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Transformers is a series of Robot Toys created by Hasbro and Takara Tomy that typically turn into cars and other vehicles. Robots are cool, cars are cool and so they became popular. In 1984 they made some comics and a cartoon show. The comics show created a lot of toy sales and the toys kept the shows and comics popular. Over the years they changed things up to sell more toys and new series were made, some worked quite well (Beast Wars, Prime) others did not (Armada, Energon, Cybertron).
Why does this have no tabletop or role playing game? Only comics, cartoons, anime, and finally video games. So much potential. Seriously, it's a setting about sentient, shapeshifting robots fighting a war that spans motivations from political to racial to theological. Hasbro owns Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons via Wizards of the Coast, so it's not like they've never done tabletop stuff before. How the fuck has nobody realised the money-making potential there?
As the series come and go, a certain bevvy of characters seem to be archetypal to the Transformers. Not helped by the fact that, ever since the flop of Beast Machines and the riotous financial successes of the Bay, Hasbro seems to only ever stick with recycling Generation One, with some other characters jumping continuities. These are the Transformers who appear in some form or another in every iteration of the setting.
- Optimus Prime: Leader of the Autobots, Lawful Good to the computer-core, the Big Red Hero-bot himself. There's always an Optimus leading the Autobots, and he usually turns into some kind of red truck or hauler. His name is the Latin words for "best" and "first", and he really is both. In the original show (and in the Michael Bay movies -- one of the decent things about them -- and Transformers Prime and the Cybertron games), he was voiced by Peter Cullen, whose awesome deep voice you probably hear in your head whenever you read any of his dialogue. Check it out: "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings." Also has the record of dying the most times out of anyone ever, making one wonder how the hell the GM lets him get away with it each time. Might be because he always goes out fighting, never like a punk.
- Megatron: If there's an Optimus Prime, there's always a Megatron, the Evil (of some flavor, depending on the series) to his Lawful Good. Megsy remains pretty consistent throughout his appearances, usually varying only in what level of honor he has (which usually depends on his backstory; sometimes he started as a charismatic gladiator turned freedom fighter against the corrupt Cybertronian government -- Angron, anyone? -- but sometimes he's just nuts) and/or how much of a cold-blooded psychopath he is. He used to turn into a gun (which could inexplicably shrink down to be small enough to be wielded by another Decepticon or even the occasional human), with the
barrelscope giving him a wicked arm cannon in robot mode, but nowadays he usually turns into a tank or a jet. He was first voiced by Frank Welker, whose versatile voice was also used for just about every other Decepticon except for Starscream (and probably at least one role in just about every cartoon ever made). David Kaye did a bang-up job voicing Predcacon Leader Megatron in Beast Wars, Yeeesss.
- Galvatron:Whenever there is a Megatron there is a Galvatron. He's everything you love about the M taken up to eleven. This guy is seriously bad news, he's probably insane and violent enough to give Doombreed pause and he's probably the strongest non-God transformer there is in G1 comics it takes a friggin' time vortex to finally put him down. After a dying Megatron found himself adrift in space, he had a lovely chat with the physical Cybertronian God,Unicron who reconstructed him into this indentity. Didn't work for long though; Galvy kind of went off the reservation pretty quickly.
- Bumblebee: The yellow kid-friendly one, he's usually the main one to interact with the resident token humans. He usually turns into a sports car. Can be surprisingly badass in some adaptations -- his Beast Wars counterpart, Cheetor, went on to basically take Optimus Primal's place as leader of the Maximals in Beast Machines. In the Michael Bay movies, he became a mute who talks only in radio quotes/beeps and boops like a 60s robot which just got ANNOYING. His Prime Counterpart retained the mute quirk, but his voicebox was eventually repaired by the time of the sequel series.
- Grimlock: A fuckmothering robot Tyrannosaurus that usually breathes fire. He's the leader of a pack of other robot dinosaurs called the Dinobots. He's not exactly smart (well sometimes, he's either a stupid beast or a no nonsense leader with a speech problem), but who cares about that? HE'LL FUCKING EAT YOU. No seriously he once ripped Shockwave's arm off and ate it.
