FEATURES: Roundtable Discussion #21 – June 2009

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Edition number 21 of the CNCNZ.com Roundtable has arrived, and we are doing some crystal ball fortune telling by looking at the future of the C&C franchise. Listed below are the people participating on the panel for this month.

Question 1) Nothing is official yet, but based on the tiny amount of news we have seen so far, what are your thoughts on Command & Conquer 4 and what it has to offer?

Sonic: I’m in two minds right now simply because of the information we know right now is just marketing talk, none of it is set in stone. I would rather wait until Command & Conquer 4 is actually announced and some solid information is released. I hate jumping the gun. I do know that the next Command & Conquer game needs to break the mould so to speak. Take Tiberium Wars, Kane’s Wrath and Red Alert 3 for example, each game is better than the one that preceded it but the actual core gameplay remains the same. The next Command & Conquer should be looking to push RTS gaming to the next level. Another game following the same formula won’t do the franchise any good.

Luk3us: Well its different but not necessarily in the good way. MMORPG’s and the like are all the rage nowadays. Unfortunately for me, I don’t have much if any interest in them; they all come off as being far to much grind not enough fun to me. This kind of reminds me of that old world domination feature they used to have in Tiberium Sun, but on a much grander scale.

Lion: Well, about the only major thing we know thus far is that it may have elements of RPG in it. We have so little info that it would just be speculation at this point. Having said that, I’ll keep an open mind and look forward to something different perhaps

Banshee: I believe it’s gonna be a MMORTS sort of game, but there isn’t really much. All I know is that they will twist the storyline even more, if the sudden change of the Tiberium wasn’t enough. Anyway, if the information in the survey is real, it attracts me for covering the Tiberium series again and, of course, more Kane can be expected on it.

Chickendippers: Well it certainly sounds like we’re looking at something ‘epic’, but I’m fairly certain the EA marketing machine has used that word to describe the past 3 C&C releases. If we’re going to see some bigger FMVs (opposed to the one person talking to you) then that would be cool. I think we are probably looking at another Tiberium game, which would be a C&C first I think as the previous game is pretty popular still! Beyond that I really don’t think we’ve had enough information to say anything more.

Ryan: I’m excited. Should the feature list in the survey turn out to be accurate, I’ll be really glad to see EALA experimenting and taking some risks with the future of the franchise. C&C can’t stay the same forever, and I really appreciated the new base-building mechanics in Red Alert 3, so even more change is exciting. Plus 5-a-side skirmish and objective gametypes, as a skirmish gamer myself, would really appeal to me.

Blbpaws: I’m not afraid or wary of change, but I am wary of gimmicks. Some of what’s been shown looks gimmicky. I don’t see what makes a mobile base special, for example (and certainly if C&C 4 had it, it wouldn’t be the first RTS to do so, despite what the survey might say), or why I should care a lot about a “class-based” RTS, whatever that means. In essence, I look forward to learning more about C&C 4 because it’s a C&C, not because of the marketing buzzwords used to promote it. Remember “fast, fluid, and fun” and “RTS as a sport”? Because all we’ve seen of C&C 4 is marketing buzzwords, it looks inadequate, but because the game hasn’t been announced, it’s not exactly the time to start making up our minds.

JohnWE: A few good things, and a few bad things. I’m not sure what ‘stylized’ FMVs means. If it means something like Sin City where the three colors are black and white and red, then I don’t like it. If it’s even more over-the-top acting or even weirder dressed characters, then I don’t like it. In addition to what I address in lower posts, I do like the 5v5 battles, and the RPG elements might make it very fun.

Echo: It is really hard to judge how well Command and Conquer 4 will do based on the info that we have gotten but it seems like EALA is improving their trackrecord of producing a quality game and providing post-release support. I’m excited to play the newest game because I want to see how much EALA can improve. I am also interested to see how EALA will stack up in comparison to Blizzard and Starcraft 2.

