FEATURES: Roundtable Discussion #24 – October 2009 (Command & Conquer 4 Special Edition)

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After skipping the month of September the Roundtable returns covering the month of October with a Command & Conquer 4 special edition. Here’s the panel.

Question 1) We have learnt a lot about Command & Conquer 4 since the last Roundtable, how is the game sounding to you now?

Sonic: Well I’m easy to please and I haven’t seen anything in Command & Conquer 4 that I haven’t liked so far, apart from a couple of unit designs. But that doesn’t really bother me. Other than that I’m really liking what we have seen in the most recent screen shots and we have learnt from all of the Developer Q&As on the Official C&C Site. As each month comes and goes this game is sounds better and better. Of course final judgement shall be made when the game is done and released.

Nmenth: Hard to say, some aspects seem to be improving, yet others still appear below standard. It also doesn’t look like C&C yet, which I doubt will be changing much. I do expect more improvement between now and release, but my expectations are lower now than they were upon the game’s announcement.

Gben: I’m still alarmed by what’s missing: base building, harvesting, and even squishing for instance.

Some of the unit designs are better than I could wish for, some are shoddier than my worst nightmare. As a GDI player, I’m excited about my new Mammy and the Kodiak. I haven’t seen a sexy Nod unit in any screenshot yet… it must be kinda embarrassing for the Nod die-hards… they must be glad so many of their units are stealthed or travel underground… so they don’t have to look at them so much. And pretty much every single infantry unit is a write-off… especially the worm!

I’m really doing my best to keep an open mind until the beta, so I can see these gameplay concepts for myself. It seems like EALA is really focussed on the 5v5 mechanic which sounds awesome, but I wonder how practical it will be to get that number of people together regularly… and how good the game will be with less people.

Lion: I’m trying to keep an open mind as I have since the day EA announced C&C4. From the latest screenshots that were released, in my opinion some of the units could use a bit of polishing, but the game is still in the alpha stage of development, so that could change. I’m also not 100% sold on the Crawler everything-in-one concept, but maybe playing the beta will change my mind on that. EA is asking us to accept a lot of change from what we’re use to playing in a Command & Conquer game. Having played C&C since 1995, I for one like base building and collecting resources, etc. I do hope this new direction EA is taking for C&C4 works out for them, and I am willing to at least give the game a try. Who knows, I may like it.

Banshee: Hearing information about the game is one thing. Playing it is an entirely different thing. I’ve heard many interesting things about the game, but I still have to play it to have an opinion about it. What I really know from these things I’ve heard is that they dumb down the construction mechanics to focus more on the battles itself. If is that good or bad? I have to play the game.

Chickendippers: I’m pleased by the cryptic message that Apoc tweeted regarding Tiberium harvesting. Whatever form it takes, it’s good to hear that there’s some kind of resource collection in the game, enabling some kind of income harassment as a valid tactic. I’m still confused by the hard counter system; specific weapons super effective against specific units. I think I’m going to need some kind of big chart on my wall so I know which units to train. Also, burrowing units – yey 🙂

Ryan: I think it’s sounding better. From what I understand the defense class is still restricted to building base defences only. That’s a shame; I’d like to see more traditional structures return in some limited form too, perhaps maybe the Hand of Nod and Barracks. I’m still not keen on the popcap, but we’ll see.

Mighty BOB!: I’m still not liking it. The proposed gameplay doesn’t suit my tastes. It reeks of “RTS as a sport” regardless of what they may say otherwise. Respawns? No bases? Capturing control nodes? AOE healing and damage? Taunt lasers? If those aren’t “gamey” then I’m an Irish hamster. Also some of the art would be more at home in RA3 than a “gritty” scifi narrative. At this point Tiberium Wars looked better. Although there is still plenty of time left for art polish, a polished turd is still a turd no matter how much Minwax® you put on it; by which I mean a polished cartoony design still doesn’t belong in this future. I guess I’ll go play SupCom or something because at the rate EA is going I won’t be buying this game, and if this is a hint of how all future EALA titles will be, I guess I won’t be buying any of those either.

NODSOLDIERGIRL: The game is sounding more like a C&C game its really shaping up. Its looking better, than it did. My opinion has changed from not sure if I wanted it, to knowing I want it now.

Question 2) Do you like idea behind “Name the Unit” contests to find names for Command & Conquer 4 units?

