FEATURES: Roundtable Discussion #9 – June 2008 (Red Alert 3 Community Summit Special Edition)

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It’s Roundtable time again. This is the edition number 9 of our Roundtable Discussion here on CNCNZ.com. For the month of June we are dedicating the Roundtable to the Red Alert 3 Community Summit. Listed below are the people participating on the panel for this month. Each person attended the summit that took place on June 11th-13th.

Question 1) What did you expect by attending the Red Alert 3 Community Summit?

Sonic: I had a fair idea of what to expected based on talks with other CNCNZ.com staff who have attended them in past, as well as reading reports from other summits. But it was still a relative trip into the unknown for me simply because I had never visited Los Angeles before. As for the Red Alert 3 side of things, I was expecting to spending long hours in front of screen playing the game, but thinking back we didn’t really play it that much.

APOC: I expected the 25 community leaders I invited to the event to really treasure the moments and the opportunity to speak directly with our development team. When I plan these community summits, my first priority is to provide as much of an opportunity to provide feedback and talk candidly with our development team, since as Chris Corry said in his slide in that photo you’ve seen, your opinion counts. I was also very confident and yet hopeful they would enjoy Red Alert 3!

Chickendippers: I really didn’t know what to expect, I’d read accounts of previous summits but that still didn’t prepare me for it. I certainly didn’t expect the EA studio to be so luxurious and laid-back, stories of EA overworking their employees didn’t seem apparent here, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and were very friendly.

HeXetic: Well, as this was my third EALA “Community Summit” event, I’m getting pretty familiar with the routine: Ritz-Carlton hotel, local eatery for dinner, breakfast burrito in the morning, Medieval Times in the evening, more breakfast burritos the next morning, some shopping at the EA store ($10 for PC games, $20 for console), and then heading home.

Oh, and I guess they also show us a game while we’re there. I don’t know, I usually don’t pay much attention to that sort of stuff.

Wildfire: I’ve been around the community since they started doing these things so I kinda expected what I got. Presentations, see the game play, play the game, ask/answer questions. All in all, it turned out better than I hoped for.

Blbpaws: Attending the summit, I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t expect to be able to talk to the devs as much as we got to, so that was a welcome surprise. I did expect to go to Medieval times and a few other things, like the multiplayer tournament, only because they’d be done before.

Smurfbizkit: I expected to be drugged, brainwashed and bribed to return from the Summit preaching the glories of EA and RA3

Question 2) How far did you have to travel to get to Los Angeles and did you have any problems getting there?

Sonic: How does 10464 kilometers or 6502 miles sound? Auckland to Los Angeles is a really long flight, approximately 12 hours. It was a direct flight and the only problems I had was the a delay at Auckland Airport of about and hour and half. Other than that it was smooth sailing…. I mean flying.

APOC: I usually have about 5-10 minutes of traffic, even though I live literally 2 miles away from EALA. They are doing construction on the roads between my apartment and the studio, so my drive can be a bit long sometimes. I mean 5-10 minutes is crushing in Los Angeles traffic, hehe (major sarcasm).

Chickendippers: My journey rivalled Sonic’s weighing in at 11 hours. But by the time I got to bed on the first night I’d been up about 30 hours!

HeXetic: From Toronto it’s about 5 hours of flying. My connection in Detroit was painless and uneventful. Coming back, I had a connection in Minneapolis, and I have to say, it is possibly one of the most magnificent airports I’ve been in. The entire central area — within the security zone, i.e. after you’ve gone through security — is a huge shopping complex with gorgeous skylights and tons of public seating. I stepped off the plane and into a modern glass-walled shopping plaza, with tons of open-air space. It was so nice I almost wished my layover there was more than an hour.

Wildfire: I live locally so about 30+ miles. Only problem I had getting here was finding someone to drop me off at the hotel.

Blbpaws: I had to travel from the East Coast to Los Angeles. In all, it was about a 10 hour trip from my door to EA’s. No real problems on the trip, except that it was pretty sleep-free.

Smurfbizkit: My trip went from Ohio to LA, with change-overs in Philledelphia (on the way) and Charlotte (on the way back)…yea, I should’ve begged for direct flight. Aside from getting a speeding ticket on the way to the airport…no problems!

Question 3) Personally, what was the highlight or highlights of the entire Red Alert 3 Community Summit?