Mighty BOB!: I see they’re thinking of bumping up the multiplayer limit to 10 players which sounds like fun to me (if it also applies to LAN and Skirmish). Objective-based gameplay sounds like a good addition to regular game types as well but I wouldn’t want it to completely replace them (having none of the regular types). I never saw Minority report, but they did use the word gritty when describing the cinematics, and I would take that over RA3 any day of the week.

The return of a co-op campaign would be a good thing, but you shouldn’t be forced to play with an ally (by which I mean the AI). You should have the option of going in 1) completely alone, 2) with the AI, 3) with a buddy over LAN (why RA3 had this disabled is completely dumbfounding), or 4) over multiplayer. Having to cover for an idiot AI teammate is just an RTS version of the escort mission and I hate escort missions. Originally EA had plans for mobile bases in C&C3 and I was disappointed when that never came true so bring on the Crawler! Just as long as only 1 faction gets it. I don’t want another watered-down RTS where all 3 factions have essentially the same build order, tech tree, resource system, and play style.

Question 2) Are you keen on the idea of a hybrid RTS game that features RPG like elements?

Sonic: If it adds that much needed extra layer of depth and detail then yes. It remains to be seen how they will execute this in the next game though. I don’t want to see my commando unit become so powerful that he could wipe out everything in the blink of eye. I still want to amass larger armies and actually have to use strategy to win.

Luk3us: Well most RTS games have RPG elements already. For C&C I think the most noticeable ones are individual unit promotions and unit upgrades. I think Warcraft III is a good example of moving towards more of a RPG type gameplay, with being able to level Hero units. So on a very generic level I think its fine, as long as it actually adds to the gameplay. We don’t need pointless things like being able to paint your tanks different colours and giving them names. 😛

Lion: If it’s done right, I see no problem with it. I like to see change. We’ve had basically the same formula for every C&C RTS game with the exception of some innovation and new features thrown into the fray. Maybe it’s time for something out of the norm, and we’re long overdue for some radical change.

Banshee: The idea worked well on Warcraft III, although when the hero gets into level 10, it becomes almost invincible against anything else, except another level 9/10 hero. Of course there are means to make this kind of feature more balanced, which would be fun.

Chickendippers: This is a possibility. I think the Yuriko missions of Uprising were pretty cool with the limited form of levelling up you could do. However as a fairly casual player myself it’s not something that particularly appeals to me; I’d get annoyed if I couldn’t access the super awesome units in skirmish because I need to level up. I can see how it adds to longevity and re-playability, but would that sacrifice C&C’s awesome jump-into-the-action style?

Ryan: Yes. Well, I mean, it depends what they mean by “RPG elements”. If by RPG they mean your units will be useless until they’ve been upgraded six times, or that a Level 54 Mammoth Tank cannot possibly beat a Level 56 Mammoth Tank, then no, I’m not that interested. But if they mean Call of Duty 4 style perks and unlocks then I’d be excited. Balance should come first, obviously, so perhaps one “unlock” could swap Predators with Titans that have the same stats; no balance issues, but more customisation for the player.

Blbpaws: It’s all in the execution. If EALA can find a neat way to add depth to RTS gameplay, then I’m all for it, in whatever form that may be. There’s a reason why some people get paid to make games and others don’t–it’s not easy to do it well. Certainly redefining or advancing the RTS genre isn’t easy to do well–that’s why someone like Brett Sperry was hailed as such a visionary for the original Command and Conquer. If EA feels the time is right to push the genre forward with new innovations, I don’t disagree, but they should recognize its difficulty and meet the challenge. A half-attempt impresses no one.

JohnWE: Let me guess, when units do damage and blow enemy units up, they’ll level up and do even more damage? Or maybe we’ll see a mode in single player where you start with fewer units and as you progress through the story, more and more units are available to you? Or maybe you’ll have a commando who is persistant over missions and can upgrade her powers as she levels up. Oh, wait, they’ve already done all of this! From the survey, it looks like they’re thinking of adding features similar to what they’ve already done, now just giving them a different name. And if they do take a step further with more rpg elements, (AoE3’s Card System) then maybe, just maybe, this’ll be the breath of fresh air that C&C needs.

