Interview

EA producer Chris Plummer talks Tiberium

New C&C FPS under the spotlight

We weren't overly taken with C&C: Renegade, EA's last stab at an FPS title based on their long-running IP. However, Tiberium promises to be something entirely different, hence our pleasure in getting the opportunity to grill producer Chris Plummer on his new charge.

Tiberium isn't the first C&C FPS. What lessons have been learnt from the last attempt, which didn't go down as well as might have been hoped?

Before deciding to proceed with Tiberium, we took a long hard look at Command & Conquer Renegade. There is a lot to learn from that project and I had an opportunity to learn from first-hand having been at Westwood at the time of its release.

For starters, if you put Command & Conquer in the name, then there is going to be an expectation of a "command" element central to gameplay. That's what the universe really showcases and we made that a priority in Tiberium's design from the very beginning. Renegade didn't have this unless by chance you were playing the multiplayer C&C mode with a very well coordinated team. But the compulsion of being "in command" was a very compelling idea for the Tiberium team and we felt this could be delivered in first person as a central feature.

We also analyzed whether we should really put Command & Conquer in the title of a shooter at all. For many gamers, C&C is synonymous with fast-action RTS gameplay. It represents a trademark style of play and can confuse the issue when applied to a totally different genre like an FPS. We took that learning to heart and decided not to put Command & Conquer in the title of this game. Although we've taken a considerable amount of inspiration from the C&C games, Tiberium is not an RTS. However, we really embraced the original fiction and that ultimately inspired the name of this new franchise.

Another key learning is that a first-person experience set in a universe this deep needs to be presented with conviction in the most immersive way possible. The visual style of Tiberium is a deliberate attempt to make the universe feel a lot more real - like it could really happen.

At the end of the day, Tiberium is a very different animal, but I think there were still a lot of little lessons from Renegade as well.

Aside from the squad-control mechanics, we're introducing a first-person cover system that allows players to easily stay protected in cover and fight from cover without accidently sliding out in the open.

How will Tiberium's story fit in with the rest of the C&C cannon? What can you tell us on the game's premise?

One of the things that we're spending a lot of time on is creating a story that is compelling and worth-while to those people who've never played a C&C game before, but also provides a lot of rich backstory and continuity for those people who have been hooked on the RTS franchise since '95.

We're not going into full details on the campaign at this time, but players will step into the role of Ricardo Vega, a young GDI soldier who played a key role in defeating the Scrin invasion back in the Third Tiberium War. Although the alien forces were eliminated in the final battle, they managed to complete construction of a mountain-sized towering structure which has remained a silent and impenetrable mystery in the years following.

After the war, Vega was promoted to Forward Battle Commander and put in charge of his own Rapid Assault and Intercept Deployment (R.A.I.D.). This would be a great honor for most, but Vega was changed by the global war with Nod and an unprecedented Alien invasion. At that point, Vega had seen enough destruction and took leave from his military duties to help rebuild the Yellow Zones ravaged by war. There, he became exposed to a different side of GDI and Nod and started to wonder if mankind's warring factions were not so different from each other after all. It's then you discover the real problem is Tiberium itself, the battle for this resource is what's causing all of this suffering.

The FPS genre is notoriously crowded. How will Tiberium stand out from some tough competition, and what games have proved influential?

We think we've created a deep, engaging world that's really going to draw people in. We've spent a lot of time developing this universe and we can't wait to share more with you. We also think we've got a solid science-fiction hero in Ricardo Vega. His story, the toys we're giving him to play with and his role in leading the action is something that I think gamers are going to gravitate to.

From a pure gameplay perspective, we're really making squad-based action simple, we want to always have the player pushing the action from the frontlines. As such you will be able to issue orders to multiple squads of your choosing while you are fighting alongside your forces. The tactical gameplay in Tiberium involves use of cover, weapon selection and using your squads to cover more ground, provide additional firepower and draw enemy fire.

How are you planning to blend first-person action with squad combat to create an immersive and involving experience?

Again, our goal is to find a way to not only bring squad combat to the forefront of the game, but to keep pushing the action at the same time. Tiberium's squad control interface gives players the power to issue instantaneous tactical orders to squads with a single button press. Just aim at a target or destination in first person and in one button tap your squad (or squads) will attack the target or move to the destination you chose. Think of your squads as weapons and you choose where they go or fight. Your squads will also receive tactical bonuses throughout the game depending on whether you order them to move into cover, fight alongside them, etc.

Additionally, players are equipped with a Battle Control Uplink (BCU), which is an on-demand, interactive map of the mission area. Just like first person squad control, players can issue move and attack orders to any of their squads with ease using the map. The BCU map is particularly useful for remote-commanding squads that are beyond visual range or setting your squads up for flanking moves and other tactics.

What control challenges does the tactical side of the game present, and are there any differences between the PC and console versions of the game?

Its always challenging to add something new or evolved to an established genre and in our case the multi-squad gameplay controls for the console versions represented the area we spent the most time experimenting with in terms of different controller solutions. Ultimately, we got to something slick and responsive that anyone can pick up and play and immediately understand and have fun with, so I'm very happy with the multi-squad solution.

Tell us about the environments we'll be battling it out in. Is interactive scenery on the cards? How diverse are the game's settings?

Tiberium is going to feature many different environments, from the enclosed, darker indoor areas you've seen online already, to much more expansive, wide-open areas. One of the things we're really working on implementing in our level design is giving our players the ability to take advantage of our first-person cover system so that they can not only easily stay protected in cover and fight from cover without accidently sliding out in the open. We want players to always be thinking about their surroundings, but we want to help them make quick decisions to keep the action level and intensity high.

The online mode sounds very interesting. How will this differ from the usual multiplayer FPS experience?

Although we are not revealing many details about multiplayer at this time, I can tell you that Tiberium online play will feature NPC squads under player command. Think R.A.I.D. vs R.A.I.D. For the first time, player commanders and the NPC squads will be able to engage in battles with and against other player commanders and their NPC squads.

What impact have the C&C RTS games had on the development of Tiberium?

The Tiberium team did a lot of the early preproduction work that went into Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars. And we kept in close contact with them throughout their development process to make sure there's continuity in the universe. We've also been working with the Kane's Wrath team more recently to again ensure that the timelines match up and that the events are accurate in both games. C&C 3 Kane's Wrath actually sets up some cool story elements that will pay off in Tiberium. For all of the C&C fans out there, a lot of the questions you've had about the Tiberium universe will be answered in Tiberium, and a lot more questions will arise!

A "new franchise" is promised. How will future Tiberium titles further the story and how will they relate to the ongoing C&C RTS releases?

It's too early to disclose any details about future Tiberium games right now, but there is a master plan for an epic story. You'll just have to stay tuned to find out. It all starts with Tiberium.

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