FEATURES: Roundtable Discussion #37 – October 2018

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Our popular feature returns after 3 and a half years of silence! We caught up with present-day community leaders, and talked about reactions to Command & Conquer: Rivals, feelings towards the Command & Conquer franchise, and the state of real-time strategies as a whole.

Participants:

 

Question #1: What were your initial reactions to Command & Conquer: Rivals? Have your feelings on the game changed in any way since?

Plokite_Wolf: I remember when I was watching the official EA Play 2018 livestream with some of the community leaders on Discord, and we kept snarking in disbelief. Since it’s not really a secret anymore that I was in on the game before the official announcement and even got my hands on it a month prior, I could not feign surprise, but my sentiment towards it had not changed – after 5 years since the cancellation of Command & Conquer (2013), the series would’ve been better off left for dead than had a crappy cash-grab mobile game made with its name slapped on it unnaturally. Fast forward to present day, that sentiment is still unchanged.

Nmenth: I immediately lost all interest in the game as soon as I learned it was a mobile game. I do not play mobile games, so no matter how much they attempt to hype it, I am equally as uninterested in it as I am in all of the other C&C mobile game that received less hype.

Banshee: My initial reaction was… “What the heck is going on!?”. As I watched the EA Play presentation, it took me a while to believe that the game they were announcing was really a Command & Conquer game, despite the GDI symbol in front of me. The attention given to the game at that event was a big as a triple-A game announcement, except that the way they’ve announced was weird… showing the gameplay before even giving a glimpse of what the game was about… like… showing the trailer of the game. Then, the trailer and their presentation video just made my impression get worse, due to their lack of care to keep the game consistent with the rest of the franchise and its storylines. And the gameplay was very limited at the time due to constraints defined by design. It is definitely a low budget game compared to any old school RTS C&C games, created by a small team… The way it was announced and hyped was just plain wrong. And the fact that it is not the kind of game that I was expecting (mobile, map scrolling locked, capture the flag nuke, 1v1 online only with no offline fun) doesn’t help at all to improve my impression from it.

My original impression of the game was that it is very limited strategy-wise and that it would become repetitive after few hours. I still think that it is repetitive, although I noticed an overall improvement of the game since its announcement. But it is still very limited. Locking map scrolling is the most restrictive design decision of the game, which restrict us to very small maps, symmetry and lack of dynamism on them. The other huge problem is the online progression system where that people can upgrade units as they play the game and it affects online balance (regardless of all their mimics to tone down its negative effects). Microtransactions and loot boxes just makes that part a little bit more disgusting. But both map scrolling and online progression system affecting balance are design choices that they won’t change at all, regardless of how much the community whines about it. Part of my original impression of lack of care with coherence with the storyline comes from a material that isn’t part of the game, although there are still things that are weird and could be improved. I do hope that they’ll eventually fix these issues.

CCHyper: I have always been pretty neutral regarding the C&C franchise, and I am easily pleased in some ways too. Even though a large percent of the community is throwing rocks at C&C: Rivals, I think it is great just to see the franchise get some love again, and from a business standpoint, if this game generates money with its target audience, then it means good news for a possible new PC or console title, which we would all love to see.

Foxvic: I have reacted to this game normally, and I personally think that it is better than a direct sequel. Moreover, this is actually a great product (for a mobile game) which brings a lot of joy. I was upset with the community reaction, when many haters who wanted an “as it used to be” game, despite the fact EA does not even have an RTS-directed studio. We see personal insults to developers from some people and even more, C&C 4 “lessons” have been forgotten. Fans keep asking for a “AAA RTS” sequel from EA after everything that has happened to C&C. It is hard for me to understand people from the same community that I have been with for more than 15 years. Rivals does not deserve the amount of hate, as the community does not know exactly what it wants.

Lauren: My feelings were really bad. I gave Tiberium Alliances a chance, the first versions weren’t even that grindy, but it already left a sour taste. Now, after a while of seeing footage of Rivals, my opinion of it goes more and more down the drain. Especially with the recent picture of an ad selling a “Level 7 Tick Tank” for “just” 63 bucks… that’s ridiculous!

neogrant: My first reaction was negative, just like the majority I saw. Admittedly I think I was guilty of becoming too easily swayed with the overwhelming negative response C&C: Rivals first received. C&C on mobile, just like how Red Alert came out on PlayStation? Is the angle to enter the mobile market, get some funding and progress to a desktop game later? I hope so. I’ve since told myself to remain more open minded until I’ve given it some playtime, since it’s not available in my country yet I’ve yet to decide.

Nyerguds: I personally don’t own a handbrain smartphone, so the whole concept never really gripped me. I saw them completely ignoring anything related to the actual timeline and just dumping known figures from the series in there as commanders (Seth? Seriously?) and all I could do was sigh and shake my head.

I’ve skimmed through a match on YouTube since then, and, my first impression of the game was the sheer lack of scale. You literally have two bases on the screen, with a play grid that seems like it’s smaller than the size of a chess board. I mean, don’t get me wrong, you can fit quite a bunch of strategy on a chess board… and the people playing it seemed like they were having fun with their tactical decisions. But still, for a C&C game, it just seemed really simplified.

