Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 is out on PC now. But that doesn't mean that we've forgotten about the venerable RTS series. At EA's launch event in Trafalgar Square last week, we caught up with producer and C&C TV presenter David Silverman and lead balance designer Greg Black to discuss piracy, console controls and what's going on with the PS3 version.
VideoGamer.com: The game is out now. How do you feel?
Greg Black: Very excited. Very happy to see it out. Waiting to see what the fans think.
David Silverman: It's kind of like giving birth. Having no experience in the matter! You know you put so much time and effort into creating this. We're creating an experience and hopefully it's something the fans will enjoy. We don't want to have that ugly baby that everyone kind of mocks. We hope this is one of the hot babies and grows up to be someone like a Gemma where everyone's admiring for the rest of their life.
GB: Red Alert is so huge, people love it. We don't want to disappoint and that's really the big thing.
VideoGamer.com: Given the time since the last one, how much pressure have you felt making this game?
GB: A ton of pressure. I mean the fans are absolutely rabid. Every C&C fan has a different idea of what Red Alert 3 should be and there's a really high quality bar to meet so it's definitely a challenge.
DS: Every year that there's been without a Red Alert is more and more anticipation. So it's been seven years of anticipation built up. We announced C&C3: Tiberium Wars two years ago and people were like, 'yeah that's great, where's Red Alert? Where's Red Alert?'. This is the fan favourite franchise. This is the Mac Daddy. We got to make sure that we really deliver on the expectations. And to Greg's point, it's a lot of pressure and I really feel that the team did a phenomenal job listening to the fans, taking their input. We actually changed a lot of things mid-project because of what the fans had to say.
VideoGamer.com: Like what?
GB: Well, for one thing we had a relatively long beta and we did quite a few significant balance changes and as much as we could try to get the game to a competitive level for shipping. That was extremely helpful to us.
VideoGamer.com: You mentioned that everyone has their own idea about what the game should be like. What are some of the more stupid and ridiculous ideas you heard?
DS: I don't know, what was my idea? (laughs).
GB: Just internally we had a million different ideas. At one point one of our producers pitched an Atlantis faction, one of them pitched a fish faction. We were talking about having the Swiss and their Swiss Army Tanks and the Canadians. We went everywhere with it.
With the fans they're are two schools of thought. Some of the fans were really into Red Alert 1 and were looking for a more gritty, serious Red Alert 3. A lot of the fans were into Red Alert 2, and the dev team included wanted to go more in that direction because we felt it was really something fresh and different.
DS: It's a refreshing change from the other C&C games. So I think that's one of the most important things that people really need to look at. C&C has been around for 13 years and there's really a wide variety and a lot of different offerings for different kinds of RTS gamers. On the one hand you've got the serious sci-fi, the whole world is coming to an end, post-apocalyptic land, the aliens have finally invaded, tiberium has infested the planet, ecological disaster, just talks about all these different themes you even see today, energy crisis, corroding the planet, all these kinds of themes, that's Tiberium.
Then you've got Red Alert where you have psychedelic schoolgirls with telekinetic powers, you have bears shooting out of man cannons, you know it's completely over the top and fun. And then you've got Generals which apparently was a little too close to home in that it's modern military, and a pretty accurate representation.
VideoGamer.com: C&C is an RTS and a PC game. You hear all this stuff about the PC gaming industry dying. Not for you guys though, right?
DS: A lot of people say that about the PC, 'oh PC's dead, no-one's buying PC games'. You know they may not be buying PC games, but they're certainly playing them! (laughs).
DS: You hear this every sort of five years or so, that oh the new generation of consoles comes out, PC's dead. But you look at digital distribution, you look at indie games, I mean look at Europe, PC gaming is still huge. I really don't think it's dying but we'll see.
VideoGamer.com: How much of a worry is piracy for you guys with this title?
