Q&A: Adding star power to Command & Conquer

Executive producer Mike Verdu talks about adding Billy Dee Williams, Michael Ironside, and others to Command & Conquer Tiberium Wars' live-action video.

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Tiberium Wars executive producer Mike Verdu.
Tiberium Wars executive producer Mike Verdu.

The Command & Conquer series is coming back next year in the form of Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars. But while the PC game will take advantage of today's high-powered desktops, it's also looking toward the C&C games from the 1990s for one of its most distinct features.

Live-action full-motion video makes its return to the series after a bit of time off, and today, publisher Electronic Arts announced the list of actors playing the roles of people caught up in the Tiberium Wars. In addition to the return of Joe Kucan as Brotherhood of Nod leader Kane, thespians Billy Dee Williams, Michael Ironside, and more will get in front of the camera.

GameSpot sat down with C&C3's executive producer, Mike Verdu, to talk about the decisions that went into selecting the actors, about why flesh and blood were preferred over pixels and textures, and about the game's story.

GameSpot: Previously, lesser-known actors were used in Command & Conquer games. What went into the decision of blowing out the cast for Command & Conquer 3?

Mike Verdu: We knew from the start that we needed a very talented cast to do justice to the story for Command & Conquer 3. I believe we've created a story for this game that has real depth and resonance, featuring interesting and complex characters that grow and change over time, a rich world, and some truly cool moments. We wanted actors who could bring our characters and our story to life...and we found them.

In the final product, the live action will be intercut with high-end computer graphics (CG) sequences showing action on a grand scale: You'll see the destruction of the Philadelphia, a full-scale assault by Nod forces on a Blue Zone city, and a number of other scenes with an epic quality to them.

No blood for Tiberium!
No blood for Tiberium!

EA's commitment to C&C shines through in the company's support for a top-flight cast, a live-action shoot on multiple stages with large physical sets and several minutes of high-end computer graphics. C&C is back in a big way.

GS: How did you select the cast?

MV: Casting six principal roles and several important secondary roles was a huge challenge. In the finished sequences, all of the talent has to work together to breathe life into our characters and our world...and if any part of the talent equation changes, you need to take a moment and evaluate where you are across the board to make sure the overall mix is right. The casting process was almost organic, a multidimensional puzzle that needed to be solved in real time based on the information we were getting as we talked to agents, managers, and the people on the production team.

Fortunately, we have a very strong production team for this effort. A number of the cinematic team leads have backgrounds in live action and visual effects. The director, talent producer, and I worked to find the very best actors for the roles we had defined. During the process, we also drew on the collective wisdom of the game team.

I am very proud of the final cast we selected for C&C3.

GS: Tell us a little about the game's story and how the actors fit in.

MV: We are giving gamers three different perspectives on the events of the Third Tiberium War by letting them play a campaign for each of our factions: Global Defense Initiative (GDI), The Brotherhood of Nod (Nod), or our yet-to-be-revealed third faction. Each campaign has its own principal cast and story, and all the stories weave together. There are revelations in each campaign that resonate in the other campaigns. After playing the three campaigns, gamers will have peeled back all of the layers of the onion and will have a complete view of the combined story--which is canon for the C&C universe.

In the GDI campaign, players take the role of a brave GDI Commander in the terrifying aftermath of the destruction of the Philadelphia, Kane's re-appearance, and an across-the-board assault on GDI strongholds by Nod. They'll work hard to rally the broken GDI forces and counterattack against the Nod armies that have overrun Blue Zones across the planet.

The commanding officer--a stalwart GDI General--will be the touchstone through the campaign. He reports to the new civilian director of GDI, a midlevel career politician thrust onto the world stage by events. The commanding officer will eventually come into conflict with the new director over GDI's military strategy and the course of the war. Eventually gamers will be forced to make decisions about what are acceptable losses in a global war against an implacable enemy...and which unelected GDI leader has the power to rule--and to order the deaths of others--in a war-time democracy.

The live-action scenes depict the initial shock and horror at the attacks and then bring the conflict between the player, their CO, and the director of GDI into sharp focus.

The Nod campaign has a dramatically different setting...This time gamers are leading the attacks on GDI under the direction of Kane, his second in command, and an elite military planner who is the genius behind some of Nod's most audacious strikes. Live action in the Nod campaign highlights the dramatic story of the initial attacks on GDI, the retreat in the face of GDI's shock-and-awe retaliation, and a series of twists that make you realize that all is not what it seems.

As for the third campaign...well, I can't say yet. Not until we're ready to unveil the third faction.

Sawye--errr, Josh Holloway.
Sawye--errr, Josh Holloway.

GS: You've got a lot of actors who have cut their chops in the science-fiction genre. Was that a conscious decision?

MV: Yes, it was a conscious choice. It's helpful to have a cast that understands the potential depth of this genre. Good science fiction holds up a mirror that we can all use to look at ourselves...and it's great to have members of the cast who have captured the imagination of an audience by convincingly portraying characters in a future world or a different universe.

GS: With Josh Holloway, Michael Ironside, and Billy Dee Williams, you have actors known for playing some rough-and-tumble characters. Are we going to see any of the cast break out from their typecast roles?

MV: I think so. Some of the roles are quite nuanced. For example, as GDI Director Boyle, Billy Dee Williams plays a deeply insecure character with an absolutist worldview who becomes the leader of the free world as the planet is consumed by a global firestorm. As the GDI campaign progresses, Director Boyle slowly begins to crack under the extreme pressure of running a superpower in wartime, exposing his deep flaws in a way that could endanger all of humanity.

GS: How was the team on the set? Did the team members treat the project like any other work they've done? Was it more relaxed?

MV: We completed principal photography in LA a few weeks ago, but we have two more small shoots to do before we're wrapped. So far the experience has been very positive. The actors are consummate professionals, and they've also been enthusiastic about their roles and the project. Our cast has been a real pleasure to work with across the board.

Missiles are the new bullets.
Missiles are the new bullets.

GS: Live-action video hasn't been used much in games in recent memory, but it appears to be making a bit of a comeback with C&C3, the Need for Speed series, and others. Why do you think that is?

MV: I can't really speak to other projects, but I know for sure that the mix of live action and CG to tell stories is a hallmark of C&C. I'm a C&C fan at heart, and I know that I really wanted to see the FMV sequences make a return appearance in C&C3. We knew we had to do the movies...and we had to do them right.

GS: How many minutes of video can gamers expect, and will there be a way to watch it all without playing the game?

MV: There will be well over an hour of video in the form of live action and high-end CG. You'll have to play the game to see the video sequences, however. The movies work with the other elements of the story that we deliver through mission objectives, events that happen on the battlefield, entries that are made in the player's intelligence database, and other sources. The game story comes across in many different ways. Stay tuned for details on how you might be able to go back and watch the movies that you've already unlocked.

GS: You have probably talked to a lot of actors about doing work for games. Are they generally receptive of the idea?

MV: The actors we talked to seemed to be quite receptive to the idea of taking the right game roles. It helped that they seemed genuinely interested in our story and characters.

GS: Could you recast this game for us if you could choose any actors, regardless of time or costs?

MV: I'm very happy with the cast we have now. They are all amazingly talented actors and have been wonderful to work with.

GS: Thank you, Mike.

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