OWA: My initial reactions to Rivals were mixed. I was initially quite excited to find out that C&C hadn’t been left in EA’s pile of dead IPs to gather dust, but once I found out exactly what Rivals was, my enthusiasm was tempered a fair amount. The way the game was presented at E3 with the StarCraft pro and mobile pro sitting in their chairs mashing their phones on the stage seemed pretty forced, mostly due to the caster Nathanius’ severe ineptitude in commenting on RTS games. “nice little strategy game for those of you out there, it’s a good genre” he says, as we all collectively cringe. At least Mike Martinez, the GM at Redwood studios knew what he was on about.

Though my major problem with how Rivals was presented comes from Patrick Söderlund’s GamesIndustry.biz interview, where he comes out and tells the world that we as a fanbase don’t know what we want (link). This made me really quite disappointed and frustrated as a long-time fan of the franchise. Execs like Söderlund seem fairly oblivious to the fact that a mobile game is not what long-term fans of the series, competitive RTS players, PC game modders and the other demographics that make up the community’s core fan base actually want. When he says that “players don’t know what they want”, along with some of the other comments he makes during that interview, he may as well be saying “EA’s top brass don’t care about catering for the core C&C community anymore because being on mobile makes us more money from a different audience.” It’s pretty depressing for me, as a long-time fan of the franchise, to read these comments and to know that the franchise is being mishandled by businessmen who only care about making bank rather than caring about what their core fanbase actually want. Thank god Söderlund left EA; they could do with less people like him around.

C&C Rivals itself is really just a well-designed mobile strategy game that wears C&C as a skin and bolts on the monetisation model from Clash Royale. It has a couple of the hallmarks of C&C, but that is mainly provided by the IP and not by the gameplay. The game doesn’t play like a C&C game owing to the fact that there’s no base building (clicking a card doesn’t count), unit queueing, traditional resource harvesting (the harvesting in Rivals is different to all of the other games), unlimited unit cap etc. but none of those things were going to be possible with such a gameplay-focused mobile title. It’s a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but if you stop for a minute and forget that it’s a C&C game, it’s actually quite good.

It’s really impressive to see the game that EA has made in order to push the mobile strategy market forwards from a mobile point of view, but I almost feel like it’s is wearing the C&C IP as pyjamas in order to provide that extra bit of selling power. Going back to the Söderlund interview pretty much confirms this, as he says that “the C&C brand just fit”, which to me means that it’s probably been shoehorned into a game that was never really a C&C game to begin with.

That being said, I really appreciate the work that devs such as EA_MrBlack (n.B. Greg Black) are doing to make us older C&C fans feel more at home with the switch to mobile, by catering to the nostalgia we feel for the series (bringing back characters like Seth and Solomon for example), but was always going to be a hard sell for them and I think that they understand and embrace that challenge. All in all, they’re really doing their best to make a great mobile strategy game and I think they are succeeding at that. The fact that the developers sit in Discord channels and actively engage with the community also speaks volumes and really echoes the relationship that the community and developers previously had when games such as C&C3 were being released. Despite the blunders in decision making that the guys at the top of EA are making, the devs really do care, which I can really get behind and respect. It’s just such a shame that this game isn’t what a lot of us hoped it would be.

If this game had been released as a companion app to a new mainline PC C&C RTS, I think the core community would have been a lot more onboard with it. What EA needed to do was cater for its core fan base, then branch out to other markets, but what they have decided to do just feels like a quick and easy stab at some mobile cash, rather than strengthening the C&C brand in a more traditional way. That move in itself feels alienating.

I have played the game and have kind of enjoyed it, but I kind of fell off the wagon a bit. The game just didn’t capture my attention like past C&C titles have, probably because I don’t particularly see myself as a mobile gamer. I will probably drop in for the odd game every now and again, but I’ll probably stick to Kane’s Wrath, Red Alert 2 and Renegade for my C&C fix.

TaxOwlbear: I pretty much expected another mobile or browser game, so I wasn’t particularly disappointed. I was also a bit amused by the sheer amount of hate the trailer got. My feelings since haven’t really changed, probably because my exceptions (P2W cash grab) were already very low.

Tore: My initial reaction was disappointment. Before Rivals was announced, a mobile game with microtransactions and a random loot system was a running joke in the community for what the next C&C game would be. When I got access to the game itself, my worries about the gameplay itself were reduced. For a mobile game, Rivals is decent; my principle worry about the game is the business model and the announcement of the “fair play” system did not do too much for that worry knowing EA’s recent track record.

ToxicShock: I wasn’t able to get excited about a mobile game but I have tried to approach it with an open mind. I haven’t got a lot further than that. My problem is that, personally, the last thing I want to be doing is playing a game on fiddly phone or a tablet. But that is just me. I have heard quite a few people saying they enjoy the game.

 

Question #2: Has Rivals in any way affected your feelings towards the franchise as a whole? Are you able to play the previous games just the same?

Plokite_Wolf: No, I still love the previous titles. Whatever happens on the official side, nothing, and I do really mean nothing can make me turn down my own childhood memories and present-day experiences that Command & Conquer gave me. I still play the classics – these days I tend to give more attention to the titles I didn’t play as much as Red Alert 2 and Tiberium Wars plus expansions. I can play them all just the same as before, though I only really miss the sense of wonder when playing Red Alert 2 since I’ve grown to predict the hardest AI 🙁

Nmenth: No more than Tiberium Alliances or any of the other non-canon games. If a game isn’t part of the canon, I just purge it from my mind. Tiberian Twilight, being canon, was far more destructive to the appeal of the series.

