Welcome to our new feature, the Dev Detector! Many former Command & Conquer developers have left a big mark on our games and even our community, so why not catch up with them and reminisce on the good old days with them, and maybe learn something we never knew before?
The “pioneer” of this feature is none other than David Silverman, the former product manager at EA Los Angeles, best known to the community as the creator of Command & Conquer TV and one of the hosts of Battlecast Primetime.
1. The Command & Conquer series is an old one, going for 23 years now. How did you come across it, and did you think it would be as successful as it was?
My first experience with C&C was back with the original Command & Conquer game. A friend of mine had let me borrow Dune II. After playing that game endlessly and completing it, my Dad and I went to our local Electronics Boutique to see if there was a similar game — I had shown Dune II to my Dad and got him just as hooked! It was there that the sales associate showed us the box for Command & Conquer and said that if you liked Dune II, you’ll love this game. We immediately bought it. That night, I got my first C&C experience and was blown away! From the themed installation sequence — to this day I don’t understand why other game developers don’t do this — to the full motion videos and graphics, I was hooked! I had no idea that one day I’d get the privilege of working in the game industry, yet alone on Command & Conquer. It was definitely one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever had and the most fun I’ve had during my tenure at EA.
2. Looking back at your time at EA Los Angeles (2006 – 2009), how do you feel about the games you worked on there, either in the C&C or the Battle for Middle-earth series? Did you have a favourite project among them?
Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars was by far the most fun I’ve ever had both at EA Los Angeles and EA in general. For starters, I was working on a franchise that I personally loved — as did most of the development team. Second, Mike Verdu was an incredible dev partner, and he allowed me to participate in a lot of the key development decisions. I remember being in meetings around who we should cast for the FMVs — aside from Joe Kucan. Billy Dee Williams and Michael Ironside were probably my two biggest contributions on C&C 3 given my obsession for Star Wars and Starship Troopers! Getting to meet Lando was one of the best days in my EA career, and Billy Dee Williams is one of the nicest — and coolest — actors I’ve ever met. The game was definitely ahead of its time and we did a lot of things in the marketing that was truly break-thru (such as C&C TV).
3. How did you come up with the idea of C&C TV and especially Battlecast Primetime? Do you think it is related to the craze for shoutcasts and video-based developer-to-player communication that came a few years afterwards?
I remember being in a meeting room with the C&C3 production team talking about the multiplayer features. We were discussing the recent rise in StarCraft competitive matches in Korea and wanted to come up with ways we could make C&C3 more of a spectator event. We were brainstorming ideas such as the telestrator, replays, different commentary tracks, it got to a point where I just said to the group something along the lines of, “It seems as though we’re building ESPN, why not just create Sportscenter along with it?” That was sort of the spark that kicked off the entire C&CTV movement.
I was able to get the greenlight to convert a conference room into our C&CTV studio and hire production talent. At the time, it was really important to me to have a high level of production values and authenticity. The bar for videos about games was rather low, and I knew that if this was going to work, it had to actually look like Sportscenter from a production standpoint. I also didn’t believe fans would be interested in watching actors talk about a game they weren’t authentically passionate about. This was a constant debate internally as typically videogame developers aren’t the best on-camera personalities, and I was under a lot of pressure to show people what we were working on — and where all the budget was going. The compromise I was able to strike was that I would be hosting Battlecast Primetime — my theatre minor from college definitely came in handy there, but with an actor as the co-host. I don’t think the pilot episode we shot ever saw the light of day — it wasn’t great… trust me. So, I started broadening my search for more internal development people. It was during that time I was introduced to a producer on the Xbox 360 version of C&C3, none other than Raj Joshi!
Command & Conquer TV was way ahead of its time. This was years before Twitch, Justin.tv was just coming online, YouTube was still just mainly about cat videos, and nobody was really using the term e-sports. I think C&CTV showed a lot of people what was possible in terms of legitimizing gaming and blurring that line between e-sports and sports. It was an amazing project to work on a I feel very grateful to have been able to work with such an incredible — and patient — production team! These guys were the true unsung heroes of BCPT. The first episode we ever released took two full days to shoot — Raj and I were that bad! Turns out, it’s rather difficult to read a teleprompter and adlib witty banter. Matt Ott, Neel Upadhye, Chase Boyajian, Tanner Boyajian, Chris Harris, Joe Kondrath, and Derek Schoeni, these guys are the real heroes of C&CTV and why it was as successful as it was. They took my crazy idea and, through tireless work day in and day out, brought it to life.
4. After EALA, you moved to BioWare, then EA’s global marketing department. What were your experiences like there? How hard was the transition back to a non-RTS world?
