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More than a Transformers catchphrase, "More than meets the eye!" can almost be considered a philosophical world view.  With that in mind, Jonathan Churma, Producer on the upcoming Transformers for Playstation 2, could be considered a follower of the Transformer's creed.  We pick his brain on "why now?", watching the old '80s cartoon series, the game engine's versatility, unlockable extras, the control and why the "Armada" subtitle was dropped.  Thanks for your time, Jonathan!

 

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Transformers Q&A

Conducted by Omni

 

Tell us about yourself – your name, how you got involved in the gaming industry, role on Transformers and at least one little-known fact about yourself.

My name is Jonathan Chmura, Producer for Atari, Inc. (located in the Beverly, MA Studio). I began my career in the gaming industry as a QA tester for Hasbro Interactive. After being involved in QA for about 3 years, I accepted a move into Product Development. I’ve since remained, and have worked on many different PC and console titles as Producer prior to being lucky enough to be assigned to work on Transformers PS2.  

 

Why Transformers?  Why now?

The gaming industry has always had a passion for a Transformers game to be created that was worthy of bringing the Transformers universe onto next-gen gaming consoles. Our development team (Melbourne House) has made an absolutely brilliant game based on this franchise that will appeal not only to fans of the Transformers series, but also to a wide audience of gamers looking for a great action-shooter/adventure gaming experience for the PS2.

 

Is there any anxiety about working on such an internationally known license as Transformers?  How will you please all the fans?

Making this game based on the Transformers franchise has given us unlimited content to mold our great game around. First off we have some of the best characters to use for our game, the Autobots and Decepticons. We bring their never-ending struggle into our game, and give the player the ability to play as three of the most popular Autobots (Optimus Prime, Hot Shot, and Red Alert) to take on their deadly adversaries - Megatron and his evil Decepticons. We’ve also incorporated a third race of Transformers, called the Mini-con. The Mini-con are collected throughout the entire game and give weapon and ability upgrades to the player.

 

Did many members of the team grow-up during the ‘80s watching the old Transformers show?

Of course! The passion for creating our game originates from growing up watching the original ‘80s cartoon. But, what we wanted to do was encompass the Transformers universe in our own way for a next-gen game experience. We’ve given the characters a look and feel that is less toy-like and a little more gritty and battle-worn. 

 

Robots transforming into vehicles opens up all sorts of gameplay opportunities.  What kinds of missions will gamers face?

Certainly converting into vehicle mode plays a big part in how you navigate each location, evade a fire-fight, or gain speed to jump over a large chasm. We give the player full control over using their character in vehicle or robot form throughout the game.

 

Player direction and mission updates are given through HQ Comms (headquarters communications) or hi-res FMV sequences that will drive the storyline, setup key battle sequences, or communicate mission directives.  

 

Is the game engine versatile enough to handle flying units?  

 

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Definitely. And there are locations in the game that require a specific Min-con upgrade that allow the player to reach areas they normally could not – like by activating a pair of glide wings!  Each character is able to attach this and then launch themselves into a free gliding movement whenever possible. This allows the player to then re-visit levels and reach areas they normally were not able to access with normal movement.

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Plus, keep in mind that many Decepticon enemies have flight capability (like Cyclonus and Starscream) and they’ll be zipping around the skies trying to take out the Autobots whenever possible.

 

What kind of environments can gamers expect to explore?

Our development team has created their own in-game environmental technology system that allows them to create highly detailed and free roaming environments throughout the game. You’ll be exploring the dense ecosystem of the Amazon forests, or the desolate wastelands of the Antarctic. Other massive locations will be encouraging the player to fully explore them, to find the lost Mini-con or all of the hidden extras throughout the game world. We have eight massive levels to explore, some containing indoor as well as the exterior environments to wage battle throughout the game. And there’s also a fantastic encounter on another world that fans of the series will know and that is the setting for our final boss fight.

 

Are there unlockable goodies planned for the die-hard fans of the Transformers series?

In order to further please fans of the Transformers universe, we have created a massive database of unlockable “extras” that are collected throughout the entire game. These extras allow the player to view game production materials, character data, Hasbro toy info, mini comics, as well as the music and movie files created for the game. All these will appeal not only to the Transformers fan, but to all players searching for these great extras. And there may be a few surprises to really please the die-hard Transformers fans!

 

With all the stories that have been told in the Transformers mythology – from the movie to Beast Wars to the comics – how do you come up with an original story to tell?  Will the story be woven into the established mythology?

Our story loosely encompasses the Armada storyline but we’ve added our twist to create a compelling in-game storyline to drive the action throughout the game. We’ve basically taken some plot details from Armada where the Autobots and Decepticons are racing to Earth to find the lost Mini-con. Whichever side has the most Mini-con will have the edge in winning the war that has raged on for ages. Since our game relies heavily on the acquisition of the Mini-con upgrades, it seemed only natural to convey portions of the Armada storyline.

 

Can you give us a rough idea of how Transformers controls?  Is there much of a learning curve?

Our controls mimic those of most action/shooters for the PS2 and requires a minimal amount of learning-curve. We utilize all functions of the game controller in order to provide the player with the controls necessary to move their character and the camera, fire weapons, jump and convert into vehicle or robot form whenever necessary.  We also give players a first-person mode of play (called “Recon Mode”) which allows them to move in a more stealth-like fashion when encountering enemies. This first person mode also aids in aiming at distant or moving targets.

 

What kind of weapons are planned for Transformers?

By using the Mini-con system of upgrading your characters throughout the game, and encouraging the player to search each environment fully to rescue all of the lost Mini-con, we offer over 40 different types of weapon, defensive, and movement upgrades to the player. These include different blaster types, secondary missles or grenades, shielding or stealth fields, as well as speed-burst engines or glide wings.

 

Why was the “Aramada” subtitle dropped?

While using some elements from that storyline, we didn’t want to corner this title into being only recognized as based solely on “Armada”. We’ve added characters and plenty of content not related to this storyline, and felt it would not fit with keeping the “Armada” subtitle.

 

When working with a licensed property like Transformers, who has final say over what can and cannot be included?

Like most licensor relationships during a development cycle, we’ve been working closely with Hasbro throughout the entire development process, making sure they’ve been pleased with the overall design of the game. They’ve had input on character design, voice talent scripts, extras, and any details in development that we felt was necessary for their approval to move forward on.  Needless to say they have been very pleased with our development and agree that we’ve taken Transformers into a new realm of interactive entertainment.

 

When the team hits a collective roadblock how do they come together to overcome it?  Have there been any roadblocks during the development cycle?

Any design issues that seemed to be complicating areas of development are immediately identified and discussed as a group, and then acted on. This allows the development team to stay focused on their specific jobs, and the design team can continue to provide necessary direction. Towards the end of our development cycle, we’ve even come to agreement on a few design tweaks following some focus-group testing, which allows us to create the best gaming experience for our players.

 

(March 26, 2004)

 

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