Banshee: Rivals has not affected my feelings towards the old C&C games nor the way I play them. In fact, it made me value more the old games because it is probably gonna be the best we’ll get from EA. It has also made me see OpenRA as the best future for the C&C franchise than whatever EA has in its sleeves.

CCHyper: I don’t think that is possible in any way shape or form, for anyone. We have a cult love for the classic games, and some of the newer titles too. So if you enjoy them, why would a new title that does not impact you directly, impact the enjoyment you get from the previous games? So my answer to this question is no.

Foxvic: Not at all. Personally, I was insulted more about Red Alert 3 because of personal causes. After that game, I had no interest in what EA would make again. Rivals does not break any canonical history any more than it already have been done. So I will repeat myself, Rivals is not the worst we could have got.

Lauren: I don’t let a bad game in a series effect my feelings towards others. I love the old games and this only reinforces my desire to work on them via mods. To be honest, currently I don’t play much of C&C (though I spends quite a few hours per week on making tools for internal use of a mod)… there’s just sooo much exciting stuff out there and so little time. I’d love to play something fresh again.

neogrant: Nope, and neither did any other newer C&C game since Yuri’s Revenge, my passion and dedication has always been to supporting the true classics.

[Re: playing the previous games just the same] Of course, the brilliance in these older C&C titles has yet to be surpassed for me. When a good contender comes out to rival something like Yuri’s Revenge, and requires a mouse and keyboard, ask me again.

Nyerguds: Well, even if I would have a smartphone, I’m fairly sure I’d be playing Dune II and DOS C&C on it on DOSBox, and not Rivals. I’m mostly a single player gamer anyway, so a multiplayer-only game will have a really hard time getting my attention.

OWA: Rivals has made me look back at the franchise and made me feel thankful for the games we do have, but I think we all wish that EA would take better care of its back catalogue and patch the games to run on modern systems without community assistance; but the reality is that it’s just not happening. The First Decade came out broken and the “Ultimate Collection” came out even more broken, which just says to me that EA isn’t prepared to spend the money in order to maintain the franchise. You just have to wonder when the C&C4 servers will be switched off, as it’s only a matter of time.

What EA’s management doesn’t know how to do right now is cultivate a fan base for C&C that will please the core community and ultimately make them buy into C&C year after year. Creative Assembly is currently killing it with Total War right now; a venerable strategy game that commands a large fan base. If C&C games were to carve out a niche like Total War has, I think they would do really well. Aside from Blizzard’s titles, C&C is the only RTS series to feature a rich and original lore that has carried its way through multiple titles, which is one of the reasons that the community still has in-depth discussions about it to this day. Articles such as Nmenth’s Research Lab are great examples of this.

Though if EA were to make a new PC C&C RTS, I’d wager that they aren’t going to include any form of modding support. Modding used to be widely embraced in the PC community and I feel that it’s actually a hallmark of the C&C series, with many of the top mods in the world being C&C mods. However, with the advent of online persistence in games on the whole, as well as lack of focus on developing tools for modders, modding has been on the decline in AAA games (with the exception of games like Fallout and Skyrim); online persistence in particular turns modding into a massive headache that devs and publishers would rather avoid. For example, if you have a game that grants unlockable content via loot boxes, you wouldn’t want an “unlock all” mod to exist; the same goes for mods that serve the sole purpose of padding player stats. Obviously, if a developer is really on board with modding, then they will do their best to make it work, but I’d wager that big companies like EA just don’t see the value in it anymore. I’m really glad that we can keep going back and modding the classics though. 🙂

TaxOwlbear: Rivals hasn’t affected the way I enjoy the previous games. If Rivals had come out shortly after C&C3 or C&C4, I would have been disappointed by the direction the series takes, but at this point, eight years after C&C4, I wasn’t expecting anything.

Tore: I cannot see how a new game, a spin-off, would affect my enjoyment of the previous ones. Did Sole Survivor affect people’s enjoyment of C&C1 and RA1 in 1997?

ToxicShock: No, Rivals has not even slightly affected my feelings towards the franchise. I wasn’t expecting a new PC game and we didn’t get one.

 

Question #3: Certain other classic game communities continue to thrive despite the lack of publisher support (Supreme Commander, Transport/RollerCoaster Tycoon, Pandemic’s version of Battlefront…), but the C&C community seems to have grown lazy and apathetic. What would you point to as reasons for this discrepancy?

Plokite_Wolf: Well, since I was the one who made this question in the first place, I’d really like to know what others have to say on it, since I have no clue, and it really depresses me.

Nmenth: It is difficult to pin down. I think disappointment may be more injurious to the community than abandonment.

Banshee: Honestly, I disagree with this point of view. There is a popular saying in my country (and probably on many others) that says that “The neighbor’s grass is always greener than ours”. It’s easy to say such a thing when you don’t give the same attention to the other games, except when something popups from them once in a while. I agree, however, that C&C community’s activity has reduced in the last 8 years, since the audience and the active people has clearly reduced. But I still think that the community is not lazy nor apathetic. The remaining people are still working by producing content, mods, tools and even games like OpenRA.

