This article originally appeared in Xbox World magazine.
High Moon Studios is busy celebrating its tenth birthday this year and "party planning is on the menu" according to marketing manager Greg Agius. With Transformers: Fall of Cybertron in shops now, things are looking bright - but the devs have been threatened by an eclipse more than once...
Set up by Japanese studio Sammy in 2002, the short-lived venture was ended by a merger with Sega. After a management buy-out, High Moon was formed as an independent and snapped up by Vivendi in 2006, who then merged with Activision to create the studio we see today. President Peter Della Penna describes the shifting landscape as one of "turmoil".
"I was proud of War for Cybertron. It was kind of a flawed gem..."
Nevertheless, High Moon have masterminded some terrific titles during the past decade, from cult Xbox vampire FPS Darkwatch (2005) to smart-but-flawed Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy (2008). Recently, praise has centred on Transformers: War For Cybertron (2010), the G1 Transformers reboot that was - according to Della Penna - quite literally "dropped" on the San Diego devs by paymasters Activision. When we meet the team it's 90 in the shade and crunch time. Sequel Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is out now, and the mood in the camp is ebullient. "I was very proud of War," proclaims creative director Matt Tieger. "It was kind of a flawed gem. To say (the) sequel is the best Transformers game ever - well, that's doing it a disservice."
Concept art is an area where High Moon can legitimately claim to be up there with the best - just witness the coffee table book clamour whenever a fresh shot of Optimus or Grimlock is drip-fed to their gaming public. Lead concept artist Jim Daly is refreshingly modest, describing his crew as: "A group of really talented individuals who like painting and love big robots."
High Moon's art team have a surprising amount of creative input, and this ethic manifests across the shop floor. "Anyone can pitch an idea," says senior creative director Dave Cravens. "We have a very expressive environment; you get some great jams." They even leverage the voice talents of the legendary Optimus Prime to boost morale. "We asked Peter [Cullen] to record messages for the team when we're crunching," says audio director Rob Burns. "Stuff like: 'I know times are hard now, but hang on High Moon'. He's really cool like that."
Is Fall of Cybertron the title to catapult High Moon to Rocksteady-like success?
Fellow Activision stablemates Treyarch leap out as an intriguing parallel; forever Acti's bridesmaids, the (temporary) Infinity Ward meltdown of early 2010 saw them assume a centre stage of sorts. Now, with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, they're arguably on their way to supplanting their mentors. Similarly, Activision's confidence in High Moon is manifesting in ever-bigger projects - with Deadpool latterly being revealed as the title lurking beyond sealed-off sections during our visit. Brit devs Rocksteady famously went from virtual unknowns to AAA stars in one bound with Batman: Arkham Asylum. Is Fall of Cybertron the title to catapult High Moon to similar greatness? "War was a turning point for us," considers Della Penna. "So that's the plan. I wouldn't be surprised!" Impressive confidence from a studio that's definitely going places.
Click through to page 2 for an exclusive chat with High Moon...