FEATURES: Roundtable Discussion #10 – July 2008

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It’s Roundtable time again. This is the edition number 10 of our Roundtable Discussion here on CNCNZ.com. This time however, Saracen is heading the Panel by asking this month’s questions. Listed below are the people participating on the panel for this month.

Question 1) What is your overall impression of the Empire of the Rising Sun faction so far?

Saracen: Impressive is my first word. The greatest thing EA have done with this faction is to make them different from the Allies and Soviets, instead of having them as a tacked on faction. My only hope is that they’re not tacked on to the Single player campaigns. As for other things. I certainly like the build mechanic, like the new economy model, the Empire’s build mechanic is reminiscent of Earth 2140, which was one of my favourite RTS games during the 1996-98 clone wars, and well, I could write an essay about other areas of this faction, but I’ll save that for another date.

Sonic: Obviously I’ve had the advantage of actually playing hands on with the Empire of the Rising Sun faction at the RA3 summit in June, While they felt odd to me at first you soon adjust to their build system. From all the recent news about the Empire of the Rising Sun released during E3 you can clearly see that EALA have put massive amounts of thought into the design of this faction. While everyone will probably still want to stick with the Allies or Soviets, curiosity may see the Empire of the Rising Sun becoming the favourite faction for RA3 fans.

Chickendippers: The Empire is looking good; the quick expansion particularly at the start of a match combined with transforming units could certainly make for some very interesting tactics. As for the question whether the Empire belongs in the Red Alert 3 storyline, I think it does; I mean we’ve had Yuri, a psychic guy, and already have the stereotypical “Westerners” and “Eastern Europeans” so why not have a Japaneese inspired side?

Banshee: YUUUUUURIIIIII!!!! Now, with a new name and new skills and samurais. But the main vision remains, they wanna conquer the world and have no idea of what they’ll do once the world is conquered. And they don’t give a damn if it costs the lives of a bunch of people, including their own friends either. The faction purpose looks childish, just as Yuri and GLA were, but it has some interesting units. It mixes all the coolness of the japanese culture with some very interesting unit abilities. I like the units I’ve seen so far and the art one for them as well.

HeXetic: Having played them at the summit, they seemed very familiar to the “Novus” faction in Petroglyph’s Universe at War, with the huge emphasis on dispersed base construction and large numbers of fast-but-fragile “hit-and-run” vehicles. The fact that they’re all painted white and have a Gundam-like look to them, as the Novus were in UaW, isn’t helping. I think they buck the system in RA3 because their units are reasonably versatile, unlike the Allies’ and Soviets’ stuff. We’ll probably see a lot of experts favouring them for their highly expansive properties and cheap, useful units, like the GLA in Generals.

Blbpaws: I played as the Empire of the Rising Sun quite a bit at the summit, so I’m pretty familiar with them. In general, I like what I see. I definitely like the build mechanic, and I think it’s pretty innovative. They have a strong ability to expand quickly in the early game as a result. I don’t like the transforming units so much (and I made that point to the dev team, though they indicated it wasn’t likely to change too drastically). To me, seeing submarines leap into the sky and become bombers, for example, kills any element of realism or suspended disbelief.

Mighty BOB!: I applaud EA for a job well done with integrating Japanese iconography / pop culture into the faction design so far. But, and this is a big but, I just think the game as a whole is way too corny, cartoony, and cheesy. I don’t buy in to the whole “RA is the over-the-top cartoony slapstick universe” pitch that EA is throwing. It doesn’t hold appeal for me and as a result RA3 will be the first C&C that I won’t buy. The only thing that could bring my dollars back to RA3 is a strong Mod SDK and interesting mods from the community.

Hagren: To be honest, I’m impressed! I was a bit worried after they’ve first shown the King Oni, the old white/red colour and the blue eyes simply looked wrong. However, the trailer blew me away, I’m very excited about the transforming units, the cultural influences (Hopefully there will be more of those witty trivialities) and their build mechanic. I dig their visual design as well, the animation is splendid! It needs more samurai though. Everything does.

