BotCon 2011: Interview with Jagex about “Transformers Universe” MMO

By Jennifer Ulm with Douglass Kern

At BotCon 2010, our own Jennifer Ulm was able to get an interview with Kris Jones, Executive Producer of “Transformers Universe” at Jagex.  Hear what he had to say about the upcoming MMO!

ASM: From what we’ve seen, the art style is inspired by Transformers Prime. Will we also see that in the story and setting?

Kris: Basically, we’re still deciding what the game’s environment is going to be. You’re right that art style-wise we’ve taken a lot of Transformers Prime’s cues, but we have a lot of freedom to use characters that aren’t necessarily Prime. You’ll notice that Prowl and Barricade who aren’t in the cartoon are here today (he gestures to two character standees), and the player character over there (a third standee of a bulky blue Autobot). It goes without saying we’ll be using the big characters. Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron…

ASM: So they will be the NPCs, the characters you get your quests from?

Kris: Of course, and go on quests with, and fight with and alongside. But regarding environment-wise, the world is still, well, we haven’t decided. We’re kind of still airing out what we’re going to have as our opening game sequence but we know it’s Cybertron, it’s Earth, and then there’s the moon and various other planets in between, so we can use the whole universe. We’re still deciding on that right now.

ASM: So all those settings are still on the table?

Kris: Yeah, and the good thing about this is this game doesn’t just launch and die, right? I mean, you launch a game, and then, like Runescape, which is our other popular MMO, it’s been out for ten years. So we want this to go for ten or fifteen years and by the end of it all we want to have hundreds of planets, hundreds of NPC characters, you know, you’ll be every single vehicle that you can ever imagine. To start off, you’ve got a car Autobot at launch, we’re still deciding now where you’re going to be for launch, and by the end of it I want every single character, whether it be Dinobots or whatever, you know? Planes, cars, ships, boats, sharks… (laughs) You know, we want to try to get as much in there as possible. For launch, that’s what we’ve decided so far.

ASM: So it’s still pretty early as far as those plans go.

Kris: Yeah, we’ve got another year. Q2 2012 is launch. There’s a truck character over there, a warrior character, so that should give you a good indication of the kind of direction we’re going in.

ASM: So are you going to have fairly traditional RPG-style classes, just adapted for Transformers?

Kris: Yes and no. We want to do some stuff, we’re not just trying to clone another MMO. Transformers has this unique thing that not everybody has, which is your being, your avatar character transforms, and no other MMO has that, something we’ve never done in anything else. It’s very keen that being a car is not just a mount. In essence, you’ll always be thinking, “What mode should I be in right now?” and you’ll constantly be thinking, “I need to transform! Oh, I need to transform back!” And there will be different kinds of weaponry and buffs and things that encourage you to change and switch around. We think that’ll be something really unique.

ASM: So the vehicle modes will be incorporated into the combat, then?

Kris: Yes, that is indeed what we’re doing. I can’t go into detail on how we’re doing it, but yes.

ASM: You’ve also mentioned things like “buffs” and other traditional MMO terminology…

Kris: We do make traditional MMOs, we made Runescape, we’ve been doing that for ten years, so we know what we’re doing when it comes to making an MMO. Obviously Transformers Prime is different from a fantasy brand, it goes without saying, and we’re respecting the brand. What you’ll be doing in the game is what you’d expect a 60-foot giant robot that transforms into a vehicle to be able to do. You know, you’re not going to be chopping down trees and fishing.

ASM: But there a lot of base mechanics that will be familiar to people coming from other MMOs?

Kris: Yeah. We’re trying to attract in two ways, for two audiences. Some people will come to this game who are massive Transformers fans who’ve never played an MMO before, and I certainly don’t want them to come to the game like, “This is too complex for me.” You want them to understand quickly. And equally, you’re going to get some hardcore MMO players. I’m sure a lot of Transformers fans are, by nature, MMO players, and I want to cater to them as well. And there’s a few other groups out there we want to cater for and really get in there. You’ve got all the casual guys who really got into the films, who perhaps wouldn’t come to a BotCon, but they love the films and you’ve got to provide something for them. They’re pretty much just console players. So we’re trying to get something for everyone involved. The reason we’re here, at BotCon, is because first and foremost we want to provide for the hardcore Transformers fan, they’re our biggest advocates and they’re going to be the guys who play this game.

ASM: For those hardcore Transformers fans who are also hardcore MMO people, is there going to be a traditional XP-based leveling system?

Kris: I can’t really answer that, I’m afraid. It’s too early on that one. We released some information on the web site, but on top of that, all I can say is if you’re used to playing traditional MMOs like Runescape you will be at home with this game.

ASM: So will you have other traditional MMO elements, guilds and that sort of thing?

Kris: Regarding the social aspects of the game, Runescape sort of pioneered being sort of like a social network before social networks. In 2001 that was one of the places people used to go to talk to each other, and we recognize that. This game will be very much leveraged around the community, involving fan sites and people like that to get them involved. Runescape has Gold fansites, Silver fansites, and those people are heavily involved, they get exclusives, all that kind of stuff. And we’re really keen to do the same as that, producing games that enable community growth. We’d like to really get bold with the community. So there will be aspects of that, definitely.

ASM: Will there be both a PvE and PvP aspect to the game?

Kris: I can’t really discuss that right now. Again, it goes without saying most contemporary MMOs have both and we would be bizarre if we didn’t have something to cater to both types of player. We know our stakers, we know from Runescape all types of players there are.

ASM thanks Kris Jones for his time! We hope to add to our coverage of Transformers: Universe later this week.  And we extend a tip of the hat to our own Douglass Kern for helping with questions.