Marvel: Contest of Champions was a hard act to follow for Kabam.
The game, which continues to perform well, had set a benchmark for hero-based fighters on mobile, attracting a large and engaged community of players and ranking highly in the grossing charts.
It was revealed in August 2016 that Kabam was working on a Transformers game, and the project's status as a spiritual successor to Contest of Champions became clear when more details were revealed in December.
Transformers: Forged to Fight eventually exited soft launch and became available globally in April 2017.
And today, before the Michael Bay-directed Transformers: The Last Knight hits cinemas on June 21st, Kabam is launching a major 2.0 update which brings new bots, environments and other tweaks to the game.
PocketGamer.biz: How and when did the opportunity arise for Kabam to work on a Transformers game?
Cuz Parry: Well, we had a fair bit of success with Marvel: Contest of Champions and were beginning to think about what a new project would look like.
Hasbro was aware of how polished and fun Contest was, and higher-up types started thinking about what a Transformers fighting RPG game could be. From there, Forged To Fight was born.
How did you go about translating the well-known Transformers into distinct, satisfying in-game characters?
Cuz Parry: Our art team collaborated with the folks at Hasbro to create a look and style that matched our high standards of graphical quality.
We knew we would have to put a bit of our own spin on some of the classic characters.Cuz Parry
We knew we would have to update and put a bit of our own spin on some of the classic Generations and Beast Wars characters, so they could live believably in a world with bots that had appeared in the Michael Bay movies.
Mike McCartney: Additionally, we wanted to ensure that as the characters took life in game, their fighting style - specifically their special moves - helped to give them unique personalities.
We spent a lot of time watching and re-watching old cartoons and the films to find unique things about each character that we could inject into their moves.
Mirage’s special three where he uses his invisibility box, and Waspinator’s special three where he blows himself up, are good examples of our team drawing from the history of the franchise.
What elements did you aim to bring across from Marvel: Contest of Champions and what were the biggest changes?
Cuz Parry: Obviously, the core of the fighting is similar and the RPG systems are familiar to people who’ve played Contest.
Things get noticeably different with the Raids and base features. Players have their own base to defend with bots and to customise with mods and relics.
These bases generate resources, but can be attacked by other players. In turn, you can raid other players’ bases to score resources and leaderboard bragging rights.
Also, there is a cool new Away Team Mission feature. We definitely want to give players more things to do with their favorite bots as they level them up and acquire new ones.
How did you set about designing a combat system that suits both mobile and the Transformers character roster?
Cuz Parry: We had experience with Marvel in creating a fun and rewarding mobile-specific fighting system.
We always strive to make games that are intuitive and easy to pick up and play, with an underlying degree of skill and depth.
We were committed to introducing meaningful transformations during fighting.Cuz Parry
With Transformers, we realised early on that we had to evolve our gameplay to suit the inherent nature of giant bots fighting.
We were committed to introducing meaningful transformations during fighting. Without that, we felt we wouldn’t be doing the IP justice.
So, all our heavy attacks, available to perform at any time, involve transformation. And, based upon the bots’ alt-mode, the attacks may vary from ranged to bashing melee.
The other huge difference derived from the fact that all bots have ranged attacks. Simply sitting across an arena “pew, pew, pewing” each other quickly becomes boring.
This resulted in us adding lateral movement and a 360-degree arena. The bots can now transform, dash forwards and backwards, while also being able to sidestep ranged attacks.
It really grew the core fighting from what’s going on in Marvel.
How big was the team on Transformers: Forged to Fight and how long was the total development time?
Mike McCartney: Pre-production occupied the later half of 2015 using a small prototyping and design team.
We then started ramping up the team to enter Production in early 2016. At its peak, our team was close to 70 people spanning all departments: engineering, art, design, UX, live operations, etc.
We were in production for roughly a year before soft launching near the end of 2016.
What did you learn from the soft launch period, and what were the biggest changes you enacted as a result?
Cuz Parry: Soft launch is generally a time to make sure servers and tech are working, and that we are able to scale the game safely.
We knew we had a big, deep game, so a lot of the changes we made and are still making involve getting players into the game to have some fun and begin to understand the systems and future depth of the game.
Mike McCartney: You also tend to use this time to try some different things out to see what works best.
Early on during soft launch, we experimented a bit with where and when to onboard players to specific features, economy values and rewards.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during the game's development?
Mike McCartney: One that comes to mind is figuring out how we were going to make these fantastic-looking robots transform into equally fantastic-looking vehicles.
We spent quite a lot of time refining the technology around transformations.Mike McCartney
Once we figured that out, another challenge was to figure out how we could do it responsively and quickly so that transformation could be a meaningful part of gameplay.
During our pre-production phase, our characters and gameplay teams spent quite a lot of time refining the technology around this.
Now that we’re out globally, I’m very happy with the results. We use character transformation in a meaningful way, that is also very responsive.
Additionally, we can showcase transformation with the more cinematic special attacks.
What was your thinking in regards to monetisation design, particularly the gacha mechanic?
Mike McCartney: Gacha is a mechanic fairly well-established in mobile gaming, and we feel players understand the system.
The gacha mechanic is used because it levels the playing field somewhat. Spending money won’t necessarily grant you a huge advantage against a player who spent a lot of time and no money.
Each type of player gets an equal shot to acquire the same content through gacha. Spending money only gives you the chance of getting there quicker.
Additionally, from a creative standpoint, using the iconic Transformers Space Bridge made perfect sense as a metaphor for the gacha system.
How do you reflect on the game's launch? Are you happy with the reception thus far?
Cuz Parry: The game’s reception has been amazing.
The amount of featuring, positive fan ratings and awards we’ve won have been very gratifying.Cuz Parry
The amount of featuring, positive fan ratings and awards we’ve won have been very gratifying to all the hard work the team has put into creating something we are proud of and that celebrates the beloved brand that is Transformers.
Mike McCartney: We’ve been thrilled with the response from the community and fans thus far.
It’s always great when you see and hear so much positive feedback on the thing you’ve been secretly working on for so long.
We were also extremely honoured to have been awarded the Google Play “Best Game” award last month.
What's next for Transformers: Forged to Fight?
Cuz Parry: We’re launching a major update with the premiere of the next movie, The Last Knight, that we feel is really going to make the game even more enjoyable for players.
Beyond that, we are looking forward to telling more amazing Transformers stories, releasing more fan favourite bots and continuing to create an experience that would make Optimus Prime proud.
Mike McCartney: Our 2.0 update is huge. We’re really excited to get that in the hands of our players.
Beyond that, expect regular releases with great content and stories for everyone to enjoy. We’re really looking forward to bringing more fan favourite Transformers characters to the game.