CCHyper: C&C went to a high point that most franchises never get to see, but it has also dropped pretty low. Each game has its own specific community because of this, and they hardly interact with each other, and I would put this down the long lifetime of the C&C franchise and the gap between the age of the players that play these games. So, I don’t think it is laziness, but I do think that the games have outlived their main attraction cycle of recruiting new players and what’s left is the core players who love the games. Each community still continues to develop new mods, tools, assets and has YouTube coverage, even CnCNet is pulling in great numbers of players daily, so I feel they are at a healthy level, of which you can’t compare to other game communities, that would be ignorance.

Foxvic: My theory is simple: involvement is the key. 80% of gamers in the C&C community do not care about community as a whole, including reviews, online games or chatting. They are just playing singleplayer, skirmishes with bots and silently downloading maps, mods, reading guides etc. Authors who make such additions are left without any feedback, which is very sad. However, the amount of community “ghosts” is tremendous, compared to the few people who take part in community life. I doubt that it’s ever going to change.

Lauren: C&C has always chosen the Offensive class (yes, this is a TT pun!). That coupled with basically no recognition of smaller people just drives a lot of the creative people away. I loved Battlecast Primetime back in the day, but their selection of fan-made content which they showcased was so obviously curated by specific people in the community who just were friends with certain other people. One had basically no chance of appearing there. This is just an example which basically had the biggest reach (everyone was watching BCPT back in the day, it was just awesome), but on a smaller scale this happened over and over again on basically every community page. Personally, I remember how much ridicule I got when I first presented the idea of WrathEd to the public. “No, we can never hope on a fan-made SDK without tools from EA” was one of the more harmless ones, but the most common. That in turn also speaks volumes of the general attitude of the community. I don’t know why, but a lot of people here wait for handouts. When the TW mod SDK was first released, people were complaining about how limited it was and how “hard” it was to get into because now you have to run a batch file to compile data (the horror!), even pointing to Unreal to be much easier (which ironically also needed stuff to compile in an external program). A lot of these “restrictions” were removed after a while as people began to understand how a mod in TW works, but still the people went on and on about it being too restrictive and complicated. But note: in the subcommunity which mods older games (TD-RA2, somewhat Ren) this doesn’t really happen.

But back to the question: these are all clear signs of differences to the other communities mentioned. People here demand stuff, other people create stuff. My opinion of why this could be lies in the games itself. As I see it, the competitive nature of Generals, TW, etc. attracts a certain type of person. Up until RA2, I would guess most people played offline, or in a rather casual manner online (sure, there are always exceptions). Renegade had a quite competitive multiplayer but was still inherently a team game. Starting with Generals, when more and more people had access to Internet that was actually viable to play these games, there was a big uptick on the competitive nature. 1v1 was prevalent and 2v2, 3v3, 4v4, which were huge in RA2, got more and more sidelined. This alienated a lot of creative types and left mostly the competitive players who just want to be served a good and balanced game (and SimCity players who never touch multiplayer, but also usually do not interact with the community much).

neogrant: It probably needs comparing properly, for example: the level at which those games suffered during the progression of Windows versions, compared to how C&C suffered. The reasons in my opinion, will vary a lot depending on what the state those games were in, and did they really suffer as much as C&C?

I remember a very sad period where Tiberian Sun, Red Alert 2, and Yuri’s Revenge just hit a brick wall when Windows Vista, 8 and 10 became a thing. For so many players, it was a deal breaker. The menus would freeze, go invisible, and that’s before you got to the slow choppy gameplay if you got that far. Literally no-one had the answer, so the answer was to uninstall and call that game over. I remember this all too well since I was helping a lot with tech support at XWIS at the time. Only a small percentage (probably like 10 people a day) would ask for help, and even then, the solution wasn’t clear cut, and the answers at the time were often were stab in the darks, or “just revert back to Windows 7” to play.

Enter the era where CnCNet developers truly saved it. Starting with hifi and FunkyFr3sh who started contributing to a project called “cnc-ddraw” way back in 2010, later forking a version as “ts-ddraw” to support Tiberian Sun, really rebooted the chance to play again in my opinion. It fixed most of what no-one had the answer to. Continuing that support just lately, is FunkyFr3sh and dkeeton, working very hard contributing to the same project, and it’s providing impressive support, not only now for Windows, but to many other platforms.

So to answer the question, the C&C community hasn’t grown lazy or apathetic, it has just been trying to recover, and trying to cope the best it can with what’s been thrown at it, mixed in with a publisher that can’t help patch due to apparently losing the source, welcome to the state of Command & Conquer.

Nyerguds: Well, one of the reasons is probably that these communities mostly center around a single game. The “C&C community” isn’t really a solid thing; it has fans of all the games in there, and that probably makes us less united as fans than those who focus on a single game.

OWA: I’m not sure that we have grown lazy or apathetic as such, but with a lot of games in the franchise compared to SupCom, Battlefront etc. we are spread considerably thinner because we have a lot more games that we need to upkeep.

Whilst the new fans haven’t really been flooding in as of late, C&C mods are still doing a great job of keeping this community alive. C&C mods always feature in ModDB’s mod of the year awards but I definitely feel that they could do with more coverage than they receive. That being said, Red Alert: A Path Beyond was featured in PCGamesN earlier this year and Dawn of the Tiberian Age previously featured in PC Gamer. If more people knew about the good work that the modding community was doing, I think the community would definitely be stronger for it. In the Renegade modding community, we’re doing our part to make our games as accessible as possible for PC gamers everywhere. We’re also working on producing a compendium of Renegade modding tutorials and engine documentation that will hopefully inspire more people in the future to come and mod Renegade.