DS: In all honesty piracy is a huge concern. We joke about it here but it's a big problem. Luckily people haven't figured out an easy way to pirate on consoles, otherwise you'd be telling me, 'oh, the console market's dying!'. It's a big problem and it's hard because you've got people like Greg and a lot of guys on the development team who have been spending countless hours and someone just goes to download on a torrent site and they get the game. It's an unfortunate likelihood and it's one of the penalties that came about when broadband came out. But unlike the music industry which went about it in an interesting way, we're trying some new things and I think we'll be productive in the years to come.
Things like digital distribution, things like doing micro-transactions, things like that really find a way to get people involved and then also keep them interested. It's also a challenging thing on our end to make the game more engaging to people. If you give people a reason to buy the game they'll buy it. It's what happens. I use the music analogy again. If I'm an artist and I have an album with 14 songs and only two of them are good, then my album is probably getting stolen, but if every one of the 14 songs is awesome and you keep releasing maybe a new song or what not for people who bought it, I guarantee people will be buying my album. So it's just a different approach and a different way in how we have to look at it in the future.
VideoGamer.com: We've seen some expansions for C&C 3. What's in the pipe for Red Alert 3?
DS: Right now we're really just focussing on making Red Alert 3 as great as it can be. The game just came out, it's our job really to be on the front lines with post-launch support, making sure that we keep updating content. We have a big patch coming out in November that's really going to be adding a ton of new content to the game and a lot of balance fixes and what not... probably shouldn't have announced it, but you know!
It's an exciting time and again, we need to be committed and really make it more than you bought the game and now we're going to forget about you, making it more about ways to embrace you as part of the C&C community. That's also where things like our C&C TV initiative come into play.
GB: We were talking about piracy a moment ago. I think one of the best ways to fight piracy is really to have a compelling online experience because you have to authenticate your copy to get online, and that's something we've tried to do with say the cooperative campaign. If you really want to fully experience Red Alert 3, you want to jump online and play the campaign with a friend, and you're going to need a legit copy of the game to do that. So I really feel on the creative side that the future for PC gaming is online and that's how we're going deal with the piracy problem.
VideoGamer.com: Will it be a long time before we get the first expansion?
DS: Again, it really is going to depend on a couple of factors. Certainly the demand from the fans. We put this game out, if fans are screaming for more content, they say, 'you know what, the campaign was awesome but man I really want to know what happens to Uriko' or I want to know what the future holds for some of their favourite darling storylines that are in the game. Maybe we can come out with something like that. Or people are absolutely in love with the Empire of the Rising Sun and co-op gameplay for instance and they say I want to play with some new co-commanders, maybe we can come out with other kinds of content expansions, if you will.
I don't know if we're going to follow a pipeline of, here's a traditional expansion pack. It maybe looking at something that allows us to be a little bit more nimble and address the fans needs faster by offering portions of that. So instead of, here's your giant massive $40-50 expansion pack, maybe it's oh you want more story well here's the campaign expansion, you want more multiplayer maps and what not, here's the multiplayer expansion, you want to play co-op, here's the co-op expansion. If we can start to think about it like that it allows us to be a little bit more nimble and help address the demand from the fans faster.
VideoGamer.com: Will fans have to wait as long as they've had to wait for Red Alert 3 for the next proper sequel?
DS: Will it be seven years until Red Alert 4? Again it depends on the fans. EA launched C&C: RA2 and Yuri's Revenge back in 2001 and it's been seven years since. I can't tell you off the bat if it's going to be seven years till Red Alert 4 but I can tell you that the C&C fans, it's pretty safe to say they're probably more active now than they've ever been in their 13 year history. And as they continue to be active and excited and enthusiastic about things we're going to continue to be offering a unique C&C product, whether that's a Red Alert game, it could even be a Generals game or even another Tiberium game, or something totally different, we're going to try to super serve them because at the end of the day it's all about making games for the fans who want to play them.
VideoGamer.com: The game is coming out on the 360 as well. There are a lot of high profile console RTS games coming out, like Halo Wars and EndWar, that have their own ideas about tackling the console control problem. How have you tackled it?
