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Transformers Universe General Article: NYCC '11 Q&A Panel Recap

By Christina Gonzalez on October 21, 2011

Our own Garrett Fuller moderated the panel, which featured Samantha Hock, Senior Concept Artist at Jagex, Aaron Archer, VP of IP and Brand Design at Hasbro, Sean Charles (sp?) Senior Marketing Manager at Jagex, and our Bill Murphy, who was a last-minute addition.

We began, with a new trailer that unfortunately, no one was permitted to film, but our Michael Bitton gave some details about in a rundown last week. In it, we see a Brawler class Autobot with a pretty impressive handsaw showing everyone who’s boss in footage that was all in-game renders. Pretty impressive stuff if you were able to see it. Jagex has had success with RuneScape for years now, but this is a new engine and it definitely shows.

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To kick off the panel discussion, a question that many might have wondered about:

“Will this game tie into the movie mythology in any way?”

Aaron Archer took this one. “The simple answer is no. the movie is clearly big and epic and Hollywood…..this particular game is based more in our Prime universe.” Cheers from the audience came with that.

Next up was a question about whether the original voice actors from the cartoons and movies would be aboard.

Sean answered, “Obviously, there are certain voice actors that have worked on Transformers for a long time, and we’re really excited to be pursuing working with them. We haven’t announced any yet, but you can imagine that there are certain names who would almost have to be involved with this project.”

Next up, Garrett asked if the game will follow the popular free to play model that RuneScape follows.

The response was that the game is browser based, which gives a lot of accessibility, and the team wants as many players to be able to get into the game as possible, so they will be using the free to play model. “We haven’t exactly announced yet the way we will actually monetize that,” Charles said, but promised more news will be coming on that front.

“Where in the Transformers Universe will the game take place, and where will it start?”

Archer replied that overall, Hasbro has been working for about two years to rectify their continuity. “Prime is a good example of where we’ve gotten to, the novels –Exiles and Exodus, as well as the Activision console based games all fit in a certain continuity. And this game firmly fits into that continuity very nicely.”

Sean noted that it begins on Earth, but with an MMO there’s so much to offer in the Transformers universe and they will be looking to offer much content and explore the “weird and wonderful characters and creations”.

The next question concerned what type of gameplay players could expect. While the response was somewhat coy, given how early things still are, Sean did drop this line to much crowd pleasure:

“Obviously you are going to be playing as a giant robot –30ft plus—so I don’t think that Optimus is going to ask you to go collect pelts in forests.” And promised, “Action – lots of it.”

Referring to how he and his five-year-old son both love Transformers, Garrett moved things with a question about the target demographic.

“That’s the beautiful thing about Transformers” Sean C. “We obviously, due to our IP, have ratings of 13+, but this game is for everybody. There are so many people that have grown up with Transformers.” Sean noted that his 78-year-old dad also loves Transformers and hopes to play with him.

“What are your thoughts on Hollywood being made into an MMO”?

Bill Murphy took the intro to this one, which was really about fan expectations. “For these guys, they have a legion of fans with an IP that is pre-established and they know what they expect and want from the game. And there’s the issue of what happens if what the fans play isn’t what they’d expect out of the IP.”

Sean indicated Jagex is keeping all of this in mind. “We’re very aware that there’s a massive following,” and that “one of the things we think is massively important is working so closely with Hasbro and listening to what we’re getting as feedback as to where we’re going to go with this game.”

“We want to give the Transformers Universe as much to you guys that fits and feels like what your expectations are,” and mentioned that the team is looking at what works and doesn’t work in many other MMOs to put the best experience together.

He also cited all the data they have from RuneScape and everything they have learned from working with that game. They really want to make a game where you can take 2, 10, or even 60 friends with you to play with and socialize together.

Garrett then had a question for Samantha regarding the game’s art and what it’s like designing based on the Transformers IP.

 “It’s awesome.” A simple answer, and one that the crowd liked. She also made note that “before I joined the team, I’d never drawn a car and I’d never drawn a robot.” When Garrett referred back to the buzzsaw in the trailer we had seen, she said she had a lot of fun designing the weapons for the game.

Next, we turned to fan questions, and there were quite a lot of them from some passionate people.

The first question boiled down: “WTF? Web-based?” “Is there a general problem with web-based that’s going to hold you back?

Sean responded that when you create a client-based game, people have to download it, they have to wait and there are other issues to deal with like system compatibility, connection speeds, file sizes, and other technical specs. Their goal is to create an accessible game in many ways, including the ability to see a friend playing the game, sign up quickly, and jump right in. Bill Murphy adds that many companies are doing the web-based/browser based games because there’s a lot of improvements and strength on the server side that wasn’t there before, so we’re seeing a crop of new browser-based games from companies like Jagex and GameForge among others. And Sean added that they are excited to be able to get the type of quality that they are getting out of a browser-based game.

Samantha made sure to note to the audience that the game looks like the trailer they showed. The characters and environments that were shown in the trailer are from the in-game engine, so that’s what people can expect. They hadn’t polished or created any of that outside, just manipulated the camera to get that trailer footage.

The fan also asked if since it’s Decepticons and Autobots, if there is open world PvP in all areas.

Sean responded that there is obviously PvE and PvP –players can level up in both. But how you’ll meet with one another involves story elements unique to the game. “There definitely will be a lot of clashes” although he couldn’t tell us just yet how these come about.

Next question concerned the G1 Transformers characters and plots. As a fan of the universe from way back, this man asked if we would see those characters in any form.