- Starscream: Megatron's loud-mouthed, whiny, scheming, sneaky, backstabbing second-in-command who always wants to lead the Decepticons. He is neither strong enough to bump Megsy off, smart enough to trick him to his death, or charismatic enough to persuade others he's a better boss. Sometimes Megatron himself wonders why he keeps Starscream around, but (when the writers remember) he is actually an extremely competent air commander who leads The Seekers, Decepticons who are typically recolors of him with the most prominent being Skywarp and Thundercracker. In Animated, the Seekers were replaced by actual clones all named after classic Seekers with the only one original to the series being Rule 63. Starscream usually turns into the latest and greatest fighter jet (unless he's turning into some Cybertronian future-jet) historically an F-15, F-16, or F-22. In the original cartoon, his catchphrase (delivered in the classic 80s-villain screech as his first voice actor also voiced the similarly screechy Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe) was probably "Decepticons, RETREEEAT!" Was also voiced by fucking Tom "Spongebob Squarepants" Kenny in Animated; man, is that a blow to your dignity. Nowadays, though, he's more consistently competent (and given a more menacing voice by Steve Blum in Transformers Prime). Is such a total backstabbing traitor that "The Starscream" has entered pop-culture as a term to describe someone who seems more dedicated to fucking his own team over in ostensible pursuit of power than to actually beating the guys he's supposed to fight.
- Soundwave A major character for the Decepticons as Megatron's legitimately loyal number two. Is also the biggest source of nostalgia because he turns into a fucking tapedeck.
Even though he lacks a personalitySOUNDWAVE SUPERIOR; PAGE WRITER INFERIOR, he manages to be awesome merely through dogged determination and because he's the one guy who'll never give anyone any bullshit. He has a number of minions who turn into cassettes (or goddamn guitars in Animated's case), but the main ones are Rumble (Whose arms turn into piledrivers so he can cause earthquakes), Frenzy (Who has a sonic scream), Ravage (A fucking robot jaguar who turns into a cassette), Laserbeak and Buzzsaw (robot birds), and Ratbat (a robot bat). The IDW comic gave him an origin about how he used to be homeless due to his mind reading powers until Laserbeak and Ravage found him and helped him control them.
- Shockwave: The real mad scientist of the Decepticons, whose arm is a gun and also turned into a gun in G1 (a giant flying gun). While he's also pretty loyal to Megatron, he's nowhere near Soundwave levels because his true loyalty is to pure logic. There are several times where he became an bigger threat than Megatron, requiring both Autobots and Decepticons to stop him. Most series have him involved with the Dinobots, either by creating them, or just they have major beef with him (he doesn't give a shit as he has better things to do). He's another guy who happened to be blessed by Steve Blum in the Cybertron series. The IDW comics gave him an origin about how he used to be an idealistic Noblebright senator (and Optimus BFF) until he got unpersoned and mutilated. Ouch.
- Unicron: Unicron was originally introduced as the big bad for the '86 movie, a planet-sized, planet-eating bringer of doom (basically, if Galactus was the Death Star), voiced by the Orson Welles in his last role. The third season episode "Call of the Primitives" revealed his original, long since abandoned, origin as a planet-destroying creation of an alien mad scientist. Later media, beginning with the Marvel comics, changed his origin to Transformers' Satan, a god-like destroyer tricked into trapping himself inside a planet, but learned how to possess the world and reshape it into his own image. That fucking anime trilogy not only pulled this interpretation back, but made it "official", saying there's only one Unicron in the entire multiverse - at least, they tried. The comics pay more attention to it, but the shows tend to avoid it; witness Prime, where Unicron is actually sleeping at the heart of Earth instead of running around eating planets.
- Primus: The Emprah to Unicron's Chaos God, except he's an actual god... who actually transformed into a planet and fell asleep for a fuckton of years. In this form, he became Cybertron and created the Cybertronian race. Like his evil counterpart, Unicron, he hails from the 80's comics and didn't make an appearance on screen (other than references to a pseudo-Bible named the "Covenant of Primus" in Beast Wars) until the Energon Trilogy, which is where he's stayed.
The original, the alpha iteration, the place where it all to began. At the time, it was just called "The Transformers", with a cartoon by the same name for three seasons (and two more seasons in Japan) from 1984-87 and the animated film "The Transformers: The Movie" in 1986. The movie's soundtrack is awesomely 80's, and it features the amazing song "The Touch" when Optimus Prime fights Megatron. Quite literally, this movie shit all over Bay's multi-million crappers. Issue was that the movie was so good that it marked the peak for the young franchise and it began a downhill slide from there, with the show scrambling to cope with all the losses (yeah, lots of people died here. Even Optimus), while the toys began getting gimmickier without getting better.