Sonic: I know it was the “Red Alert 3” Community Summit and it was all about the game, but the big highlight for me was meeting up with all the community guys in person for a change. I always enjoy meeting new people. Many of the C&C fansite guys stay in regular contact but meeting them in person for the first time, while odd at first, became an enjoyable experience. And how I could forget finally meeting guys like APOC of course, David Silverman and many of the other EALA devs. The other highlight was Medieval Times, we have nothing like it here in New Zealand to compare it to.

APOC: Wow, this is a rather tough question for me. Well, without a doubt the highlight for me is not the Red Knight, it’s not the RA3 Multiplayer Tournament, it’s not the 20 breakfast burritos ordered two mornings in a row, but truly the highlight of this community summit was once again the community presentations. If I were you, in your shoes, and you were me, APOC, and you asked me if I’d like to present something which I’ve put my total heart into, to over 100 members of the Red Alert 3 development team, and EALA studio executives, I’d practically drop down and cry and thank you for the opportunity. Watching Blbpaws, SmurfBizkit, Mastermind, and JohnWE do their individual unique presentations captured a special place in my heart, and more importantly, they captivated our development team in every aspect, and I’m not just saying that. They were incredibly impressive presentations which I hope they all publish to the community for you to see.

Chickendippers: Getting actual hands on time was the definite high point for me, although getting to meet the people who make the games and appear on C&CTV came in a close second. The fact that they really listened to our comments and feedback was very impressive too.

HeXetic: I think the biggest highlight was really getting to play the game for a good amount of time. At the first EALA summit I attended, for BFMEII, we barely touched the game for more than a few minutes. The second one, for C&C3, gave us a few hours of hands-on play experience. This time, although we didn’t get to see the campaign (boo!), I really appreciated the fact that we got a fair amount of time to play the game, which was in pre-Alpha stage at that point.

The other highlight for me was being featured as the Main Event for Battlecast Primetime. I knew I couldn’t beat JohnWE at Kane’s Wrath, but I hope I went down in a true blaze of glory. And, of course, when I trounced him later at the mini-tournament we had for Red Alert 3, I feel it more than made up for the loss. After all, he’s played hundreds of C&C3 and KW matches online, and I’ve played like… one. So it’s no surprise that he beat me there, but when we’d had roughly the same amount of experience with RA3, and I won, that tells you one thing: *I* am the ultimate C&C fan, in spite of the fact that I would probably have lost if he hadn’t played as Japan, the faction he hadn’t yet tried.

Wildfire: My highlight was actually getting to chat with people about C&C, mods, games etc. I don’t get to do this too often except in message boards and being able to do so in person with people who loved the game as much as I do (maybe not as much as John) was a great experience.

Blbpaws: The highlight for me was definitely giving the presentation to the dev team. To even get a shot to talk to that many people—at least some of whom have some influence on the things about which I was speaking—was a great opportunity. I hope I made the most of it. I also enjoyed talking to Greg Black and Greg Kasavin over the two days.

Smurfbizkit: My 3 highlights: Playing RA3. Greg Kasavin’s unit profile presentation, which went over the different unit personalities (basically EA taking another step in the right direction). The music presentation, hearing some demo’s of what may be in the final game (with the Frank K announcement at the end).

Question 4) Of all the presentations given, which one was the most interesting to you, and why?

Sonic: All of the presentations were informative and interesting. If I had to single one in particular it would be about the redevelopment of CommandandConquer.com. Every time I visit the official C&C site often think to myself it could be so much better. And its good to know it will be getting better in the next few months. I’ve always considered the music in C&C games to be very important, I consider it a critical element to the game so the presentation about the music was always going to be of a real interest for me, and of course the announcement of Frank Klepacki’s return topped it of nicely.

APOC: This is an unfair question, but I’m going to be brave and give my honest opinion. MidEast Crisis 2 blew me away. If there is a Counterstrike RTS on the horizon, MidEast Crisis 2 has the best shot from what I’ve seen so far. Smurf and his team have crafted a mod for C&C 3 that shows the true power of our MOD SDK and what a creative group of people can do with our engine (and by no means is this to dismiss any other C&C mod in production, if anything, I hope the quality and impending success of MEC2 is inspiration for all other C&C modders). Everyone should be chomping at the bit to get in the Beta for MEC2, the visuals are astonishing, the gameplay is something between C&C 3 and Company of Heroes, the attention to detail is close to if not on a very similar level to aspects of our own development team units and maps. If MidEast Crisis 2 doesn’t hit it big with the C&C community, I may quit my day job, (that was a joke). But seriously, keep your eyes posted on MEC2. Now, Asylum, JohnWE’s hilarious video, and Blbpaws masterful C&C community creative presentation were all an extremely close second if not 1st on my list as well. I hate making tough choices!

