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CommandCom Round-Up

CommandCom kicked off with a bang, but what else could you expect from an event dedicated to Command & Conquer, one of the really big, really old PC brands still going to this day?Taking place in Cologne, in a small suite of rooms tucked away from the noise and bustle of GamesCom, there was plenty on offer for the hundred-odd fans in attendance. Whether each individual was a treasured forum member, a top player, or a lucky competition winner, there was a sense of palpable excitement in the air.The majority of the action took place across two rooms in particular. One was bedecked with PCs – monitors switched off, naturally – although a few 360s running Mass Effect 2 held court in one corner, while Dragon Age loomed high in the other, and a smattering of other games were on display. The other room was the presentation room containing rows of chairs and a large screen, and fleshed out with posters detailing not only Command & Conquer games but also a few other EA titles.It wasn’t long before all attendees, including myself, were ushered into the presentation room. While everything for the was being set up, some stared admiringly at the posters. Others chattered happily away in predominantly English or German, although a variety of other languages were also audible. Some set up cameras and tripods at the front. Personally, I was contemplating how sad it was that the screen this presentation was to be displayed on was bigger than my wall, but that’s not really important unless any of you want to give me a big TV. The point is the same as was made earlier: excitement was in the air.Things were kicked off by a retrospective on the Command & Conquer series, which acted as a nice reminder as to how far the series has come. The original Command & Conquer was released to ludicrous fanfare back in 1995, and you know what? Maybe I’m going mad, but it doesn’t look half bad even now. Sure, the CG was terrible and the video compression technology meant that things were a tad blocky, but it was better than the interlaced rubbish most games of the period had, and the sprites themselves were so tiny that they had a unique charm. Pixel art is a lost… well, art.The video shot through the rest of the series: Tiberian Sun in 1999, then C&C3 in 2007. Renegade appeared next and is undeserving of any more words, the unique multiplayer be damned. Generals – a game that traditionally divides fans more, even, than Tiberian Sun – followed, and then came the parade of Red Alert games: RA1, RA2, Yuri’s Revenge, and finally Red Alert 3, with some proper full-screen CGI that looked astonishing on the large screen and oh dear I’m going to regret writing these words in fifteen years when there’s another retrospective on C&C aren’t I?Two things were clear. First, CGI has come a long way. Second, Kari Wuhrer was a great Tanya in Red Alert 2.The bit that really made the crowd scream, though, was the end: a shot of Kane. “Welcome, commander,” he intoned, “to CommandCom.”{PAGE TITLE=CommandCom Round-Up Page 2}EA’s Aaron Kaufman – better known to many as APOC, C&C community manager – took the stage next, praising everyone in the room for being truly hardcore fans, and reminding them that they would indeed get the opportunity to play C&C4. Cheers followed, naturally, but grew louder when the first guest speaker moved to the front: Louis Castle, co-founder of Westwood Games and one of the men who had been with the company through the early games.The really early games, in fact, as the first thing mentioned was Dune 2, which I swear looks better on screen than it does in my memory. Despite the games usually trotted out as the forefathers of the modern RTS, Dune 2 was born, we were told, out of a combination of Military Madness and Rescue Rangers – and was called Dune 2 because it was being developed at the same time as Cryo’s Dune adventure game, which was a fact discovered only shortly before release so the name had to be hastily changed.As for Command & Conquer, though, there were both problems and accomplishments from the start. This was at the dawn of CD media, and full-screen video – “like television” – was an astonishing tool, but working out how to get full-screen video to stream from a single-speed CD drive was something that nothing else had yet accomplished, and new codecs had to be written. As mentioned above, Wing Commander used interlaced video, while 7th Guest’s codec wasn’t up to it.While that might be expected, what wasn’t expected was that C&C was originally to be a swords ‘n’ sorcery game, but publishers at the time didn’t reckon that a fantasy game would sell (this would’ve been around the same time Warcraft was in development, remember) and so a military game it