Articles & Editorials: Red Alert 2 Notes

Red Alert 2 will not be released as a DVD title. DVD versions may start appearing in the next generation of games Westwood releases in order to continually increase the visceral impact of the whole experience, but for now CD rom technology is still the route they’re taking. Also, while Red Alert 2 will retain the Command and Conquer moniker for marketing purposes the designers aren’t going out of their way to insure that it stays true to world history as presented in Tiberian Dawn and Tiberian Sun. Personally I think it’d just be easier for them to take the stance that C&C Tiberian Dawn was a continuation of the storyline presented in Red Alert, only from the point of view that the Soviets were successful in their campaign, whereas Red Alert 2 would be the continuation of a winning campaign from the Allied point of view. Another point Bonin brought up was that Westwood has every intention of making more real time strategy games in the coming years, though I’m assuming Command and Conquer won’t be the only game franchise Westwood will focus on.

Different gameplay types will definitely be showing up in the game. Capture the Flag should return from the original C&C. Other possibilities may appear as well that skew away from the “build base, defend, attack” idea, but they’re still being tested and developed and may or may not appear in the final game. I tossed out the idea of having a game idea similar to the old Super Sprint speedway games where you would drive, rather than point and click a car around a race course. Bonin said he was very open to idea suggestions from the C&C fanbase and encouraged everyone reading the newsgroups and websites to make their ideas known. Currently a “Sole Survivor” mode of play will not be included in the release. Other possibilities such as modifying standard multiplayer games with more selectable options (bounties, money injections, ala Homeworld, etc) are being considered.

Formation control is not in the game and will likely stay that way. I didn’t get a really solid answer about this since formations could add alot of strategic control over the way the game plays. My assumption is that effective formations create big pathfinding problems and may lead to delays in releasing the game if they are going to be included. The other reason Bonin seemed to suggest was that the Fast-and-Furious gameplay Westwood is shooting for rules out certain options in gameplay control like formations. I hope they reconsider this or add it in as a patch later on.

On a related note, pathfinding issues / problems are at the heart of the AI’s intelligence, or lack thereof. Having the AI behave like a human player with fake attacks, diversions, dodges, threat recognition, and adequate base defense practices means getting the computer to be much more adept at anticipating moves and movement in advance. I gather it’s alot like programming a computer to play chess and win, but since C&C isn’t limited to a single regimented “gameboard” or turn based play the time to program AI with human-like awareness increases exponentially. My guess is that when the game ships the AI will see some improvements over what C&C 2 had, but will still fall really short of the kind of inventiveness and effectiveness of a human player. Bonin assured me that as of now the computer is playing with the same limitations as the human player (meaning the computer can only see areas of the map which it has previously explored and can build units and structures only as fast as a human player can.)

I had asked a question about whether the new version of the Orca Carryall (the Soviet transport helicopter) would have the same problems that the Orca Carryall has. His response was that there is no Transport Helicopter in the Soviet Arsenal. Whether this means the unit has been axed, will be axed, or is still being tweaked (maybe just wasn’t available to show at E3?), I haven’t a clue. I use carryalls quite a bit when I play C&C 2, and I sure hope that they’re continued in Red Alert 2.

Campaign progress will not include the secondary mission objectives that were present in C&C 2. The reasoning was that very few people actually played any of those alternate missions at all, -most would opt for one approach or the other and then would never go back and explore that “other” approach that they hadn’t tried. Rather then spend the effort to make more missions which won’t be experienced Westwood will be throwing that effort into making the mandatory missions that much better.

I’d asked about the ramifications of using a streamlined version of the C&C 2 engine (removing the modifiable terrain aspects) and happily it sounds like one benefit will be a faster game launch / load / save. On my P2 450 with 384 ram it takes a good chunk of time to load a mission and most severely to save a mission. Many many times when saving a game the process will hang for awhile, interrupt the music, then move onto a different music track before the save process is finished. Bonin says this should be alleviate somewhat, if not a lot with Red Alert 2.

With regards to the number of players the game will support when played online, Bonin said that they’re still working on fine tuning the game. Four players will definitely be supported, but 8 is most desirabile. Unfortunately there’s no information I could glean on exactly how different speed connections will affect the rest of the players in the game (ie: having one person on a 36.600 modem playing against ISDN, DSL, and Cable modem players). This is another area that will hopefully be ironed out upon release.