Chickendippers: I found the C&C Online presentation the most interesting; as a webmaster myself it was great to know the dev team knows about the limitations of the current setup and had such big plans for the website.

HeXetic: I think I found the music and audio engine presentation the most interesting. I’ve always been heavily into video game music. I’ve got fond memories of upgrading from a Sound Blaster 16 to an AWE64 (and then later buying the 8MB upgrade for it), just to squeeze some more awesome out of the excellent dynamic MIDI music in the classic space shooter “TIE Fighter”.

The presentation covered some of the subtle enhancements in audioscapes used in BFMEII, and it was interesting to see what was behind my feelings that BFMEII has some of the finest audio in the RTS world. I mean, when there’s a big fight going on in that game, it really *sounds* like a big fight is going on. It makes me very happy to have a 500W, 7.1 surround speaker system hooked up to an X-Fi (Fatal1ty edition, ‘natch) up in this ‘ma…

I was also presently surprised by the art presentation. They kept it snappy and punchy, which is good. I remember the BFEMII one dragging on, and later if I remember correctly, the presenter had told Apoc he’d felt the time was a bit of a waste, since he didn’t get any feedback. Of course, the presentation was on the level of “Here is the art”, so there wasn’t really anything we could say other than, “Yes, there is the art”. Very fait-accompli. By the time the summit comes around, it’s already too late to change most pieces of art, with some exceptions like the RA3 Apocalypse Tank getting a facelift, and C&C3’s Zone Trooper and Pitbull getting environmental canopies. This time, the art presentation was used as a quick introduction to the three factions, and it worked well for that purpose.

Wildfire: The presentation about how they’re trying to get more connected with the community. Because it shows that they really care about the game, the communitiy and understand that without us there is no Command and Conquer.

Blbpaws: I liked Greg Kasavin’s presentation the best. I thought he clearly articulated what the team was trying to do with the increased level of unit characterization and gameplay depth. The presentation revealed a clear and important effort to add more to each unit, fleshing them out more through better planning and better interaction with the user.

Smurfbizkit: They were all really interesting, but I’d have to say the RA3 World Builder presentation was my favorite. It quickly became an execution squad with the community grilling the dev’s on why the C&C3 WB was so un-userfriendly. If you’ve ever been frustrated with any of the problems with the C&C3 WB…you can rest well, knowing that its shortcomings were made very, very clear.

Question 5) Was there any aspect of the summit you didn’t enjoy?

Sonic: I’ll keep this one short because I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. The only part that was annoying was the travelling, but it was unavoidable really. I must admit that long bus ride across LA to Medieval Times was not fun though.

APOC: There’s nothing more stress-inducing than organizing taxi’s every day to and from the hotel, to and from dinner, and back to the airport for 25+ people who are all coming from different parts of the world, leaving at different times, and…it’s just a massive stress ball of fun. But, I’ve done over 10 community summits, scratch that, over 15, and every time I pull through this aspect of event planning.

Chickendippers: The long journey sat in economy class was the only negative aspect I can think of and that’s really scrapping the bottom of the barrel, come on EA you’ve got the 5 star hotel sorted, how about some 1st class flights? 😉

HeXetic: Yeah, my freaking hat was way too toasty to be wearing around in the LA summer weather, but, you know, sometimes you’ve got to sacrifice a bit so you don’t look like a complete bonehead… instead, you look like a complete bonehead with a *purpose*.

Seriously, though, probably the most uncomfortable point in the summit was the presentation with the Worldbuilder guys… I really gave it to them regarding the RA3 Worldbuilder. Everything I’ve seen tells me people will have to become even more “expert” at using it just to make a decent-looking map — a far cry from Red Alert 2’s fairly simple editor, and leagues away from Blizzard RTS offerings. That’s a real shame, because although the RA3 Worldbuilder is ridiculously powerful, it looks like it’ll have a terrifically steep learning curve, and that means that there will inevitably be fewer good maps out there. The meeting was uncomfortable because the Worldbuilder guys are not stupid or callous, and they know the Worlbuilder should be easier to use, but they’re constrained by time and money — there’s a very limited amount of resources available for improving their in-house tools, and only a teeny-tiny amount of *that* pile gets allocated to the needs of non-experts like us. I was a bit overenthusiastic in driving home the point that tough tools means less fan maps, and less fan maps means less fun (especially on a fun-per-dollar basis), so it was all a bit tense…

EA RA3 Worldbuilder guys, if you’re reading this (Apoc: Ask them to read this, please?), I hope you’re not still p***** off at me. I know you know what needs to be done, you’re just handcuffed by outside forces. I’m sorry we butted heads.

