SDCC: Transformers Wage "Combiner Wars" On Multiple Fronts

During Comic-Con International in San Diego, an excited crowd of Transformers fans waited for news from Hasbro, Activision and IDW about new toys, games and interactive avenues featuring the legendary toy brand. Hasbro's global brand marketing director Jerry Jevoin was surprised when they handed him his name placard, which read, "Jerry Sevoin." He took a Sharpie and drew a "J" over the "S," but it wasn't very easy to see from the audience. Undaunted, Jevoin forged ahead with enthusiasm.

"Transformers is such a big franchise," Jevoin began as slides showed images from the "Rescue Bots" and "Robots In Disguise" animated series next to a "classic" Optimus Prime image representing the "Generations" line. "When you look at the three products up there on the screen, it's just great entertainment," said Jevoin. "Great toy product for kids of all ages -- and we love that."

He introduced the panel, including Hasbo marketing's senior brand manager Sarah Carroll, franchise design manager and lead designer for "Transformers: Combiner Wars" John Warden, Activision producer Robert Conkey, former IDW editor and current writer for the Activision's Transformers games Andy Schmidt and IDW senior editor John Barber.

A trailer for the entire "Combiner Wars" sub-brand was shown, mixing animation from upcoming games, panels from the IDW comics and promotional imagery. Jevoin said that the "Combiner Wars" shirts being worn by himself and many of the Hasbro staffers are now available for pre-order at WeLoveFine.com.

"We're telilng the Combiner Wars story with a lot of great partners this year," Carroll said. "We've got IDW, we've got DeNA and Activision. We've got really great plans with these partners this year, some of which are already happening, to tell that story, as 2015 is all about 'Combiner Wars' for us."

Warden then explained the origin of "Combiner Wars," noting that the idea first emerged around 2011. "[W]e were working with Activision on 'Fall of Cybertron' and saw this great image of Bruticus. He's such a fan favorite combiner, he's being brought to life in such a great, reimagined G1 way. We made a toy out of multiple Deluxe figures -- we made Bruticus. It was the first time we'd done a combiner in a while. We thought, 'alright, we got great reactions from you guys,' and we thought, 'maybe there's more to this.'"

Warden continued: "From the toy piece, we knew there was an opportunity here to not just create something that was special that celebrates what combiners were, but really create a play system that allows 'Generations' fans and fans of all ages to not just have fun with this, but also maybe pass down the hobby to our youngest fans and keep our legacy going. We looked at the mechanism -- we wanted to make sure this was universal, that this was also able to do like [the] 'Scramble City' [episode] from G1, was able to swap limbs and kind of build your combiner your way. Voyager class being the torso was a big one, trying to make sure these guys had the heft and the strength of the original combiners."

From a storytelling side, Barber noted that plans for this started back with the "Dark Cybertron" comic book crossover in 2013, and remarked on the "really unique relationship" IDW has with Hasbro. "We meet several times a year," he said. "We sit around for a day talking stories, talking characters." With the Transformers series he writes -- "Transformers: Robots In Disguise" -- he said, "As early as issue six, we started seeing the mystery of combiners. This is definitely something we wanted to get to in the comics."

Jevoin next revealed three exclusive covers by Sara Pitre-Durocher, who Barber met at last year's San Diego convention. The three covers combine to form one large piece of art featuring the female Autobots.

The next slide in the presentation focused on "Transformers: Battle Tactics," a mobile game for iOS and Android created by DeNA. The Decepticon combiner Devastator is now being introduced into the game as a playable character.

"That's a heck of a coincidence!" Schmidt said, considering the lengthy discussion about combiners.

Carroll, who worked the presentation from her laptop, moved on to a slide of "Transformers: Devastation," a new cross platform console game hitting stores October 6th. With dimmed lights, Carroll showed the following trailer, which was posted online immediately after the panel.

"Lotta goosebumps on me right now," Jevoin said over applause as the lights came back up.

Conkey noted that this effort was created by Platinum Games ("one of the best action developers out there") and noted that Kenji Saito, who directed "Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance," also directed this game. "The combat is really unique," Conkey said. "The whole idea of the game was they really wanted to pay homage to the rich history of the Transformers brand. We took inspiration from a lot of places. Of course, the IDW comics, another being 'Generations' as well as the original TV show. We brought them all together to create this modern take on the classic world that we all know. Doing that also brought some really unique things to combat. The way that combat works is you can actually change form in the middle of combat and use that as part of your combos. It makes for an incredibly dynamic combat experience that has never really been done in a Transformers game before. It's really fast paced, it's really crazy and hectic in the best possible way and we're super excited about it."

When asked for details about the story, Schmidt said, "There are Autobots in it, and Decepticons, and they wage war."

"You're giving a lot away!" joked Jevoin.

"What sets events into motion is that something starts to cyberform parts of the Earth, specifically this one city," revealed Schmidt. "It's expanding out across the planet. Shockingly, humans don't like that because they like to breathe oxygen. Optimus and team head to the city and they start to investigate the cause of cyberforming. The logical conclusion would be Megatron, but it might surprise you. Maybe it's not Megatron. I don't wanna say, since I don't think I'm allowed to.

