This summer has the potential to go down as one of the most memorable, most exciting, most comic book geektastic summers ever thanks to the crop of movies hitting cineplexes over the next few months. In addition to “Spider-Man 3,” we will have had pirates, the Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Transformers, that Harry Potter kid, and a Neil Gaiman flick (“Stardust”). Throw in a lightsaber and some adamantium and I think the typical fanboy’s head would explode.
In addition to enjoying the movies, it’s also fun to see all the ancillary products which tie-in to these cinematic monsters: candy, posters, action figures, T-shirts, and, most notably, video games. This last item is often just as important as the movie itself. After all, the only thing better than watching your favorite hero on the big screen is getting to be that character in a virtual environment.
Of the video games being spun-off from the various movies this summer, one of the most anticipated is “Transformers: The Game.” Let’s face it, this is the game that has everything â€” cool cars, jet planes, laser blasters, and giant robots. However, there’s a lot of history with “The Transformers.” I mean, I remember watching it as a kid, and I now have kids of my own. So the question is, how do you make a video game based on a new movie that still pays tribute to the original source material?
Simple â€” you hire Flint Dille to write your game.
While Dille’s name might not be one that is familiar to most, one look at his extensive credits lets any fan know that he is the right man for this job. The scribe wrote several episodes of the “Transformers” TV show back in the ’80s, as well as worked on the animated movie from that same time period. He also spent time penning other shows many have fond memories of, including “G.I. Joe,” “The Inhumanoids” and the “Mr. T” cartoon (how can you not love a show that features a dog with a mohawk?).
On top of all the animated shows he has written, Dille is also extremely adept at writing video games. In this arena, he has authored “James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies,” “The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay,” and a game based on this summer’s “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” just to name a few. CBR News caught up with Dille to discuss the game, the old cartoon show, and the man who makes Optimus Prime so, ahem, prime.
To begin with, Dille talked about how he became part of this video game project. When asked if Activision (the company behind the game) sought him out or if it was just a happy coincidence, he replied, “Both. One day I got a call from Daniel Suarez at Activision saying, ‘Hey, did you do the ‘Transformers’ movie back in the ’80s?’ I’d worked with Daniel before on ‘Riddick: Butcher Bay’ and various other projects and always had a good time.”
Considering the original TV show’s purpose for existing was mainly to sell toys, it’s been fascinating to see how the Transformer lore has expanded since the ’80s. There have been comic books, CGI spin-off television programs and now a live-action feature. In reflecting upon all of this, Dille stated, “There are far worse ways to create ‘lore’ than by trying to sell toys. The great thing about Hasbro was that they didn’t want to micro-manage the show like the networks at the time did; they just wanted to see their characters do cool stuff in a heroic or villainous light. Our whole agenda was to entertain. No preaching, no political correctness, none of that â€” just show giant robots that turn into cars.”
In light of this “agenda to entertain,” the writer applied a similar philosophy when approaching the game and noted the objective for the game evolved over time. “We started out with a heavily plotted game which worked around the story and, for a variety of reasons, the project evolved so that it’s an ambient ‘world’ that supports the movie and the game,” explained Dillie. “The gameplay is the story. The fiction and voiceover are a layer of the fantasy. This is one of the ways that game fiction is evolving.”
And as to the question most fans are dying to know â€” “Which Autobots and Decepticons show up in the game?” â€” well, it appears you may have to wait for that detail until the game is in stores.
“Not sure what I can talk about and what I can’t,” Dille responded when asked. “Let me just say that I always found the villains â€” especially Starscream and Megatron â€” the most fun to write, just because they’re so villainous.”
As apparent by the big flames on the chest of the live-action Optimus Prime, the movie Transformers are a bit different than their old TV counterparts. However, those fans of the original series may still discover some treats when playing the game. “Though the game is based on the movie, old school fans will see quite few things that they’ll like,” the writer teased.
Speaking of the “old school” Transformers, one element that will feel very familiar in both the new film and the video game is Optimus Prime’s voice. Peter Cullen, the actor who lent his vocal talents to the original show, is back voicing the Autobots’ commanding leader. This worked out well for Dille, because when writing dialogue for Optimus Prime, it would have been impossible for him to hear any other actor.
“He’s the only real voice for Optimus Prime. Peter Cullen did a lot of stuff with us in Sunbow days. He’s a great voice actor and managed to do what few ever do, and that is define an icon. We started out thinking that Optimus was kind of John Wayne, and through the efforts of Peter and others, he’s now his own guy.”
Writing a kid’s TV show in the ’80s may not sound very crazy or sexy, but when asked about the experience, the scribe had some fond memories to share. “It was a wild time in my life,” Dille said. “There was one voice actor â€” who shall go nameless â€” whom I had to routinely bail out of jail in order to get him to recordings on time (actually, I think it only happened twice). There was another one who tried to have me fired for slandering Momar Kadafi, who came from a country called Carbombya. There was a lot of other stuff that takes some time to explain.
“To us, ‘Transformers,’ ‘G.I. Joe,’ ‘Inhumanoids’ â€” and to a lesser extent ‘Visionaries’ and ‘Muscle Machines’ â€” were all part of a large, shared world. There was little adult supervision. It was a time when I got to meet everybody from Orson Welles to Frank Miller; work with people like Nelson Shin and Frank Welker. These guys are amazing. Larry Huston for some reason could read my mind. There was a lot of fun had by all.”
In wrapping things up, CBR News asked the writer about the biggest challenge in creating the game, and how he feels about this accomplishment. Unfortunately, it appears we may have to revisit Dille in a few months to get a specific answer. “Ask me that after the game is done and I’ve played all the way through it. The biggest trick was to make sure the player ‘feels’ the movie and yet is surprised by developments in the game. Nobody wants to ‘play the movie,’ but fans of the movie will want a similar experience.”
Who can argue with that? And thanks to this game and Dille’s efforts, every fan will get the opportunity to “Transform and roll out.”
Now discuss this story in CBR’s Games forum.