The "Generation One" title was applied retroactively after Hasbro released the "Generation 2" line in 1993. By the way, G2 was the reason Transformers was considered dead for most of the 90's. The comic was that cheap sort of "gritty for no real reason" the 90's was infamous for and the toys had pretty much burned themselves out and no gimmick could really help them on that. There was also a short-lived "Transformers G2" show, but it was just G1 with new CGI openings/endings and scene changes, so it only lasted a few episodes before flopping.
Of note is that if you want to experience G1 without having to dig up the eps from some torrent or Netflix, you can get Transformers Devastation, which is essentially a G1 ep in vidya form produced by Platinum Studios, the guys responsible for balls-to-the-walls hypefests like Metal Gear Rising, Bayonetta, and The Wonderful 101 (aka /m/ the game). Most of the actors are present, there's murderfests and speed, and big bosses. Also you get to run idiots over (but no pedestrians). Only letdown is the short length of the game and the lack of a Decepticon story and Abominus.
The first Western-released sequel to G1 (there were two Japanese-only continuations to G1 that never got released outside of Japan and the G2 comic mentioned above), a CGI show created by Mainframe (also responsible for Reboot and War Planets). Set up as a "loose sequel" to G1, it involves new transformer races called "Maximals" (Autobots) and "Predacons" (Decepticons).
A Predacon terrorist leader styling himself after the original Megatron, including taking his name, hijacks an artifact with a mysterious connection to Megatron the first and goes on the run into deep space with a band of terrorists, planning on restarting the Great War and this time causing a Predacon victory. A Maximal deep-space exploration vessel commanded by Optimus Primal attempts to intercept, and both vessels end up stranded on a mysterious alien world, where an overabundance of raw energon forces them to adopt the forms of local fauna to preserve themselves. The two forces promptly start trying to wipe each other out and then escape the planet. There's also a sideplot involving an ancient alien civilization that ends itself just before the Season 3 finale.
They would eventually find out that this strange world was actually Earth, which was where Megatron II was trying to get all along, and they find the wreckage of the Ark of the original series, when new Megatron decides to headshot Prime in order to change the future for his benefit. It kinda flops when new Optimus takes part of old Optimus's soul, gets another upgrade, and becomes sorta-truck. It inspires Megatron II to try the same trick with his namesake, turning himself into a huge firebreathing dragon-bot.
Though Hasbro would mostly consign this story to oblivion after Beast Machines, the characters of Blackarachnia (sexy spider-bot who changes from evil to good thanks to love) and Waspinator (the walking punching bag who the heroes almost invariably blow up only to be fixed later), along with the concept of the Spark (essentially, Transformers' souls) would be re-used in later eras. More importantly, this show saved the franchise after Generation 2 almost killed it.
Sequel series to Beast Wars. On returning to Cybertron, our heroes are attacked by armies of transforming cookie-cutter drones. It eventually turns out that Megatron broke free from the Maximals' prison and flew back to Cybertron before them; he infected the entire planet with a cyber-virus that put them all into comas, ripped out their hearts/souls and stashed them in some hidden bunker, and melted down their bodies to rebuild them into mindless robot slaves.
Awesomely grimdark concept, but hampered by two huge flaws. Firstly, a super-annoying green aesop, which was very clumsily handled because this is a planet of talking robots, not nature. More importantly, major character derailment -- it was made by a different team to Beast Wars, and they weren't even allowed to watch the first series to familiarize themselves with how the Maximals were supposed to behave, so it'd be "more accessible".
Probably why Hasbro only recycles G1 instead of trying to do its own thing with new shows, the way these two shows did. Even though it was their own damn fault because they made this series into what it turned out being. Time has been kinder to it, though, after the initial rage and denouncement.
Robots in Disguise
An obscure anime that came out roughly a few months before Armada. Best known for its gag dub and general comedic focus that makes it surprisingly laughable, and certainly more fun to watch than any of the Energon Trilogy. Usually forgotten about, except for the fact that Megatron here has six fucking modes of transformation (ten after upgrading to Galvatron). In this series Decepticons are instead Predacons like Beast Wars with actual Decepticons being created mid-series, starting with an evil clone of Optimus called "Scourge". General consensus is that is far from the best or worst series, it's just "meh."
Funnily enough, there is also another series that got the same name in 2015, this one being a bit more notable, if only because this time Prime's relegated to the Obi-Wan, while Bumblebee (once again with a voice) has to take command of an ex-con, a stickler, and slightly-smarter Grimlock in helping some kid and his dad's junkyard and detaining runaway Decepticon inmates, all of whom aren't related to the main bads, so some originality there. There was a 'con in it called Slapper. That is all.
