seeing the return of the Escalation Mode?
Escalation is something that is really near and dear to our hearts... we love it... but when we looked at the audience that we have for this game, we are looking at a more mainstream audience. Escalation was more popular with the “hardcore” gamers so we had to make some hard choices in order to deliver the quality of game that we wanted and that is one of the reasons that we chose to focus the multplayer more on the Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Conquest modes rather than Escalation.
Are there plans to release additional content for the games through DLC in the future?
We don’t have any announcements regarding that yet, but there may be some coming down the road...
Thanks again to Sean for taking the time to sit down with me and talk Transformers both on and off the record. Transformers: Dark of the Moon will be available on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on June 14, 2011.