Q&A: EALA commands and conquers the 360

Senior producer Mike Glosecki debriefs GameSpot about bringing the acclaimed strategy series to Microsoft's new console.

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While the Wii and PlayStation 3 launches hogged headlines last week, another next-gen console was also the subject of some major news. On November 16, Electronic Arts announced that Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars, already announced for the PC, is in development for the Xbox 360.

The announcement made waves, because C&C is one of the most storied series in the real-time strategy genre. It has also, with the exception of a few last-generation console ports, been primarily a PC franchise. Some have taken the 360 version as another harbinger of doom for PC gaming, while others have assumed it is merely an attempt by EA to cash in on the rising popularity of the next-gen platform.

To Mike Glosecki, the senior producer of Command & Conquer 3, the reason for the 360 C&C3 is simple--it will further prove that RTS games on consoles aren't just feasible but are actually fun. This was the approach taken by EA's Los Angeles studio when it brought The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth II to the 360 in July. While the critically acclaimed game hasn't been a runaway success--selling less than 150,000 copies as of the end of September--it has done well enough to convince EALA that an Xbox 360 C&C3 is a good idea. Glosecki talked with GameSpot about the process of bringing the famous franchise to a next-generation console.

GameSpot: So what motivated you to bring the Command & Conquer franchise to the Xbox 360?

Mike Glosecki: We paved the way for Command & Conquer (C&C) with our recent release of The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth II on the Xbox 360, which was widely acknowledged as the first "RTS on console done right." Our innovative new control system made the RTS experience accessible to a whole new audience. Now it's time to build on that foundation with Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars (C&C3). With its fast, fluid, and fun RTS gameplay, C&C3 is a natural for the console. We're improving everything about the console RTS experience. We've made the control system considerably more accessible and powerful, improved frame rate, eliminated lags and hitches, pumped up the graphics, and upgraded the underlying technology in a number of other ways.

For those that aren't familiar with C&C, it's worth a quick introduction to the franchise and the game: C&C is about controlling large armies of futuristic tanks, aircraft, and infantry on the battlefields of the future. The series is known for fast-action strategy gameplay, a great single-player campaign with a rich story, and terrific online multiplayer. C&C3 offers all of that and more.

GS: When can we expect to see the game on store shelves?

MG: The game will be released in 2007.

GS: How will the console version differ from the PC version? Just in the controls?

MG: I'll start with an overview of the game, then discuss some of the differences between PC and console.

C&C3 is set in a dark future where tiberium--a toxic self-replicating crystal of alien origin--is slowing taking over the Earth. Tiberium is both a gift and a curse. It is the ultimate resource, solving all of humanity's energy problems. But it is also the worst ecological catastrophe in history. It has been the catalyst for a series of devastating world wars that split the human race into two powerful factions: The Global Defense Initiative (GDI) and the Brotherhood of Nod (Nod). GDI is an alliance of advanced nations similar to the UN of today, while Nod is a virulent new form of superpower--a stateless hybrid of terrorist organization, religion, and corporation.

When you fire up C&C3, you'll get to play as GDI, Nod, or the yet-to-be-revealed third faction in the epic single-player campaign or in Xbox Live multiplayer matches. You'll get to build and control large armies made up of high-tech soldiers, tanks, and aircraft. You'll fight epic battles in a variety of cool settings. In order to win, you must harvest tiberium, using it to construct sprawling bases that in turn produce troops and vehicles. You must build up the most powerful army that you can and then use it to crush your enemies. All of this happens in a fast and fluid real-time environment in which your opponents are also building up their armies and constantly attack you. It is the ultimate high-energy RTS and is extremely addictive to play.

The story is told through full-motion video sequences (a combination of live action and CG) and is woven into every aspect of the single-player campaign--in-mission objectives, conversations you overhear on the battlefield, intelligence database entries that flesh out the gameworld, and other ways as well.

All of this is common to both PC and console. For console specifically, we have the new controls and game UI. We'll also be introducing some new multiplayer game modes--conquer, siege, and capture the flag. In conquer mode, you build your armies up to a set point limit before the game starts and then defeat your opponent in a "no reinforcements" fight to the death. Siege is a "turtling" mode where a wall of energy is put up between the players that keeps them from attacking each other for the first five minutes of gameplay. Capture the flag features a flag hidden in the middle of the map, and each team that returns the flag to their base gets a point, with the winner being the first player to five points.

We'll also be bringing back a couple of great modes from The Battle for Middle-earth II--capture & hold and king of the hill. Capture & hold is a Battlefield style of play in which there are five points in the map, and the team that controls those points for the longest period of time is the winner. King of the hill features one point to hold in the middle of the map. This makes for some very intense fighting and was one of our most popular modes from The Battle for Middle-earth II.