Echo: I honestly cannot wait to see what Electronic Arts has decided to introduce to the Command and Conquer franchise. Relic entertainment has already implemented several RPG elements into their Dawn of War and Company of Heroes series. The effective use of upgrades on individual units introduced a very interesting level of depth to the game which I would like to see in the CNC franchise.

Mighty BOB!: If I’ve interpreted the “class system” thing correctly, then I wouldn’t like that. Granted we C&C gamers have already experienced sort of “classes” with the different Generals and Subfactions in Generals and Kane’s Wrath, but I would prefer that my arsenal be dictated by my upgrade/tech tree path (which is also RPG-like, and I’m okay with that). By which I mean there are only core factions with all technology available to me at the start, but then as I tech up some options are cut off (if you choose path/upgrade A you cannot use path/upgrade B). This keeps my enemies guessing because they don’t know up front what I might throw at them since I don’t have a pre-defined arsenal that would be dictated by a general or subfaction.

As for MMORPG-like player progression, we’ve seen something similar to this with Generals Points and persistent armies that come with you as you conquer the globe, however I don’t like the idea of this being persistent in multiplayer. According to the survey EA might be considering having experience points awarded whenever you kill stuff, and these points can be spent on abilities, new units, new powers, leveling up, and upgrades. Sounds pretty much like Generals Points right? I’m okay with that, however, it should not be persistent anywhere except during the campaigns. It’s not fair if player A gets totally stomped by player B just because player B is level 50 and has the +35 unobtanium tank armor upgrade. When you start introducing persistent upgrades/levels/etc. you start changing the nature of the beast and I like my RTS where everyone starts on a roughly equal tech/upgrade footing and victory is determined by strategy and tactics, not by “having better gear” to start with. Although I’m okay with experience points that reset every match like in Generals.

However to be fair, a level system would be similar to the currently used “Rank” system and people could be matched to fight based on level, but the difference is people ascend the rank system by winning from skill, not from having more experience points (which according to the survey is unrelated to multiplayer victories, only number of units killed in any game mode) and better gear, so I still don’t like the idea applied to multiplayer even though that is one feasible way it could work.

Question 3) A recent survey on the future of the C&C franchise has hinted that the next game could finally bring an “epic conclusion to the 15 year series”. Would you like to see this happen?

Sonic: Some closure would be nice but I feel there are still many stories to be told in the C&C Universe. So perhaps put this chapter of the Tiberium to bed and then focus on the Red Alert universe. But please, more Generals stuff. I must say though if they really want to have some sort of epic conclusion there are many loose ends to tie up spanning across Tiberian Sun, Firestorm and Tiberium Wars. It could end up being a very complex storyline.

Luk3us: ) I’d say no, as I’d like to be playing C&C games for a long time yet. But for the good of the series I think it needs to be concluded at some point. Else you get to the point with the Sonic The Hedgehog/Mario Brothers/GREST series which is so stupidly long and twisted it isn’t funny. Especially GREST those guys are so lame.

Lion: To be honest, yes. The story needs to end sometime. It’s been a long and successful run, and for the most part, enjoyable. I’ve been around since the start (1995), and I do appreciate all that Westwood and now EA has done for the C&C franchise. I do believe it’s time to put a tail on it though. I’ve been hanging around for the conclusion of the Command & Conquer series. Heck, I gotta retire sometime ya know. I’m not getting any younger =) Keep in mind that even IF the C&C Universe is retired, we still have the Red Alert and Generals Universe. They’re both good for another sequel or two. I’m sure the fans who joined the C&C Universe Community within the past three years or less would be somewhat disappointed to see it all end.

Banshee: No, I wouldn’t like to see the tiberium series being concluded. The story is too good to be closed too fast. I think it would be interesting if they explored the gaps between the first 3 games

Chickendippers: Well we originally thought the Tiberium series would be a trilogy; Dawn, Sun and Twilight. If it is the conclusion it wouldn’t be unexpected, but I’d also be saddened. I would suffer Kane withdrawal symptoms!

