When Michael Bay was announced as the director who would be transforming some '80s toy robots into a live action movie for the modern era, the internet exploded with rage. But if the creators of the videogame of the movie are feeling any pressure from the fanboys, the game's producer, Andy Burrows, isn't letting on, to judge by his laid back interview style. Although he does have his concerns about the level of internet interest in both the movie and the game.
"We don't really feel shielded from it, because the game's obviously pretty hyped up," he admits. "But we just try and use that to do the best that we can to make the best game possible. I think the biggest challenge will be meeting everyone's expectations of what Transformers is. It's not just a game that ties in with a movie license, but we've already got that stigma of being a movie license games, and movie license games not being as good as original IP. And then tied in with that we've got a lot of people who care strongly about the franchise and who are going to be really excited for it."
The best way of meeting those expectations, they decided, was to create an open sandbox world and a set of missions for both Autobot and Decepticon sides. "It's not as big as, say a GTA world," says Burrows. "But while the player's in there he's pretty free to do what he likes. When you start a mission - we've got beacons of light that you can drive into and that will trigger the next mission - we constrain the player to an area for that mission, containing the objectives. Because if we don't do that we find the player can quite easily get lost in the level and end up not knowing where to go, so it's just easier to keep them in an area."
Obviously the movie only features one narrative outcome, in which (SPOILER ALERT:) the Autobots ultimately triumph. That makes it pretty easy to tie the Autobot missions in the game to the plot of the movie. Clearly, however, it makes it more difficult to keep the Decepticon missions faithful to the outcome of the movie. "But we try and have key points across each set of missions," says Burrows. "So that you recognise the locations, and at the end of the film, where they scrap in the city, both sides end up scrapping in the city so that you still feel like you've got the pay off and you'll be able to defeat Prime in the same way that he'd defeat Megatron."
The development team was also able to tie the game into the movie by using the art assets from the guys creating the CGI special effects for the movie, and they were able to create the game's prerendered cut-scenes after viewing dailies and reference shots.
And as with any self-respecting movie tie-in, the game also features many of the voice actors from the movie. "Yeah, we've got quite a few of the people from the movie signed up to do it: we've got Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox. Obviously we've got Peter Cullen and Frank Welker from the original cartoons, and there's a couple of other guys who do the voice-acting for the transformers in the movie, and they've all signed up for the game."
Indeed the collaborative process seems to have worked well. "We had some input from Michael Bay;" continues Burrows. "Stephen Spielberg saw the game as well and he gave us some feedback. But most of the feedback we had came from Hasbro. As license-holders and with their knowledge of the history, they tended to be the ones we'd get most feedback from."
Maybe that's part of the reason that Burrows doesn't quite feel the full extent of the internet fanboy pressure: because working so closely with the license holder grants the team greater leeway to give them what they want: Generation 1 Transformers. "We've got quite a few references," explains Burrows. "We've got the original Shockwave, he's in the game, we've got unlockable comic covers, unlockable G1 characters, unlockable G1 skins, and lots of easter eggs that relate to the G1 side of things."
And that's across all versions of the game. Indeed, apart from the lower quality art assets on PS2, and a special Wii control system, the game is pretty much identical across platforms. "We had the main Transformers team working on the PS2 version, and then we had a console team port that over to the other versions," says Burrows, explaining how the development process worked. "Well really, I guess the main team had to work on the PS2 and the 360, because we had to do all the art twice. So we had to do the PS2 art and then the 360 art, and the PS2 characters and then the 360 characters. But generally the PS3 and Wii and PC were handled by our tech guys."
Now that the game is in the can though, What are the features that Burrows is most pleased with? "I think the destruction side of it is really cool. I think that we've got a really good sense of scale in the game as well, so when you're a 30-foot tall Optimus Prime you really feel like a 30-foot tall robot. The transformation is great. We tried to make transformation so that it was in tune with the player, so that it's just like pressing a button to punch or to jump - you don't always have to think 'this is the transform bit, I need to be a car now.' We wanted it to be that, for example, you might want to transform in the middle of combat to get some speed, transform back to shoot them and then attack them - we wanted it to be immersive in that way. And those are the three things that I think will really set us apart from other games out there.