was, which was originally focused around the Americans fighting the Chinese, as including the Russians didn’t feel right considering the recent end of that whole Cold War thing. This is not the direction it took in the end.Where C&C had an advantage was in constant feedback. The game was consistently shown off, and people consistently gave thoughts on improvements. The result was a title that had 150,000 pre-orders 60 days prior to launch, while publisher Virgin had expected somewhere in the region of 100,000 sales on the first day. Publicity didn’t hurt either, with a fairly early example of a media furore erupting over an advertisement listing “previous high scores” and containing pictures of all sorts of figures: Idi Amin, Hitler, Stalin, and, uh, Jacques Chirac. This resulted in the French getting a tad upset, which resulted in that particular box being whited out… which resulted in the media running the story the next day.Red Alert, on the other hand, was originally an expansion pack and was designed to be more “fun” through the use of fringe technology. As it was still with the original team and wasn’t initially meant to be a stand-alone product, though, the camp levels were still fairly low in the first instalment in that particular series.For that matter, Castle responded to a fan question and finally told all in attendance whether or not Red Alert was a prequel to Command & Conquer. The answer? Initially, yes, hence Kane’s appearance. It was originally designed to show how the Tiberium universe came into being, but really, it all rests with whoever continues the franchise.{PAGE TITLE=CommandCom Round-Up Page 3}Louis Castle was an early highlight and there was plenty of discussion on every entry of the series, but time marches on and space runs short. The appearance of Castle was followed by a presentation on Command & Conquer 4 as given by EA’s Big Mike – Mike Glosecki – which has been previously detailed in our preview a few weeks back. Next came the reveal of the full C&C4 subtitle: Tiberian Twilight. This reveal was made through the high-tech (but surprisingly effective) method of removing a piece of paper from a brand new poster stuck at the back of the hall. After this, though, was something that every fan in the room had been waiting for: hands-on with a mission from C&C4’s single-player campaign on those computers that had the monitors cunningly switched off.Our impressions will be up elsewhere on IncGamers later today, but early feedback was promising. I spoke to a few of the fans in attendance and asked for their thoughts: “It seems fun,” said one, “but it’s the multiplayer I want to see.”These thoughts were echoed several times, but when you’re in a room with a good number of pro gamers, that’s probably to be expected. And for the rest? “[It] feels like C&C. I want to see more before I pass judgment, but maybe that’s a good sign,” laughed an attendee.Next up was a special, secret guest back in the presentation room: Joe Kucan, the actor who portrays messianic lunatic Kane throughout the Tiberium saga. Kucan was his usual incorrigible self and again, the full Q&A session will be up in transcript form later today on IncGamers, so stay tuned if you want to know about Kane’s hair-care tips. No, I’m not joking.Which brought the day towards its inevitable end. The finale, though, was a boat cruise – EA staff and the attendees on a ferry as it travelled down the Rhine and back, with beautiful German scenery floating past as we ate and drank and laughed. A solid end to a solid day.While this was the end of my experience at CommandCom, for the fans, it went on: the following day promised more Kucan, as he would be hosting the first public experience of the multiplayer beta.The message is clear. Command & Conquer fans are treated as seriously as the series is treated, and while the direction C&C4 is taking may be a risk, feedback is as desperately important now as it was then, and those who’ve fallen head-over-heels for the series are still hugely appreciated. People renting out boats for you makes that clear, but rooms bedecked in posters and art from the past fifteen years of a series also makes a point. With fan reaction to developers like Louis Castle and actors like Joe Kucan rivalling the reception rock stars receive, it’s clear that we have superstars in this industry, and that fiercely loyal fans are very much deserving of attention. Command and Conquer has never been small – the Battlecast has certainly proven that it’s larger than life outside of the game world – but even with a relatively small number around, it’s a series very much beloved, and EA should be applauded for doing something like this: not for the press, but for the fans.


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