Roundtable Discussion #17 – February 2009


This is edition number 17 of the Roundtable, and it’s back to the regular format this month. Listed below are the people participating on the panel for this month.

Question 1) Red Alert 3 Uprising isn’t that far off from being released. Are you getting it via the digital download or hoping and praying for a retail release later in the year?

Sonic: I’m undecided about getting Uprising. But I know I will end up getting it, only because of I guess. The download will be the only option by the looks of it, and that doesn’t really bother me. Start the download, and let it run in the background. Like a lot of people I would like to see an actual retail release but that is not likely to happen now. Last time I looked at the calendar it said 2009, its time to start embracing the future and digital distribution is part of that future.

Luk3us: I’ll get the digital version. There has been a lot of debate about why they aren’t going with a retail option, I don’t really care that much. DLC and such is the new big thing, so its no surprise EA are jumping onboard too. I’d much rather pay less and just download it, instead of having to pay extra just to get a box and DVD that I’ll only look at once and then never worry about again. Only real concern I have is how long EA will continue to provide you access to the game online. I mean how many years will you be able to download it before they call it quits.

Lion: I’ll most likely get it via digi download as it doesn’t look like EA will be releasing it as a hard copy for dvd, at least not in the near future

Banshee: I’m praying for the retail box. My ADSL connection is not stable at all (my phone line sucks).

HeXetic: To be honest I haven’t even finished the RA3 campaigns yet. The main attraction of Uprising for me is the Challenge mode, for which I hope they’ve got the same team working on it as they did with the Zero Hour challenge missions. The Uprising campaign is less appealing as I’m afraid I haven’t really enjoyed the RA3 campaign. It feels like ages since we’ve seen an RTS release that actually had a great campaign…

Assassin: If they do release a retail box *which I hope they do hint hint EA* I imagine it’ll be sometime after the Digital release, as I’m generally pretty impatient I will download the digital release however I’ll prefer a retail box any day and if it does come I’ll buy it too. But if EA has its heart set on Digital release it should consider Steam I have friends of mine who are totally into Digital release’s but they only use Steam. I myself still prefer a disk and box any day hands down though so please EA I hope you release a hardcopy too. Besides in the stores it can catch people’s eyes who don’t know about it as well by being online only it restricts its audience to only those who know about it mostly.

Blbpaws: If it is released in stores, I will probably get it. If it only remains as a digital download, I’m not sure what I’ll do. I’ve never been a big fan of digital downloads, as I think it’s always good to have the DVD so as to easily uninstall and reinstall.

JohnWE: I’ll probably get it via digital download; I’m looking forward to the commander’s challenge mode which sounds similar to the ever-fun ZH General’s Challenge. It is interesting that they are only having a digital download version though, is this their way to combat piracy? I would expect to see a retail version available later combined with the (my guess) multiplayer expansion, or combined in one big RA3 + expansions package.

Question 2) Apparently the “Red Alert button” is making its debut in Red Alert 3 Uprising’s Commander’s Challenge mode. What do you think of this interesting addition to the game?

Sonic: Ah yes the “Red Alert button”, my first encounter with this was during the RA3 Community Summit last June. Here I am playing one of my first ever skirmish games in RA3 and up pops this odd looking button in Russian, I had no idea what it was or what it was going to do, but this red flashing button was almost taunting me to click it. Naturally I did and my reaction was “What the hell”. Units were pumping out way faster but I was more concerned that my base was melting down around me. It should be an entertaining addition to Uprising though. But it would probably have more impact if ever becomes a multiplayer feature.

Luk3us: Well since Uprising is SP only, I don’t see any problems with it. I just trust that when the time comes for EA to incorporate some of the units and ideas they make for uprising back into the RA3 multiplayer, they leave this one the hell alone.

Lion: Well, since the expansion is for single player and skirmish only, there won’t be any balance issues nor spamming that would result from using the Red Alert Button IF it was also for multiplayer. I see no problem with it in the expansion, and it will add an interesting element to the game when you find yourself losing and in desperation mode.

Banshee: It would be better if they only revealed details about it after the release of the game to give enough time to the community to figure out on its own.

HeXetic: Geez, you could’ve fooled me… I thought this was already in RA3. I think my geezer level is increasing because I have trouble distinguishing between RA3 as it was released and RA3 as it was when we play-tested it at EALA. The “Red Alert” button is a neat idea but I remember the writing being in Russian and having no idea what it would do the first (and only) time I pressed it during the beta test. The problem I see with it is that, last I saw, it only shows up under certain circumstances, but those automatically identified circumstances may not be the best times to use it… It would be better off as a button always visible on the UI, but with an extra “click to confirm” sort of mechanic, so you can’t just tap it by mistake or without knowing what it’s going to do.