Comprised of the shows Armada, Energon, and Cybertron, which are also called the Unicron Trilogy due to the antagonist's return to the spotlight after being virtually nonexistent since The Movie. Anime reinterpretation of G1, decaying from "poor but watchable" to "completely unwatchable drek" for all the reasons people hate /a/: bad dubbing, overly lengthy scenes of nothing, a shift to crappy CGI, and a plot that is so terribly paced and search-questy that you'd be praying for your GM to be railroading this. On the plus-side: competent badass Starscream (who unfortunately inspired a whole generation of Linkin Park listening wannabes). On the downside: far too much focus on humans and not enough on giant robots trying to kill each other. Kicker, from the later series, is considered one of the worst human sidekicks the Transformers have ever had.
It has been said that, for all the failings of Beast Machines, at least it's better than this trilogy. That at least had the mercy of ending in two half-sized seasons instead of three full-sized ones.
Michael Bay Films
The dark force known as Michael Bay brought Transformers back as a series of live-action + CGI movies. Considered the Matt Ward of the Transformers universe, Bay's movies are rage-inducing fails that have far too much focus on annoying human characters and on lowbrow humor. Seriously, in the first movie, we don't get to see an Autobot for, like, thirty minutes while dealing with very bland characters who get billed way too much, and we have to facepalm our way through an awful gag about Bumblebee basically pissing on a guy. The second one is no better with two black/redneck stereotypes as heroes, a gag about balls, and a two-for-one gag about farting/incontinence - from a Transformer, no less. Real classy, Bay.
About the only shallow redeeming qualities it has is that the CGI Transformers look amazing (even if some neckbeards have cracked up over how they're "not accurate" to the G1 character modes), the fight scenes are suitably glorious for giant alien death-machines ripping each other to pieces (when you can see it clearly), and most importantly is it has introduced Transformers to a whole new generation of fans, who can hopefully be shown the good stuff instead of thinking this garbage is the true representative of the setting.
After the trilogy Bay made a fourth movie which actually manages to make some considerable improvements (not that it was that hard), like a lot more of focus on Optimus Prime, killing the scrappy comic relief during the first part of the movie and more consistent fighting scenes, plus DINOBOTS! charging the enemy. There is also more grimdark as Optimus finally decides enough is enough after having tried to protect mankind for more than five years while having his whole team slaughtered by those he sworn to protect and pulls a gun against a human frakker who was teaming up with the mercenary Lockdown to kill Autobots and use their remains to make their own giant robots that turn into cars (Except this time it's like the T-1000 where they turn into nanobot swarms). On the downside, though, the humans are still pointless tagalongs (though this is a new set of humans, no Shia Lebouf to be found here), there are more pointless stereotypes (Like Weeaboo Samurai-bot Drift, Crosshairs, who for some reason gets a fucking trenchcoat when he transforms, and Hound, who somehow has a cigar and a wire-beard), the Dinobots don't even show up until the last few minutes of the movie, and there's this ridiculous need to hammer in the "us vs. them" mentality between the humans making their own Transformers and Lockdown trying to kill Optimus because he's betrayed their makers by siding with the humans.
G1 inspired series with notoriously unusual but smooth animation. This time, Optimus Prime and his crew are lowly space janitors who stumble across a superweapon from the Great War and have to defend it against Megatron (GIVING HIM A GODDAMN ENGLISH ACCENT FUCK YES), who seeks to use it to restart the war and this time ensure Decepticon victory. This version's Optimus is much younger and less experienced than usual; funnily enough, he was voiced by the actor who voiced Megatron in Beast Wars. Generally noted for having the best human sidekick (who turns out to really be part-transformer anyways). The other Autobots also tend to have some interesting characterizations from "Complete dumb muscle who surprisingly knows everything about building Space Bridges" Bulkhead to "Weeaboo Robo-Ninja" Prowl to "MY EGO IS AS BIG AS MY CHIN AND MY ASSHOLEITUDE IS EVEN BIGGER!" Sentinel Prime. The Decepticons sometimes do better vis ze German schizophrenic Blitzwing, the borderline-religiously loyal Lugnut, and badass robo-Clint Eastwood Lockdown.
The series was weird in that alongside the Decepticons were also some gimmicky human villains from a Shakespearean Robin Hood knockoff to a cute little girl who's a mad scientist to another mad scientist who rips off Transformer heads to replicate an old G1 gimmick. These villains were a bit ridiculous, but it helped break up the monotony of the constant 'con fighting, especially when Megatron was reduced to a state worse than Abaddon as a head. The creators came up with the idea to emphasize just how dangerous the 'cons are, compared to their Autobot opponents; when one 'con shows up, it's an emergency that takes the whole team to try and pull out a win. Hell, Starscream could beat up the entire Autobot team in his first few appearances before they figured out how to handle him.
