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Interview: Andrew Carter

Written by Darren 'Starscream' Jamieson on February 22, 2004 | Features,Interviews |

We managed to beg a little time with Andrew Carter, Vice President of Development at Melbourne House, and the Melbourne House team developing Transformers Armada: Prelude to Energon for the PS2. Naturally we quizzed them on Transformers, and it turns out they know a thing or two, being fans themselves.

Transformers fans have been waiting for a video game like this since the days of the Commodore 64, do you think they’ll be impressed with what they see?

We hope they’ll be staggered by what they see! We think this is a whole new level of Transformers game. This is a high budget title and represents a big commitment from Atari towards Transformers fans.

What steps were taken to ensure that the character Transformations were of value to the game play, rather than just a nice feature?

Vehicle mode is an integral part of who the Transformers are. The player is free to transform at any time, and transforming is fast. Players will find that in certain situations it’s advantageous to be a vehicle: to speed into battle, to take a jump, to ram enemies, or to make a quick retreat. It’s up to them. The game is open and free for players to evolve their own strategies. There are multiple ways of attacking the same situation in the game and different players will find it preferable to be in either form in many instances.

In Japan, Takara and Winkysoft are releasing a Transformers Generation One game called Transformers Tatakai. Do you know anything about Tatakai and how does Prelude to Energon compare to that?

We haven’t had any involvement with that game, so sorry, no comment.

Will there be any multiplayer or online play in Prelude to Energon?

No, it’s an action adventure game for single players with a heavy emphasis on shooting. We focused on making the best quality single player game and multiplayer would have compromised this.

How early in development and why was the decision made to base the game on the Armada line of Transformers, as opposed to Generation One which has a much larger fan base in the PlayStation 2 owning demographic.

Armada was chosen from the start. Atari’s Beverly Studio worked with Hasbro (the licensor outside of Japan) and Armada was chosen as it is the latest series. Armada is on the air, and Armada products are in stores.

We also thought Mini-Cons offer a lot of cool possibilities – the quest for them is an obvious goal for a game, but they also extend the powers of the player character. We’ve really emphasised this aspect, with over 40 Mini-Cons, each of which gives the player different abilities, such as different weapon systems, stealth, glide, shields, Energon vision, and more. This means that the Autobots really evolve their capabilities as the game goes on; they can take on tougher enemies, and get to previously inaccessible places in the world. Players are free to customize their Mini-Con load out at any time in the games HQ. We think that this will help maintain interest in the game all the way through, using an element that is unique to Armada.

Are there any plans to release the game for Xbox if the PS2 version proves successful?

Transformers Armada is a PS2 exclusive right now. Everything in the game has been made to get the most from this platform and it would be quite difficult to convert.

How many playable characters will there be in the game, and what are the main differences between them?

The player can choose from one of three Autobots, and can change at any stage, even during a level. Each Autobot has different stats: weight, Mini-Con capacity, different physics, and a different feeling in play.

Optimus Prime is the heaviest, and has the best combat abilities. His Mini-Cons power capacity is greater than the other Autobots. His running speed is slow in acceleration, but once he gets up to speed he really pounds along. His truck is great for bashing through enemies.

Red Alert has better armour and defences, and is more of an all rounder; his vehicle mode is also the best at negotiating terrain.

Hot Shot is the most nimble, and has the longest jump, and the best turning speed. Obviously his sports car is also the fastest vehicle.

Each character has been modelled and enhanced to the highest level possible on PS2. We approached this area with the same theme as the rest of the game – highest quality is the priority. We could have included more characters, but when making a game on a high level like this, we think it’s much better to have a smaller number of really high-quality characters than a ton of low fidelity ones. Of course there are a ton of Mini-Cons to customise them further.

How hard is it making a game based on a license, knowing that so many licensed games fall flat – including huge licenses like Star Wars and Star Trek?

So many games fall flat today, full stop. Actually the licence is a bonus and we never assume a game will sell just because it has one. So really it’s about making a great game, license or not! We’ve approached making this game as a real game first and foremost, it’s a game made at the highest level, one that could easily stand by itself. The Transformers Amada license is a great theme that the game has been built and designed around. We aim to enhance the licence,
not abuse it as many titles do. Actually, making Armada has been a ton of work compared to more standard games. There are many new ideas and these characters have so many abilities and Mini-Cons. We’re honestly enjoying making it, and we hope that shows in the results.

How much research into Transformers did you do prior to working on the Prelude to Energon project?

We have some fans on the team, and more than a few toys turned up on people’s desks! We looked at everything Transformers, from the animated series to the toys to the Dreamwave comics and understanding the PS2 market that led us to a certain point of view: The toys look like toys, the cartoon has a look suitable for being a cartoon, the comics look great as comics. How would Hollywood approach this if they were doing a movie right now? (Which, we now learn, they are!). So for the game we decided to create a new look that is suitable for a game,
a PS2 game.

Did you enlist the help of any of the Transformers animators or comic artists to help get the look of the game correct?

We evolved the look independently – we have a great team in house. The look of the backgrounds has evolved with our proprietary graphics engine and a special system we developed just for this game called “Eco System”. It’s responsible for the amazing foliage and weather you’ll see in the game. On the character side we drew inspiration from many sources including original Japanese concept sketches of Transformers Armada characters and Dreamwave art. We also created an original Decepticlone army for the game that can be completely blown to pieces! Hasbro have also been great in allowing us to evolve a slightly older look for the game.

Oh, and a Japanese CG company called Buildup are doing the Pre-Rendered movies for the game – they did the movies for Panzer Dragoon Orta and the intro for Soul Calibur 2.

Do you think this game will appeal to both the ‘twenty something’ fans of the original Transformers and the pre-teen fans of Transformers Armada?

That is what it’s designed to do, so we shall see! We think it will appeal to all PS2 action gamers, irrespective of whether they are Transformers fans or not. The game is similar in control and atmosphere to Halo, but with an even more dynamic player character. So, although the Armada animated series is only intended for younger viewers, the game is most certainly not.

Recently games such as Gun Metal and Robotech Battlecry have featured Transforming mechs to great effect. How does Prelude to Energon compare with them?

We believe our game is on another level to those titles.

Thanks for the opportunity to talk to you. We hope you enjoy the game when it comes out next Easter.

TheTransformers.Net thanks Melbourne House for taking time to answer our questions, and we do indeed look forward to playing the game. It’s been a long time coming, but finally we can have Optimus on our PS2. I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait.