Interview

Space Ape on making Transformers: Earth Wars its most accessible game yet

Space Ape on making Transformers: Earth Wars its most accessible game yet

Following a five months in soft launch, Transformers: Earth Wars has launched globally on both the App Store and Google Play.

It's the third mobile build-and-battle strategy game from London studio Space Ape, but its first that is built around a known IP.

Keen to learn more about the game's development process - particularly how the 100-strong studio adapted to working with such a huge IP - PocketGamer.biz reached out to Space Ape COO Simon Hade and Transformers: Earth Wars Product Owner Chris White.

Headhunted

“We'd made Samurai Siege, and were about halfway through Rival Kingdoms, when Hasbro reached out to us,” recalls Hade.

“They wanted someone with experience in the genre.”

He also reports that Backflip Studios, the Hasbro-owned publisher of Transformers: Earth Wars, had long admired Samurai Siege, and that many of its employees were on the Rival Kingdoms beta.

And so, with Space Ape hand-picked for its strategy experience, it seems that Hasbro had a very clear vision for the direction they wanted the Transformers IP to take on mobile.

“At that time we were discussing what our next project should be, and there are a lot of Transformers fans in the office, so it didn't really take a lot of soul-searching to agree to it,” says Hade.

I was clear that Transformers should be a hero-based game.
Chris White

One of these Transformers fans - a former member of the fan club back in 1990s, no less - was Chris White, who jumped at the chance to lead development on Earth Wars.

“When I heard there was a possibility of working with the brand, I was really excited,” he grins.

Heroes first

White and his team were keen to capture “the vastness of the Transformers universe,” in a way that he considers previous games have failed to do.

At the core of this was the personality of its characters, and it was this that inspired one of the most fundamental differences between Earth Wars and previous Space Ape games.

“In Samurai Siege, you can have well over 200 guys running around the battlefield,” explains White. “Something I was very clear about was that Transformers should be a hero-based game.”

“It wasn't a case of having loads of troops you didn't really know or relate to - you start the game with some really key characters, so you see Optimus Prime, you see Bumblebee.”

It's emblematic of a commitment to authenticity and high-end, 3D visuals that runs deep throughout the project.

The brief was that the game should appeal to toy collectors as well as general fans, and so extra attention was paid to making sure making models and transformations - no cheating with disappearing parts here - feel as much like the real McCoy as possible.

Transformers as a brand is all about the characters, not the environment.
Chris White

Furthermore, with the Transformers themselves front and centre, the focus was shifted slightly from base-building to squad-building.

Transformers as a brand is all about the characters,” considers White. “It's never been so much based around the environment they inhabit.”

Strategy for the uninitiated

The overall mission, however, was to make a game that could capture a truly mass market audience in a way that Samurai Siege and Rival Kingdoms were unable to do.

Hade describes Rival Kingdoms as “unapologetically core” in its theme - a decision that did not negatively impact the game itself, but served as a potential deterrent to anyone new to the genre. With Transformers, that barrrier was removed.

“One thing we immediately noticed through user testing, through soft launch, was that there are a lot of people out there who have never played Clash of Clans that are interested in [Transformers],” explains White.

Hade adds that, in an effort not to alienate these people, the team re-examined features in its previous games and “stripped them down to deliver the core essence in a more casual and accessible way.”

The game's onboarding and FTUE was tweaked a lot during soft launch, with the tutorial going through a number of iterations before Space Ape hit upon the one it launched with.

“I've got a big fear of cyan, because a lot of sci-fi and core games end up looking very cyan,” says White. 

“I wanted our UI to represent toy packaging, essentially, and to look very clear and colourful.”

Just the start

Transformers: Earth Wars, then, is a project that mutually benefits Hasbro/Backflip and Space Ape.

Transformers as a brand is all about the characters, not the environment.
Chris White

It allows the former to bring Transformers into the lucrative mobile strategy genre, and the latter to resonate with a more casual audience it's never truly achieved to date.

White explains that Hasbro “brought a lot to the table,” monitoring the creation of each individual Transformer from mood-board to textured model.

“Some might see that as a constraint on development,” reflects Hade, “but we set out from the beginning to create a truly authentic Transformers game that would expand the brand.”

Space Ape seems content that it has achieved this, but only time will tell whether Earth Wars can propel Transformers to the level of mobile gaming success reached by Star Wars or Marvel.

Trransformers: Earth Wars is available now on the App Store and Google Play.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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Harsh Vardhan
my dream ia to be number one

Harsh Vardhan
play a games