Wildfire: Nothing really, I loved the whole experience. I mean, other than having to get up at 7am I had a great time.

Blbpaws: I wasn’t a huge fan of Medieval Times—maybe because I would rather be playing Red Alert 3!

Smurfbizkit: Getting my ass handed to me completely by Ryan (Stenchy from ModDB) in the 2nd round of the tournament due to that damned <insert unit name we can’t talk about yet> rush. That wasn’t cool.

Question 6) Finally, is there anything you would like to add based on your personal experience at the Red Alert 3 Community Summit?

Sonic: The Red Alert 3 Community Summit was a memorable experience for so many reasons. It was great to finally get over there and visit the home of Command & Conquer, especially after APOC’s many attempts to get me there. After about 3 previous tries, everything aligned in perfect synchronization. If you ever get the chance to attend a future community summit I encourage you to make the trip. I’d also like to add, in a effort to convince the haters out there, that the team at EALA are dedicate to making the best C&C games for you guys, they are all fans of the franchise just like you and me, they want your feedback and you can be damn sure they are all listening. They may be called EALA but I can assure they are not these soulless, mindless EA worker drones you hear about over the Internet.

APOC: I hope the community leaders who attended the Red Alert 3 community summit recognized the opportunity we provided to them to provide invaluable feedback to our development team at a stage in Red Alert 3 where it can still dramatically impact the game. And more importantly, I hope the community leaders and YOU, the C&C fan, understand that we do these events because we have a huge heart for our C&C community and absolutely are listening every day and doing our best to improve. There’s no doubt in my mind that every day, is community day.

Chickendippers: I think the community should really cut the dev team some slack, Apoc especially, he comes under a lot of flack on the official forums and after meeting everyone it’s evident how much they want to do for the games, but the decisions from the top prevent them.

HeXetic: Probably the most important thing I’ve learned at these events is that the developers are really not as dumb as people often think they are. They often have already thought of the changes people propose, they’re often more aware than not of the deficiencies in their own product — at the summit, the words “Kane’s Wrath Release” were muttered in hushed tones, as if it carried a curse — and more importantly they’re often very willing to listen to concerted, focused, and eloquent pleas from the community at large. If these community summits say anything, it is that EALA can and will listen; maybe only in the certain circumstances, but they really do.

The other interesting tidbit I like to reflect upon is that I think I’m one of the very few people that attends these summits who’s a part of the approximately 70% of RTS gamers who really don’t play online. That’s not a number pulled out of my pants, either — that’s from EA’s own marketing data. Most people who buy RTS games simply never touch multiplayer. I do touch it, a teeny-tiny bit, but nowhere near on the level of some of the other goons they fly down. It’s an interesting experience, being around hard-core multiplayer types. I was truly amazed at how the Polish invitee, N4kai, played RA3 without ever clicking on the sidebar… it was *all* hot-keys. And this is a game he’d just been playing for a few hours! Skill.

Wildfire: I’d like to say that from my experience there I feel that the people at EALA love Command and Conquer as much as we do, sometimes even more. Sorry JohnWE but I think the biggest C&C fan’s are the developers. We as a community need to appreciate those things that we get that are special about this franchise that other communities wish they had. I can’t wait to see the next new C&C games on the horizon, it can only get better.

Blbpaws: It was a great honor to go and I thank Aaron for inviting me. While I was there, I did my best to try to not take it for granted, and to ask things that people would want to know. When community members like us are invited to go, we’re not invited there to be cheerleaders, but to be honest, to ask tough, but fair and respectful, questions that fans want to have answered, and to provide valuable feedback. I hope I did that—and I hope whomever I asked tough questions of understands why I did and felt that I was being respectful even while doing so. If you want to read my full write-up on the summit, you can do that at www.cncgeneralsworld.com.

Smurfbizkit: I’d just like to thank Aaron again for putting the Summit together (and inviting us), it definitely was a great experience.

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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