Articles: March 2007 C&C 3 Community Summit Impressions: Single-player Impressions

By Mike, Generals World Founder

Sunshine on the Marina
Sun shining on the marina in the morning

Monday, March 5, 2007
Moral: When planning a LAN party, think twice about setting up in your lunchroom.

Emergency Exit: Alarm Will Sound
The first full day of the Community Summit began with a 5 minute morning taxi ride over to EA Los Angeles' campus.  We passed through the checkpoint, stating the secret pass code ("Aaron Kaufman").  Aaron trailed behind to make sure that everyone had left the hotel, so we stood around for a few minutes waiting; "uh, where do we go?"

When Aaron did show up, take a wild guess what door he took us through:

Alarmed Door
Emergency Exit: Alarm Will Sound
Hint: the door lies

We then proceeded to consume an all-you-can-eat breakfast, courtesy of EA's cafeteria.  Wait, what's that behind the black curtain?  Could it be … computers?  (Insert foreboding music here.)

EALA Cafeteria
EALA's Cafeteria
Gigantic utensils
Gigantic utensils. Yes, they were picture-worthy.

We finished up our breakfast, and were whisked away to a presentation by Producer Amer Ajami, Lead Designer Jason Bender, and Lead Balancing Designer Greg Black.

Jason demoed the third GDI single-player mission for us.  This mission is of the classic single unit variety: you basically use the GDI Commando and take on Nod with one hand tied behind your back.  That is, of course, unless you choose to make use of the reinforcements that you can eventually call in. 

The Commando has a number of abilities and is a pretty powerful unit – at least in single-player.  The mission is crafted specifically to encourage the use of these abilities, especially the Commando's jump-pack.  Using the jump-pack, you can bound over walls and other obstacles to take out enemy forces or land on strategically-placed health crates.  The Commando also has an ability that is unique to the single-player missions: the ability to call in an artillery strike from offshore battleships.  (No, you can't control the battleships.  Sorry.)

Single-player campaign missions in Command & Conquer 3 have two tiers of objectives: primary mission objectives, and bonus objectives.   One bonus objective in the GDI mission that Jason demoed was to complete it without using the additional reinforcements.  I think the addition of bonus objectives is a good thing: it increases the game's single-player replayability and overall longevity to a certain extent – at least for us perfectionists who must accomplish all objectives flawlessly.

Single-player campaign
Amer Ajami talking about the single-player campaign
Gigantic utensils
Producers for C&C 3
From left to right: Greg Black, Amer Ajami, and Jason Bender

Scrin Prologue: Welcome Back, Commander
After the mission demo, and with Aaron out of the room, the guys showed us a single-player FMV that none of us had seen before –the Scrin campaign prologue.  With the release of C&C 3 upon us, I won't dwell on its contents as it definitely classifies as a spoiler – you'll just have to play through the GDI and Nod campaigns at light-speed in order to find out.  Let it suffice to say that it was pretty sweet.  (Note: if you really did wish to be spoiled, I'm sure you'd be able to find the video online somewhere.  Somewhere like Google Video, for example.)

C&C Battles StarCraft Incarnate
The developers then had a couple volunteers play out a 1v1 match on the projector – Steppo from PlanetCNC battled Shaun, our friendly StarCraft player.  The rest of us sat back and watched Steppo as GDI on the big screen.  Ok, so we had home-court advantage here.  Steppo overcame some initial pestering by the enemy to eventually emerge victorious – but not after losing some Zone Troopers to a Sonic Emitter defense, despite valiant efforts to jump-jet past it and inflict turmoil.  On a related note, it turns out that the Sonic Emitter's defense weapon doesn't affect your own structures.  It seems that the developers felt that it was a bit ridiculous having this powerful base defense ignorantly decimate your own construction yard if enemy troops managed to get near it.  Probably a good decision, all things considered.

Should've Bought the Advanced Turbines Upgrade…
After the 1v1 match on the big screen, we all headed back to the cafeteria (yes, they were indeed hiding the computers there) to play some single-player missions and skirmish matches – basically, we had free rein.  Or so we thought.

Turns out Aaron had run into some technical difficulties.  Essentially, they blew a fuse.  So, we implemented plan B: wait outside until it gets fixed.

We waited outside for I don't know how long, but I suppose it wasn't so bad.  The 70° weather was a nice change (New England was experiencing temperatures in the teens at the time), and we were all pretty satisfied socializing and talking about C&C 3, our sites, the community, etc.  We sat by EA's version of Niagara Falls, observed the scenery (hah), played in the sand, and followed a bridge to nowhere.