In the grand scheme of things though, I do think that the community could do with a bit more unity. We are spread out across several websites, Facebook pages, Discord servers and a subreddit. If there was some way to tie all of these things together into some kind of community hub, perhaps it would make us all a lot more connected. This has sort of begun with the introduction of CNCNZ’s community leaders initiative, but there’s definitely a lot more we could all do to band together and attract more users to the C&C as a whole.

TaxOwlbear: I think the C&C community is overall somewhat healthy. There’s only so many games from 1995 that still have a community – even Dune II is still played in multiplayer by some. One issue is, IMO, that the people are spread out over so many games. All main games are still being played, whereas other series (WarCraft, StarCraft, Supreme Commander) only have one or two games that concentrate all the players.

Tore: I am not sure if I agree with “lazy”. There are lots of iterative developments around the C&C community that go unnoticed mostly because people seem to not promote them as much. For example, the massive improvements to ts-ddraw and cnc-ddraw, people do not notice them, for cnc-ddraw and ts-ddraw that might be a good thing as people’s games might be running better. Do not forget the updates for mods too, like Mental Omega and Dawn of the Tiberium Age. OpenRA also gets iterative updates.

I think C&C projects should be better at promoting themselves, to tell the world that they exist. I believe community events like tournaments, mapping competitions with decent prizes would help spark activity. A decent usable ladder system for many games would help too.

ToxicShock: I don’t think the C&C community as a whole have grown lazy or apathetic. All of the decent C&C games are old and most of the player base are aging along with the games. We’ve all got a lot older since we started. That is all.

 

Question #4: What community projects are you following these days?

Plokite_Wolf: Mental Omega updates are something I always look forward to. I’d like to say Red Alert 2: Apocalypse Rising as well, but development on that is historically slow.

Nmenth: I read all news from community projects that comes our way, I can’t really point out any specific projects I watch more than the rest.

Banshee: Everything that I post news about in PPM, specially OpenRA.

CCHyper: I have a pretty busy schedule in real life, so I don’t have the time I used to for playing many new games or titles. But Tiberian Sun: Rising and OpenRA would be two projects I keep an active eye on when I can. TS: Rising has come a long way and the team has proved that the C&C3 engine is powerful enough to support the features required. I am also on the testing team for TS: Rising and I managed to squeeze a few games in a couple of months back, and it definitely lives up to its hype. OpenRA is also working hard towards the TS and RA2 addons and so far they look really promising, and I look forward to seeing them complete.

Foxvic: As an administrator who is responsible for a big community, I must be aware about everything to be in touch. However, I prefer Renegade mods (very sad that Reborn servers are empty), Twisted Insurrection, OpenRA, Mental Omega, DTA (I dream about new co-op missions).

Lauren: Following? I don’t know. I love TD-Gens, but I have a hard time going back to them. TD-RA2 just feel sooo clunky compared to newer games, and Generals is just… Generals. A good game, but for me it’s actually too different to get me back into it. Which means they are out. I liked Renegade a lot, but I never liked its mods. RA3 for me was a regression compared to TW, and TT so far just doesn’t have any projects to speak of. Which leaves TW, and for that the only project that really peaks my interest is the one I’m a member of, which is Tiberian Sun Rising.

neogrant: I rarely have much time to follow everything that happens, but the project that has ballooned in activity recently is Mental Omega. At a peak time, their online presence sees 600+ players online concurrently. It’s incredible considering, and just shows, this isn’t game over just yet and the C&C community never really gives in.

Nyerguds: Not much, to be honest. I’m kinda following the internal development of RedAlert++, which mostly amounts to seeing tomsons26 post a few screenshots of odd bugs (and a load of memes) on their private dev channel.

OWA: Mainly Renegade projects (unsurprisingly). Red Alert 2: Apocalypse Rising is what I’m working on currently and I’m really excited about it. There have been C&C FPS projects in the past that have tried to build upon the core experience of Renegade’s AoW mode, but with RA2AR, I feel we are working towards something that is going to be really special. We hope that the stuff we’re working on right now will make people amazed at what a C&C FPS can be and what the Renegade engine can really do.

As for projects that I’m following; Red Alert: A Path Beyond, Tiberian Sun: Reborn, Expansive Civilian Warfare, Interim Apex, Battle for Dune: War of Assassins and Renegade-X are all great projects in the C&C FPS space. I also keep an eye on Mental Omega (although I still find the skirmish AI too hard to play against casually), Kane’s Wrath Unofficial Patch, Rise of the Reds, Shockwave and of course, OpenRA (Tiberian Sun when?).

TaxOwlbear: OpenRA. I do play mods, but only really start to pay attention to them once they become playable.

Tore: CnCNet and related projects (eg. cnc-ddraw, ts-ddraw), Dawn of the Tiberium Age, Twisted Insurrection, Tiberian Sun Rising, and OpenRA.

ToxicShock: Obviously, I am still involved with C&C:Online and there is still some development work in progress there.

 

Question #5: Are any other RTS titles in your current “playlist”? If so, which ones, and what captivated you?

