Now that the PC version of Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath has had its turn, it's time for Xbox 360 owners get their hands on EA's stand alone expansion to last year's RTS. To celebrate that fact, and to find out why PS3 owners aren't getting the same opportunity, we caught up with associate producer Jim Vessella.
VideoGamer.com: Can you tell us a little bit about the lessons you learnt from your previous RTS console games and how you've taken them into Kane's Wrath on 360.
Jim Vessella: In our first two console releases, Battle for Middle Earth 2 and Command & Conquer 3, we learnt two big lessons about this kind of console development. One is in the overall control scheme, continuing to try and make the game accessible for the console users and always remembering that it's a new audience. These people may never have played an RTS game before. And so not only do we have to make the controls accessible but we also approached the difficulty of the game in a sense that these aren't expert Starcraft players or Command & Conquer players who have been playing these games for over 10 years. So for Kane's Wrath what we really wanted to do was dive into both of those things. First was with the control scheme. We have our brand new CommandStick interface for Kane's Wrath, which is all based around radial menus, using the left and right analogue stick. When you get your hands on the game you'll realise just how much more accessible and easy it is to control your units, access your build queues, and it really just matches more with a console theme of things using these radial menus. It's a pretty common interface for a console game.
And we've also tried to tune our difficulty so it's not so hard for console players. We still have different difficulty modes in the game, like easy, medium and hard for people who want to give themselves a big challenge, but we really wanted to make that average difficulty for the campaign a bit lower down so we can really get players to go through the story, play Command & Conquer and not be frustrated as they try and play the game. So those are the kind of things that we're continuing to try and develop on for all our console versions of our games. Continuing to enhance that control scheme to match with what console players would want and then also tune that difficulty and learning curve so that we're keeping the players as well as giving them that entertainment experience. We're hoping we're doing better with that in Kane's Wrath and improving upon that from our previous games.
VideoGamer.com: Most hardcore gamers would consider the RTS to be best played on a PC with a mouse and keyboard. Would you suggest the consoles have any advantage over the PC?
JF: I think so. The debate against console and PC is always that and I think with the console you do get the benefit of it being a bit more of a relaxed experience. Even though it's still a frantic RTS game and you have lots of stuff going on, it is sitting back on your couch, watching it on your really cool big high definition TV. It's more of that level of experience where you're not having to scrunch up against your keyboard with your coffee and try to frantically get as many mouse clicks as possible. I think it's an opportunity for players to relax with the RTS genre and look at it from a bigger picture. Because of just the controller instead of a mouse and keyboard you're going to be less focused on micro, as they call it, telling that exact unit to do that exact thing and telling that exact tank to target that exact tank. You're going to be thinking more of a high level of strategy. OK, you know, what do I want to do with my army, rather than what am I going to do with that one little tank? Which is what you'll see PC RTS hardcore players do. So I think it's a bit different in the way that people are going to play the game. But I think there is room for both in the genre. Getting those more casual users who can sit back, think about the situation and go like, OK what kind of build up strategy am I going to use here, what am I going to do with this army? Rather than the PC player who may be hunched up against the monitor and trying to micro a bit better than their opponent. I think there's room for both.
VideoGamer.com: Kane's Wrath is getting in on the console RTS before Halo Wars and EndWar. What's your impression of those two titles?
JF: I'm actually looking forward to both those games. EndWar I think is really interesting with of their voice command. The only thing I've seen of it are some trailers and also some screen shots but I don't know a whole lot about the game. But I am very excited to see how well that voice command works for the RTS genre. I would actually say that we'll probably see how they do and try and investigate if utilising the voice command is also a good advantage for our future games too. We're all learning here which is the cool thing about the time that we're in. All the developers for console RTS are working together and trying to borrow ideas from each other.
Halo Wars, they just haven't released a lot. There was a few minute trailer from way back, from almost a year ago. I just haven't seen a whole lot from them recently. I don't know exactly what they're doing in terms of the details of that game, but I'm a Halo fan so I'm definitely looking forward to what they do with the fiction and how they bring such a high profile franchise to the RTS genre.
VideoGamer.com: It sounds like good times for console owning RTS fans then?
JF: It really is. There are so many top tier developers jumping in and trying to learn how to do this together. You have Gas Powered Games, and we're trying to pioneer as well. And Ensemble. It's really exciting. I hope that eventually all the top tier RTS developers try and help each other really make it a successful genre on console.
VideoGamer.com: Kane's Wrath isn't coming out on PS3. A lot of our PS3 owning readers are quite disappointed at that. Is there any reason why it's not coming out on PS3?
JF: The PS3, it would just be extra development time that we didn't really have right now. So we can focus on the 360. And also specifically with Kane's Wrath, because we're building off of the foundation of Tiberium Wars it was just a natural transition to continue with the 360 exclusive development. Although we are very interested in the PS3. We're big fans of the console. We're definitely moving forward on that front for hopefully our future titles. You'll have to talk to the Red Alert 3 team specifically about future plans for PS3 and also our future games going forward. So we're definitely looking at the PS3, but for Kane's Wrath, just not yet.
VideoGamer.com: The feeling is that, given the recent announcement about the PS3 version of Red Alert 3 being on hold, PS3 owning RTS fan are being left behind by EA. Should they be concerned?
JF: No. I think that going forward in the near future we'll be able to really focus on getting really good PS3 versions. And that's the other thing. We don't want to just port it over to the PS3 without giving any care as to what really makes that console successful. We really want to put care and heart into every version that we do. And so we really want to be able to dive into PS3 and give it the attention it deserves. We're really hoping that will happen pretty soon.
VideoGamer.com: Relating to Kane's Wrath on Xbox LIVE, can you give us some details?
JF: It's up to four players. 2 VS 2 or any combination below that. Xbox LIVE is pretty cool. We have five gameplay modes, all the ones from Tiberium Wars are back, like capture the flag, these are all modes that are not on the PC version. So it's a cool way for console players to get some exclusives compared to the PC. We have over 50 multiplayer maps now in Kane's Wrath, including about two dozen new maps made for Kane's Wrath. And also actually a few maps that were in our PC patches from Tiberium Wars which console players have never seen before. So a lot of cool gameplay there. And then of course we have 1000 Achievement Points on 360 and we have several of those spread throughout online as well to encourage players to go online and play with the different new sub factions we have. We think the online experience in Kane's Wrath is getting pretty popular. Tiberium Wars I know was very successful online and so we're hoping Kane's Wrath does the same.
VideoGamer.com: What are your plans regarding the C&C3 series? Is Kane's Wrath likely to be the last expansion or might we see other C&C3 stand alone titles?
JF: Yes. We haven't announced anything new for the Tiberium universe. Although I'm sure that Kane lives and he'll continue to spread his wrath throughout the world. And so we love the Tiberium universe and I'm sure we will revisit it in the days to come. Right now we're really trying to focus on Red Alert 3, the next big thing. Command & Conquer is blooming and here to stay. We're looking forward to the next time we get to visit Tiberium.
VideoGamer.com: Great thanks very much for your time.
Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath is due out for Xbox 360 on 27 June 2008.