A big wish that I expressed to Bonin was for Westwood to release some sort of book or media collection on the making of the C&C franchise. I really want to see and hear all the background information that went into the art design, story development, musical evolution and progress of the individual games. This is the kind of thing that you hear bits and pieces of in advance of the games release but then is never brought up again once the game is out and playable. I’d like the chance to poor over all the amazing conceptual artwork that heralded what the game would finally look like. I’d love to listen to all the rest of the music that made it (or not) into the games, above and beyond what’s already been made available on the music cds and expansion discs. Bonin said this could be a real possibility if enough interest is generated. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Some of my Impressions of the game as it was shown at E3:
I’m agog at the way the game is shaping up. Red Alert 2 takes a lot of the technical advances that C&C 2 used and then puts the whole thing through a concentrated artistic upgrade. The detail and design of the new structures is marvelous to look at and practically makes the game just as fun to look at as to play. The animation of the new chronosphere is a case in point where you get a real sense of a fantastic technology spooling up with gouts of energy flashing inside. Just watching the game play out on screen reminded me of why I collected GI Joe toys in the first place, they’re fun to play with, but also just damn cool to look at! In addition to a simple increase in the overall size of the unit / structure artwork is a subtle increase in structure size which helps to keep the buildings appropriately large and imposing over the smaller units and vehicles. One of the coolest effects I watched was the construction of the Soviet Kirov blimp which emerged from the war factory via huge clamshell doors which parted allowing you to see this enormous craft lift itself out and aloft. Whoah. One thing I was disappointed to see was the build animations for the structure. Previously in Red Alert structures would practically “grow” out of an amorphous shape into the finished buildings. Now the structures simply rise out of ground prebuilt, much like a submarine surfacing in the water. I seriously hope this is just temp artwork and not representative of how structures will be built in the final game. Minor gripe, but still… Another GREAT looking aspect of the game is the infantry units which now look as polished and solid as any of the vehicles careening around the screens. The dogs in particular were a shining example of this as they bounded across the screen to devour enemy troops. No matter which direction they were facing they still had had a believable solidity to them, which is in marked contrast to the infantry units in C&C 2 which looked like they originated from a different game than the vehicular units. Another great bit to watch was the animation of various effects in the game which were fluid and added tremendously to the impact of the game. When aircraft come in to drop paratroops the aircraft are gigantic, detailed, and swoop in amidst detailed flak explosions. When the atom bomb is dropped a nicely detailed mushroom cloud billows forth accompanied by a blinding flash and the ensuing destruction of a large amount of the surrounding units and structures. Whoah. Similarly when the allied weather strike occurs several nicely animated clouds form and begin raining electrical bolts on the targets below. A nice touch is the way in which structures (at least major structures like the White House) get destroyed, -rather than the typical smoking graphic which has been damaged, now you see a fairly detailed animation of the building collapsing in on itself. Nice!

I’m guessing it was also temp work, but the EVA and Tanya voice at E3 were the same recorded voices that was used in Red Alert. Not simply the same actors with new lines, -the same recordings. I’m sure that will be addressed when the game is released. However I do hope that Westwood will be expanding the vocal spectrum beyond what’s been present in their previous C&C games. Starcraft has my vote as the most amazing collection of unique personality voices in an RTS game, and comparatively the C&C games have been a real letdown. I don’t want to hear the same “Affirmative!”, and “Yes sir!” everytime I click on a vehicle type, be it buggy, tank, or aircraft. I want some real personality there. It would be great if there could be many, many more alternate lines to be used as well, perhaps going so far as to have multiple versions of the same comment: “YES SIR!!!”, or “Yes sir.” “… yes… sir.”, and so on.

Regarding the size of the maps in RA2 though, I don’t know what to make of the claim that maps will be even larger than ever before. I’m sure they’ll be pretty vast, but when you consider that all the artwork and units are also larger than in previous games will this cancel out the correspondingly larger maps? I suppose it’d be too much to hope for for maps that would be more at home in the board game “Risk” (where you could have complete fortifications in multiple areas of the play area before they could be approached and attacked), but I’ve still got my fingers crossed. The “mega maps” in Red Alert made my day when they were released. I dearly want to see them make a return in RA2.

And that’s about it. It looked to me like the game was fully playable and fully complete art-wise so I’ll take that as an indication that only minor tweaks are necessary before the game will be released. Good deal! I can’t wait!

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