Waiting for Computers
A bunch of the guys, waiting on the power situation
The View from EA
The view from EA: clearly, this inspired Yellow Zones
EA Waterfall
EA's very own waterfall
Lake EA
Lake EA (or, the reflection pool)
Bridge to Nowhere
Steppo on the Bridge to Nowhere
Pebbles on the shore of Lake EA
I told you we played in the sand (ok, so they were pebbles)

Finally, it was game time.  Well, for most people.  A few of us in the back corner had been playing for no more than 10 minutes when poof, everything went dark.  No, no one jammed our radar.  A surge protector had tripped.  Time for a reboot.

A few minutes later: power down – everything went dark again.  Clearly, C&C King shouldn't have used the Scrin Mothership... he managed to take down 4 of us (himself included, enemy base not).  Tisk, tisk. Not a good way to make friends, King.

After re-routing a couple more power cords and pulling yet-another extension cord out of who-knows-where, we were finally up and running and good to go.  Phewf.

Power cord madness
Power cord madness.
Yes, it got worse.
Let the gaming begin!
The NVIDIA Beast

The Gospel of the Great Green Crystal
With the power situation resolved, it was time to watch some pretty sweet Full Motion Videos (FMVs).  Yes, as you're well aware, classic Command & Conquer videos are back in C&C 3, complete with B-list actors.  From what I saw, however, most of the actors play their parts well.  They certainly put whatever minimal amount of acting was included with Generals and Zero Hour to shame.

In-game videos in C&C 3 play before, after, and (in the sidebar) during the single-player missions.  Josh Halloway does a great job playing Ajay – the Nod officer who gives you orders for at least the first few missions – quite the character.  Purists are bound to find some minor canonical inaccuracies in the videos and the single-player, but – let's face it – there were bound to be some slipups.  It's been over 12 years since the original Command & Conquer game was released, and just over 7 since the last RTS in the Tiberian storyline – the Firestorm expansion to Tiberian Sun – was released.  EA has in fact gone to reasonable lengths to preserve the essence of the canon.  Where the story has been altered, or where aspects have been omitted, there have been attempts to provide explanation – some of it in the videos, but much of it much more subtly, in the Intelligence Database that you accumulate as you play single-player campaigns.

As for the campaign missions themselves, I don't have any major complaints.  I completed the first 3 missions in the Nod campaign, all of which take place in the North American theatre. While the first GDI missions pretty much hold your hand as you get used to the gameplay, the first Nod missions assume you have at least a semblance of an idea what you're doing – and you should by now, commander.  Still, they weren't particularly challenging.  Their difficulty does start to pick up around the third or fourth mission, however. The third mission I completed was to capture the White House - I chose this over destroying Langley Air Force Base, which I would have had to do next, had I not ran out of time.

Even if they're not the most challenging of missions at first, I still found them interesting. You do have some flexibility in C&C 3 to choose what mission to complete next (from a list of a couple of options).  I suppose this is somewhat standard fare nowadays, but it does make the campaign feel a bit more dynamic.  Plus, I'm sure their difficulty continues to increase as you progress through the campaign. 

The Scrin, The Visitors
After dabbling in the single-player campaign, it was time to see The Visitors in full view.  I was afraid at first that The Scrin wouldn't fit in, but having played as them, I can safely say that most of my fears have been assuaged. Playing as The Scrin is pretty intuitive if you've played the other factions; their structures line up pretty similarly with their GDI and Nod counterparts, albeit with an alien flair (the Barracks becomes a Portal, the War Factory a Warp Sphere).

Having said that, they definitely stand out as a faction.  And no, the Scrin are not clones of the Protoss from StarCraft (though they do have a Planetary Assault Carrier air unit that StarCraft players will likely find familiar…).  For instance, they have Buzzers which are, more or less, like a swarm of bees.  They are buildable from the Portal, and also come out of the Buzzer Have defensive structure.  Buzzers constitute an anti-infantry unit – quite possibly the best in the game.  In my testing, it took about 3 standard GDI infantry squads to kill one group of Buzzers before they could harm at least some of your infantry.  (Note that this has probably changed due to balance changes in the first patch.)

Another unique unit that The Scrin have is the Mastermind infantry unit.  It is a mind-controlling unit with a build-limit of one that resembles – dare I say it – the Yuri Prime from RA2: Yuri's Revenge.  It can take control of a single enemy unit or structure, but it has a short recharge time between when each mind control can take place.  It can also teleport small groups of units small distances: I teleported a couple Annihilator Tripods to the back of an unsuspecting AI opponent's base, with nicely effective results.