Assassin: It’s an interesting feature, as long as it cannot be cancelled once imitated which by the sounds of its functionality it cannot. It gives a Commander one last chance to quickly thwart their enemies I think this is a better feature for new players to RA3. However I’m generally not a fan of spamming tactics despite their common use I prefer more strategic attacks that are well thought out. But given the stakes I think this feature is decently balanced as if you are losing badly it does not ensure victory but if you use it quickly and effectively you may just overwhelm your opponent for a last minute upset or at the very least suffer a less humiliating defeat. It’ll be interesting to see how it works out but I think this is a good feature for a single player expansion. However I would not recommend it as a multiplayer feature unless there was an option to turn it on/off in the game lobby then it could be a promising handicap to provide newer players.

Blbpaws: ) I think it’s interesting. The Red Alert button was certainly a unique idea and new to me last June at EALA when I visited, but I don’t think–in its incarnation then, which is slightly different from its incarnation now–it really added a lot. As I understand it, the decision to remove it was in large part due to balancing concerns (that I shared, by the way). Seeing as Uprising is singleplayer only, this should be less of an issue here, but it is still relevent. In providing players with a challenge, it’s important to match the computer and player evenly, not just grant the player super-powerful, even if super-expensive, weapons such as the Giga Fortress. This principle applies to the Red Alert button, too, I think. EA should take care not to neglect it on both fronts.

JohnWE: In the alpha version of the game, which EA so graciously flew me out to test, the Red Alert button made your buildings take damage at a rate until they were dead. You couldn’t repair them, but in exchange, you could build units cheaply and quickly. So it was a last ditch effort to try to save game. Now it’s going to be a way to get extra money, which is nice I suppose. But for me, the Red Alert button will always be something that should be more epic.

Question 3) Frank Klepacki returns for Red Alert 3 Uprising, and there will be new music. Are you hoping for some remixed Red Alert classics or something new and fresh sounding?

Sonic: The RA3 soundtrack was top notch, EALA’s best ever for a C&C game to date. I don’t care if we get some remixed Red Alert/Red Alert 2 tracks or something entirely new…..its Frank Klepacki! And since Frank is doing the combat tracks they need to be heavy rock tracks, Frank loves to rock!

Luk3us: I hope so, I rather liked the soundtrack for RA3. Some remixes would be nice, but I’d prefer some more new tracks.

Lion: A little bit of both actually. I am glad Frank’s music will grace the expansion for RA3. It’s just not Command & Conquer without Frank being involved.

Banshee: I’m sure Klepacki will bring remixes. That’s all what the studio expects from him, specially in an expansion, which is a pitty. It’s more than proven that Klepacki has more than enough talent to bring new classics. I think the other guys will bring the new musics, but not Klepacki.

HeXetic: Whether it’s new hits or old classics, what I’m hoping for is a little atmospheric variety. The vast and overwhelming majority of the music in the “good” C&C games is dark, moody, and even slow. Maybe it’s more the fault of the automatic music system than the music tracks themselves, but Red Alert 3’s music grates on my nerves with its constant pounding and thrashing, especially the frankly awful Allied action music. I like RA2’s “Grinder” and “Destroy” as much as anyone else, but I need a little “Tension” and “200 Meters” in between to chill out to. RA3 was the first C&C game that actually made me turn off the music out of sheer frustration.

Assassin: I enjoyed the remixed Hellmarch versions for Red Alert 3 very cool stuff its great to have Frank back again, Red Alert 3 also had some nice thumping Red Alert-ish tracks to play along too however there were quite a few songs that were way to passive I especially didn’t like the song using the accordion or whatever it was its almost intolerable in-game. So I’m really hoping for more remixed Red Alert classic’s mostly but I also want some new tracks too unfortunately because RA3 uses dynamic music we must have this terrible passive music personally I think dynamic music is a mistake in RTS. It works in FPS as action packed areas can last for ages and urges the player on, in RTS the action can last a second or hours. So I generally prefer having a playlist like the older Command & Conquers. So my advice would be… make way better passive music that urges the player to find/seek out action that’s the kind of music I want to hear. I think it’d be great to offer a toggle button in game options to enable Playlist music play *ala C&C/RA1/TS/RA2* or dynamic music ala C&C3/RA3 as it’s a pretty simple feature to bring back, it’d also be great if you could highlight which music you want in your playlist by clicking/un-clicking songs.

Blbpaws: Frank’s a smart guy and a talented musician. Let him develop some new tracks, even if it’s working within the classic C&C style. Think about it: if we didn’t have this principle, we’d still be listening to Act on Instinct remixes and never would have gotten Hell March 1 or 2!

