With three Transformers games under their collective belt, it’s safe to say that High Moon Studios is well versed in the worldwide blockbuster phenomenon. The development team is behind not only the prequel game set before Michael Bay’s latest movie incarnation, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but also original titles that delve deeper into the Hasbro toys’ mythology.
Andrew Zaferakis, lead programmer on the newest installment in the series, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, credited the studio’s familiarity with Unreal Engine 3 with allowing them to hit the ground running and creating prototypes of new game ideas from the very first day of development.
“The engine has definitely gone through a large number of changes over the years,” said Zaferakis. “We were one of the early adopters of UE3, starting with work on The Bourne Conspiracy. Over the years Epic has made tremendous improvements to the engine that we have integrated.”
Matt Tieger, game director on Fall of Cybertron, said one example of this custom game engine work is apparent in the presentation of metal in the game, of which there is a great deal. “Some of the changes we made have to do the way metal looks on the Transformers’ home planet of Cybertron,” he said. “Because we are taking players to an all-metal world it was important for us to get it right.”
Fall of Cybertron may be the studio’s most ambitious undertaking to date, as it’s a direct sequel to the critically acclaimed and commercial hit, War for Cybertron, the highest-rated Transformers game ever. Story wise, the game is more richly steeped in official canon, revealing more of the history of the Transformers before they land on Earth. To bring this epic war between good and evil to life, the High Moon Studios team chose Unreal Engine 3.
“We rely heavily on Kismet for all of our level scripting,” said Zaferakis. “It provides our content creators with a toolbox that allows them to build interesting interactions for the player. Kismet is easily extended to provide custom tools specific to Transformers, giving our designers even more control over the game. Matinee is used extensively throughout our in-game cinematics and intricate scripted events during gameplay.”
The landscape of Cybertron is in much worse shape that it was in War for Cybertron. Huge sections of the planet have simply shut down, and only the Decepticon controlled areas are fully functional. The variety of environments is something the team is very happy with, as each setting has its own unique style. The environmental accomplishments are even more impressive when taking into account that the game was developed with a smaller team than any of the past Transformers games.
“I’m most proud of our ability to work smarter instead of harder when faced with a smaller team,” said Tieger. “We have implemented technology that allows us to change code while the game is running, seeing results immediately instead of having to quit and restart.” Zaferakis said with each new endeavor, the studio builds on the knowledge and code base from the previous games; the team worked hard to identify the feedback the reviewers and community were saying about War for Cybertron and to implement changes from the start instead of resorting to guesswork.
With the newest installment in the franchise, High Moon Studios drew inspiration directly from Transformers characters and their iconic abilities to build gameplay features and environments. Jazz, for example, was known for having a grappling hook in the comics and cartoons. The team felt that was an important component of Jazz’s character and personality, and they worked long and hard to convey the experience of grappling in gameplay.
“The major new feature for Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is character customization in multiplayer,” said Zaferakis. “Fans can create their own Transformer with far more personalization options than ever before, and battle against other players online. To accomplish this task every Transformer had to be re-authored for disassembly. Part of the re-authoring process involved improving the textures and shaders on all of the characters, which has a significant improvement in visual quality.”
Along the way, Zaferakis said his team used Epic’s Unreal Development Network (UDN) as a knowledge base to draw on when tackling difficult problems. He added that the UDN community has always been a great resource to answer questions and help other developers in need.
The final product is the most immersive Transformers game experience yet, enabling players to control of the Transformers themselves, choose sides, and engage in multiplayer action against a stunning, war torn Cybertron backdrop. These revisited and redesigned Transformers incorporate the latest technological advances available, their imposing and memorable presences brought to life by High Moon Studios and Unreal Engine 3.