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If I could go back to the 80's, I'd force myself to be a Transformers fan. The technology never interested me, so instead I found myself more enamored with fantasy settings and magic. Unfortunately, that interest doesn't translate over to the real world very well. If I was a Transformers fan, maybe I'd know how to fix stuff. As a fantasy fan, I get to roll my eyes whenever a book, TV show, movie or game goes into the obligatory explanation of what a "ley line" is. I definitely should've given the Transformers a chance.

Luckily, COR is here to make giant robots cool to those of us who just weren't into it. "What is COR?" you ask even though this was written days ago and is appearing on a monitor from which you hopefully expect no response. Good question, my impulsively inquisitive reader! COR is a mod in the works for the Unreal engine. The team has plans for A Lot Of Neat Stuff (trademark symbol here). Seriously, their ideas sound cool.

First and foremost, the game is about giant, transforming robots. Depending on the character you choose, you can transform into anything from a helicopter to an immobile artillery cannon. The game has two distinct factions and several modes of play. Characters can run around in robot form, using various weapons to unleash a world of hurt on their enemies. They can zoom around as a vehicle while using special character-specific abilities to devastate with strategy. Neither of those sound interesting to you? Get in close with the enemies and unleash a powerful combo of melee attacks, inspired by classic fighting games.

That's a lot of stuff, but the COR team remains confident that they can and will do this all successfully. Why will they succeed where so many others have failed? Planning and communication.

What is the website address of the game?

A work in progress: http://www.corproject.com

What's the timeline for your project? When did it start and when will it end?

The project's concept came about in the summer of 2001, and by December 2003 we were in the planning stages, with production beginning in September 2004. COR is planned for initial public release in summer 2005, and will be supported and updated as long as the community has an interest in it.

What is the ultimate goal for the game? How many levels, characters, and maps are you aiming for?

Our goals for COR's content are ambitious, but also achievable. We're currently planning for eight transforming characters with unique vehicles and special abilities, in addition to at least seven different maps. We plan on having 8-10 choices of flashy energy weapons. Additionally, COR will have a dual weapon and load-out system, so if you love carrying two guns, this mod is for you. If that's not quite for you, the close-quarters combo system we're designing might be just right.

The mod also introduces a new heat system, where various activities cause a player's "heat" to increase. If their heat meter reaches a certain level, they'll self-destruct. Yes, overheating does produce an extravagant explosion; you'll have to play COR to see for yourself.

What was the inspiration for the start of the game?

Our inspiration has been a drive to create a new and unique experience that many people would enjoy. We are trying to make a polished product, worthy of being played by gamers. We hope to do this by incorporating elements from other genres, while maintaining a balance to ensure we aren't alienating core FPS players in the process.

The idea for COR had been discussed and was incubating in our minds since well before the mod plans. Transformers capture the imaginations of many people, and we are trying to channel this energy into COR. As the design progressed, it began to grow and diverge from our original idea: a first person shooter with accurate transforming characters. Due to intellectual property concerns, as well as a desire by the whole team to push our concept into a more creative realm, our game is now only very loosely based on the Transformers that people know and love. COR will have a distinctly anime feel to the game, without being overbearing in that respect.

In terms of gameplay, the team was inspired by mechanics from the Quake series and similar games. Everyone on this mod team came not only to learn, but also to leave their mark on the gaming community. Our team leads came here knowing they wanted to do a full project, and an enthusiastic team was quickly formed

Tell us about what's unique with the game concept.

There is an extensive list of unique features in COR. For one, there is an ability to transform between humanoid and vehicle-forms. This makes COR a blend of both FPS and vehicle-combat games, presenting a very open-ended experience. Imagination can take a player quite far in this mod.

The heat system ties many aspects of gameplay together and is a unique source of management strategy presented by COR. This system serves many roles, acting as the player's ammo, shields, and special abilities.

The close-quarters combo system (CQCS) blends FPS combat with many aspects of combo systems found in traditional fighting games. So long as a player is within melee distance of the opponent, CQCS allows players to fire a successive barrage of attacks done in anime style. It is flexible and creative; making it a fulfilling aspect of COR's gameplay.

COR features eight unique characters spanning two rival factions of robots. Each character has the ability to transform into a distinctive vehicle form, where it can utilize its special ability. Characters range from the adventure-seeking grapple-reconnaissance vehicle, Harpoon, to the sarcastic and strong-willed fighter jet, Hellfire.