Sonic: They are a good idea, it gets the community involved, so thats a positive right there. I’ve heard people say its an easy way for the devs to escape the critisim over the naming of the units. But its the devs who have the final say, these “Name the Unit” contests are simply providing suggestions for them to consider. I wonder if we will get to name or rename some GDI and Nod units though.

Nmenth: I do not. I’ve always felt that fan input into anything, whether it be a game, TV show, or book series, should be heavily filtered through the mind of the writers. Otherwise, in my eyes, it is not really canonical. It also seems rather pointless when the units already have reasonable placeholder names that are revealed to the fans, like in the case of the Forgotten Gorilla where its placeholder name made it into the top ten list.

Gben: I think the idea of the contests has been a great idea, but poorly executed. I personally haven’t been too keen on the units selected for the honour.

Sometimes the obvious answer is the best answer, and playing around with it seems a waste of time. I think the Forgotten Gorilla was perfect as it was. It was our first example of a C&C4 neutral unit or “critter” that exists to help you “level up” and cause some inconvenience for you as move around the map.

It was a crude Mech, with a lumbering stride… like a gorilla… and so a nickname was born. It was a great nod of homage to RA2 critters which were animals, in particular the Gorilla who threw bananas, and performed the same function in a more passive and fun way. So after the big CommandCom when everyone explained their experiences, and that was explained, I thought “hey that was pretty neat. Forgotten Gorilla… Sweet.”

Then EALA messed up a good thing, in my opinion, by using it as the first selection in the unit naming contest. I think it was a bit redundant.

I would much rather EALA have used what is known as the Shepherd Tank as a contest entry. Just explain the weapons, it’s combat role, it’s strengths and weaknesses and the community take over. I *do* love the name – Shepherd Tank. I don’t want it changed, but my point it is there are many tanks in this game, so each one needs a unique name… we only have one Gorilla… and bus for that matter!

Lion: It’s all good…gives the fans an opportunity to participate and feel they are part of the development proccess, even if it’s a very small part.

Banshee: It’s not a bad idea, but fans will only be able to name few units of the game, if they really do it. The interesting thing is that these contests challenges people to come up with more original names instead of being stuck to Light Infantry, Rocket Soldier, Engineer and other very lame names that we are used to see in many C&C games.

Chickendippers: Well so far these kind of contests have produced good answers, so haven’t got any complaints, although I’d got used to the provisional name “Gorilla”. As long as the Mutant Bus doesn’t end up being called the Magic School Bus I’m not fussed!

Ryan: ) I’m totally in favour of contests like this. EALA, like any development studio,have a limited pool of talent to generate ideas with; but by allowing the community to give suggestions, they’ve suddenly got thousands of fans racking their brains to come up with something awesome.

Mighty BOB!: Yes I think it is a good way to get the community involved in the game’s creation. Just don’t let them name every single unit, hehe.

NODSOLDIERGIRL: Yes, I love the idea of the “name the unit” contests. This gives the community a chance for their voices to be heard and to get more involved with the series. I’m glad they really want to get the community more involved.

Question 3) We have heard that next Command & Conquer 4 trailer will be a gameplay trailer. How important do you feel this trailer will be?

Sonic: I wouldn’t consider it a make or break trailer, but it will be somewhat important. Due to Command & Conquer 4’s gameplay being radically different compared to past Command & Conquer games this trailer will need to showcase important elements such as how the Crawlers work and the differences between the classes. Plus it should have plenty of explosions… everyone likes seeing stuff being blown up!

Nmenth: Very. Screenshots look nice, but if a screenshot is worth a thousand words, gameplay footage is worth a million. The intro video featuring Kane was nice, but it only told us about the story, not the game. Now it is time to see the game.

Gben: I guess it’s no surprise that the next trailer will be a gameplay one. I didn’t bother to check but I assume that all the previous games followed the same strategy….teaser FMV, gameplay trailer with big-ass explosions, cast trailer, more explosion-trailers…

But the question is about the importance of the trailer. I would suspect that there are more doubters than fans of C&C4 at the moment… maybe not outright critics just doubters. A gameplay trailer will probably go a long way to address them.

That being said… I don’t really recall any of the previous trailers showing harvesting or base-building in them… so it will probably look no different to any other EALA trailer anyway.

Lion: Depends on what they will be showing as far as the level of importance goes, but any gameplay trailer is most welcome.

