As you may have recently read in our retrospective story, the Command & Conquer series has been around for nearly 15 years. Nearly 15 years of harvesting resources, building up bases, and churning out squadrons of tanks to crush the enemy. Nearly 15 years of live-action cinematic cutscenes with Hollywood talent hollering and yelling during mission briefings. And now, the series that began with two factions, an energy-rich crystal substance, and a commando with "a present for ya" will come to a close with Command & Conquer 4--the final chapter of the Tiberium saga. You know the saga--the war between the "good guy" Global Defense Initiative and the "bad guy" Brotherhood of Nod. Yet EA plans to have the series go out with a bang because C&C4 will offer a ton of new stuff to play with, including co-op campaigns, a new class-based game system, persistent experience points, mobile bases, and five-on-five multiplayer. Designer, storywriter, and campaign lead Samuel Bass explains these new features and confirms that the game will have no digital rights management software. He also confirms that, yes, Joe Kucan, the actor/director who plays Kane will return and that although the saga is ending...we may not have seen the last of Tiberium.
GameSpot: We're pleased to be the first to officially reveal Command & Conquer 4 to the world. Give us an overview of the game...we understand there will be many changes and new additions.
Samuel Bass: Command & Conquer 4 is pretty different from anything we've done before. While we're staying true to the core of real-time strategy play, we've also dug deep into what makes Command & Conquer the series it is and come up with a game we're really excited to finally reveal [to] the world.
The most immediately impactful piece of information is that with Command & Conquer 4, we're finally taking the story arc that began with Tiberian Dawn to its dramatic conclusion. After years of enigmatic references to "Kane's plan" and "ascension," we felt it was high time we pulled back the curtain and really explored the what, why, and how of this universe we love so much.
However, that's just the story. There's a ton more that's new to C&C4 besides--notably our class system, our RPG-like elements and persistent player profiles, our massively revised multiplayer backend, and a hundred other things worth talking about.
GS: We understand, for instance, that the game will be "class-based." Can you explain how this system will work? For instance, will there be specialized "hero" characters that you can choose to play as?
SB: We've subdivided each of our factions into three upgradable classes. Each class--outside of a few standard units, such as the engineer--consists of an entirely distinct set of units, structures, powers, and upgrades; the equivalent of a full RTS faction.
Our "offense class" is your classic RTS faction, tank-oriented and focused on frontline combat. With the "defense class," however, the emphasis is on infantry, bunkers, and turrets, which lets you build complex defensive grids and really hold down a section of the battlefield. Lastly, we come to the "support class," which is based around utilizing a selection of aircraft and custom vehicles to traverse the environment. Once engaged in combat, support players can fight directly or assist their teammates with a variety of powers and [healing abilities].
It should be noted that while each class has a specialized focus, we are designing all three to be entirely competent as a direct combatant. Whatever class you're playing--offense, defense or support--will be more than capable of taking out your enemies on the battlefield.
GS: We also understand that the game will introduce the kind of persistency that people might expect from a massively multiplayer online game--that players will gain experience from both single-player and multiplayer matches that they can carry over to a single profile. How will this system work? How will the single-player experience be balanced out against the multiplayer experience?
SB: Essentially, whenever you play Command & Conquer 4, be it in single-player, co-op, skirmish, or online, you earn experience that collects in your persistent player profile. Within the profile, you use your experience pool to level up your classes, earning new units, structures, powers, and upgrades. Since your profile is persistent across the game, you can then take your new toys and put them to use in any of our game modes.
Beyond the obvious compulsions this adds to the game, the player progression system lets us tackle one of the biggest issues we've encountered as RTS developers. To put it simply, when--as an RTS newbie--you install the game, enter your first match, and find yourself faced with 13 units, 10 structures, and an ungodly number of additional powers and upgrades.
Where do you start?
By having our players enter the game with a limited but carefully chosen selection of units, we create a much smoother learning curve, giving you time to come to grips with our core gameplay systems before we bombard you with added complexity. However, since players are guaranteed to receive a steady drip of new toys, they soon become conversant in the deeper gameplay elements and can compete at a higher level.
Of course, we also want to make sure our more hardcore players gain access to the stuff they want when they want. The better you are at the game, the more quickly you'll advance through the levels. Command & Conquer 4 has more units than any RTS we've ever developed, so we've got more than enough toys to go around.
As a nice side effect, since C&C4 requires players to be online all the time in order to prevent cheating, we'll be shipping without any form of DRM.
GS: We also understand that there will be several new units in the game, including a real-time strategy first. Can you explain?
SB: Every time we launch into a Command & Conquer game, we try to maintain a healthy balance between the classic units of games past and new ideas we'd like to explore. Of course, both the fiction and the RTS genre as whole continue to evolve, so with each historical unit or structure, we had to stop and ask ourselves "How would this fit into the world and game design of Command & Conquer 4?" and evolve the design appropriately. While we're still deep in the design process, we can confirm that our fans will definitely be able to get their hands on updated versions of some classic Command & Conquer units, notably the Nod Scorpion, Stealth and Flame Tanks, and the iconic GDI Mammoth.
However, the biggest surprise on the vehicular end would be what we call the Crawler, our class-specific, all-in-one mobile base that doubles as a powerful frontline combat unit. One of our goals with Command & Conquer 4 was to come up with a more flexible, streamlined approach to base building, and the Crawler was the end result of that investigation. Rather than construct a series of structures to build and modify your army--as you would have in previous C&C titles--everything you can create, be it unit, structure, power, or upgrade, comes from your Crawler.