Question 2) There has been lots of discussion about Yuriko Omega, does a “school girl” really have place in the C&C universe?

Saracen: Red Alert 2 made many male gamer’s tongues fall onto their keyboards with the likes of Tanya’s low cut top with cleavage in full view. Now, you could argue that Yuriko Omega is playing upon another male fantasy with a schoolgirl look. I’m not going to elaborate any further than that, but you can see EA is following a trend. So in that respect she does belong in the C&C Universe. But she also belongs comfortably within the Empire faction. Japanese schoolgirls sometimes play a prominent role within Animé, and since the Empire is also Animé inspired, it makes sense really. Sure people might be shouting WTF!? But it makes sense for her to be in the game.

Sonic: All I can say is, it’s different. I mean in the end it’s just another character, There is no denying the similarities between Yuriko Omega and that crazy mind controlling Yuri from RA2/ Yuri’s Revenge, but despite all the stupid ideas put forth by many people (especially on the Official C&C Forums), neither of them are linked.

Chickendippers: See my answer to the previous question really. Whilst it’s not your usual army unit, neither is the entire Empire side, so it certainly sits well. There’s also something sinister about an innocent school girl destroying all your stuff!

Banshee: If Yuri took place with his mind control abilities, it doesn’t surprise me to see a school girl with uber psionic abilities. So, she does has place in the Red Alert wacky universe, in my opinion, even if it is a way too wacky and stupid.

HeXetic: Probably not, but in the “Red Alert universe”, yes.

Blbpaws: I’m definitely not a fan of this choice. I think it comes across as cliché and doesn’t add very much to the game. I’d much prefer to see a character with a little more depth or complexity. Even in-game, this unit felt decidedly unrealistic and simplistic. I don’t expect much to change about her before launch, though.

Mighty BOB!: Well it definitely gives the community plenty of fodder for, uh, “fan art” and webcomics. I can already imagine the cat-fight comics that will result from all 3 factions having a female hero unit.

Hagren: Yeah, Yuriko is really a deicy case. I like her in theory, but I’m not so keen about her looks. But it won’t ruin the game and suddenly make it hentai as some people tend to say exaggeratedly. Her powers are cool enough, so I just have to get used to the uniform, the tails and the levitation…or EA changes the design. On the other hand, I guess they did not want to have another badass chick next to Tanya and Natasha, considering that rumours about her being a lilac-haired commando circulated at first.

Question 3) How do you really feel about Kane’s Wrath being out sourced?

Saracen: Personally it doesn’t bother me at all. Outsourcing happens all the time in this industry, so why EA should be penalised by the community for a common practice is beyond me… Sure there could be a few support issues with this practice, but overall I felt the game (from a single player perspective at least) turned out pretty good in the end. Kane’s Wrath was instantly better than it’s full game counterpart anyway, so in my eyes, the practice worked.

Sonic: Why is it an issue? So what, some other company and not EALA made the majority of Kane’s Wrath. Out sourcing has been done many times by other developers so it’s not a new thing. Who’s to say we wouldn’t have had the long wait for patch 1.01 if it was made in house at EALA.

Chickendippers: I don’t mind that it was outsourced per se, it’s the fact that there appeared to be no plan for after-release support. I mean the time it took to release patch 1.01 after its release would certainly suggest to me that they hadn’t planned anything when compared with the speed of Tiberium War’s patches. Even if a patch was accounted for, it would appear that it took longer to develop than if the game was in-house. Obviously we have no official confirmation of exactly how much of production was outsourced, what work was involved with the patch (maybe it was really difficult to fix the desync bugs) etc.

Banshee: Outsourcing isn’t the big issue. However, outsourcing with a tight schedule is a big issue. Just as any other outsourced game from the studio, Kane’s Wrath wasn’t properly tested and the engine code wasn’t studied properly, since we’ve seen so many issues with desynchs. The other noticeable problem were the code from old TW patches not being ported to KW, which is also fault of outsourcing games. These people from Breakaway Games might have the skills to create a game, but they didn’t had enough time to make KW work properly.