Banshee: Are trailers important? They are just marketing. Of course that marketing is important to attract new fans or even to convince the existing C&C fans to buy the game, but is it important for who? Of course, it’s for EA. I wanna play the game. Trailers are interesting to reveal bits of the game, but important? That’s a strong word for me.

Chickendippers: I’m not sure how a gameplay trailer would help explain the new mechanics, which is what I really thing people need to get to grips with. I think criticisms are going to be levied unfairly at the game until that happens, the press demo at Gamescom really opened my eyes to how it works, so something along those lines would be ideal. But conversely it’s more of a tutorial and not very exciting from a PR point of view. At a guess I reckon we’ll see a Crawler approaching a battle for a TCN, deploying and spewing out units into the fray, leading to some classic action scenes.

Ryan: ) C&C4 is still travelling under the radar, so this trailer will be the first and most important reveal the public will see. The C&C fans who are currently very unhappy with the shape of the game might just be turned off completely if the trailer totally disappoints. On the other hand, seeing the game in action might make them feel more positive about it. Either way, it’s going to be critical.

Mighty BOB!: I think it is very important. The community-at-large will get to see what the game is all about by seeing it in action. I expect that it will only confirm some of my worst fears, despite the gameplay not being fully fleshed-out this far from release.

NODSOLDIERGIRL: I feel this trailer will be very important…the closer they get to release the more vital these videos become for the fans, dev team and the game itself.

Question 4) APOC briefly hinted about a new unique gameplay mechanic being added. Rumour is that its Tiberium harvesting making a return. Is this a good or bad idea?

Sonic: If it is indeed Tiberium harvesting it will be interesting to see how this actually works. Wheather its good or bad will be determined by how its implented into the game. I’m in two minds about seeing Tiberium harvesting being back in game though. To me C&C 4 is all about branching out into a new style of gameplay and having Tiberium harvesting back sounds like a step backwards.

Nmenth: The answer to that lies entirely on how it is implemented. It could be a step backward toward the classic C&C style, which to some is the wrong way, but to other’s, the direction it should be. It also could be something new, in which they would need to be very careful that they are not destroying the C&C fiction.

Gben: As a fan of base building and Tiberium harvesters and as someone who’s pretty disappointed they are not featuring in this new game – I actually think the return of Tiberium Harvesting would be a bad thing.

Technically, harvesting is in RA3, but it’s so dumbed down as a mechanic that I still think they should have just replaced it with oil derricks and be down with it.

EALA are pretty adamant about the game direction not have base building or Tiberium harvesting as we know it. So I think it would be bad, because the concept/game mechanic would be too heavily compromised to please either side of the argument.

My point is, it’s too far into the development cycle to have base building or true Tiberium harvesting mechanic returned into the game, and it would probably be flawed and feel tacked on at the last minute. For better or for worse, we are probably better off sticking with EALA’s vision.

But APOC hinted at a new unique gameplay mechanic… which could mean something entirely different. The Beta will be ultimate test… do the concepts work, is it fast fluid and fun? Time will tell.

Lion: Being old skool, I would welcome Tiberium harvesting, even if it’s just an alternative way to supplement your inclome. Slowing down your opponents income and production rate has always been a key strategy for C&C games.

Banshee: I wasn’t aware of this rumour, but if that’s true, I’ll be happy. I was never convinced that limiting unit construction with command points and build times was a good idea at all. Tiberium harvesting adds more depth to it. I still need to see it in game, before getting a conclusion about it.

Chickendippers: Whoops, see above. I’m in favour of it.

Ryan: I think it’s a good idea. As it stands the game doesn’t sound complex enough; the loss of basebuilding and resource management were big losses. But by adding Tiberium back into the game, you’ve given it a bit more depth. I hope that EALA go further with ideas like this.

Mighty BOB!: I believe that it would be a good idea. There needs to be some sort of harrasable mechanic such as economy in place since there are no base structures to control vital upgrades, tech levels, power, or radar. Even the defense class only has turrets and maybe other “support” structures from what we’ve been told

NODSOLDIERGIRL: That would be the best idea yet, we need our crystals back, we need our refineries back. This would bring some of the old back in with all of the new things going into this game. Basiclly we want them back. So if this is whats going to happen, then kudos to the dev team.

Question 5) The unit profiles have finally begun appearing on the Official C&C Site. The GDI Crawler was first. Which profiles are you wanting to see the most?

Sonic: Despite the fact they were never completed for Red Alert 3, I really enjoyed them each time they were posted. Its great to see them back again for C&C 4. You get a detailed look at the units, concept art and of course the all important gameplay video of the unit in action. I’m interested to see profiles on the big units like the Mastodon for GDI and Centurion for Nod.

