Exclusive: Transforming a Brand Into a Game

By David Radd

Posted December 28, 2012



When you ask someone who grew up on the action cartoons of the '80s which was their favorite, there's a pretty good chance they'll say Transformers. Iconic as a toy brand, now a mega success as a movie, there are still a number of people who feel the greatest connection to the original cartoon series, (known as Generation One, and abbreviated to G1). High Moon Studios saw an opportunity with the franchise outside of just adapting the movies into video games and have run with it. We talked with High Moon Studios President Peter Della Penna and Marketing Manager Greg Agius about the brand and their latest game Transformers: Fall of Cybertron.

[a]list: How did you get a chance to do a game based on an original take on Transformers in the first place?

Peter Della Penna: It was pretty obvious to us and Activision, that our studio capabilities and sensibilities were a great fit for the Transformers license. Also, it was perfect timing for us to develop a Transformers game that was not based on the film property and did not interfere with the movie franchise release schedule.  The natural place for us to go was back to our childhood roots in G1 and start telling the story of Transformers before they came to earth.

Peter Della Penna

[a]list: What are ways that you look to bring in fans of the classic cartoon series? Do you try and tap veteran voice actors?

Greg Agius: Authenticity is our biggest strength at High Moon Studios. You walk around the studio and you see G1 fans everywhere. I'd say that bleeds through to the game in every way. The look and the feel all are heavily inspired by G1. But everything is updated so that it feels right and up to date with the look of a modern game. Landing original G1 voices like Peter Cullen to voice Optimus Prime and Gregg Berger to do Grimlock is another key. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron reboots your childhood and makes it cool again!

[a]list: What games do you try to emulate as far as being successful with a classic brand?  Do you try and learn something from the recent Batman and Spider-Man games?

Peter Della Penna: Game wise I would say both Batman and Spider-Man are great references. Especially the Batman Arkham series where everything you do in those games drives the player back to the core of what makes Batman so cool.  For us, it's about transformation and the variety of awesome characters in the Transformers lore.

[a]list: Talk to me about the reveal trailer for the game and what you thought the important messages you were trying to convey were (prescience of certain characters, style of the graphics, etc.)

Greg Agius: We wanted Transformers fans and gamers to take a fresh look at our game. For me, we needed to communicate that Fall of Cybertron is an adult oriented game that stands totally apart from anything related to the films. So the team set out to break every rule we could think of for a Transformers trailer: we had zero voiceover, we destroyed main characters, we made the story come to you, and we picked a song that is totally groundbreaking for this franchise. When fans started posting, “attention... this is how you do Transformers!" I knew we had done things right. The style and look is all very in line with what gamers are currently playing.

Greg Agius

[a]list: How do you balance aesthetic considerations for these games?  The Transformers are evocative of G1, but they're not cel-shaded. Was it conscious to make it like the early cartoon but have it be a little grittier?

Peter Della Penna: Visuals are very important to gamers.  If it doesn't look good many won't even try the gameplay.  So, yes, our style is evocative of G1 but not a reproduction of it.  By design we intended to have a gritty, nostalgic sensibility.

[a]list: What went into bringing in the Dinobots for Fall of Cybertron?

Greg Agius: Getting the Dinobots in Transformers: Fall of Cybertron was a labor of love that has paid off handsomely. This game is new canon for Hasbro, and we are working with them to write lore that will stand for future storylines for this multi-billion dollar brand. Our team passionately fought to keep the Dinobots in the lore so that we can have them in our game. And why not? You can't find characters more unique than this! Of course we had to work with them to find a plausible creation story that Transformers fans would accept. We found some inspiration from the old U.K. comics and it provided some excellent ground that players will explore in our story. Playing as Grimlock is fantastic, you just feel super powerful!

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