From the very beginning, the Transformers toyline distinguished itself by providing on-package biographies for its characters, typically referred to as bios. Rather than needing to watch the show or read the comic, a customer could read the write-up on the box and know who the toy was supposed to be. In fact, this practice eventually gave "life" to hundreds of characters who would never play a part in any story. It also spread beyond the packages to comics, trading cards, and magazines, continuing to this day.
Generation One bios generally followed a set format, with a characteristic quote at the top (often incorrectly called a "motto" by fans), followed by a description of the character's personality. Weapons and abilities came next, with weaknesses listed at the end. This format would be followed in expanded form for the Transformers Universe profile books. Personalities tended to be less prominent and distinct in the waning days of G1, as the vast number of characters made it increasingly difficult to individualize each one; instead, increasingly enthusiastic descriptions of the character's weapons and capacity for destruction became the norm. Bios also often listed a character's Function, which described their role in the military hierarchy.
G1's bios formed the basis for most portrayals of the characters in fiction, though there are many exceptions. Bios sometimes described some characters as having complex personalities, which the cartoon often underutilized. Bios on occasion would conflict outright with a character's portrayal on the show. Shockwave is a particularly notable instance of this; his bio states that he seeks leadership of the Decepticons, while the cartoon never gave any overt hints that he had aspirations to leadership. More often, slight hints of a character's bio would shine through on the cartoon via small lines of dialogue which might be considered throwaway on their own, but worked in conjunction with the bio to form a more cohesive portrait of a character.
All this was less of a problem with the G1 comics, which tended either to adhere rigidly to the toy's bio, or else to give virtually no characterization at all due to the limited space of the monthly comic format. Later in the book's run, writer Simon Furman began to ignore outright some of the bios for characters such as Thunderwing.
In Beast Wars, bios became noticeably less character-driven. Rather than describing personality, history, or character quirks, they frequently amounted to a bit of purple prose describing the animal mode in the wilderness and maybe a brief weapon or power call-out.
Also notable is the disconnect between the first wave of bios and their eventual cartoon portrayals. In both their bios and their pack-in comic, Optimus Primal and Megatron were implied to be their G1 namesakes in new bodies on modern, human-inhabited, post-Generation 2 Earth. When the BW cartoon began, the bios abandoned this micro-continuity in favor of the cartoon's continuity. But even aside from blatant continuity issues, there were still more subtle disparities. Tarantulas was portrayed in his bio as a ninja, while Rhinox was portrayed as a security officer, yet both characters were later revealed to be scientists of incredible skill (although Tarantulas did like preying on animals, and his bio indicated he preyed on humans, so the cartoon at least used some of it).
- ↑ The bios of both Ironhide and Cliffjumper include phrases that are explicitly called their "motto" as part of their personality description, separate from the quote that precedes their bios. ("Go chew on a microchip" and "Let me at 'em!", respectively.)