HeXetic: From my own personal interaction with EA’s staff in LA last month, I’m not sure it’s entirely clear how much of KW was really outsourced and how much wasn’t. Ultimately, I don’t think what matters is whether or not they subcontract out work, but how good that work is. While I enjoyed the new units and factions, the campaign, frankly, left me disappointed. And even the guys at EA hung their heads in shame at the shambles of multiplayer desynchs and the much-delayed first patch.

Blbpaws: Well, given that I wrote the original article (http://www.cncgeneralsworld.com/articles/kw-outsourced-development/) that started this debate, you can see my full opinion (and, more important, reasoning) on it there. The summary: historically, when EA outsources a game, it’s not as good of a game and doesn’t get as good reviews. EA had made this mistake twice (The First Decade and Rise of the Witch-King), yet did it again with Kane’s Wrath—and got, unsurprisingly, the same results. Worst of all, though, I don’t think it’s reasonable to hide or minimize the fact that a game is outsourced to the extent that it takes a community member to go highlighting this fact. Should EA pursue a similar strategy with the RA3 expansion (and I hope they don’t), I hope they articulate clearly that they are doing it, who is involved, and why it must be done well in advance.

Mighty BOB!: Q: Why was it outsourced? A: Because EA runs a development cycle that requires 1 new product, from concept to shipped, every 15 months. To meet deadlines and allow EALA to have both Kane’s Wrath and RA3 at the same time, they outsourced KW. With that said, I would never mind if they only outsourced art production, but code, creative direction, and “final assembly” should always stay in-house. But then we run into the 15 month cycle problem. The solution? Abolish the cycle and give the devs the time they need to create a quality product so they can keep everything in-house.

Hagren: I was surprised, given that I did not yet buy KW to see the credits (Very hard to fight of the urge, but money’s tight- Next month, I promise! Thus I cannot truly judge about EA’s decision without knowing how good (or bad) the game is. However, I felt quite tricked afterwards with all the EA devs talking about the game during marketing. But if it’s a good expansion, I could not care less who made it. EA just should be honest about such “details” upfront, and give their games the proper attention, and it’s all good.

Question 4) How much of an impact do you think the community’s campaign for a Kane’s Wrath Mod SDK will have?

Saracen: As we’ve seen in the past, what the community wants it sometimes often gets. Not in all cases of course, because the First Decade still needs patching! Of course the SDK campaign is a little different here. We have Banshee, a well respected member of the community heading this, and there is also some strong support from the community in general. So in theory at least, it could cause a strong impact. In practice though, who knows? But as the saying goes, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get!”…. But I do agree with the campaign. The after-market support (in comparison to C&C 3’s) has been suspect, and it just appears that Red Alert 3 is now the only concern. So all power to the campaign, let’s hope the community gets what they want.

Sonic: I have to be honest here, I admire the courage and determination by the community and really hope this campaign succeeds and delivers the results. The problem is EALA have said they simply don’t have the resources right now to make a Kane’s Wrath Mod SDK.

Chickendippers: Well at the RA3 summit Apoc did say that he wanted to know the community’s demand for the SDK and this is a concentrated effort to achieve that. The modding scene is considerably smaller than the player-base, so there will always be a lot fewer “we need an SDK” threads compared with “ZOMG Tiberium crystals look stupid” types. I remain cautiously optimistic, but also realistic at the same time.

Banshee: I am very suspicious to answer this question, since I’m organizing it. The plan of the campaign is very simple. First, we collect feedback from the fans and then we shove it to the dev team with the hope to make them rearrange their resources to save the game by making a mod SDK for it. The ideal impact is to have a mod SDK released in few months, however, when it comes to EALA, things are not that simple. I’ve seen EA promising a way too many things and these things not seeing the light of the day. One of the things that have most disappointed me so far are the Open Map Competition 4 maps not being included on KW and its patches, even after so many confirmations and even announcements on the official forums about it. And that was our main prize in the contest, and I’m completely impotent to make it happen. Generals Ladder Kit, TFD Hall of Fame contest and The First Decade patch 1.03 are among many other things forgotten by them. So, I’ll only celebrate any impact if I actually see this mod SDK running in my machine, although I still have some hope that it will be possible to mod that game one day and I’m placing my bets on this hope.

