Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Report from SDCC 2018 Interview with John Warden for the Allspark

A bit of a change of pace this time. As many of you know, The Allspark, one of the main Transformers news sites and message boards, has had some server problems these past few months, and one sad result is that their archives prior to the beginning of this month have been lost, including a Hasbro Preview Breakfast at SDCC 2018 that I went to on their behalf, which included an interview with then-Transformers design manager John Warden. With the permission of admins from The Allspark, I was able to reconstruct much of the report of that event with the help of (which caught a snapshot of the page as it was back when The Allspark still had it live) and Google Photos, which still houses the actual photos I took at the time. Here is that reconstruction (note that, although I've made certain changes for the sake of clarity, I have not corrected information we later learned with greater accuracy).

The main highlight was getting to chat briefly with John Warden (and being a bit of a “fly on the wall” for other conversations I wasn’t actively a part of, myself). So, here’s some key points from that: War for Cybertron: Siege is intentionally trying to capture the essence of the cartoon pilot from 1984. He frequently used the phrase “this is their last day on Cybertron” which I didn’t take literally, but rather I got the impression that he’s trying to say that this is essentially just before the ’84 group left for Earth. The weathering effect on the toys is intentional, in part to connote that point in Transformers history, but they tried to keep it to a minimum on certain figures (he specifically cited Sideswipe) if appropriate for that character’s personality (I can only imagine what that would mean if they featured Tracks in this line!). The diorama in the pictures was co-created by Warden and one of the Takara execs (who was there, and who I was able to thank personally for his work, but I confess that I’m unclear on his name). 

When someone asked about the upcoming Lionizer figure (seen here at Ultra Magnus' feet, to the left), Warden commented about it being from an Action Master, but I didn’t catch the name at the time, so I’m glad to see this part confirmed. Specifically, Warden noted that there were only so many Targetmasters. I did comment at that point, telling Warden he can do as many Action Master homages as he liked. He responded to the effect of “so long as they all transform, right?” I laughed, but pointed out that I was fine either way (I know this is a minority opinion), because Action Masters weren’t just “transformers who don’t transform,” but were action figures of a specific size designed with compatible accessories and bases. In retrospect, as I type this now, I guess they were a precursor to the play pattern they’ve been doing so intentionally these past few years. 

The G1 reissues already announced (and on display at the preview) are the entirety of Wave 1. If there are to be any more, Warden’s clearly not at liberty to say just yet, but he did give the standard reply that if they do well, a Wave 2 is certainly possible. 

I asked about why Hasbro chose to do another trilogy on the heels of Prime Wars, and how War for Cybertron was to be differentiated from Prime Wars. Warden responded that what really worked with the Prime Wars trilogy was not only the ability to revisit specific eras of Transformers history (combiners, headmasters, etc.), but to give collectors something to look forward to, and to create a sense of anticipation about what might come next. With the War for Cybertron trilogy, Hasbro hopes to reset the bar, and one way in which they’re attempting to do this is to set a uniform scale. Robot sizes (especially) should resemble how one expects their sizes to relate to each other from past media. Ironhide may be a bit tall for a deluxe, having been somewhat tall compared to other Autobots in the cartoon, but he’s still shorter than, say, Optimus Prime or Ultra Magnus (Voyager and Leader class, respectively). 

They’re not looking to have any line-wide gimmick that would interfere with the character of the robots this time, and instead focus on better articulation, for example. That said, this line does feature a line-wide combat system, wherein the Battle Masters (Micromasters and Targetmasters under a new name) feature little accessories like fire blasts or flame trails that can be used with other robots (or their weapons) to help fans create diorama or customize a specific look. This way, fans who want to keep their robots in display positions as they came out of the box and fans who prefer action poses can both find something that works for them. Hasbro is attempting to make sure that eras other than just G1 are also homaged. Hence, Ultra Magnus’ vehicle mode is essentially his Robots in Disguise vehicle mode. Ultra Magnus utilizes essentially the same technology as that used for Rodimus Prime in Power of the Primes to utilize Magnus’s white inner robot mode and give him armor constructed from the trailer. This feature will appear in other toys in the upcoming line, as well. 

I asked about the recent fan poll which gave us Optimal Optimus, and if they had plans in mind for what they would have done if someone else (say, Arcee or Hound) had won the poll. Warden says that they absolutely did have plans, with designs already drawn up for each, and names for the evolved forms (he wasn’t sure, but suggested something like “Arcana Magnus” for Arcee). He was especially proud of the one he’d done for Hound. I encouraged him, if they could find a way to make it happen, to release such plans to the fans at some future point, knowing that we have an interest in seeing such things. While he stressed that they don’t want to confuse casual fans, he agreed that this would be something worth showcasing some day. 

Finally, I asked about names for the combined forms for Power of the Primes Starscream and Inferno. While Warden was not able to recall these names, himself, he said that Matt Clark (their copy writer) is the person on staff that came up with those. Had I been able to stay for the later panels, Warden would have introduced us, but sadly I wasn’t. Sorry, but hopefully this extra nugget will help someone else track that down at some point. He did say that Elita One actually had two combiner names (much as Scattershot had both Betatron and Computron). One might have been “Elita Ultimate.” 

(FYI, although I haven’t reviewed any of the items in the goodie bag that Hasbro provided in this write-up, I should mention that Hasbro did in fact give a rather generous bag free of charge as I left the breakfast. This bag contained a Star Wars Black Series Tarkin figure, a Thor figure from the 6 inch Infinity War collection, Cutthroat — which I now no longer need to buy on my own!, a pack of the TF Trading Card Game cards that are being sold at SDCC, and a few other odds and ends. I had also previously picked up a t-shirt, arm band, and sunglasses related to the upcoming Bumblebee movie. Both Hasbro and the FTC ask that those of us on the internet who comment on these events disclose this information, so hopefully this little parenthetical meets those disclosure rules.)

If you're interested in seeing all of the images I took during the breakfast (including some non-Transformers properties, as well as of the surrounding area), you can find them here.

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