One more thing about the Scrin - if you've ever asked the question: "How the heck does GDI and Nod stand a chance against an alien civilization?" then rest assured, you should get this answer in the single-player campaign. That's all I'll say about that.

Disclosure: We didn't get to play the Scrin campaign.  Not even a little.  We may or may not have tried to unlock the campaign using a command-line switch we saw the developers use when they showed us the prologue video.  We may or may not have failed.

Dragon Dronet
Having played C&C 3 for a good chunk of the afternoon, it was time to see some of the work that went into making all the sets, costumes, and props used in the in-game videos.  Dragon Dronet and his shop Renegade Effects [link] was responsible for most all the props and costumes used in the filming of C&C3's videos, and boy did they do an amazing job.  Dragon has worked on the props for a seemingly endless list of movies and television shows – Star Wars, Star Trek (he jokingly claimed that if it had the word “Star” in it then he's done it), The Mummy, and Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, for starters. 

Dragon Dronet
Dragon Dronet
The Idol
The Idol
Zorro Whip
Zorro Whip
Nod Mask
A Nod Mask
GDI and Nod Props
GDI and Nod Props
Kane's Gun
Kane's Gun

As you can see, I got to hold a version of Kane's gun from C&C 3.  Fun fact: the Nod mask shown was actually retrofitted from a facemask originally used in The Chronicles of Riddick.  Seeing how all the props were made was very cool, and Dragon's a great guy.  Kudos to Aaron for bringing him in for C&C 3 for a second time.

After Dragon's presentation, we got to witness C&C 3 on the Xbox 360 (currently slated for release May 8, 2007).  The controls for the 360 version actually seemed… reasonable.  I mean, I'm a keyboard-and-mouse kind of guy myself, but the controls didn't seem all that hard to pick up on.  They weren't for Nate, who got the chance to demo it live.  The 360 version has a few unique game modes like capture the flag, etc.  EA also demoed how their VisionCam feature works with Xbox Live to allow you to see your opponent in person.  This was an admittedly cool way to showcase the coming of the messiah.

The Coming of The Messiah
Who shoots the producer on the VisionCam screen and takes over the controls from the other room?  None over than the man himself, Joseph “Kane” Kucan.  Kucan, playing as Nod – er, Kane, leading Nod – naturally kicked the crap out of our GDI host.  It certainly demonstrated the advantages of having the Xbox 360 VisionCam set up – the match was awfully entertaining, especially when coupled with Kucan's unique wit.  (Apparently he's very popular in French nightclubs, or something.  Don't ask.)

After our GDI friend had been thoroughly trounced, the messiah himself came down to greet us, with what I swear must have been a mini-squadron of EA paparazzi.  No really – a woman with a video camera at one point went up to one of the attendees and asked something to the effect of: “Can you say that again?  About being 10 and wanting to meet Kane?”  Well, I was amused.  And thrilled.  Maybe a little dumbfounded.  And yes, Steppo was the only one to give Joe a standing ovation upon his entrance.  My excuse for the rest of us is that we were awestruck, flabbergasted, stupefied, gawking, generally astonished – basically, all of our muscles seized up at once, rendering us incapacitated.  Steppo must have some uncanny reflexes.

Joe stuck around for as long as he could (he had to catch a flight) signing autographs and taking pictures.  Very cool.  This may be one of the few times I say this so explicitly: Thank you, EA.

Xbox 360 Start Screen
It seems every console game needs the token "Press Start" screen
Inside EA at Night
Inside EA at Night
Blurry Picture of Joe Kucan
Blurry Picture of Joe Kucan

Bus Rides and Dogfights
After meeting Joe, we clearly left EA on an up note as we headed off for our “evening activity” – dogfighting at a flight simulator outside of LA.  On the ride over, Aaron had us go around the bus one-by-one giving our impressions so far of the game.  The reaction from community leaders was remarkably positive.  Let's face it: the community hasn't exactly been buddy-buddy with Electronic Arts since the closure of Westwood Studios.  And yet here we sat, cautiously praising a Command & Conquer game, heir of the original Tiberian storyline, developed by Electronic Arts.  All I can say is that they must have done something right.

And I must say: it was a nice gesture by Aaron asking each of us our opinions individually.  It gave us a chance to voice our praises and concerns, and hopefully to represent you guys, the community at large.

The night ended with a load of fun with the flight simulators – groups of 7 got to fly aircraft while gunning each other down from the skies.  “More missiles!” – Right guys?

It was a blast, and over all too soon.  Time to head back to the Ritz-Carlton for the night.  (You're surely pitying us by now, I know.)

Flight Simulator
Watching Dogfights
Flight Simulator Screens

C&C 3 Community Summit Impressions