WITH MARK MORRISON AT MELBORNE HOUSE, PRODUCER
OF THE TRANSFORMERS: ARMADA VIDEO GAME FOR PS2
Unicron.com: Well, hello product development folks! Thanks for your time to pass along your wise words! We were told to have 10, ever-so carefully thought-out questions, here we go :)
Mark Morrison: Bring it on!
Unicron.com: Tell us about the development time frame from start to finish on a project like the TF game. How many designers/programmers were involved in its creation?
Mark Morrison: We started work on the game design in February 2003 and finished at the end of March 2004. Adding together the team at Atari and at Buildup CG studio in Japan, it kept roughly 1 Director, 6 Producers, 30 Programmers, 50 Artists, 5 Game Designers, 2 Sound Designers, 4 Composers, 3 Bands and over 40 Testers busy for a year. And that’s not counting our folks in management, publishing, licensing and marketing worldwide!
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Unicron.com: Tell us about research you did on Transformers prior or during the development of this game? (please say that Unicron.com was an invaluable tool! :) Are any of you Transformers fans prior to becoming involved w/ the development of this project?
Mark Morrison: It's interesting when you realize that most of the Transformers knowledge you have comes from thinking about your childhood. How you went to the cinema to watch TF:TM when it came out, or every one of your friends lost their G1 Optimus Prime hands. Knowing the lyrics to 'The Touch' is slightly embarrassing, but every little bit helps. Fan sites, like yours, were invaluable in finding information on non-mainstream TF, like Victory or Masterforce, or what the next Takara Collection figure was. Oh, and every TF-related thing we buy is tax-deductible! :)
Unicron.com: I picture a room full of computer geek/video game nuts playing for hours and hours on end "researching." (No offense, this is our kind of crowd!!! :) You must have an absolute blast. Tell us about it! Any fun stories?
Mark Morrison: Heh! While we definitely like to check out new stuff, and a game like Gran Turisimo 4 Prologue will literally stop the room for a little while, generally we have too much on to spend much time playing other folks games! It’s more like a room full of people with headphones on coding and modeling and texturing and animating and writing and creature placing and making sound effects like fiends. Sometimes if we are talking about a particular aspect, say memory card management or AI behaviour, we’ll definitely throw a few games on and look at how other people have done it, but most of the time we are busy with our own stuff. We have tons of meetings to design new sections, solve problems and to bring everyone up to speed – I still remember the one about Megatron’s boss fight, in fact it’s still on the whiteboard; somehow we never got around to coding his “Nuts Grab” attack, but we did include his “Bam-Bam” and “Piledriver From Orbit”. Oh, and everyone played the game lots and lots and lots, and were still swapping fresh tricks and strategies until the last minute – some of which the gamers out there are yet to discover!
Unicron.com: (I'm sure you agree with us) How much cooler do you think TF Armada would have been if the TV shows had graphics as cool as your video game?!?
Mark Morrison: To be fair, they are in different mediums for a different audience – Transformers Armada is a Saturday Morning TV show, and our game is for 20-25 year old PS2 fans who have very high expectations about graphical quality. If the TV series had been done to the same level as our high-end CG movies, then it would have debuted in Fall 2009!
Unicron.com: Okay, okay that's fair! So, how many levels are in the game? Are there any hidden secrets or unlockable items we should keep an eye out for?
Mark Morrison: There are eight levels, each of them is really large, and you’ll find during gameplay that you tend to explore them again and again. There are tons of unlockables – over 60 of them in fact, they’re called Data-Cons, and they reward you for exploring off the beaten path. Data-Cons contain game production artwork, toy design photos, G1 TV spots, special 3D renders, new versions of the Transformers theme, and much more. It’s a real treasure trove for Transfans.
Unicron.com: Were there any technical limitations that restricted ideas you had for the game? If so what were they, and what were some ideas you were not able to implement?
Mark Morrison: Multiplayer would have been nice, but was not possible within the time frame.
Unicron.com: Exactly how many polygons are in the whole game?
Mark Morrison: 56,798,502. We were going for 56,798,503 but we ran out of time.
Heh, seriously the answer is… plenty! Each character has 12,000 triangles; backgrounds run into the hundreds of thousands. We keep our whole game levels in memory with a long draw distance, no fogging, and great performance. Making videogames is always a balancing act between getting it to look as good as possible while getting it to run fast. By contrast, our CG versions of the characters run to a million polygons apiece.
Unicron.com: Are there any plans to port this game to other systems?
Mark Morrison: Not at present. It’s a PS2 exclusive.
Unicron.com: What is the average number of caffeinated beverages consumed per day by the 'most-caffeinated' programmer on your staff? Okay, we want some serious, truthful research done on this one!
Mark Morrison: We are way too over-caffeinated, due to the fact that Coke is forty cents out of the machine here (in your shiny American dollars, that’s about a quarter a can). It was even worse when we were making Grand Prix Challenge, for a while there the Coke was free, and the team would basically empty the whole machine in 2 days. Still, it was a racing game, maybe the jitters helped?
and finally (...running out of questions... #10! :)
Unicron.com: Remember Centepede? The arcade one w/ Track-ball? Wasn't that just about the coolest game ever? I really liked that one. I also thought Super Break-out and Dig-dug were pretty sweet too. Any thoughts?
Mark Morrison: Nah. Galaga, Arkanoid and Mr Driller worked better for me. Can't beat two-player Double Dragon or Side Arms, though.
Thanks for the neat questions. Hope you enjoy the game!
Unicron.com: See I'm a little more 'old school' when it comes to video games. All us children of the 80's grew up with an Atari 2600/5200!! But Brian who is a little more 'in the know' was elated to hear "Mr. Driller" mentioned. "Best video game ever" in his words! :)
THANKS GUYS FOR YOUR TIME! WE APPRECIATE IT AND CAN'T WAIT TO PLAY THE GAME FOR OURSELVES!