The single most unique concept is the fluid blend of genres introduced by the transform system. COR is not quite an FPS and not quite a vehicle combat game, because players can choose which mode to play at any given time. It's the best of both worlds, and with this concept, the gameplay becomes much more diverse and interesting. We hope to appeal to members of the gaming community who are looking for something fresh.

Can you describe the game concept and the user experience that you are aiming for?

Our goal is for fast-paced and highly intense battles, spanning over our many exotic locations on Tantalus IX, the COR world. After a player spawns in their base, they will grab their previously selected weapons from the load-out pad and then jump into the fray. Players can choose to transform into their vehicle forms and attack the enemy base, or choose to take up a defensive position and preemptively strike incoming enemy vehicles with their heavy-duty, dual-arm firepower.

A substantial amount of the action will take place in large, outdoor environments where players must use the terrain to gain the advantage, whether by surprising an enemy from behind or evading pursuers during reconnaissance.

The Cyber-Morphing Robot's shields absorb the damage a player takes by incoming gunfire. However, the energy is transferred into heat. If a player overheats, their shields will drop and they will be vulnerable to permanent hull-damage and can even melt down if they continue to expose themselves to heat.

Your game group is part UAT and part-non-UAT students. Why is that? What are the challenges and advantages of a mixed game group like that?

COR is not being run as if it were a traditional UAT mod-class, but rather, as a self-motivated team that is developing a product. In order for a mod project to be successful, it should be more than just a class. What matters more than attending the same school is that a team member is talented and willing to work. Even though a substantial amount of extra effort must go into maintaining the relationships with those who are not UAT students, in the end, having a strong team is well worth it.

What are the unique programming challenges of this Unreal Tournament mod? And what were the solutions?

The challenge with a mod is always working with the existing technology, staying within its limits, and accentuating its strengths. Unreal is very unique in that it's extremely flexible, and its overall design is meant to be extremely accommodating for mods. On the other hand, quite a bit of the engine is 'native,' or locked away from us, so we have to work around this barrier in order to achieve our many programming goals. Unreal's substantial amount of documentation has been the single most helpful thing whenever we encounter problems.

What are the unique design challenges of creating the transformer characters? And what were the solutions?

The greatest challenge presented to the artists was that of designing fully transforming characters on paper, and realizing them in 3D. Much research went into perfecting the beautiful in-game transformations. We implemented transforming by creating three models of each character, all optimized and rigged for their specific purposes. Transform models contain all the back-faces and complex rigging necessary for transforming, while character models are optimized to the humanoid-form of the character and are rigged with biped for character animation. Vehicle models are optimized and rigged for motion and effects. When a player transforms in game, the models swap seamlessly between these 3 completely different models. The transform system is just one of the many COR-specific challenges that are met through the close collaboration between artists and coders.

How did you come up with a story line for the characters?

We needed an open ended story that would allow us to justify the large variety of map scenarios we're designing. The story also served as a basis for the conflict between the opposing robot factions. Our goal with the story was to capture the motivation behind each faction, and to be subtle with the introduction of a more "adult" storyline. In COR, there are elements of good in the stories of both factions. Without a clear "good" and "bad," the player has an opportunity to make a decision: which faction is the correct faction, the "right" one to defend and protect?

What have you learned, both positive and negative, about working in a game project like this?

We've learned two of the most basic and essential lessons while in development of COR. Planning and communication are the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of a project. We've discovered how important the planning we put into the mod really was, and also the challenges of keeping the team communicating and motivated. The ultimate goal for our team lies in finding creative ways to encourage communication.

Can all characters fly? If not, how do you plan to balance that?

Each of COR's characters have a unique vehicle transformation, so only some can fly. In order to maintain balance, the characters were broken up into weight classes: flying, light, heavy and mammoth. There is a discrepancy in the armor and defense that the lighter (flying) classes have, versus the ground vehicle transformations (heavier). Heavier classes have higher heat and weapons capacities as well.

How do you plan to balance melee combat versus ranged combat? Obviously, ranged attacks are typically far safer for the attacker so there needs to be a good reward.

When a melee combo attack is used, the attacker cannot take any damage via ranged weapons. Only a combo break will stop the attack. Melee has the advantage of inflicting a higher degree of damage than most ranged attacks.