Aaron – “The simple answer is we’ve moved on, but what we’ve really done is rebuilt. We’ve taken the best aspects of the best aspects of Transformers eras and put them in Prime.”

“While Prime might not match those stories exactly”, he says, there should be a familiar and authentic feel to them. One of the issues Archer stated was that many of the G1 characters were based on cars from the 1970s, so many elements became outdated.

The next question was for Samantha:  "As Senior Concept Artist – did you have anything to do with the Prowl and Barricade designs" that had been shown off previously? She says she wasn’t responsible for that but was responsible for the redesign of Flamewar.

Next came a question for Aaron – “Could you see the game growing outside of Prime or maybe becoming its own thing?”

Aaron – He says that as they develop new ideas at Hasbro, there could be plans to overlap. Games and TV have different lead times, but the new developments will probably evolve into the game at some point.

The next question was: “How much emphasis is there on vehicle mode?”Also asking if there would be vehicle based combat.

Sean said that vehicle mode wouldn’t just be a mount and that there will be elements of combat, but that they don’t have much they can reveal just yet.

The next fan asked if gameplaywise, there will be something for the casual gamer with little time? Or if it will be able to be soloed.

Sean replied that is definitely the case. The word “accessibility” came up again, because the team wants it to be accessible to everyone, but fun for both hardcore and casuals.

The next question covered customization. The team was letting players customize their own characters at the booth during the weekend at Comic Con, and showing the process on a screen outside the play area as well.

Hock responded that customization is something they’re definitely working on in all parts, including color. Because they know that players get attached to their characters. This customization, she said, is pretty in depth and will carry over to the vehicle as well. Customization will also reach to your weapon choice. You can choose what you wish to use.

The next audience member wanted to know if War for Cybertron influenced the game, and also if there would be any flying bots included.

Aaron responded that the story in War for Cybertron exists in their current continuity, so it will have happened in the game, but that’s it. Sean says they can’t announce what they’ll have at launch, but obviously fliers are a part of the Transformers Universe and they’re not going to rule anything out yet.

A woman asked this question, which garnered some applause: “Will I be able to play a female character that doesn’t turn into a motorcycle?”

Sean answered that the exploration is going on but can’t confirm that yet. Samantha “That is something I’m definitely putting my weight behind”

What kind of weapon customization will there be?

Sean couldn’t give a number or exact details, but he says to imagine all the sharp weapons, projectiles, guns, and everything one might expect from Transformers. And as for multiple weapon attachments per bot? “It will most likely happen.”

An obvious longtime fan asked if characters from all of the storylines, including the Quintessons might be included. Or if people will be able to play as a character who is a human inside the robot?

“We’re not focused on that right now,” Aaron said, indicating the focus is on the bots.

The next question was whether we can play more of a neutral or renegade character.

Sean, once again, couldn’t really confirm or deny anything, but when the fan said that Renegade Decepticons are in Prime and cool, he replied: “Maybe you answered your own question there.”

Is Unicron going to appear? Combiners, are they in the game and how do they work?

Sean couldn’t quite say, but not ruling anything out yet.

Aaron- offered this, however: “For Hasbro, the development group that monitors the story,” it’s not necessarily going to include everything, but with the TV show or the MMO, “we’re using all of these things to tell a wider story”

Q: How deep the narrative between this universe and Prime going to be? Will someone like Prowl become the face of it (audio became a bit unclear here).

Aaron said that with as many characters that the game needs to tell the story they want to tell, that there will likely just be many and not necessarily have deep cross-pollination between Prime and the game.

One of the final questions came from a boy who asked how the post-launch strategy will work with the game. Sean highlighted that one of the great parts about a browser-based game is that the team can constantly work on it and update it. Many cool things that will appear as time goes on are planned that they can’t really announce yet, but there is a long-term content plan.

When it comes to leveling up, after creating a character, will you be able to get different pieces of armor, weapons, etc as you level?

As you level up, Sean says, you might start out with level one of a weapon but by day 100 you will have a much better, more evolved version if you play the game. This is one of the markers of progress in the game.

Q: is there an economy system in the game?

Sean- We’re looking into it. It’s something you have to be careful with and make sure it works in the story and with players. Not sure how that will work exactly yet.

One fan asked about security, and how, after RuneScape, they plan to prevent botters and hacks.

Sean referred to the lessons they have learned from RuneScape as well as everything for this game being built from the ground up and this being one of the obvious factors involved in development.

A few questions regarding tech were asked, including one on whether the game has anything to do with Flash 11 and whether there will be any mobile apps or associated programs associated with the game; or even mobile play. B  However, other than being able to say that the game will be browser based, those questions had to remain unanswered.

As far as combat goes, some asked if it were target based or more free flowing, while others wanted to know if you log in and fight or if there’s missions. Sean had this to offer: “Yes and no,” he said, noting that the game will have both PvP and PvE content, including missions and even team-based elements. There’s room for any playstyle. He also indicated that while he couldn’t officially confirm gameplay details, trying to shoot with all of the traditional Transformers weapons would be pretty difficult without some kind of targeting system.

Aaron was then asked if the game introduces new characters, if those will find their way to the toy line. He said that it was a distinct possibility, seeing as they look at all these things when deciding what to add to the line.

As far as monetizing the game, when asked if there would be a premium plan offered, he made the comparison between cell phone services having a flat rate unlimited plan and a quick, pay as you go card option, so it remains to be seen.

The panel concluded with a question as to whether we will ever see the game on consoles. Given things like DC Universe Online they admitted that they could look at that further down the line, but that’s a long ways off. Only time will tell once the browser game is developed and hopefully, meets with success.

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