Plokite_Wolf: Absolutely, RTS is still my favourite genre, after all. I’ve grown fond of the Age of Empires series because of their sheer scale and unique concept of civilization progress. Although not pure RTS but more RTS-sim hybrids, I also play my beloved original Stronghold and Stronghold Crusader, as I really like how they blend all the aspects of medieval castle life with common RTS elements.

Nmenth: Since no new RTS games are coming out, I don’t play them very much anymore, but I do still go back to Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance occasionally. I played Total Annihilation long ago, and considered it enjoyable, so moving on to its spiritual successor was only natural. In my opinion, Supreme Commander was a good improvement. While unit spam is generally the best strategy, it is not really a requirement to win, unlike Supreme Commander 2. The storyline is also far superior to that of its sequel and I have played through the campaign numerous times, placing certain restrictions upon myself the last several times for added challenge.

Banshee: Once in a while I play a game from Petroglyph, like Forged Battalion and other games like Age of Empires II HD, Halo Wars 1 (because 2 requires Windows Store), 0 A.D. and few others.

CCHyper: As I mentioned above, I don’t get much time now to play games old or new, but Grey Goo by Petroglyph and the Total War franchise (not exactly an RTS, but it is in my playlist) by Creative Assembly has always been a franchise I would love to give a try, specifically Total War: Rome II.

Foxvic: Some of them. All of C&C before Red Alert 3, Cossacks, and Polish RTSes Earth 2140 and 2150. Sometimes something else, depending on the mood.

Lauren: Actually, no there isn’t. StarCraft II had that spot for quite a while, but Blizzard with their sledgehammer balancing (it’s even more egregious than what EA did) just really turned me off. Adding and cutting units on a whim, completely redesigning stuff… you have to play it all the time, otherwise you literally have no idea what you’re doing.

neogrant: I love C&C too much so I’ve never really moved away. (Or my PC never really got an upgrade to make me move away). I can’t remember which…

Nyerguds: I still occasionally boot up Dune II… though technically that is the first game of the “Command & Conquer” series, according to the newsletter that was included in my Dune II box, so not sure if it counts as “other” RTS.

OWA: When my friends are online, I always enjoy playing Kane’s Wrath or Generals with them, as well as Company of Heroes and Supreme Commander amongst other titles. I also return to StarCraft II’s co-op mode every now and again as well as Halo Wars 2, since I have big soft spot for it. 🙂

As for a strategy game that has really captivated me lately, I’d have to say Tooth & Tail. It’s a very simple strategy game, where you have to build up your army of anthropomorphic 1920’s-era animal soldiers and fight against up to 3 other teams for control of the food on the map. The visual style is gorgeous, the characters are captivating and the gameplay is really solid. It’s also incredibly good to play with a controller and features 4 player local split-screen play, which is really interesting for an RTS. Definitely worth a look for sure.

TaxOwlbear: Upcoming ones: Bannermen and Warparty. Other than that, plenty of 90s/early 2000s games.

Tore: Sadly, my RTS playlist has been fairly static for over a decade almost. In addition to classic C&C titles like C&C1, RA1 and TS and “newer” C&C titles like Generals and C&C3, I do dabble in StarCraft 1, Act of War, Supreme Commander and the like.

I do enjoy playing a bit of the more recent RTT games like Wargame: Red Dragon, Steel Battalion, Call to Arms and Men of War: Assault Squad 2.

Wargame: Red Dragon is interesting due to its large scale battles, ammo and fuel system, deck building system and the thousands of different units available and the representation of many countries almost never available in other games like Norway, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Israel, Finland etc.

Men of War: Assault Squad 2 is interesting due to its semi-realistic nature and direct control features. You can, for example, demolish a building by driving a tank straight through it.

Call to Arms builds upon Men of War while changing the setting to more modern times and introducing third-person and first-person perspectives for direct control.

ToxicShock: No, I don’t play any other RTS games and I don’t feel the need to right now.

 

Question #6: What would an ideal RTS (C&C or otherwise) look like for you?

Plokite_Wolf: As a skeleton for an ideal RTS, I would put Red Alert 2. No less than that. Games should use that to build upon, not remove from. That means at least moderately long singleplayer campaigns with lots of backstory to prevent it from being boring and un-engaging, a rock-solid skirmish/multiplayer with lots of interesting units and abilities, truckloads of maps to play on, and definitely LAN capabilities (and absence of DRM, so fuck you always-online!). Also, all units must be immediately recognizable, which is what I’ve seen pretty much everyone (including modders) to ignore – screw dark over-engineered designs and smokes that take half the screen, I need to know what I’m controlling!

Actually, can we go back to 2D/2.5D isometric view? I’m not sure 3D is going good for us, since 3D C&C has always been glitchy, and most stuff from other studios didn’t really bring the right feel, methinks.

Nmenth: Well, this is a much bigger question than can reasonably fit in this format, so it will require a highly condensed response. The ideal RTS needs to provide the players with the freedom to play how they want. Restrictive game mechanics like tiny maps, forced base expansion, critical build orders, population caps, strict unit counters, and demanding micromanagement limit player freedom and forget what the “S” in RTS stands for. If battle progression is fairly predictable, there probably isn’t very much strategy involved. Strategy also needs to involve concern for things other than combat itself, if resource management and defending your base aren’t concerns, it is only a game of tactics, not strategy.