JohnWE: I’m hoping for Crush 2 or Bigfoot 2. Or maybe a TwinMix2 even. There were a lot of classic music tracks in Red Alert 1, so I really hope that some of them are brought back and made better than ever. But hey, it’s enough for me to know that Frank Klepacki is in the composer list. Therefore I know that it’ll have some decent music tracks.

Question 4) Do you think EA have a real winner with the Red Alert 3: Ultimate Edition on PlayStation 3?

Sonic: I personally think the Red Alert 3: Ultimate Edition on PlayStation 3 will sell extremely well. Simply because its C&C. Gamers know the brand and it doesn’t really have any competition. Plus EA’s gigantic marketing machine will ensure it is a success. And finally all you lagging PlayStation 3 gamers can catch up with PC and Xbox 360 gamers…. yeah I had get that in there.

Luk3us: I can imagine seeing some of RA3’s FMVs in HD running on TVs in an electronics store, would make them sell out fairly quickly. But seriously, the only real reason you’d buy RA3 for console is because your computer was made back in the dark ages. But then if you can afford a PS3 and the stupidly overpriced PS3 games, then you can sure afford to get a reasonable computer to play RA3 on. Consoles and RTS games don’t mix, seriously it is just wrong. Over priced, bad control system, and terrible players, because as we all know console players are all noobs. 😛

Lion: I don’t own the Playstation 3, but I assume those who do are overjoyed that they can play RA3 on their console.

Banshee: Playstation 3 and XBox 360 are videogames with a very limited control for RTS games. Even Wii, with a potential WiiMote mouse wouldn’t be that good, since it still limits you when assigning and managing large forces.

HeXetic: I don’t think console RTS games are “real winners”, ever, especially when they’re not exclusives. Who knows how Halo Wars will do, but given the strength of the Halo brand on the 360 it’s hard to see it tanking. I think the PS3 version is more a matter of EA believing, probably correctly, that they have enough resources to finally port the game over and they’ll make money off it, so why not. Chucking in some extra maps and an updated water shader is nice, but not a massive change — nobody’s going to buy the PS3 version if they already have the PC or 360 version.

Assassin: The PS3 edition promises better graphics and a few extra’s over the Xbox360 RA3, visually I think it’ll be a winner, game play that remains to be seen I’ve never been a fan of the Playstation controller I find the Xbox360 controller to be a superior design, more friendly to play with. I also noticed it has no Keyboard or Mouse support for the PS3, so the PS3 editions success rests completely on how well RA3 plays through the PS3 controller. I think Xbox may have a leg up in this department as it has the combined experience of BFME2, C&C3, KW for adapting its controls while Playstation hasn’t had a C&C game since Red Alert Retaliation I think, but time will tell, sooner or later time will tell.

Blbpaws: ) I couldn’t care less. I don’t have a PlayStation 3 and don’t particularly want one. I hope the game is done well and sells well, but I can’t imagine it’s going to sell all that spectacularly; despite EA’s efforts, the console RTS market just isn’t that big, especially when compared to some of their other properties and opportunities. It might make business sense to port the game to consoles, however, if only because a lot of the design and art can be reused, minimizing cost.

JohnWE: I don’t know. I don’t have a PS3 or any console for that matter and don’t care to play on them. Take away my mouse and keyboard and try to play a hotkey-intensive game like any RTS, and that isn’t a good combination in my book.

Question 5) It’s been six years since the release of Command & Conquer Generals. Looking back what do think Generals will be best remembered for, what did it offer the C&C franchise?

Sonic: A well balanced multiplayer gamer. That’s about all I’ll remember for it anyway. I have nothing else to add unfortunately because I was never really a fan of the game.

Luk3us: Awesome multiplayer action, it was really a MP based game, which was refreshing, they could have just whacked off the useless SP section altogether and no one would have noticed, it was that bad after all. EA are set to release more information on the beta that they plan to unveil at some point in the future. It wouldn’t be that surprising if the beta was for Generals 2.

Lion: C&C Generals was the first C&C game to not use full motion video cutscenes. It was also the first C&C RTS to use the SAGE game engine. C&C Generals was not accepted by some C&C fans as belonging to the Command & Conquer franchise. But regardless, Generals fit in nicely. Afterall, it is all about commanding your army & conquering the enemy. That IS what Command & Conquer games stand for. For me, it was a breath of fresh air. It offered the C&C franchise a new universe to play in

Banshee: The greatest news of Generals for C&C was the 3D, even if there was a C&C 64 that was in 3D several years before it. Generals brought 3D modding to the table and several new possibilities with that. I’m sure it could have gotten a much better storyline if it had better designers. And after 6 years it still has the dreaded scud bug, among other things that cheaters still make use of, in multiplayer. There will be no Live Team to ever fix that, which is a pitty.