There were many, MANY, video games made for every part of the Transformers, but most of them ranged from forgettable to utter shit. The closest these guys got to a good original game series (so no whining about the Movie-Games) were the games War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron, both made by High Moon Studios.
These games act as the Horus Heresy to G1's 40K by explaining how Optimus became a leader and how Megatron became a dictator while their war and its demand eventually destroyed their homeworld. While the gameplay itself isn't much more than a basic third-person shooter, the vast amount of references to the rest of the series and the rather well-written story and characters make it stand out, Fall of Cybertron may be considered the most grimdark setting of the whole series while not being as totally ham-handed like Beast Machines. It also helps that the second game gave some bonus variety in some segments by giving you a level as a FUCKING ROBOT DINOSAUR named Grimlock, and another where you get to play as a combiner (who has an awesome helicopter-arm, but is otherwise not very memorable besides being huge) (Ah come on man don't be down on Bruticus, it's not his fault he's a dumbass). Overall great fights, no crappy human sidekicks, awesome OST and all the grimdarkness needed to make any neckbeard enjoy it quite much, also ESCALATION mode will ensure you endless hours of good bloodless carnage.
There is a third game -sorta- called Rise of the Dark Spark, which decides to make the stupid decision of merging this series to the Bayformers continuity. It was released as tie in game with fourth movie and has less of budget, clearly shown with its number of glitches, lack of variety in levels (mostly just enemies till the game lets you move on) and downright ugly environments for the levels set on Earth. The only thing to remember is that the Cybertron segments are still awesome, while later parts will just shoehorn you with mutebee and Drift (who at least has an awesome special attack), with one level playing as Grimlock again and lacking any Decepticon plot post-Cybertron.
G1 inspired CGI series that somehow salvages the fairly decent elements of Michael Bay's crapfest movies (e.g. Peter Cullen and Frank Welker reprising their respective roles, artstyle, some character elements/background lore, Rip and Tear) and crafts an awesome show out of it. Animation is fucking amazing, with fight scenes that rival if not trump the Michael Bay films. Very dark and gritty as well, where one of the Autobots (voiced by the Rock himself, mind you), gets whacked in the first episode. Also, blue energon as blood. A few other things of note; this is where the funny "Steve the Vehicon" meme originated from and this series is known to poke fun as the old G1 series (most notably Starscream's null ray and a joke about the Dinobots).
Biggest major problem is Miko, who is tied with Kicker (from the abovementioned Energon Trilogy) for the title "worst human sidekick in a Transformers show, ever!" Obnoxiously gungho and always charging off into danger, even when told not to, invariably making things worse for the Autobots in the process. Still, this series easily has some of the best human characters, most notably Agent Fowler, who trolls Starscream while getting tortured by him.
Then there's Predacons Rising; the made-for-tv movie meant to serve as a series finale... it was questionable at best. Plot holes everywhere, very little focus on the actual Predacons in the title, and characters doing stupid and random things to simply fit the plot. It was basically a segue into the next series; Robots in Disguise.
While no official roleplaying or tabletop games exist, the idea of "giant robots turning into vehicles" is so cool that lots of homebrew and independent mecha RPGs include mechas or characters that are totally NOT the Transformers, we swear! For example:
- Giant Guardian Generation
- Horizon - Mechamorphosis is literally "Transformers with the serial numbers filed off, done by way of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5".
- Mechagenasis - Another "Transformers with the serial numbers filed off" game, this time done for True20.
- Battlechangers - Blatantly Transformers-based RPG, in both an original version and a Pathfinder version (Battlechangers Ironworks).
- Mekton - Extremely flexible with what it can do: the rules for transforming are simple (as far as Mekton goes anyway) and adapting to a Transformers setting is as easy as actually reading up on them, but the game's hilariously broken.
- Rifts - Some homebrew stuff floating around on the net for playing Transformers exists. Pity it relies on the godawful RIFTS mechanics...
- Codex: Transformers - A case of 1d4chan getting shit done, adapting Transformers into yet another Warhammer 40000 faction.
- Setting:Transformers - A tie-in article to the above trying to develop the lore to explain why Codex: Transformers is a thing.
- TFWiki.net, the unofficial Transformers wiki.