Banshee: The ideal RTS game needs to have a good single player experience with an interesting storyline and it has fun movies as well as well as a fun multiplayer/skirmish experience. I am a big fan of the traditional Command & Conquer RTS experience that allows me to build bases, units, control those units and manage the economy by building harvesters. I like mechanisms of C&C such as engineers, crushing infantry, tech buildings, garrisonable civilian buildings, etc. And AI must be smart enough to be challenging, expand its base and not cheat.

I like the gameplay and user interface of Tiberium Wars, so, I’d use that as a template. Although I dislike the concept of cranes or anything that multiply base building, unless it is earned with a greater merit, like a new MCV in the old C&C games. Buildings should not be made of paper, like in Generals. It should be something worth protecting and whose destruction makes a valuable difference in game. Another thing that I don’t like in most of C&C games is how the production and use of air units is so trivialized in a sense that it is quick and you can attack your rivals very quickly with them. Considering their fast speed and immunity to all non-anti-air units, there is a need for more limits on its production and control.

Nowadays, what C&C could receive a great improvement is in terms of user interface. There is a great need of reducing its micro-management complexity and an improvement on this area could greatly help to make the game as a whole less complex to play.

1) Allow the addition of factories into groups, so each unit made on that factory automatically joins the group that the factory belongs to.

2) Allow users to click on Tiberium fields to define the minimum amount of harvesters on them or its priority.

3) Let commanders define the placement of buildings in advance, before the building is finished and let them queue buildings.

4) Allow the use of pre-fabricated scripts to determine the standard behavior of group, i.e. you can set a certain group to have a certain behavior… like setting group 1 to act defensively prioritizing units that are more dangerous to buildings or having a group 2 that destroys enemy buildings with artillery while other units protect these artillery, etc.

5) Use attack-move as the default move order. If you need to move without attacking the enemies, use something like Ctrl + click.

 

These ideas together with the interface suggestions below could allow a proper RTS mobile experience with map scrolling:

1) Map scrolling would work as it does on your operational system (Android, iOS).

2) The user interface would need at least two scrollable bars (scrollable to allow more options without taking the whole screen)… one for buildings and another for unit groups. The one for the buildings would initially have the constructed factories. Once the user selects a factory, then units or buildings that can be constructed would show up in the same bar… as well as an option to go back. I’d place the construction one in the bottom, to allow it to have more accessible options and the group one at the left or right side.

3) Drag a building to the battlefield to place it and drag a unit group to a location or an enemy to issue an order.

4) Drag and drop units or buildings into the groups, to add them to the groups, or drag and drop them to a trash or another group to remove them from a group.

5) Hit the units or Tiberium fields for additional options on few cases.

6) Instead of a having a map, allow the user to zoom out the battlefield.

 

With that interface, we’d have something much better and more fun than Rivals.

CCHyper: I have always had an idea for an RTS game. A story that seen from the point of view of an alien race invading Earth, with the battle spanning over tens of thousands of years and many different human civilisations. But the alien race are in fact trying to reclaim Earth from the parasites, known in the Earth language as “humans”, that started to evolve after the alien race left the planet millions of years ago. I have had a story in the works for quite some time and revisit it when I get bored of programming, but we will see how it goes. Maybe it has already been done somewhere, but that’s my ideal RTS game.

Foxvic: Red Alert 2 with a correct USSR buildings design or Tiberium Wars (without lore problems and design problems compared to Tiberian Sun). Would like to get C&C 95 with a modern redesign excluding gameplay changes.

Lauren: Tiberium Wars on a beefy engine which would also be easy to mod. It’s just a masterpiece for the 11 month dev time they had. Huge respect to everyone who worked on it.

neogrant: I’ve said it many times, start out with remastering what worked and what people remember and build on that. A remastered Red Alert, Tiberian Sun, Red Alert 2, it’s that simple. The game and community I know is just crying out for it. Hell, we see it in Halo, and Call of Duty. Let’s be having it EA, put some money down and proper thought.

Nyerguds: Hard to answer… I’m no expert on balancing and all that, and I generally prefer sticking to single player. But, to me, it should be something that’s not too complex, with a tech tree that makes sense, and which doesn’t include units that will either be ignored from the moment you get access to a better unit, or which will never even get built because they are too high-tier and expensive for what they can do. The C&C1 Rocket Launcher and RA1 Mammoth Tank come to mind… not to mention odd side-units like the radar jammer.

OWA: For me, a new C&C game with several unique factions (GDI, Nod, CABAL, Forgotten, Scrin), extensive base building, nuanced gameplay, comprehensive modding tools with an in-game mod browser, a satisfying continuation to the Tiberian Saga (that retcons C&C4) and multiple game modes (that officially include Art of Defence as a game mode) would be the perfect RTS. EA would probably never go for it, but I can dream.

TaxOwlbear: Mission structure of C&C1 mixed with Emperor: Battle for Dune, aesthetics of Tiberian Sun, production value of StarCraft II.

Tore: An ideal RTS would be easy to learn but hard to master. Not only should it have good usability in terms of intuitive controls, but also accessibility in being clear in what is going on, proper contrast between units and background, for example, and limiting of massive effects unless they are needed – Michael Bay explosions and effects can be cool, but if as a result the user has no idea what is going on, the game is in trouble. Adding to this, good and unique unit designs are important so users may quicker understand their purpose and differentiate between then better.