"One of the things that was important to the entire team, PlatinumGames, Activision and Hasbro and certainly to me, the person who was going to be writing it, is that there actually be a character arc involved," continued Schmidt. "I really wanted to have something that Optimus Prime sort of struggled with emotionally -- which he doesn't always get to do, because he's so awesome all the time. There's something in there that gets him to question some of his base beliefs about who he is and what the Autobots stand for and stuff. You don't always get that in a video game. Hopefully that will come through. When I first saw the stuff that Robert [Conkey] wanted to do, my enthusiasm just skyrocketed like, 'Yes! I have been waiting a long time to play this game ... so I will write it for you for free! Fortunately the phone cut out so he didn't hear me say I would write it for free."

Jevoin revealed that Peter Cullen was back as Optimus Prime for the game, as was Frank Welker as Megatron. A third voice actor was in the crowd and joined them on stage: Gregg Berger, who voiced the Dinobot Grimlock. Berger joined the panel and, in Grimlock's voice, said, "Me Grimlock! Me Dinobot leader! Slag, Sludge, Snarl and Swoop do what Grimlock say! Me munch metal, and Jerry -- me not full of cesium salami, you full of beryllium baloney!"

"I've been waiting my whole life for this!" Jevoin exclaimed. "That's fantastic. My inner child just exploded, I think."

At that point, Carroll showed footage of Grimlock in action from the game.

Warden and Carroll were next up to show new toys, which includes 'Generation 2' versions of the combiners Superion and Menasor with all robots included. These new robots would be available in early 2016.

"If you look at the detail on the wings," Warden noted, "we replicated all of the 'G2' label art. We wanted to make sure to do that right." Superion was made from the Voyager class Silverbolt with four Deluxe class robots -- Firefly, Quickslinger ("without gold plastic syndrome," Warden said), Air Raid, Skydive -- and the Legends class Powerglide with an inverted color scheme to make him fit more with the rest of the Aerialbots.

Carroll showed the 'G2' Menasor next, who Warden described as, "the white lion of the collecting universe." This combiner pack included the Voyager class robot Motormaster; Deluxe class robots Dragstrip, Dead End, Break Down and Brake-Neck; and Legends class Blackjack.

The next toy was all new -- Victorion, comprised of six female Autobots and created purely from fan feedback. Fans decided their origin would be from "The Sea of Rust," a brutal area of Cybertron. Even the robots individual weapons combine into one greater one, and they all share a common color scheme. The new combiner's torso is formed by Voyager class fire truck Pyra Magna. The four Deluxe class robots are twin sister helicopters Stormclash (the brash one with "sunglasses," according to Warden) and Skyburst (the calmer one) forming two limbs; race car Jumpclash, who is a softer spirit wielding a shield; and race car Dustup, who is "kind of like a ninja." The Legends class robot completing the combiner is a motorcycle called Rust Dust.

Betatron was the final new combiner and uses many familiar characters in a new way. The former Technobot is now the Voyager class Scattershot, and Deluxe class versions of Mirage, Prowl, Ironhide and Sunstreaker form the limbs. Fans can expect the two new combiners in early 2016.

Two new Masterpiece edition toys were shown, including the Decepticon Starscream. The figure will be available October 1 and is exclusive to Toys "R" Us.

Platinum editions of Perceptor and Blaster are coming, with working slides on the former making it a functional microscope and a set of cassettes with the latter. The final new Platinum model will be Trypticon in his full "Generation 1" mold and motorized, available this August at Target.

Finally, Jevoin noted that a new partnership was happening. "It literally just came over the wire. We are working with Machinima to create new original content for 'The Combiner Wars' -- animation dedicated for 'The Combiner Wars' in an animated series that will come out on Machinima. Yes! Yes! I've been wanting that for 25 years! None of this could have happened without the love and support of you fans. Machinima's the perfect partner. When you think about the audience, the team, the fans that are going and the concepts they're creating, it's for you! We are now gonna have an original series for Combiner Wars that Machinima is creating, which is absolutely fantastic. More news to come!"

After so many announcements, there was only five minutes left for questions, but they covered a lot of ground.

Despite having many original voice actors back, there were no plans for more "Devastation" content in terms of web series, comics or any other medium.

Berger was asked if the Grimlock in the "Devastation" game was "smart Grimlock or dumb Grimlock. Gerber smiled and yelled, in character, "King Grimlock!"

There were no plans for "Combiner Wars" to cross over with the "Rescue Bots" or "Robots in Disguise" animated series.

The panelists wouldn't comment on third party improvements offered commercially for the toys, but Jevoin said, "We're always looking for new ways to enhance the Hasbro product line, as far as putting the right weapon that's for that character."

"It's a balancing act," Warden said.

Jevoin noted that when Takara imported their version of the new Devastator, they made changes for the needs of their market.

Given the developments that made Prowl part of Devastator, a fan wondered if a "Prowlastator" could happen. Warden said, "How do you reach as many fans as possible? We want to make sure we're broadening our base. The emotional connection people have with the original 'G1' Devastator is strong. If you've got one silver bullet, you wanna fire it right. When we made the decision,"

"When we were looking to do 'Combiner Wars,' we had to do Devastator," Jevoin said. "He was the number one of all the combiners.

The fans would have loved more, but the time for the panel ran out.

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