Sunday, 8 June 2014

The Tech Spec Train Wreck

“Unreasonable haste is the direct road to error.” – Moliere

Most people familiar with the origins of the Transformers toy line are well aware of Hasbro’s haste to get their product to market in 1984 in order to compete with the Machine Robo/Gobots line and also to establish the brand ready for the Christmas sales rush. However, haste leads to mistakes and they were numerous. There’s already a lot of material out there about running changes to toys and packaging as Hasbro fixed issues as they went along but an area that hasn’t been looked at thoroughly, and one I’m asked about fairly often, is Tech Specs.

Bluestreak. Just because.

Tech specs (short for technical specifications) have been a constant of The Transformers from 1984 to present day with the original ones being more detailed with their character bio and graph of the character’s abilities that needed a red plastic film to ‘decode’ it. In the big rush, Hasbro made a few huge mistakes on the 1984 line and made a few others later on but there were also some seemingly pointless changes along the way….

Let’s start with nitpicking and build up to the huge mistakes.
So first up is Frenzy, where the person who typed his biography obviously forgot to switch off the annoying auto hyphenation function in whatever program they used. “Oxy-gen”, “Disori-ents” and “circuit-ry” are all mistakes that you’d only normally see from an amateur desktop publication not from a multi billion dollar company. Presumably the tech was shrunk down which resulted in the hyphenation.
Frenzy is blue. Fact.

Thankfully, to satisfy pedants like me the gold weapon re-release of Frenzy in 1986 featured a bio that had been edited to fix the hyphens.
Still blue.

Ratchet underwent a revision but it wasn’t due to the techs themselves but the image alongside them. On the box art Ratchet is pictured with a red cross but it had to be removed at the insistence of The International Committee of the Red Cross as the symbol is protected under international law. This protection was regularly flaunted especially as orange crosses were regularly used on Ambulances so it was very common for red crosses to be used on toys, as it was on the Diaclone release of Ratchet.
Bad Hasbro! Bad!

In 1973 when the American National Red Cross complained over the infringement, this saw The Star of Life being introduced as a replacement symbol on all US ambulances and the ICRC starting to exercise their trademark rights more, including in 2006 asking all game developers to stop using the red cross on first aid kits in video games.
Crossed out

The Star of Life. Not to be confused with the crest of Slytherin.

I'm more than aware that someone reading this may think that the ICRC and American Red Cross were being petty in defending their trademark as "it's only a toy" but the Red Cross symbol is internationally recognised and the preservation of it's meaning is vital considering the work they do. (See footnotes for more information)


Again this isn't so much as a tech spec problem as a box art one . Because of the window box style of Transformers, Megatron's right arm position had to be changed to fit around the window.
Microchange cel artwork

Rather than add in the missing parts of the arm, the design team just left an empty space.

This artwork is reproduced exactly on the tech spec.

At least they didn't omit the first 'y' in his motto.

Optimus Prime
While all the other characters went out of frame, for some reason Op's right arm was removed from the image.

Below is a close up of the artwork increased in size by 100% which makes it easier to spot.

The Decepticon jets
Now this is where things started to go wrong. While the biographies were correct, the graphs were mixed up as can be seen on Skywarp’s where his bio lists him as “Not too smart” yet he has an intelligence of 9.

Skywarp’s graph was clearly intended to go with Starscream’s bio as Starscream is referred to being the fastest flyer. The graph on Starscream’s box should have gone to Thundercracker, whilst the graph used for Thundercracker should have gone to Skywarp as it has the lowest intelligence score.

Confused yet? This gets better.

Sideswipe and Sunstreaker
The Autobot brothers also had a mix up but this wasn’t just graphs, this was the entire character. Ever noticed that Sideswipe doesn’t have a rocket backpack or piledrivers?

On the other hand, Sunstreaker’s engine block flips down onto his back and looks a little like a jetpack while he has those shoulder things which attach to his arms instead of hands….
Oh look, a rocket pack on a red lamborghini...

Originally the characters were indeed to supposed to be the other way around because the biographies were written when Hasbro was planning on using the Diaclone colours where Sunstreaker (as we know him) was red while Sideswipe was yellow.
The most beautiful thing on Earth?

Because of the short release times and the constant changing of names by the marketing department, the toys were referred to by their alt modes. Hasbro switched the colours somewhere towards the end of the production process but the packaging people were still working on the premise of the yellow car being Sunstreaker and the red one being Sideswipe so that’s what we got.
Sunstreaker bio and graph with the wrong character picture.

Interestingly though, while the 1980 Empire Strikes Back Star Wars figures featured the reversal of names for 4-LOM and Zuckuss, this was later corrected when Star Wars was relaunched as a toy line in 1995. It seems odd that Hasbro corrected the characters in one license but not another although that was likely down to George Lucas’ insistence rather than Hasbro rectifying mistakes. There have been opportunities along the way such as the Alternators and Universe lines, while Takara also could have made the change at any time, especially as they didn’t launch Transformers until 1985 so had plenty of opportunity to switch the names and bios back. For now it looks like Sideswipe and Sunstreaker will continue to be known as the red and yellow Lamborghinis respectively.
The Jumpstarters
Despite the massive rush being over Hasbro still managed to confuse the hell out of themselves over which Jumpstarter was which.

Jumpstarter variants: about as valuable as toenail clippings.

Pro tip: the one with the big honking drills just may be the one with Twist in it’s name…

The Special Teams
Nothing much to report on this year although there was a weird habit of reversing images from the single release of the special teams while also zooming in on the character and increasing the size of the yellow sun burst background. The graph lines were even redrawn. It definitely appears that more effort went into the giftset versions which feature better laid out text and the clearer images of the characters. In addition to this, Silverbolt was either the Aerialbot Leader or Aerialbot Commander depending on which version you bought.