I would also like to stress something many RTS games fail at and that is believability (or authenticity some devs call it); making things on screen believable enough that a user can suspend their disbelief – a tank should have the presence of a tank; it should be somewhat slow and should not be able to turn 180 degrees in a few milliseconds. Units should not phase into each other as it breaks immersion.

Sound effects also play a large role, cannons should sound like cannons, machine guns should sound like machine guns. Sound has usability purposes as well, by giving each unit type a unique voice, the user will quicker understand what unit they have selected, giving each unit type unique weapon sounds aids the users in understanding what unit typing is shooting. Perhaps the most important thing is a unique and clear announcer voice that aids the user in attending to important matters, like “Your base is under attack” and “you are running low on resources”.

In addition to being fun to play for a wide skill base, it should also be easy to understand for viewers. Gameplay videos and streams are popular, therefore a good spectator UI and replay system is paramount for a games success.

Good modding and mapping support is important too.

A good netcode with LAN support is very important too.

A decent singleplayer campaign is appreciated too.

I am quite sad to have to mention this as a minimum requirement: at least 2 unique factions with strengths and weaknesses.

ToxicShock: A well balanced game with base building and plenty of depth would make a good start. Tiberium Wars with better graphics and a few bugs ironed out would go most of the way for me.

 

Question #7: Is there any hope that we’ll see a new good RTS in the foreseeable future, either from big publishers or indie developers?

Plokite_Wolf: No, there is not. Whatever trash indies label as RTS is simply unworthy of the title, and bigwigs sure love to fail. Microsoft mismanaged all their Age of Empires re-releases that are not Age of Empires II HD to the point that they are left in a far buggier state than their originals, and Relic was stupid enough to taint their reputation by trying to crowbar in MOBA ideas in Dawn of War III, and who knows what they’ll do to Age of Empires IV now. Also Petroglyph is still crap, news at 11.

My only hope is that FireFly Studios makes Stronghold Next well, but again, that’s not a 100% pure RTS.

Nmenth: I doubt a good RTS will come in the near future. The current climate is far too focused on mindless, fast-paced, highly competitive multiplayer games. Since strategy involves more than merely what your tanks are currently doing on the battlefield, a good strategy game needs to give you a reason to fight, that means a good storyline. It has always been my opinion that singleplayer sells the game, and multiplayer keeps it alive, but the quality singleplayer experience is not conducive to this climate. I think there is still a demand for a high quality RTS, and where there is a demand, the market will eventually respond.

Banshee: If Blizzard returns to the genre, maybe we’ll have a good RTS game. Otherwise, Microsoft is really the best mix of a proper gameplay with a good storyline… except for the bloody Windows Store. Petroglyph is having a hard time to use a proper budget to make a decent storyline in their games. When they do it, like what they did with Grey Goo, they exaggerate on the micro-management bureaucracy. But I haven’t lost my hope for them. And I have yet to play Sudden Strike games and the latest Dawn of War. In terms of indie developers, I have high expectations with OpenRA and 0 A.D. and its modders.

CCHyper: I feel like the RTS genre had to evolve to keep up, but it has failed to do so for some time. We are seeing a slight rise in its popularity in places such as open source indie games, so I would not rule out a revisit, but it have to be a risky leap forward and will not be like how we remember.

Foxvic: That is a hard question. I, personally, would not prefer “AAA RTS” in the modern market reality. The one thing that scares me the most is that I would have to “pay extra” for units and ractions, or singleplayer missions (shout out to Starcraft II).

“Indie parasitism” would be a common thing in the future; the only question is that who will play it? (8-Bit Armies, Hordes, Invaders)

Lauren: Only if someone figures out again what made RTS good and fun in the first place. Being accessible while challenging, there’s a reason why people start out with the SimCity playstyle, it’s easy to get into. The real difficulty of an RTS now is how to convey to these people to get better at the game and leave that behind without them alienating outright.

neogrant: We’re seeing work from other publishers and some of it is taking off, but it’s arguably in a small scale. I just get the feeling they need the C&C franchise, to really grasp onto something (the storyline, characters, the units available) and really make something truly amazing again.

Nyerguds: Funny you should mention that. I actually got some interesting insiders’ info on something like that just before looking at this questionnaire. There might just be something good on the horizon 🙂

OWA: King Art Games are making Iron Harvest, which is a game that is based in Jacob Rozalski’s 1920+ universe. I’m really looking forward to this one in particular, because they took the time to conduct a series of comprehensive surveys to see what the RTS community wanted out of the game before they began developing it. There’s no surprise that it made the money for all of its Kickstarter stretch goals. 🙂

Just want to also give a quick shoutout to MARS 2000, Ardent Seas, and the S.C.R.A.P Mod for StarCraft II, since all 3 of those projects are looking great!

TaxOwlbear: I think so. However, I’m mostly content with a decent singleplayer experience. My view is also skewed because I’ve played too many bad 90s RTSs games.

Tore: Probably. There is a hole on the market for a polished new RTS game with a decent budget. There have been many attempts recently, but they all seem to fall flat due to lack of features, polish, usability and/or interesting gameplay.

ToxicShock: There is always hope. I am pretty sure that nothing will be coming from EA in the near future. There are some interesting indie games out there. The problem is that the developers probably do not have the resources to garner popular support for their games. That is a shame.

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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