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The last time the world saw anything on Transformers Universe was all the way back in April, when an appearance at the official Transformers convention BotCon allowed fans to reserve their in-game name and meet members of the development team. Since then, the team at the Cambridge, UK-based studio has been diligently working on the game, even if that's meant that fans have been left wondering on forums when they would actually, finally, get to play it. Thankfully, Jagex broke its silence when it came into our London office this week, with both an exclusive new trailer and the latest development build of the game.
Since coming on board earlier in the year, chief creative officer Alex Horton and story director Alex Derakoff have enacted some big changes, notably in story and characterisation. And when you look at the pair's history, this approach is understandable. Horton is an ex-Rockstar animator and art director whose CV includes Bully, Grand Theft Autos III and IV, and Red Dead Revolver, while Derakoff has directed movies such as Dead Man Running starring 50 Cent, and The Calcium Kid, starring Orlando Bloom. The pair are good friends, and it was Horton who got Derakoff into the games industry when he helped him land direction duties on the cinematics for Need for Speed: The Run, starring Christina Hendricks and Sean Farris.
However, with changes to the game come delays to the game--up until now it was scheduled to be released before the end of the year, but now it's clear that it won't see the light of day until 2013. While it's a frustratingly vague release date for fans, whose first question on internet forums usually seems to be "when will we get to play the beta?", it's clear that the duo are passionate fans themselves, and won't release anything they're not happy with. Horton spends a long time explaining his vision for the story before we even see the game, explaining that the world will change depending on the outcome of battles between the autobots or Decepticons, which will then have an impact on where the story goes post-release as well as what content they put out.
We got to see the very latest build of the game itself, mere days old, with the game played through a web browser and the server running on the same laptop. You start out by choosing your character--in our demo, there were a few car-based Autobots to choose from, but in the finished game there will also be Decepticons and bikes available. In the finished game, you'll be able to build a collection of multiple Transformers--a "toybox" according to Horton, who can be collected and tweaked each time they're used. Replicating the magic of the toys seems to be the idea for Horton, while Derakoff says he's hoping to explore the Transformers universe with the same sensibilities as a HBO production.
Back in the game, we dropped into protected Autobot territory--a safe ground for players to familiarise themselves with the controls as well as mingle with other players. The team says that the first hour of the game will take place within such a zone, with tutorials to explain the various mechanics, and hopefully some friendly players to party up with.
This being a Transformers game though, it's not long before you're getting into some action. We were shown the game's Deep Scan feature--essentially a horde mode where you face off against multiple enemies. The combat is fast-paced, with Horton saying he wants the game to have the immediacy of a shooter. Alongside the standard combat, which includes both melee and projectile-based weaponry, there are special weapons that can be used. We saw one Transformer becomes an artillery weapon--a state which takes a while to transform in and out of, but able to lay down heavy fire that devastates groups. The idea, therefore, is that you use it to support your party from afar--you can imagine an ideal party having smaller, faster Autobots in the thick of it, while bigger Transformers are raining down artillery fire. Transformers are also equipped with powers, such as an invisibility orb, which allows allies to see you but shields you from the sight of enemies, or a chaff mist, that protects you from incoming fire.
With an emphasis on action, rather than grinding, it seems like Jagex is aiming to build an accessible MMO that still has an ephasis on teamwork. We got a glimpse at how a large-party raid may work with a mission to extract some Energon. Energon is the main resource in the game but you have to find it and mine it in order to use it. Once you're in the vicinity of some Energon, you have to use trial and error to dig into the ground and begin extraction--the closer you get, the faster this process is. However, enemy Terracons will come and attack you during this process, so Transformers must work together to ensure mining players are protected when they come under attack.
Sadly, at this stage of production, there are still lots of unknowns about some of the specifics of Transformers Universe. First of all, there's no talk of release dates for betas--either closed or open--nor any word on how monetisation in the game will work. And while we know there will be post-release content, none of it is being detailed, other than the fact that there will be new Transformers on the way. Another one of the big questions yet to be answered is what role famous Transformers such as Optimus Prime and Starscream will play, but Horton confirmed that big characters will play a supporting role.
There have been some high-profile licensed games that have gone free-to-play recently, including Gotham City Impostors and DC Universe Online, while next year offers the very promising Marvel Heroes. There's plenty of work to be done on Transformers Universe, but in the meantime, Jagex has promised to make sure fans are properly up to speed with the story before release, so check out the game's official website for more as it develops.