HeXetic: I was told in fairly plain words by EA that concerted, focused, campaigns like the current one for a Mod SDK, do have an impact. I think we have a reasonable chance of getting an SDK out of the support team, though the release date might be all too close to RA3….

Blbpaws: Sadly, very little. I could be wrong, but if we see a Mod SDK out of EA (for Kane’s Wrath or Red Alert 3) by, say, December, I’ll be surprised. I think it will be a while after release before the Red Alert 3 one comes out. The one thing that could change this is the creation of EA’s new support team, with community member Mastermind and former EA German Community Leader Pete Larsen involved. Hopefully, the team is ready to go soon and can do the two SDKs in a timely manner, though I don’t believe this to be the case. At this point I don’t have high expectations for anything soon.

Mighty BOB!: EALA has stated that although they do in fact want to make an SDK for Kane’s Wrath, their resources are just stretched too thin, so at the moment it has a (very) low priority for them. So far most of the community response that I have seen has been in favor of having a KW SDK. Hopefully EA will realize that supporting user content is just as important as balance and will increase the SDK’s priority. Maybe that new post-release support team will get the job of making the SDK. Personally I don’t care if it takes another 5 or 6 months, just as long as the SDK does eventually get made.

Hagren: I don’t think it will have a large impact, to be frank. I mean, everyone here is waiting for the odd mod, but with RA3 in the pipeline, most could not care less about mods, their creators and their issues with the ModSDK or the lack thereof for KW. I hope though that EA takes the modding community and their wishes seriously, since it’s the modders who increase the lifespan of any given game- Just think of CS. Plus, EA needs all the redeeming quality it can get.

Question 5) ZoneRunner has recently announced he is moving on. What are your feelings about his sudden departure?

Saracen: ZoneRunner was barely known to any of us in the community. Unless you were a part of the official forums, then you didn’t really know him. It’s a shame in many ways. But I suppose his hands were tied being unable to answer any major questions, and having to give way to Red Alert 3, must have been tough and somewhat frustrating. But I’d imagine he left in the same way many community managers leave, a closer location to home and/or better job prospects. But where-ever he may go, we wish him the best in future endeavours.

Sonic: Even though I never had that much interaction with ZoneRunner. I wish ZoneRunner the best of luck in whatever he’s moving on to. It’s not good to lose a community manager during the development of a game but since we have only been “teased” about what Tiberium has to offer, the new community manager should settle in quickly.

Chickendippers: I didn’t really get to know him very much, the great EA PR machine has yet to shift into gear for Tiberium so he didn’t have much to communicate to the community unfortunately. He seemed cool though, and his departure was definitely unexpected.

Banshee: We’ve hardly heard anything from him. A couple of emails, few screenshots, teasers of the game, the site and that’s all. He couldn’t be as energic as Aaron Kaufman, due to the marketing strategy that the studio had for Tiberium. He has also never replied my question about Tiberium supports modding. Nonetheless, I wish him good luck on his future endeavours.

HeXetic: I feel like Tiberium has been on the back-burner since day one. While I’ve no complaints about ZR’s work, there was so little of it that the move is hardly earth-shattering. It’s still much too far in advance of the game’s release date for a community manager to have much to do, so we will probably see a considerable time lapse between ZR’s departure and his replacement’s arrival.

Blbpaws: I don’t really have thoughts on it. On one hand, I suppose he could have gotten a wildly attractive job offer paying millions of dollars per year and decided to take it. On the other, I suppose he could be burned out, tired, and hateful of the games industry as a whole. Both are highly unlikely (though I hope for his sake that the former is the case) and I haven’t a clue as to what the real reason is. In any event, I wish him good luck and I hope his replacement will begin updating us regularly on the progress of Tiberium.

