GameObserver interview with developer of Transformers 2 game
We had a chance to chat with Activision’s Luxoflux, makers of ‘Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen’, about movie-based games and the success of their latest title.
Licensed film games are the black sheep of the industry. Everybody loves to harp on them, reproaching them of every ill currently afflicting video games. Granted, some accusations are warranted; publishers usually bank on those titles making a profit off impulsive buyers and unsuspecting relatives who don’t play games but buy them for loved ones who do. Such games are but mere shells of the movies they are supposed to represent. But occasionally a project is taken seriously and actually offers something fresh. Such is the case with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a game that surprised many with its decent playability.
GameObserver.com recently had a chance to ask Luxoflux’s Joby Otero (Chief Creative Officer) and Chris Tremmel (Creative Director) about what went into developing their recent title, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
GameObserver: Luxoflux has a recent history of making movie-based games, with Shrek 2, Kung Fu Panda and now Transformers 2 under its belt. But the company originally found its claim to fame with Vigilante 8 for the PS1 and the True Crime series. What lead your company to take the big plunge into movie tie-ins?
Luxoflux: When we started making Shrek 2 we were nervous. We loved the first movie, but the game (by another developer) didn’t review well. We were scared of putting our lives into something that might be greeted with enormous skepticism. But the world of Shrek was very much in-sync with our team’s personality and DreamWorks was open to what we wanted to try.
We were happy with how the game turned out and the audience enjoyed it. We learned that we could have just as much fun with a license as we had on original IP. We also saw how starting with a well-defined world in some ways allowed us to focus more on interaction and get more game in less time. Since then, we’ve continued to look for licenses (not necessarily movie-based) that we have a passion for, that fit our personality and that we can define or re-define as a game.
GameObserver: How is making movie-based games different from making standalone titles?
Luxoflux: One thing we’ve found with movie games is the importance of interfacing with the film team to uncover some of the more memorable aspects of the movie. Usually it comes down to 4 or 5 big scenes. Once we know those, we structure our game to synchronize with the movie at those points, but we plan a story and gameplay that expands to show things that may not be in the movie. If you were doing a non-movie game, you might still plan the player experience around 4 or 5 big turning points, but you might not structure development the same way. For a film game, you’re not likely to see what those 4 or 5 moments will look like until at least ½-way through the film’s development. So you wouldn’t start building the corresponding levels until ½-way through the game’s development. This approach has interesting side-effects. For example, on Kung Fu Panda, the film team knew what would be the biggest action scenes early on, but they hadn’t yet planned the details. Early in their development, they focus on the emotional scenes. Meanwhile, we focused on action -- figuring out fighting moves and other core mechanics. Since much of that was done by the time the film team started detailing their action scenes we could see how it had influenced them to a degree.
GameObserver: How do you cope with the inevitable shortage of time required to develop a movie-based video game? Do you make compromises, and if so, what kind did you make while developing Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen?
Luxoflux: You definitely have to be realistic about how much time you have and realize that it could change without notice. When we started prototyping Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen we thought the film would come out in summer 2010, but that changed along the way to summer ‘09. This could have been absolutely devastating. But, having worked with movie studios before, we knew to plan carefully and be clear about what things are essential to the game. By defining the core game early on we knew we could scope to the time available and still have something that feels complete. It pretty much came down to our transformation system, multiplayer and a big list of playable Transformers.
GameObserver: Even big development studios have had some less than stellar results making movie tie-in projects, while your company has had relative success. What do you think are the pitfalls of making such titles and what is the secret of your success?
Luxoflux: Whether it’s an original IP or a license, we feel that the best chance of success is a matter of assembling a great group of veteran talent, finding what the team loves and making sure it’s a natural fit for good gameplay. When you look around the office and see people’s work stations decorated with Transformers and Kung Fu figurines -- you know you’re onto something. ;)
GameObserver: How does Luxoflux cooperate with movie studios while making such games? Do you get any material, like the screenplay, before the film comes out?
It definitely varies from game to game. On Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, however, we spend a decent amount of time at Bay Films reading the script whenever there was an update. We also met with Michael Bay, and Ian Bryce early on to make sure we were on the same page. Also, we had access to many aspects of the film like character designs, 3D models, concept art, etc., which is always cool!
GameObserver: How much involvement did the movie studio have with the game project?
Luxoflux: Obviously the film teams were 100% focused on getting the film to market, but they were kind enough to open up a few of the sets to us, as well as providing us with some really cool ideas that never made it to the actual film. For example, Breakaway, our Autobot sniper, was originally designed for the film. We knew right from the start when we saw him that we wanted him in the game; it was not until later that he was dropped from the film. By that point, we were really attached to him so he stayed.
GameObserver: Ubisoft has recently unveiled its “Media Convergence” strategy, even going as far as acquiring Hybride Technologies, a studio renowned for its expertise in the creation of visual effects for cinema, television and advertising. What is your take on their resolve?
Luxoflux: It’s an interesting approach and one that hopefully works for them. Many years ago, at another studio one of us was at, the team there tried expanding to make games, film and television. We quickly realized we would need many more people, different kinds of people, far more management, and we’d be putting both sides at greater risk. The belief at Luxoflux is that greatness requires focus. Our true love is interactive entertainment, so that’s where we’ll stay. But that’s not to say that other teams with a different structure, experience and focus can’t make it work -- especially if they build slowly and deliberately.
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