Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars
28th Dec 2006 | 09:00
For Command & Conquer fans it's been nearly 10 years since Nod and GDI raged nostalgic battles across office LANs nationwide, but thankfully the veteran RTS series is finally back on the scene with gaming's favourite bald-headed villain heading-up the finest FMV cut-scenes since Voodoo graphics cards were king.
After kicking arse and taking names in the first C&C3 multiplayer session, we recently caught up with Tiberium Wars Executive Producer and all-round C&C god Mike Verdu, to probe him on how he plans to shake up the as-always crowded RTS genre while living up to the massive expectations of C&C stalwarts.
You can expect more on how the game actually plays next month when EA finally loosens our NDA shackles, but for now it's over to Mr. Verdu...
There are a lot of big RTS games on the market this year - how are you trying to balance traditional C&C gameplay while at the same time keeping up with the other big hitters in the genre?
Mike Verdu: C&C is about fast, fluid gameplay and I think based on what you've experienced today you can see that it's very fast-action, very true to C&C with classic C&C units like the Orca, the Mammoth, the Stealth and the Flame Tank, but also with brand new units and structures that really complement the gameplay.
I think if you compare there are some things about C&C that are just timeless and classic and fair well against RTS games of any generation. What we really wanted to do with Tiberium Wars was create a game that was really fresh but familiar, with timeless elements but in the end really felt like a 2007 RTS. With the great story and the multiplayer features that we're introducing I have no worries about competing with whatever's current in 2007.
And it's worth saying that the RTS landscape is pretty vibrant and different games are finding different niches - so it's not like we're all creating games that are competing directly with each other. If you look at Company of Heroes it's very close-combat, very tactical, very squad-based gameplay, where as Supreme Commander has a very epic sense of scale and is actually a very different experience from C&C, so I think there's actually room for all of us.
In that, what do you think C&C3 offers over other RTS games by retaining the classic kind of rock-paper-scissors gameplay, rather than going for the whole epic, 2000+ units deal?
Verdu: Raw fun-factor and high-level, competitive RTS gameplay. What we're trying to do is create a game that has really good fundamentals and appeals to people that want to play RTS games competitively, either in tournaments or against each other to get onto the leaderboards or the ladders. At the same time we're trying to make the counters really well understood, with a predictable ruleset where you win because of how good you are and the skill you bring to the table, and we've re-engineered our pipeline and the engine to get rid of any hitches and lags and anything that gets in the way of fine control over units and speed of gameplay. So what you get is a very fluid experience where the units react when you tell them to.
Then on the story side with live action, CG and 35 story missions we have kind of an epic story-based experience - and that is unique. The level of story we're delivering in C&C3 with the number of missions and the way that the story is woven into the campaigns is definitely unique.
Generals was the series' first branch in to 3D and everything that came with that. What kind of lessons did you learn from the last game?
Verdu:Well I think that one lesson learned was that we changed maybe too much in Generals with a builder-based system and a command bar along the bottom, as well as making the leap into 3D. It's a wonderful game - still one of my favourites - but if we're going to go back to the tiberium universe we really do need to bring back the sidebar which has amazing power and flexibility associated with it because you can control your production queue from anywhere on the battlefield.
And we've certainly learned a lot of things from the last six or seven years of RTS games that we've also put into the build system and the sidebar control system that I think really brings the best of both worlds - so contextual units, structural control and a way to manage what you're building anywhere on the map.
So obviously the traditional rock-paper-scissors-style C&C gameplay has been around for over 10 years now. How are you mixing it up in C&C 3 with new units and such?
Verdu: So we have an entire new third faction that plays radically different from GDI and Nod and also lets us change up the fiction. In terms of C&C where GDI and Nod both have very distinct identities both in terms of the fiction and the way that you play them, the way to add innovation to the game mechanics and to take the fiction to the next level is really adding a new faction. So that's a big place that we're concentrating in terms of changing things up.
In terms of units, Nod has the Avatar Warmech which is a really cool base unit because it comes with a big beam weapon. But what's cool is that you can smash up a Flame Tank and pull out the flamethrower or smash up a Stealth Tank and take out the stealth generator to add to the Avatar - you're investing a lot but you're creating something that's really unique. That's new but it still fits neatly into the combat chain and the counter mechanics that are traditional to C&C.
So there's room in classic C&C to innovate and bring new mechanics to bear and the Avatar is one way we're doing that.
Can you explain how the single-player campaign and branching storyline works?
Verdu: We started by thinking we were going to have a map-based metagame and that we were going to weave story into that, but really delivering a great story required us to thank a bit differently about how we organised the campaign.
So we created what we're calling theatres of war which are geographical zones - for instance Germany is a theatre of war. Within the theatre of war you get essentially the ability to make a call about which strategic objective you're going to go after, with consequences that ripple into other missions. So if you get a choice between taking out a port or an airfield, taking out the port could deprive your enemy of the ability to bombard you from the sea in future missions, and if you take out the airfield you knock out the enemy's air power.
You make the call and then those choices have consequences moving forward, but ultimately the missions do serve the story and everything you do advances it; the theatres of war come to a nice conclusion as they're essentially the end of one of the acts in the story. And the story is cannon for C&C - we have three campaigns and each one gives you a different window. So as you're playing the different campaigns you're really peeling back the different layers of the onion and getting a new perspective on what's going on - each campaign should give you a unique and interesting reveal on the events you've played regardless of which order that you play them in - although it's worth saying that the third faction campaign gets unlocked by the first two.
And it looks like a lot of effort is being put into the story this time around?
Verdu: We're still editing but there's still well over an hour of FMV in the game. I find the story interesting because it has a number of different layers to it and for each of the campaigns the characters are very well developed; they change and grow as the story progresses which I think is a really important thing for a story.
There are important conflicts between that characters that are resolved as the story progresses and there's also an underlying theme for each campaign that you'll find resonating throughout the story, whether it's in the FMVs, the mission objectives or simply conversations you hear on the battlefield. The themes are not explicit but they make you think a little bit - we've got this wonderful sci-fi military action spectacle unfolding, but there's also different levels operating and to me that's the sign of a really good story.
And what's going on in the multiplayer arena?
Verdu: One thing that is unique is that you can broadcast your games out so that thousands of people can watch games in progress, which is just cool. And then there's a whole infrastructure to support clans, tournaments and different stats that you track for yourself.
AI is an area that we really want to punch up. Sometimes gamers get frustrated by having an AI that only rushes or only turtles because people have different styles of play, so we're going to give you the choice of multiple AI opponents that embody different play styles. The seeds for this were planted in Zero Hour when you could play against the different generals, but that's pretty primitive compared to what we're doing now which is a full code-based AI that makes use of multiple tactics depending on the strategy that you're picking to.
The two obvious ones are rushing a turtling; you can play against a very aggressive rushing AI that will be in your face in a very short period of time, or a turtling AI who will go pretty far up the tech tree and launch some probing attacks, but really it's all about the epic battles in the late game - because some people just like to play that way.
We hear you're ditching the traditional C&C-skinned install program for the third instalment - tell us it isn't true?
Verdu: Yeah, it's more of a technical limitation than anything else and where we invest team resources. There will be something when you install the game and it will be something cool, but the classic C&C installers that we've come to know and love I think were somewhat of an artefact of the DOS days - and I did love them, but you'll see that effort put into actually making the game itself feel more immersive, because we want to create a world that you can really lose yourself in.