Hot Rod
Not so much an error as just something that really annoys me – a giant robot alien described as an “all-American-boy”. Seriously? Was GI Joe not patriotic enough that we needed an all-American boy Transformer?

Apple pie sold separately.

However, his graph has the wrong stats as he is totally overpowered. His Targetmaster release corrected this.


The only real error this year was Tailgate due to “ferrocobalt” being mis-spelled as “ferrodobalt”. This was then corrected with a sticker over the bottom three lines of text before a corrected printed version hit the market.

The single figure to giftset changes carried on but this time in reverse as the single figures this time had the larger sunburst behind them and featured smaller images of the characters. The individual releases also had a thicker white aura around the character, presumably to make the character stand out from the background better. Another oddity was that the graphs were redrawn. No stats changed but the giftsets featured simplified lines that illustrated the character’s abilities whereas the individual figures had the usual um spikey style lines. I could refer to them as vertexes as I believe that’s the proper term, but does anyone care? I doubt it.



One of the most well known tech spec errors is Scorponok who’s graph was printed upside down and then later corrected.

Weak, stupid, does little damage but very fast.
That's more like it.

Targetmaster Hot Rod

Also 1987 spawned one of the most annoying and rare variations of all Transformers, Targetmaster Hotrod. Like Tailgate, there was an error in the text of Hotrod’s bio where his range is given as 150mph which was then corrected via sticker to 150 miles. Unlike Tailgate, Hasbro blatantly couldn’t be bothered to do a neat job and just stuck wonky stickers over the last two words of the bio. What makes this variation annoying is that a printed correct version exists, but it’s incredibly rare and very few pictures exist of it so you’ll have to use your imagination to picture this incredibly expensive and utterly pointless collectable.

At least they didn't call him American this time.

As mentioned above, Hot Rod's stats were corrected with this release.

All 5 of the reissued-as-Targetmaster characters had paraphrased bios and had added references to their new partners like Hot Rod's above.

Thankfully the only thing that happened this year was the usual zoom in, reverse the image and change the sunburst for the giftsets. Again the white aura is used for the smaller images. Wow, we got through an entire year without a mistake!

Undersea Terminator? Your clams: give them to me.

The Classic Pretenders had to have their bios edited for the Legends releases because the Legends didn’t come with the Pretender Shells. Bumblebee’s spec was quite wordy so the reference to the shell was simply removed.

In Grimlock’s case so much was removed that new material was put in, including him gaining Sludge’s ability to create mini earthquakes.

Jazz’s bio is largely unaltered except for the addition of details about his engine and seemingly gaining Smokescreen’s power to create a um...smokescreen.

Starscream again has a minor change to his bio.

As the G1 line started to wind down, Europe got reissued figures on gold cards with the new style of tech specs. The line was small and so the information was simply transferred across.

Nothing to see here...

G1 was now at an end but in it’s last year a lot more of the gold carded figures were released. Sideswipe’s courage dropped from 10 to 9 and the word “his” was added to the last sentence of the bio to improve it’s grammar. Finally Goldbug gained an extra point in Firepower and went from 1 point to 2.

New and improved mightier Goldbug

The original lesser powered one.

More cautious with age and so were Hasbro's spellcheckers.

Much like this article, tech specs started off pretty interesting but slowly became less and less so as time progressed. For the first few years tech specs gave life to characters who despite being robots, were incredibly flawed and human but later on the sheer volume of product led to increasingly bland characters who's personalities were fleshed out more in comics and cartoons. In fairness, it must be incredibly hard to keep characters interesting but when they end up with mottos like Skalor's "I stink therefore I am" or names like Hun-Grrr then the well is dry.

Initially the errors gave unique insight into Hasbro's haste to establish Transformers and their last minute changes but as time went on, the errors increasingly seemed to be down to lack of due care rather than anything else. Of course, tech specs are just one part of the puzzle as there are plenty of things to explore in the box art, packaging pictures, catalogues and instructions....


The Star of Life image is trademarked by The National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians and is used here for reference only. The image was lovingly stolen borrowed from Wikipedia who stole borrowed it from someone else.

Massive thanks are due to Adam Alexander of Botch the Crab.  Without his 10+ years of maintaining his website, this would have been a lot of words with pictures of tech specs that I drew in Paint.

Thanks to Tikgnat of TFW2005 for reminding me about the Hot Rod stats change.

Megatron production cel, red Diaclone Lamborghini Countach LP500S Super Tuning and yellow Diaclone Lamboghini New Countach LP500S images are from the author's own collection. Any further articles referencing those two Diaclone toys will have the names copied and pasted because I'm not typing them out again.

The International Committee of The Red Cross do incredible work. Their symbol is globally recognised as being that of a neutral force who are unarmed non-combatants and it's vital that the symbol is exclusively used by them so as not to be seen as endorsement by them. While we perhaps think of The Red Cross as being people who give out rice in starving countries, their duties actually go far beyond that and usually see their people operating in, and often being killed in warzones as they try to provide care to prisoners of war, injured soldiers and civilians. The Red Cross were, for example, instrumental in the care, supervision and recovery of Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant, the pilot captured during the Battle of Mogadishu 'Black Hawk Down' incident. If you enjoyed this article which took about 6 hours to research, write and format to give away for free, then perhaps you could consider making a small donation to the Red Cross for one of their many appeals. Even £1 ($1.68ish) can make a big difference and they accept Paypal. Plus I'll love you forever ;)