Care to share a list of the characters and their vehicles?

The characters are broken up into two factions, the determined rebel of COR (Counter Organic Revolution) or the strong military of GHC (Great Human Council). Each faction has one Cyber-Morphing Robot for each weight class, and all vehicles have unique abilities. They're currently still being developed, but see below for a list of our current status.

COR

Pulse- Helicopter (tractor beam)
Harpoon- HumVee (cable)
Slice- Tank (laser cutter)
Shred - Grinder (in design)

GHC

Hellfire - Jet (in design)
Streak - Bullet Tank (hovercraft)
Scorch - Large Hover tank (in design)
Hive - Stinger Carrier (in design)

Some standard FPS weapons don't work well in this context (a sniper rifle might not be so effective against a giant robot), are you changing some of those designs or will the classic concepts still be included?

COR's sniper rifle is slightly different from the usual FPS sniper. It fires a pulse-type "test shot" directly before the snipe. The test shot does a minimal amount of damage, giving the player a split second to dodge. Of course, there will be other classic FPS weapons in addition to plenty of new types.

What sort of levels are you building? Assuming that the robots remain of an extraordinary size, everything else has to be scaled down to fit. Will some objects be destructible?

Robots are 20-25 feet tall, and maps are in proportion with the characters. While there is no plant life, there are destructible objects placed in the levels, mainly to accommodate Pulse's ability to pick up objects in a tractor beam and carry them, throwing them into players.

Why isn't there a wooden transformer that turns into a pirate ship?

That'll be in the sequel, we'll do either pirates or Vietnam.

Did you consider the possibility of having individual robots turn into weapons that could then be wielded by teammates (there is precedent for this in the Transformers universe)?

Those weren't our exact plans, but the functionality is present in game. Our artillery cannon transformer can be lifted and ferried by Pulse's tractor beam. Of course, his lifting capacity is limited by weight. Heavier objects can only be held for a short time before Pulse will overheat.

Will there be a single player portion, or will the mod consist of multiplayer and simulated multiplayer?

Strictly multiplayer, but there will be a tutorial to introduce new players to the game.

How will weapons work? You start the level with previously selected weapons, as you mentioned, but will players be able to change their selection in the middle of a map? Will they "pick up" weapons like most FPS games, or will there be an armory where characters can go to attempt to swap out the old for the new?

All vehicles have a special weapon, but characters can also use variety of other weapons by creating weapons profiles. We plan to place a pad where players can change their profiles by their spawn points. Players will be able to change their weapons, among other selections, midway through a level. They can select pre-made profiles through a small menu or hotkeys, or create a new profile mid-level.

What kind of advice would you give to any students who are considering a project similar to COR?

Even though paperwork and planning might be what is the furthest from your mind, it's the most important thing you can do for your mod. Yes, it's boring, it's tedious, and takes up more time than it should, but to forgo documentation is as misguided as forming a mod team without programmers and artists. Before the first line of code or the first concept art piece, sit down and plan what you're going to do, when you're going to do it, and who's going to do it. Not only do you need to plan this - you need to write it down. Documenting what you decide is all that will keep your project moving half way through the semester when you are wondering if you're on track.

In addition to this, make sure every member of the mod team is completely committed to the project. Plenty of mods have suffered or failed by completely relying on team members who were not willing or able to do their part. On a mod team, every member has a vital role in completing the project.

COR Project Team

Leads:
Chris Pope - Lead Artist, Lead Designer, Project Lead UAT
Matthew Tonks - Lead Programmer, Project Lead UAT

Artists:
Jason Reiss - Modeler/Texture Artist UAT
Nate LaMartina - Modeler/Texture Artist UAT
Holly Meyer - Modeler/Texture Artist UAT
Toren Lehrman - Weapon Animator/2D Artist UAT
Andy DeGroff - Character Animator UAT
Joe Baker - Weapon Design (Concept) UAT
Paul Ziomek - Character Design (Concept)

Level Designers:
Tam Lee - Level Designer
Jay Elwanger - Level Designer UAT

Sound:
James Hemsing - Sound Engineer

Programmers:
Timothy Talley - Programmer UAT
Nick Herring - PR and Programming UAT

Nikki Graham - Community Representative, Writer UAT