Beta testing for free-to-play browser MMO Transformers Universe will begin "very soon", creator Jagex has informed Eurogamer.
The game's executive producer Kris Jones shared that and more during a long chat about the head-turning new IP.
"It's very soon," said Jones of the beta. "It's not going to be far away.
"We're launching this in 2012, so it goes without saying that the beta will be soon."
A team of 55 people are making Transformers Universe - a number that will eventually swell to 70. The project was signed in February, Jones revealed, and has ramped up in "the last three or four months". That gives the project a maximum of 23 months development to make a 2012 release, which is ambitious for an MMO.
The Transformers Universe team will build on a modified RuneScape engine Jones thinks will be "the next step in browser-based gaming from a graphical perspective".
Transformers Universe will "take some nods from the recent cartoon series" visually and thematically. "We're in that universe," Jones confirmed, referring to Transformers: Prime - The Animated Series.
"We've taken some assets; we've been in touch with the studios and we've taken from that, but we are our own game - that's the bit that needs to be made clear. We're not making a game based on any existing continuity.
"We don't want to pigeon-hole ourselves to just the toys, or just [Generation 1 1984-1993], or just Prime, or just the movies. We've been very clear that we want to take from all over the universe. That's why it's called Universe."
"I can't make Optimus Prime pink and put him in a tu-tu."Kris Jones, executive producer, Transformers Universe
Jones added: "Stylistically we've taken some nods from the recent cartoon series, which have been incredibly well received."
Transformers owner Hasbro has been "awesome" in sharing heritage and allowing exploration of some "11,000" characters within the IP, Jones said.
Jones, however, "can't make Optimus Prime pink and put him in a tu-tu". "There are certain characters you can't mess around with and they'll always be the way they are," he said.
Transformers Universe will embrace the most recognisable aspect of the licence: transforming into a vehicle. Vehicles will be "an integral part of combat" as well as a transportation aid.
"Some people want to be tanks, some people want to be motorbikes, some people want to be sports cars, some people want to be an SUV. It's very much down to the person. It's very easy to say, 'Oh I want to be a Jet,' but I think you'll end up with a wide variety of what people will want to be," said Jones.
"We're currently working on [what vehicles we want to offer]. Obviously we're going to have all your basic vehicles, but it's still something we're ironing out. I wouldn't want to undersell what we're aiming to do for launch right now. I can't give you [a number].
"All I can say is we're going for the most variety we can have," said Jones. "We're all massive Transformers fans; we know what Transformers fans are going to want."
Jones noted that vehicles will likely be a rich seam of post-release content to add to Transformers Universe over "the coming years".
"We're all massive Transformers fans; we know what Transformers fans are going to want."Kris Jones
Robot characters will be heavily customisable. Jones said that having hundreds of parts to tweak is "definitely a target for us".
Jones wouldn't commit to a level-based progression system, but confirmed that you'll definitely progress.
Combat will be team focused and based on classes working together. "We haven't declared [which classes]," Jones said. "We're still trying to get as much as we can in.
"Class is very much linked to vehicles. The two are very much hand in hand. They're intrinsically linked."
Therefore your choice of vehicle, Jones explained, will be restricted by your choice of class. "But there will still be variety - if you pick one class you're not going to get stuck with one vehicle. And that's something we plan on building up over years," he said.
Jones described Transformers Universe's tone as "adult". The story arcs will be "big" and "long". "We're staying away from - currently in the cartoons there's kids in the cartoons, we're not having any children in our game," he revealed.
Transformers Universe will be "definitely" aimed at people that grew up with Transformers in the '80s. But also at newcomers through accessibility - a juxtaposition Jones accepted will be "a difficult thing to marry".
But where does Jones stand on the 'are the films better than the cartoons' argument?
"They're both awesome, really," he answered. "I'd go with the new cartoon, if I had to choose."
"I had [the] Springer [toy], who was a triple-changer, who was my favourite, because he could be a car and a plane. He killed two birds with one stone. I also had Megatron and Galvatron. I had loads. I had lots of hand-me-down toys."
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