The lights are on
I grew up thinking Transformers were super stupid. My older brother was into them, but I was too young to figure out the toys’ puzzling transformations and stuck to my Ninja Turtles. Time passed and I never understood the nostalgic reverence with which Transformers fans regard the series. Michael Bay’s blockbuster was entertaining, but I thought the idea of intergalactic robots that turn into earth vehicles was idiotic. Then I sat down for a demonstration of High Moon Studio’s Transformers: Fall of Cybertron at E3 2012, and it sparked something in me I couldn’t have predicted.
The demo was headed by director Matt “Tieg” Tieger, a passionate and personable Transformers nerd I recognized from video interviews on our War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron hubs. I also remembered his name from both of our cover stories for High Moon’s games. I remember reading our stories and being impressed by the amount of enthusiasm and loyalty that Tieg and the other developers had for the Transformers brand. The screenshots looked great and the gameplay sounded solid, though my lack of Transformers appreciation held me back from playing War for Cybertron.
My hesitation to play the games had to be shelved when I was sat down in a dark room with the creators. They introduced me to a robotic T-Rex named Grimlock. Tieg chuckled a bit as he introduced the fire-breathing, tail-swiping character. He seemed aware of how ridiculous the concept was, which I appreciated as an outsider. Transformers fans had always been no-nonsense defenders of Hasbro lore in my mind’s eye, but I saw something different during that demo that made me curious.
The powerful Dinobots piqued my curiosity, but the real slam dunk occurred when I got my hands on the game. I played a section starring Vortex, a Combaticon that turns into a helicopter and a jet in Fall of Cybertron. His section of the game allows you to hover above groups of Autobots and fire missiles or transform into a robot for some visceral melee combat. By the time I was finished speeding out of an exploding Autobot base in Vortex’s jet form, I was sold.
After returning to the Game Informer office following E3 I immediately checked out Transformers: War for Cybertron from the vault. I popped the game in and was immediately impressed by the graphical polish, explosive setpieces, and transformation abilities. War for Cybertron carries a pretty serious overall tone, but I picked up on the goofiness lurking beneath. I was in the mood for goofy, and decided it was time to experience the origin of the goofy transforming-robot dynasty.
So I booted up Netflix Instant and crossed my fingers that the original 1980s cartoon series was on there. It was (and still is, so watch it). The show immediately explained the origin of the Transformers. Turns out they weren’t Earth vehicles to begin with, but used our cars and planes and blueprints to rebuild themselves after crash-landing. I continued watching the show while playing through War for Cybertron, which helped me appreciate both versions more. Watching Starscream’s constant attempts to usurp Megatron in the show made seeing nods to this in the game more meaningful and hilarious.
While I now appreciate the fundamentally awesome premise of robots that turn into trucks and jets and shoot lasers at each other, I really love The Transformers cartoon for how absurd it gets:
I finished most of the first-generation The Transformers cartoons by the time Transformers: Fall of Cybertron came out. Having seen the majority of the classic series made returning to High Moon’s universe even more meaningful. The beginning sequence involving the Ark’s escape from Cybertron carried more weight because I was educated about these robots’ origin. Starscream’s coronation, rise to power, and eventual humbling at the hands of Megatron was more enjoyable because I’d seen all their hijinks. All this newfound Transformers appreciation combined with the strides High Moon made in terms of pacing and gunplay resulted in a wonderful experience.
Meanwhile, I had been talking with other Transformers nerds at the Game Informer office like Matt Miller and Andrew Reiner. These lore-masters were always eager to answer my questions about the befuddling story or find out what happened in the last episode I watched. We chatted about multiple elements of the show, but one thing rang loud in every conversation: “You gotta watch the 1986 animated film.” Both Miller and Reiner spoke breathlessly about how impactful this movie was on their young minds. I felt like my time with High Moon’s Transfomers games and the original series was building to the film.
I finally watched The Transformers: The Movie animated film a couple of weeks ago. A handful of fellow coworkers and I assembled to watch it as a capstone for my inauguration into the series. I had been regaling them with stories of how ludicrous the 1980s cartoon is, and they were eager to have some beers and laugh along with me. But amidst the chuckles and confusion there was genuine disbelief on my part. Hasbro wanted to get a new line of Transformers toys in kids’ hands, and that meant clearing out the old line. The Transformers film unceremoniously kills off a huge portion of the robots that had grown on me over the months, and it was surreal watching them go.
I feel like I’ve consumed enough Transformers over the past year to confidently say I’m a fan of the series. I don’t have the nostalgia everyone else does, nor have I seen the Michael Bay sequels, but I love the quirky, self-aware vibe the series still exudes. I’ve dabbled in the new Transformers: Prime show and watched a couple episodes of Beast Wars, but I’m happy I gave the original robots in disguise another chance. I just took a strange route to get there.