DS: It's kinda cool because if you look at C&C back 13 years ago, it was really the franchise that made RTS games mainstream. We like to say that Louis Castle, who was the co-founder of Westwood, still works at EALA, he's the godfather of real-time strategy. So we have that weight on our shoulders when we come up with things, how do we reinvent the franchise, reinvent the genre? Certainly with Greg and his team working on things like cooperative gameplay does it. On the console side we've really taken super strides there. If you look at RTS on consoles in the PlayStation One days, nobody played those games. With Battle for Middle Earth 2 it was the first game we ever put on next-gen console on the Xbox 360, completely reinvented how console controls work, we took that to the next step with C&C3, we took it again to another step with C&C3: Kane's Wrath and the invention of the Command Stick, which is this ultimate analogue radial interface that gives you the speed and quickness of a keyboard and mouse but with the luxury of sitting on your couch playing on your console. With RA3, we even take it to the next level. It's our fourth generation of iterating on the RTS on console controls versus some of the other titles you mentioned, it's their first foray into that venture. We have a four title lead, and I really think that people are going to be impressed. A lot of people who have been playing advanced copies have been commenting on just how awesome the controls are on the 360.
VideoGamer.com: So have you got the best console RTS controls on the market?
GB: Absolutely. Our producer Greg Kasavin has spent an amazing amount of time and effort to really polish and nail down that control scheme that we have been evolving for four projects now.
VideoGamer.com: So it won't be the case that the 360 version will be the poor cousin to the PC version?
DS: Absolutely not. It doesn't give us any advantage to do something like that, to simply say, 'let's just remove the slip sheet, put it in a green box and call it Xbox 360 version'. That doesn't help anyone, doesn't get the fans excited, doesn't get us excited. We've really made a concerted effort to make sure the 360 version has the same amount of fun, play and enjoyment that you get from the PC version. It just manifests itself differently because you don't have a keyboard and mouse.
VideoGamer.com: Did you ever consider cross-platform play?
DS: It's something that we have considered. Certainly it would be cool one day to play PC versus 360. However, because of the difference in the controls it actually changes up the game considerably. With the dual analogues sticks you're able to zoom in more on the action, rotate around more, and really changes the whole RTS on console and RTS experience in general. And to have someone play that way versus someone on the PC, it's such a different experience, I don't think they'd really have fun. We've certainly tried it on our end and it's not there. It's not a good time and we wouldn't want to offer a feature that people aren't going to have fun with.
VideoGamer.com: Could that situation ever change?
GB: In the future it's entirely possible. It's something that we're going to keep looking at and keep trying and it would be great if we could because that would just expand that online userbase and enhance the experience overall.
VideoGamer.com: I have to ask about the PS3 version. What's the latest?
DS: When we announced C&C: RA3 we announced there was a PS3 version, then we decided to go on the record and say that we've suspended it to make sure that RA3 was able to come out to the level of quality that it must adhere to to be called a C&C game. We've hit that mark, we've shipped the game. And you know what that means? That means there's another version left to be had. So there's definitely people working on a PS3 version and we'll be talking more about that later.
VideoGamer.com: Any idea when fans might see it?
DS: Again, we'll be talking about that and really getting into release times later on. Right now we're really focused and excited to see what the reactions are to C&C: RA3 on the PC and Xbox 360.
VideoGamer.com: So it's not dead in the water?
DS: It's definitely not dead. If you're a PS3 owner and you don't own a PC and you don't have an Xbox 360 you don't have to write on your Christmas or Hanukkah list that you want to have an Xbox. You can play C&C: RA3. Bide your time and you'll be very pleased. We're looking at actually doing some really cool things with the PS3 version, especially the fact that since it is shipping later we're putting in a lot of cool content and really taking advantage of both the 1080p nature and the high-defness of Blu-Ray and also the fact that it can hold just so much more space.
VideoGamer.com: Can you say any more on that?
DS: No! I already gave you too much.
VideoGamer.com: Appreciate your time guys.
Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 is out now on PC, and out on Xbox 360 on November 14. A PS3 version is due later.