PC Interview

C&C3 lead designer Jason Bender

RTS chatter conducted by Sam and Duncan

With the long-awaited launch of C&C3 now almost upon us (March 30), gamers are finally beginning to salivate over the prospect of the big one's return. Sam and Duncan sat down with lead designer Jason Bender to get the low-down on this massive PC release.

It's back to the good old days of GDI vs. NOD. Can you tell us about the shadowy 3rd party alien force?

GDI and Nod came to power while battling over Tiberium, a mysterious green crystal of alien origin. In a way, they have always been destined to confront the mysteries of Tiberium. During the second Tiberium war Kane even went so far as to build a ship based on alien technology. Now we're finding out a bit more about where that technology came from. C&C3 lead designer Jason Bender

The Scrin, a vicious and determined alien race, have come to Earth for its newly formed Tiberium. GDI and Nod each have different views of these aliens. After the initial violent assault GDI views them as the greatest threat the world has ever known, even beyond Nod. The Brotherhood of Nod, specifically Kane, sees the profundity of the situation and realizes that these aliens could prove incredibly useful. Only Kane knows exactly how to use them.

The game certainly looks like a huge leap ahead, but what can you tell us of gameplay innovations? What are we going to see in C&C3, and nowhere else?

We focused on bringing the heart of C&C into today's competitive RTS world. We started with the interface. Specifically we brought back the sidebar, but with careful streamlining we lost none of the functionality you'd expect to see in any fast-paced RTS. You can manipulate your production from the battlefield, without having to go back to your base by using the tab system to build and queue units. If you like going back to base and clicking on individual structures to build, you can still do this. This will allow players easy access to everything they need easily, but long time fans won't have to learn a whole new set of rules.

Our most ambitious endeaver is certainly something we call BattleCast - the ability to play a strategy game like a sport. We introduced a whole slew of new features to support the online multiplayer experience and give clans better access to the game. My favorite feature is the new BattleCast system. This allows commentators to watch a match live and talk about it to a huge number of spectators. The commentator controls the spectator camera and talks about the action during the match, calling out interesting areas with the telestrator pen tool. This is great because even inexperienced players can learn new tactics and ideas, while veterans can study their enemies. So far this has proven to be great fun for the team, as we have mocked and commented on each other's play during the internal tournament. You just can't host a match without everyone ending up laughing and screaming at the crazy tactics people bring out during tough matches. Of course, these replays can be picked up by anyone during or after the match, and you don't even need to own the game to view them! C&C3 lead designer Jason Bender

Some press releases have you quoted as having concentrated on adding 'new depth' to the traditional C&C format - how have you gone about this? Suggested features have included rewards based on 'Gameplay Style'.

The depth of Command & Conquer 3 comes from a wider variety of places. We've added a few new gameplay mechanics, such as capturing fallen walker husks to bring heavy units back to the field, but we've also added in less conspicuous places. The interface is a big element to this, as it allows players to focus more on the battlefield. We also brought in several balance teams formed from the community's best players to help refine the more challenging strategies. Some very complex unit interactions can be found as you start to discover combinations of powers, upgrades and units. This means that the better you become, the more strategies will open up to you.

Are we really going back to FMV cut sequences? Tell us it's true before we die of nostalgia! Can we have James Earl Jones back please? Is Kane still played by computer gaming's most beloved ham actor?

FMV is back, as only C&C can do it. Joe Kucan, the original Kane, is back in a big way! This time he has Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica leading the Brotherhood of Nod, and Josh Holloway of Lost watching his back. That's a pretty good team! This time GDI is lead by Michael Ironside, one of our favorite sci-fi bad dudes, so they aren't playing nice. He has Grace Park, also of Battlestar Galactica, backing him up from GDI headquarters. Jennifer Morrison from House is your personal military intelligence guardian angel. The civilian political leader of GDI is played by Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian! from Star Wars fame), and he absolutely makes himself heard in the midst of the most catastrophic war in human history. This cast brought a huge amount of talent to the story, and it shows.

What direction will the musical score and incidentals take now the original composer has been replaced? Will an attempt be made to emulate his style or will this herald a new direction for the music?

C&C has always had amazing music. We're keeping in the classic style, but the material is all new.

Are there any plans to utilise the C&C universe as the basis for an MMO, say a persistent global battlefield? How have the ranking systems been updated for this release?

Our new online features will make the whole multiplayer experience much more accessible to players new and old. We want to get it into the players' hands and see what they like best. I think future plans will develop from there, but we have every intention of further improving the online experience.

Will there by upgrades for the harvesters which will allow their AI to be boosted so they don't track down concentrations of enemy forces to drive through? What can you tell us of the AI overall?

The AI in Command & Conquer 3 is extremely clever. It uses tactics that can absolutely befuddle even experienced players. There are a variety of personalities as well. You can choose to battle against turtling AI, tank rushing AI, balanced AI, and several others that act quite differently. It is very robust, and even adjusts to you during the match. If you're not playing so well against the medium AI it will slow down a bit. Alternatively if you're really pounding on it, the game will step up so the AI becomes more challenging.

Unit-level AI is improved as well. We've added stances to give the player greater control over their units. Automated behavior is clever, but specific. For example, infantry will automatically take cover near buildings if they are idle and the building is close by. This grants them an armor bonus that can be very useful when they come under attack and the player isn't paying attention.

C&C introduced us to the tactic of building super-massive bases and stockpiling tanks for about two hours, then steamrolling across maps in about 45 seconds. This tended to be more like armed capitalism than an RTS. What gameplay tweaks have you introduced to encourage more fluid play?

We really focused on getting the player into combat, and out of the base. The average battle lasts closer to 20 minutes now. When the match starts you have to aggressively expand to nearby resources. There simply aren't enough resources in your starting base to win by turtling up. If you sit back and milk your starting resources you'll quickly find the opponent expanding across the map. This will only end in a large force coming to overwhelm you. This means that lots of small encounters will happen all over the map as players fight over precious resources between their bases. Typically we've seen first encounters begin around the 3 minute mark, with constant conflict after that point. Units build very quickly and get to the battle fast. It is always very dynamic.

Thanks for your time, Jason, best of luck with the release of C&C3!

Preview
First Look: Life Is Strange
Dontnod gives us a taste of what to expect from their new episodic series.