Nmenth: The unfinished RA3 profiles… Ha ha, that was a joke (but seriously EA, slacking off?). I guess I need to see the Mastodon in action. The Mammoth Mk II was always one of the greatest units in my eyes. Although an FMV of it in action like the one in Tiberian Sun would be even better…

Gben: The missing RA3 ones.

Lion: Maybe the Mammoth Tank or Engineer, but anything they release is cool.

Banshee: Crawler is the only big new thing in this game. Most units they’ve announced are seen in old games, perhaps with different names. Of course that if they prioritize units that are more original, these profiles will be more interesting.

Chickendippers: Well Apoc has mentioned that he isn’t going to try and do profiles for each unit this time round, which I think is a wise move. I really want to know about the GDI Thunderhead, I’ve heard about it but have no idea what it could possibly do!

Ryan: I want to see the Mastodon and Kodiak profiles next, purely because I’m a C&C story fanatic and I’m interested to see the fiction behind the return of these Tiberian Sun classics. I also want to see unit profiles for Nod’s burrowing units to see if EALA explain why this tactic was missing from the Third Tiberium War.

Mighty BOB!: Maybe an iconic unit like the Mammoth or Mastadon, but otherwise I have no preference.

NODSOLDIERGIRL: I want to see the Forgotten units, so far they are looking really awesome from what we have seen. I definitely wanna see the Forgotten unit profiles.

Question 6) When the public beta for Command & Conquer 4 begins, what should potential testers be looking for while playing?

Sonic: The lucky people picked for the beta should go into it with the knowledge that they are playing an unfinished product. I’ve always felt when they do these beta tests many people are simply there so they can play the game for free. Potential testers should be on the look out for the usual type of bugs of course but they should be trying as many different unit combinations as possible. And most importantly, provide good constructive feedback for the devs to read. Its no use reporting meaningless stuff like “fix the Nod Flame Tank, it looks bad”. The only costmetic things testers should be looking for are odd graphical glitches I guess. You should also be prepared to explain in detail what you were doing or trying to do when you encountered the bug your reporting. The devs will attempt to reproduce what you report.

Nmenth: Primarily, issues to report to EA as is the job of a beta tester, but as far as deciding whether you like it or not (as even the most dedicated testers will do), is the fun factor. It doesn’t matter if it’s like or unlike C&C, it doesn’t matter if the graphics are impressive, it doesn’t matter if there are nine hundred upgrades to get… ultimately, the fun factor will decide whether it is good or not. Everything else is merely a distraction, and if you get caught up in the distraction and forget that fact, you could wind up not buying a game you would have liked, or buying a game you later regret.

Gben: Their keys!

I guess, testers should go into the game thinking of it as an entirely new IP. In its own right, does the game work. The connection/legacy to C&C universe is a totally separate issue IMO.

Lion: First and foremost, bugs and playability issues. After that, gameplay balance, etc., then ask yourself if the game is fun to play.

Banshee: They should look for seeing how these new gameplay mechanics work ingame and what kind of exploits and flaws will be found on it. Of course that, as a modder, I’d naturally analyze the .big files that will come with this beta, even if most data is protected under the evil .manifest, .bin, .rel and .imp files.

Chickendippers: I think the beta should be used for balance testing; getting in as many competitive matches as possible and work on the balance. The fact that each side can chose any combination of the three classes, makes this iteration important. However with matches always featuring GDI vs Nod I think it should be possible to create a fairer balance without a third faction in the mix.

Ryan: Obviously bugs and glitches are important, but to be honest I think testers should be looking for things that aren’t *fun*. C&C4 is a pretty huge departure from tradition, so it’s important to identify areas where the game is lacking. The worst outcome for C&C4 would be for it not only to feel like a non-C&C game, but a non-fun game too.

Mighty BOB!: “Does this feel like a C&C game?” Public beta is more about stress-testing servers with massive numbers of players. Of course that is not to say that they shouldn’t look for bugs, glitches, and exploits that need to be fixed, but I would think they should be giving feedback about the gameplay en masse.

NODSOLDIERGIRL: Look at the way the mechanics work, see how easy or hard it is to play. Check out all the units, and play your tail off and most importantly have fun! Make sure when you get in the beta to give the dev team helpful criticism, don’t just whine because you don’t like something.

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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