GS: What's planned for the multiplayer portion of the game?

MG: In addition to the new multiplayer modes described above, we will also be implementing support for the Xbox 360 vision camera. This is a cool new video chat system that launched on Xbox 360 in September. You'll be able to look into the eyes of your opponents before a match--in the game lobby--and then see and talk to them as you are playing the game itself. You'll also get to experience our cool new "winner's circle" feature. At the end of a match, the winner gets his own central video window to tell you how badly he just dominated you. This provides extra incentive to win.

GS: What's the single biggest challenge when bringing a PC RTS to a console?

MG: Up to this year, there was no question that the controls were the biggest challenge. We believe we've met that challenge with the console control system for The Battle for Middle-earth II. Our big challenge moving forward with C&C3 is to refine those controls based on our own observations and on user feedback, to really evolve them into the best RTS controls. We've been successful thus far by finding ways to not only improve the controls, like our shortcut systems, but by also improving the responsiveness of the controls. These improvements are already in the game today and will only get better was we approach launch next year.

GS: Many game-industry watchers figured that EALA would bring C&C3 to the 360 only if its first 360 real-time strategy title, The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth II, did well on the console. According to the NPD Group, the 360 BFMEII sold just under 150,000 copies as of the end of September. Is that considered a success?

MG: There is a tremendous audience for both The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth II and C&C worldwide. The Battle for Middle-earth II received various press accolades and favorable reviews, and we were pleased overall with the consumer response. Notably, The Battle for Middle-earth II was number three on the charts for Xbox 360 in the month it shipped and is still in the top 25 overall for the platform year to date in North America.

Given this, we believe that strategy games have a place on the Xbox 360, and the genre will continue to grow on all next-gen systems in the coming years.

GS: Many PC purists feel that there's no place for real-time strategy games on a console. How would you respond to those charges?

MG: I started as a skeptic but became an instant convert when [EALA vice president of creative development] Louis Castle first showed me the new control system. The system actually made sense and was easy to pick up and use. Now, looking back at the finished product, The Battle for Middle-earth II, I believe that we've proven that there is a place for RTS games on console. For those that are still skeptical, I say go out and try playing The Battle for Middle-earth II on the Xbox 360 by downloading the free demo that we have on Xbox Live Marketplace.

GS: Previous attempts to bring RTS games to consoles have fared poorly. Why do you think C&C3 will succeed where others have failed?

MG: I believe that we will succeed mainly because of our focus on making a control system that is both easy to pick up and use and one that feels native to the console system. We are not trying to emulate a mouse and keyboard on the Xbox 360; rather, we are focused on innovating how you access and give orders to your units and structures.

GS: Do you feel that, given the processing power of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, more real-time strategy games will be ported to next-generation consoles than before?

MG: Absolutely. I think that we've opened the door for many developers by showing that it can be done and done well. There certainly are no real hardware barriers; both systems are capable of running a very rich-looking and terrific-playing high-end RTS game.

GS: Why do you think Microsoft won't support 360 gameplay with a keyboard peripheral? Wouldn't that make things easier for both developers and players?

MG: I can't answer for Microsoft, but from my perspective, it is the right decision to stay with the controller for console games. Our game is designed to be played in your living room, and I don't think the keyboard is part of that experience. Our team strongly believes that the console controls are easier to pick up and learn for new players and that an experienced player could play as well as or better than a player using the keyboard. You also get some control advantages with the Xbox 360 version. Rotating the camera, for example, is so easy to do on the console version that you find people doing it all the time to get the best view of their army, and this key advantage becomes very noticeable in C&C3's city environments. I strongly believe that some day we will be able to play a console RTS vs. a PC RTS and that the world will be surprised when a console gamer is beating all of the best PC players.

GS: Does EALA have any plans to bring RTS games to the PlayStation 3?

MG: We currently do not have plans for a PS3 RTS game, but bringing an RTS to the PS3 is certainly a possibility in the future.

GS: Does EALA plan on consistently making RTS games for both the 360 and the PC?

MG: Determining which platforms to develop strategy games for will continue to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Many factors are taken into consideration when making this decision, and in the case of C&C3, we believe that it is a perfect fit for the Xbox 360, and we look forward to having new C&C fans as well as longtime fans experience the series on the next-gen platform.

GS: If C&C3 is a success on the console, might we see older C&C titles being made available for the 360, perhaps on Xbox Live Marketplace?

MG: I wouldn't rule out the possibility, but nothing is currently planned for this.

GS: EA seems to be very keen on releasing episodic content for its 360 games on Xbox Live Marketplace. Can we assume C&C3 will be updated by premium content?

MG: We are currently looking at the types of new content that we can provide for Xbox Live Marketplace and will keep you posted.

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