It was a hard decision to leave Command & Conquer, but I was given an incredible opportunity to work on the new BioWare business for EA and couldn’t pass it up. In many ways, working on the BioWare business was similar to Command & Conquer. Both development teams were super passionate about their craft and had long tenure creating amazing products. The BioWare community was equally passionate and enthusiastic about our various activities and in many ways the learning from Command & Conquer influenced a lot of what was done — from a marketing perspective — on Dragon Age and Mass Effect. I’d say the biggest difference was the fact that traditionally, BioWare games were more single-player experiences while Command & Conquer is more competitive in nature. The shift was about finding ways to interact with the fans without coming across as talking at them as opposed to C&C, which was more focused on highlighting the community’s greatest matches.
5. While at BioWare, you ran another web show, called BioWare Pulse. How come it got a weekly schedule instead of a monthly one with longer episodes like Battlecast Primetime did? Did you miss the BCPT desk as opposed to standing all the time? 😉
As I mentioned before, putting together an episode of Battlecast Primetime was not an easy task—especially in the early days. The production team had to edit down two full days of shooting plus all of the matches and other content. We simply didn’t have enough staff to be able to increase the cadence of BCPT, which is why we tried to launch other shows such as Aftermath and Command School. BioWare Pulse was a much simpler show to produce. It was just one person in front of a camera with some cutaways. Plus, having spent years learning how to read a teleprompter, I could now do it in 1 take as opposed to 100! 🙂 The real challenge with BioWare Pulse came when we took it to events and broadcasted live. That was a whole new experience… and was insanely fun!
(And yes, I definitely miss the old BCPT set and that awesome desk… fun fact, the glass of the desk was made from a special material that was bullet-proof!)
6. You’ve been into streaming recently. Why Marvel: Contest of Champions specifically, and do you plan on branching out to other games, including your current projects when they come close to release?
Streaming has become a major component of the gaming industry and I wanted to spend some time really learning what streamers go through to create a channel from scratch. The only way to really learn that was to start my own channel. I’ve been playing a lot of Marvel Contest of Champions, so I decided to use that game as the game to focus on.
In terms of branching out to other games, I won’t completely rule it out, but the challenge is that a large majority of the supporters I have on my channel are because I play Marvel Contest of Champions. It will be challenging to switch to another game without losing them. We’ve built a really fun and supportive community on my channel for MCOC, so for now, I think I’m going to be focused on there, but I wouldn’t rule anything out.
7. How do you comment on the scarcity of major RTS releases in recent years? In your opinion, is there still a place for the genre in today’s market?
The traditional RTS genre that was started primarily with Dune II (yes, I know there were others before) has evolved into two different types of sub-genres: MOBAs and the Clash of Clans-type games. Given the success of each of those sub-genres, I wouldn’t rule out a game company releasing a more traditional RTS, but they’re going to have to learn from the recent successes of these sub-genres to fix some of the weaknesses the RTS genre faced.
8. Hypothetically, if you had the chance to work on another RTS title, would you accept such a project, and what would you want it to be like?
I definitely have a fondness for RTS games, so I certainly wouldn’t shy away from working on another one. It would be an interesting challenge to work with the development team on trying to strike the balance between being faithful to the genre’s heritage while adapting it to be more relevant and successful in today’s climate.
9. Which games do you play to unwind in recent times? Do you still feel a nostalgia itch and fire up a C&C or BFME game, or follow community sites and projects?
Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of mobile/tablet games. Marvel Contest of Champions is probably the game I spend the most time playing, but I also play a lot of Cooking Craze — that game gets crazy hard, and I loved Cooking Dash back in the day. On console, I played a ton of Horizon: Zero Dawn this past year and am excited to crack open God of War and the new Spider-Man game. On the PC side of things, I was playing a lot of PUBG — until I finally got my first Chicken Dinner — now I dabble in the occasional MOBA match. I got really good with Lux in League [of Legends].
I haven’t fired up C&C 3 in a while, but I’m definitely tempted having just reminisced about how awesome that game was from both a product and campaign standpoint.
10. Are there any messages or comments you would like to send out to the community?
I think the C&C community is one of the best and most passionate communities I’ve ever been a part of. I know there is a lot of skepticism out there about C&C Rivals and EA’s choice to change up the formula for C&C’s triumphant return, but I would advise everyone to at least give it a chance. I don’t have an Android phone, so I haven’t been able to play it yet, but everything I’ve read (and watched) about the game from people who’ve played it, indicates it’s a lot of fun. If you all want EA to make more C&C games, then show your support for C&C! Dawn your Brotherhood of Nod pin, your screaming eagle GDI badge, and show your support for this awesome franchise. C&C — and especially the Tiberium universe — is one of my favorite universes in gaming. I would love to see more products released. If you agree, then you owe it to yourself to give C&C Rivals a chance. It just might surprise you.
…I’ll see you on the battlefield!
We would like to thank David Silverman for his time, as well as all his contributions for Command & Conquer and gaming in general! Be sure to check out his YouTube channel for streams and say hi!