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Good Moon Rising - Interview with Peter Della Penna about High Moon Studios and the future of Transformers

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Posted March 16, 2012 - By Kevin Kelly









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Transformers Fall of Cybertron

High Moon Studios was founded in 2002 in San Diego, California, and their first game was 2005’s Darkwatch, which performed well. They also worked on 2008’s Bourne Conspiracy game before moving on to what they are really known for these days: Transformers.

Since Transformers: War for Cybertron came out in 2010, the studio has released Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and is now deep in development on Transformers: Fall of Cybertron which comes out later this year. We talked to Peter Della Penna, President of High Moon Studios, about working on this franchise, and what makes High Moon tick. Read on for the full interview.

So the studio was split into two teams while War for Cybertron was being completed so that work on Fall of Cybertron could begin. How does that work?

The War for Cybertron team was a little bit bigger than the other team, because the idea was that we did War for Cybertron, which the studio is really proud of, and it was something that we took on and was a first project for all of us as a team. So the challenges and the things that you go through and the decisions that you have to make… there’s a lot when you’re first tackling something.

The second time around, we knew we had done some things that we were proud of, and there were things that we didn’t do so well. So we wanted to narrow our focus, and this being something that followed War for Cybertron really allowed us to narrow our focus and allow a smaller group of people to do that. A lot of the backs were broken, if you will, so there was less to do. It also presented an opportunity: we did a good job with War for Cybertron, it is the best Transformers game that has ever been developed, and we had an opportunity to do Michael Bay’s Dark of the Moon, so it was a logical fit for everyone in the studio.

Fall of Cybertron

When did the decision come from Activision for a sequel?

Well, you’re talking about processes and decisions that aren’t always black and white. I think that before War for Cybertron actually was released that Activision realized ‘This is a really good game’ and that we could do even better. If they did it this good this time, just think what they could do the next time around. It’s a formal process you go through from corporate governance to when those decisions are actually official, but I think it was pretty much that they knew this was a good game, and we were already pitching our ideas as to what we could do the next time around.

There were some things that we know we didn’t do so well, and we were called out on them. We saw a lot of those things ourselves, we’re very introspective. We were talking about a lot of those things, and how we would improve on them the next time, before the game even came out.

Does the movie franchise work with your team or vice versa?

I’ve been around a lot of different studios, and every studio has a different type of culture and philosophy. For us, I’m really big on insuring that myself and the whole studio really understand who the visionholders are. For War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron, that’s Tieg, and for Dark of the Moon, that was another game director, Sean Miller. We’re a very collaborative studio, but they do their own thing, they carry their own vision, and our teams do the same thing for themselves.

Fall of Cybertron

You have a long time until Fall of Cybertron ships, but do you already know what will be next at the studio?

Yes. [laughter]

How long ago was that given the green light?

It came pretty quickly. The real question there is, what exactly is that game. It was always the idea that ‘You guys are going to do something for us, we like what you’re doing, you’re a proven talent, this is the business that we’re in and we need more developers like you.’ So, that’s really good. Then we have to fine tune what the best opportunities are for both Activision and our studio

If the studio wasn’t devoted to Transformers games right now, what would you be working on?

I would say that… we’re a shooter studio. So we would be doing something in the shooter space. I believe that’s a big area that is broadly defined. But that’s where our passions lie and I strongly believe, as Activision believes, if you want to be a successful studio and develop successful games, you have to have passion in what you do. And Activision has been really good with us in recognizing that we have talent, and that we are really passionate. We don’t want to mess that up. We want to stick with what we’re good and passionate at.

Transformers Fall of Cybertron

High Moon didn’t develop the first Transformers game for the current generation of consoles, but do you feel like you carry the torch for the franchise now?

Yes. I mean, we’re very passionate about our work, but first and foremost, we’re gamers. We want to have a good experience. That’s one thing that we put first. It’s almost a cliché to say it these days, but gameplay comes first. Part of what you say with that tenet is ‘How does it feel in my hands?’ If it doesn’t feel good while you’re playing, then that isn’t a good start to a game.

I think we did a pretty good job of nailing the Transformers universe and what it means to be a Transformer at the same time while making the game feel really good in your hand. That just helps that experience.

How does High Moon Studios blow off steam after a long day?

We do a lot of things. One, being in San Diego, we’re very active. We do a lot of Frisbee football, and basketball, and a lot of activities within the studio. But one thing that we started at the very beginning of War for Cybertron that we still do to this day is that between 5 and 6 o’clock everybody drops what they’re doing and plays the current multiplayer build of our game. The whole studio. It’s really cool because I can hear everything just laughing and joking and screaming as they play together. They sort of let it all go, and then afterwards people are talking about things they could do and changes they could make.

Good Moon Rising - Interview with Peter Della Penna about High Moon Studios and the future of Transformers
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