Some [players] might understandably be concerned that we've sacrificed depth of play in favor of flexibility and ease-of-use, but nothing could be further from the truth; our internal play tests are consistently uncovering new Crawler-derived tactical approaches. This is especially true in multiclass co-op, multiplayer, and skirmish play where the class-specific attributes of each Crawler really come into their own.
GS: From the sound of it, multiplayer is going to be a very important part of the game--up to 10 people will be able to play online in a single session. This sounds huge. How will such big multiplayer games work? Will they all be head-to-head competitive modes or will there be other modes that also support such large map sizes?
SB: Command & Conquer 4 is by far the most socially oriented RTS we've ever produced. As you might expect, especially given our class system, the concepts of teamwork and cooperation are at the heart of our multiplayer design. We're emphasizing objective-based victory conditions over the more traditional "crush your opponent's base" play, although there is still much crushing to be done. We believe that this approach not only broadens the strategic options available to our players, but also helps bring in new players who might find traditional RTS multiplayer somewhat intimidating since the path to victory is no longer purely derived from your ability to turn your opponent's units into so much scrap metal.
Apart from the multiplayer itself, some other core features of C&C4 make it a highly social experience as well. First, we have the persistent player profile; with every unit you kill, you'll earn experience you can put toward upgrading your class and progressing through the game. Then, we have our class system; a new player could easily slip into the role of a support player, whereas a more experienced player could hop right into the more aggressively oriented offense class and attack the enemy without any hesitation.
GS: We also understand that like Red Alert 3, C&C 4 will have a cooperative campaign mode. Why bring back this feature for C&C4? What will it add to the game?
SB: Yes, Command & Conquer 4 will feature two-player co-op across the entire campaign, complete with multiclass play and integrated player progression. The public reaction to Red Alert 3's co-op play was hugely positive, and we think Command & Conquer 4's unique design elements will further enhance the RTS co-op experience.
GS: It also sounds like the game will return to the classic C&C style of using live-action cinematic sequences between missions to advance the story. And we've seen C&C games play it serious with C&C3, as well as over-the-top with Red Alert 3. How would you characterize the cinematic sequences in C&C4? Also, how can you possibly top a cast that includes Tim Curry, George Takei, and Ric Flair?
SB: We're definitely going for a grittier, more serious tone with Command & Conquer 4. If you go all the way back to Tiberian Dawn, you'll see that Westwood's original ambition was to tell a believable story with the campier elements more the result of technological limitations than anything else. With Red Alert 3--a fantastic outlet for our more tongue-in-cheek tendencies--we felt that the time was ripe to return to the original intent of Tiberium Universe and tell a nuanced, emotionally compelling story.
As such, our aim with Command & Conquer 4 is to maintain what we see as the heart of the series' narrative style--first-person full-motion video storytelling that utilizes actors, sets, and integrated CG elements to create a convincing universe while improving the underlying writing, casting, and production processes to achieve a more convincing result that places players right at the heart of the action.
As for casting, it's still early, though we can confirm the return of the iconic Joe Kucan as Kane, leader of the Brotherhood of Nod and the heart of Command & Conquer 4's narrative.
GS: It also sounds like C&C 4 will bring an end to the Tiberium story saga, which has run for some 15 years throughout the series. Why conclude the series here? Will fans of the story arc finally get closure here? Will Kane finally get his comeuppance?
SB: This is indeed the final chapter in the story arc that began in 1995; bringing closure to the story of GDI, Nod, and most importantly, Kane--who he is, what he wants, and why. Don't expect veiled references to ascension followed by an enigmatic fade to white at the end of this one! We're drawing story elements from every game in the series and weaving them together in a manner that will hopefully conclude this epic tale in a manner that will be satisfying to our hardcore fans and new players alike.
As such, our storyline begins in 2062, 15 years after Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars and the Temple Prime incident that led to the Scrin alien invasion and Kane's "death." In the ensuing years, Tiberium entered its next evolutionary state, rapidly expanding across the Earth and rendering our home world all but uninhabitable; the very fate of the human race hangs in the balance. Just as this sense of impending apocalypse reaches its apex, the always-enigmatic Kane resurfaces and heads straight for GDI headquarters. And this is about how much I can tell you right now without risking my life.
As for getting his comeuppance, well, Kane...I'd love to tell you, but [because we want to keep the story under wraps for now], I am being surrounded by snipers at all times, so I can't tell you.
What I can tell you is that our C&C community will be a part of the process of naming the game. That's right, stay tuned for details in the coming days, but the fans will be able to send us their suggestions for the subtitle of C&C4!
GS: Can we expect to see the game launch simultaneously for both the PC and consoles? What lessons has the team learned from the development of previous games that is being applied here?
SB: While we are very proud of the work done [for] console versions of our previous titles, we are developing Command & Conquer 4 exclusively for the PC. Given the ambitious scope and significantly reworked infrastructure of this game, it felt like the right approach to focus purely on our core platform and make sure we get everything right.
GS: With the end of the Tiberium saga, what's next for Command & Conquer, the franchise?
SB: While we can only really speak to Command & Conquer 4 at this time, it is safe to say that the conclusion of the Tiberium saga is not the end of the Tiberium Universe as a whole.
...And what will happen after that? Snipers, I told you, snipers! Who's going to walk my dog if they get me?
GS: We'll notify your next of kin. Thanks, Samuel.