HeXetic: To get a few items out of the way, Generals offered a lot of disappointment, drama, grief, and bitterness to the fan community — or at least certain parts of it. Though the campaign was pretty forgettable, I actually enjoyed Generals. I sunk a lot of hours into Generals skirmish and comp-stomp games, and not just because I was reviewing maps! Of course there were a lot of people upset with what appeared to be a quick cash-in on modern terrorism, but I don’t mind the setting — in fact, I rather liked it. Maybe more annoying was it being branded a “C&C” game, when they ought to have come up with a new brand — I mean, they didn’t call it “C&C: Battle for Middle-Earth” or “C&C: Dune”– but that didn’t bug me too much either.

It should be remembered that Generals came out in an era where Warcraft III was dominating the RTS world, similar to how Tiberian Sun came out in an era where Starcraft was reigning dominant. Both of them launched with support nightmares from day 1, and both made some high promises that were never delivered on (where’s our damn ladder kit, Bonin?). Both of them did something unusual (and, in my opinion, wrong) with the campaign — TibSun removed the actors talking “to” you, the player, while Generals did away with FMVs altogether. Both of them have some unusual gameplay mechanics, like TS’s subterranean units, “sorta-working” veterancy, and bizzare scouting rules, or Generals’ build system, point-based powers, and finicky resource nodes. And both were clung to by fans who spewed bile and hatred at the Blizzard offerings.

The difference between the C&Cs and the Crafts is that they offered different atmospheres — modern war-on-terror versus fantasy orcs & elves, and moody semi-apocalyptic future versus Aliens/Starship Troopers romp, and the atmosphere is what C&C fans clung to. I enjoy all of them, but in my opinion, both of those C&C games were weaker than the Blizzard offerings.

But both C&C games are, I think, still pretty good games, and interestingly, both got very much better with their expansion packs. Firestorm brought back the proper FMV system with some exciting and unusual missions, while Zero Hour gave us the excellent and memorable Challenge mode (as well as actual FMVs, sorta).

We should also remember that Generals introduced RTS gaming (and C&C) to a lot of fresh faces. Perhaps because of the easy-to-understand current-events model, Generals sold pretty well and really bolstered the community with new blood.

Unfortunately, I also think Generals represented the start of a major trend downwards in the quality of the EA RTS singleplayer campaign. With Red Alert 2 (and YR) as perhaps the zenith in terms of quality, difficulty, and fun, Generals was quite a downfall and they’ve been in a bit of a slump ever since. It’s not the story, not even the FMVs — it’s the missions themselves that irk me, with mechanics that just don’t make sense or a feeling of having played this all before.

Ultimately, I think Generals was a good game. It struck a few sour notes, but it also hit a few nice ones, and more importantly, in the end I found it pretty fun — which, let’s be honest, is all that matters.

Assassin: I think many are unfair to C&C Generals, like what makes a game a Command & Conquer? Many might say Construction Yards, and other C&C iconic things we all know and love. For me I’d have to say what makes a C&C is the story, just look at the fanatical following Tiberian Sun still has to this day its because it had one of the best C&C story’s. Generals didn’t have a story really and its campaign was underwhelming so that I will hold against it. However I think it tried to bring some new things to C&C like Dozer style base building I actually think was a step forward for C&C style play it offers a lot more strategy then traditional C&C build style however it doesn’t suit C&C at the end of the day. I think it will be remembered for its Generals Experience Menu, Generals Challenge Mode and its sub-factions (different Generals) as these ideas were carried on with success the sub factions in Kane’s Wrath, thou a better example would be the Generals Experience Menu carried on in Red Alert 3 and now the Generals Challenge being adapted for Uprising. It tried a lot of new ideas and proved some things worked others didn’t for C&C, the best of Generals has been used in later C&C’s it was an important experimental C&C and learning curve for the modern C&C i think.

Blbpaws: As a senior staffer at the only site left (that I know of) with C&C Generals in its title (all right, so I’m also a senior staffer at C&C Labs), I certainly appreciate the game. In terms of balance and tactics, Zero Hour was quite strong. As a modding platform, it was relatively solid, and allowed a lot of community members to create some incredibly neat things for it; its smaller learning curve yet relatively powerful engine made it a good choice in this regard. Ultimately, though, I think the elements unique to C&C have always been its memorable story, characters, and special units. Generals and Zero Hour had absolutely none of the first two (when you refer to individual generals more by their battlefield tactics rather than by name, you can tell they don’t have much character depth), and not much of the last.

JohnWE: Generals will be best remembered for the Generals in Zero Hour. Who can forget the hilarious one-liners that they taunted you with in the Generals Challenge. Giving people that many different factions, unprecedented vast explosions, and the classic America versus Terrorists theme and that’s what Generals will be remembered for.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by each individual in the Roundtable Discussion are their own, and do not reflect the official view of, unless otherwise stated.

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