Mighty BOB!: I think he left out of boredom for lack of Tiberium PR work to do. Heh, but seriously, he seemed like a great guy and he’ll be missed. I hope whoever EA lines up as a replacement will also be a person the community can get along with.

Hagren: I was quite upset, he seemed like an honest, humble guy, and makes me weary thinking about Tiberium Although after RA3s announcement, I’m not very interested in it anymore. I’m quite doubtful about certain aspects of the game anyway. Still, it’s a shame, and I can’t see any incentive for his departure. I’m worried that Tiberium is losing grip, on a side note.

Question 6) The Unreal Tournament Total conversion, Renegade X has shown us a 2nd great looking trailer. What effect do you think this game will have on the community and more importantly on the older Renegade total conversions, ie. APB and Reborn?

Saracen: Well I don’t know about anyone else, but across every games community I am a part of, this is my mod for 2008 outright. It looks great, it’s beautifully presented, and if this was actually a full game, the trailers alone would easily put most recent (professional) games marketing strategies to shame. I have to admit I’m looking forward to it, and as a result, I am hunting down a copy of Unreal Tournament 3 to play it. The problem right now this game has with the community is that people will have to do what I’m doing right now (unless they already have UT3). Although, since Tiberium is using the same engine, maybe it could be converted over, and then it’d be available to the masses! As for it’s impact on the Renegade Total conversions? I wouldn’t see Renegade X causing any conflicts, after all, all 3 will stand tall, and be different enough to appeal to everyone… So no complaints really!

Sonic: Renegade X has blown me away, everything they have shown us is just fantastic. I don’t think Renegade X is can be considered competition for A Path Beyond or C&C Reborn though. But its good see lots of chatter about Renegade X around the community. But my question is, will there be enough to convince someone who has no interest in Unreal Tournament to buy that game just to play Renegade X?

Chickendippers: As I posted on their ModDB page, I will definitely buy UT3 just to play this mod, it looks incredible! I think RenX has the chance to re-light people’s interest in Renegade and may be a boost to the mods mentioned. I can’t see it having any detrimental effect.

Banshee: I must admit that I’m not enthusiastic about mods outside the Command & Conquer and Petroglyph Games scope. But the material they displayed so far looks interesting.

HeXetic: I think the people that still play Renegade mods will continue to play Renegade mods; it’s still a hit for those that fell in love with it back in 2002, and it’s also a pretty good-looking game if you’ve got an older graphics card. That said, I always find myself keeping at least two of the UTs installed (currently: 2K4 & UT3), and Ren-X is shaping up like it’ll be a real “looker”. I look forward to seeing its release.

Blbpaws: I know someone on the team for this, so I’ve been following it pretty closely. I’m definitely impressed with it. At this point, I’m sure they will draw attention away from the other Renegade mods. Of course, the beauty of modding is that the other mods, if their teams are willing and able, can always do some impressive things on their own. There’s no such thing as too many good mods, so I hope that’s the case here.

Mighty BOB!: RA: A Path Beyond and C&C Reborn (also Apocalypse Rising) have target audiences that are different enough from Renegade X’s target audience that I believe Ren-X won’t have a significant impact on the W3D engine conversions. All 3 feature gameplay that, while based on Renegade’s C&C Mode, make them unique and stand out from C&C Renegade’s original gameplay, which is what we at Ren-X are trying to capture, only on a more modern engine. Although as a side note those dedicated W3D programmers such as Tiberian Technologies have done an astonishing amount of things that were once thought to be impossible on W3D.

Hagren: Those who dig Renegade plus it’s mods and have UT3 will love it, who wouldn’t with these graphics? 😛 Imho it will attract those who see visuals as significant or those who like Renegade’s gameplay, but the fanbases of APB and Reborn are going to remain loyal. Integrity is very common in CnC fans.

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

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