Ryan: That was the most surprising part of the survey for me. Why C&C4? 4 is a very random number to end on. My main concern is that any conclusion will feel horribly rushed – there’s a LOT of loose threads to tie up; the Scrin are far from defeated, and Kane’s little plots are far from resolved. I hope the campaigns are really long and wrap everything up in a huge, massive way – the C&C3 endings felt anticlimactic, so I’d like massive CGI battle cutscenes to make it feel “epic”. *Ultimately* though, yes, I’d definitely be glad to see one of my favourite storylines wrapping up – I’d rather it end than just get stale and “milked”, plus I’m just so excited to see it all come to an end.

Blbpaws: Especially for the Tiberian series (which I’m guessing is all the survey refers to), I wouldn’t be against it. My criticism of Kane’s Wrath was that it didn’t materially advance the C&C story all the much (fine, that was one of my criticisms and there were, well, a lot). A true ending, well-told and immersive, is something the series requires. Now is as good a time as any.

JohnWE: Yes, absolutely. I think that it takes more guts to end a story than to keep it going indefinitely. I am all for EA wrapping up the Tiberian storyline and moving onto another story, say, Generals 2 for example. Give us a beginning, middle and then end it, don’t drag it out like some 7 year long tv shows. It is more defined; it’s more epic when you know that when you kill Kane this time, he’s staying down!

Echo: Yes, I believe it is time for EALA to begin investing into a new IP (intellectual property or “universe”). It is very seldom that a franchise can survive the fourth or fifth iteration and with Starcraft 2 looming in the near future, I think that EALA might have already realized this.

Mighty BOB!: Yes and no. No because no one ever wants to say goodbye to their love, but yes because after 15 years I’m just dying to know the rest of the story. If Westwood’s rough drafts of story ideas are any indication of where EA might head (and they have a lot of that stuff in the EA vaults to draw inspiration from –over 800GB as I recall– according to Apoc) then it has good potential, but that’s all it has at the moment. If they were to conclude the Tiberium storyline then they need to go all-out on this one. There are literally dozens of plot points established in TD, TS, and TW that would need to be wrapped up to finish the story properly. The campaigns need to be of a grand scale and, due to aforementioned dozens of plot points, they probably have to be quite long to cover everything without the half-assery of shoving too much in a short span (or worse, the over-use of the Intel Database as a crutch).

Question 4) Early in June, Sean Decker was named as the new GM at EALA. Do you foresee and sweeping changes at EALA or will it be business as usual?

Sonic: I’m sure what ever was set in place when Mike Verdu was in charge will remain largely unchanged now that Sean Decker is steering the ship. So yeah, its business as usual.

Luk3us: Not likely, business as usual I should think.

Lion: Due to the economic conditions in the USA, I predict there will be changes. Perhaps some downsizing as far as number of people working on development projects. The gaming companies have to weather this economic storm like everyone else. I’m sure cuts will be made, and will likely affect the quality of games released, but that remains to be seen. The longer it takes to produce a game, the more money it costs. Get em out the door and patch em later is the norm for the industry now.

Banshee: I am not an insider at EALA, so for me, Sean Decker or Mike Verdu are just names of people. While there might be internal changes with that and, possibly external changes, Electronic Arts Los Angeles will always be seen as a business and be treated as such, specially because it is still part of Electronic Arts as a whole, who actually dictates EALA’s business politics.

Chickendippers: Well I do hope he supports and encourages the sterling work the C&C team have done in improving community interaction (including Battlecast Primetime), post-release patches and mod support. His biography has some pretty impressive games and includes Renegade which has a fanatical mod scene, so hopefully he’ll recognise the importance it plays in extending the shelf life of titles.

Ryan: I’d guess that he’s not going to shake it up. Apparently he has a history of FPS games, though, so if EALA were to try again at making a C&C FPS after the failed Tiberium project, he’d probably be useful in making sure it all comes together. So he might prioritise a C&C FPS.

Blbpaws: I don’t know enough about him personally to comment on what he brings or doesn’t bring, but I’m curious to see how EALA moves forward with outsourcing of games–will it continue?–and the development of a “Live” team to add functionality. The first hurts C&C, the latter is critical.

JohnWE: I don’t know enough about Sean to know what will happen. I wouldn’t expect any major changes, from what I’ve seen, people at that level of management exist to keep things on track and make positive comments about their studio’s games. I expect more of the same with Sean.

Echo: If there were to be any significant changes, it is reasonable to believe that we would be seeing the effects of them already. Decker transfered from EA DICE and the majority of his recent projects have been focused on First Person Shooters. As a result, I believe that until he gets setted at EALA it will continue to be business as usual.

Mighty BOB!: Changes? Possibly. Sweeping changes? Maybe, maybe not. I can’t really say because I don’t know much about the guy. He does have a good list of titles to his credit on MobyGames.

Question 5) There was lots buzz around Red Alert for the iPhone at E3, whats your interest level in some Red Alert action on the go?

Sonic: It looked impressive I predict it will one of the popular products for the iPhone platform, but my interest level is not that high. I don’t have an iPhone and probably will never own one, in turn it means I’ll never play Red Alert on one. Besides phones are for communication not gaming.

Luk3us: I don’t have an iPhone, I don’t intend on ever getting one. So I don’t have an interest level.

Lion: I have none… I’m struggling now for time to spend on my desktop to play games.

Banshee: I don’t have an IPhone. Even if I had one, I’d be skeptic regarding the response time of my commands. My laptop runs Kane’s Wrath and Red Alert 3, with touch screen quite fast. That’s quite cool, except that the response time of the touch screen is poor, which heavily decreases my performance in game. It is very hard to play against one normal/medium AI with touch screen, just to have an idea of how hard is to play with it. Mouse does a much faster job and keyboard helps a lot. I’m glad that C&C3 and RA3 have the C&C left mouse setup, which is very useful to the touch screen users. IPhone has an advantage over my laptop’s touch screen, which is the multi-touch support. But that still makes the task of scrolling the screen a pain in the ass. The best way to ‘scroll’ the map with touch screen is through the radar, but the radar in the IPhone will be quite small, so it might not be very effective either. With touch screen it is also hard to focus fire on moving targets, specially when they move fast. Don’t ask me how would we force fire or ‘attack fire’ targets. With touch screen, these things are complicated. With a small screen, it might be even worse, since you won’t have space to place all these commands for the user.

Chickendippers: Mobile phone gaming doesn’t interest me. I would have preferred something for a proper handheld console…the DS has a touch screen. I guess I’m still stuck in the era of Snake, where phone games killed 5 minutes, but the iPhone game sounds pretty substantial.

Ryan: I actually have an iPod Touch, so I’m really pleased to see C&C coming to that platform. At best I was expecting a “cheapy port” of the first Red Alert, but a whole new 3D game which blends Red Alert 2 and Red Alert 3 is more than I’d hoped for. In short, as long as they don’t majorly mess something up, I’ll probably buy it on release day.

Blbpaws: None. First, I don’t have an iPhone. Second, I’ve always been a fan of grander, immersive games with deep stories and gameplay. I’m not sure that’s possible on the iPhone yet.

JohnWE: Well, seeing as I don’t have an iPhone, and have sworn a blood oath never to own anything Apple, no interest here. If it was for some other mobile device, probably still not. I tend to use my phone to *gasp* call people and my computer to play games, not the other way around.

Echo: I am more interested in the touchscreen aspect of Red Alert for the iPhone. With the growing number of touch interfaces, I am curious to see if the Real Time Strategy genre will work well with the new technology because it might open up a whole world of possibilities with systems like Microsoft surface and HP touchscreen desktops. Anyway, to answer your question, I am interested enough to plan on buying the application and writing up a review for it.

Mighty BOB!: I have a cheap cell phone from 2006 that can barely text message and I have no intention of ever touching an Apple product, much less getting ripped off by actually buying their overpriced, under-featured hardware and phone contracts. With that being said, it’s a mobile game so I don’t expect it to be anything more than a time-passer you’d fool around with while you sit on the bus/train during your daily commute. Something for a bit of fun when you have nothing else to do.

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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