Those who have been around a while and enjoyed C&C since its inception will remember the Soviet ending to Red Alert 1. In it, a bald headed actor stood by Stalin and his assistant Nadia as they celebrated their victory over the Allied forces. Said bald headed actor and Nadia poisoned Stalin. They then announced to the player that the Brotherhood of Nod was, indeed, present and alive, though it would remain dormant until the Tiberium meteor came to Earth a few decades later. Kane ultimately kills Nadia and he—save for the player—is the only one with any foreknowledge of what is to occur: the beginning of the Tiberian chapter of the C&C story.
Command and Conquer features an epic story, perhaps the best in gaming. I’ve written about its references, its allusions to real world events and fictional events and people, and its fascinating concept. Mark “Cypher” Kotliar, retired from PlanetCNC, led the development of an excellent C&C Encyclopedia that details many of the references in C&C lore. Reading through his work, and even just playing through the games, it’s evident that, yes, they are games, of course, but they are games that tell a story, and a good story at that. Such a compelling story makes them an exciting form of entertainment.
Noteworthy, here, I think, is the issue of “a story” versus “many stories.” The intention, from the start, it seemed, was always to tell the story of the Command and Conquer universe, a story dominated in large part by the presence of Tiberium, the presence of Kane, and the eventual arrival of the Scrin. Central to the C&C tale was the epic, overarching nature of that story—Kane is a biblical figure who is among the first humans. He pops up, in the C&C version of history, again and again (as in Red Alert), slowly biding his time and building his Brotherhood of peace. The Brotherhood emerges most fully in the tale of Tiberian Dawn, as Tiberium reaches the Earth, but the C&C story spans more games, including Tiberian Dawn’s prequel, Red Alert. Though other stories, such as the tales of Tanya and Stavros, Stalin and Volkov, are told, everything comes back to Kane and Tiberium in the end.
Electronic Arts rejects this notion. In the recent edition of PC Zone, a UK magazine, the executive producer of Red Alert 3, Chris Corry, said:
“There's no relationship between the two universes. Westwood—Louis Castle and Brett Sperry—had an intention that they would exist in the same universe, which is why in RA1 Kane appears. But Lou[is Castle, co-founder of Westwood, the company the originally made C&C] has done interviews in which he said it was a 'failed experiment'!”
At some level, Electronic Arts owns the game, and thus it is their right to control the story. At another level, it has always been a common conception among fans that the universes were separate (for example, our mod, Command and Conquer: All Stars, though acknowledging that in reality there was a link between the universes, broke them up into three factions, one per series). But at what I think is the most important level, we shouldn’t only look to Louis Castle. As always, the C&C story is a bit more nuanced than at first glance.
Why shouldn’t we just take EA, and their well-paid employee, Louis Castle at whatever they say on C&C? For one, Louis Castle co-founded Westwood, but certainly did not co-found C&C. Look, for example, to the credits on C&C Red Alert. Castle, mentioned in some versions of the credits (though not on the online version maintained by MobyGames), is never credited with “Original Concept” (that’s Brett Sperry and Joe Bostic) or any sort of high ranking role. Such is true for most of the early C&C games when the framework for the series was being laid out. He doesn't assume a significant role until much later on. Indeed, Castle, prior to signing up with EA, even admitted this himself, when he said in an interview with Gamespot circa 2001, “Again, Brett was doing C&C while I did SNES games and Monopoly. C&C has been and always will be his baby.” Sperry, in that same interview, acknowledges the connection between the Red Alert and Tiberian games, saying, “Right now Red Alert and C&C are connected in my mind. There is an overall story, and you know, we have to ask ourselves, 'What is Kane doing?'” He expresses some uncertainty about how this will continue in the future, but, at the very least, he says that RA1 is inextricably tied to Tiberian Dawn.
But I don't think that a minor plot point (which was never going to be resolved) really matters much in the end. I am aiming for a larger issue. It’s apparent to me, and a lot of others, what has happened with C&C. Forgive me for noting it so obviously. The original visionaries of C&C are gone, and many who have replaced them are feeling free to tinker with the story, yet still trying to pass themselves off as caretakers of an original vision. They own the game now and it is their right to tinker. Some of the games they make might not be that bad—while Generals was awful, Zero Hour and Tiberium Wars were at least passable. This is not a question of legal rights or of property or even of morality—in the end, it is only a game, and who speaks of “morals” in determining relatively minor plot connections in video games? But it is a matter of truth and vision. The C&C Community should realize once and for all that the games being made now are being made by different people than the visionaries who created the series we love. EA cannot and should not deny this, as they currently are doing. We cannot and should not forget this. Something is different, as this should remind us. Citing Louis Castle and the even less C&C-experienced people as visionaries of C&C and implying, in any way, that EA is somehow continuing an original vision only serves to mask this difference. If nothing else, look again to Castle's own words about C&C and contrast that to the rhetoric used today. In my view, the transformation of C&C, away from its original vision, and towards the vision of the likes of Castle, Corry, and Harvard Bonin, is for the worse.
For me, too, C&C is, and will always be, Brett’s baby. It is a wonderful, nuanced story. It is a story that is no longer being told. In the end, I will buy the C&C games released by EA. I will contribute to their earnings report (and it seems they need the contribution). They will like that. I will enjoy the games, sometimes. I will mod them, too. But I have realized, and I am again reminded, that the people who are running the C&C series now—for better or for worse—are not the original visionaries. They will make decisions that grossly contradict the original story, that expose the new games as mere money-making devices. Neither EA nor the community should pretend otherwise, as EA is currently doing. This isn't EA-bashing—I own Madden. I own C&C 3. I like how EA has gotten better at patching and providing more mod support. It's a business, nothing more. This is obvious to all, I think, certainly as Red Alert 3 looks more and more Generals-ish. This may not bother some. It certainly doesn’t surprise me. However, I think it is wise to remember something else Brett Sperry said: “It's not just a matter of pure revenue generating activity and exploitation [of customers]….Entertainment is number one.” As we follow, play, buy, enjoy, and mod the C&Cs of today, let’s not forget this. C&C was once an epic, intricately woven story. In the beginning, C&C had one vision, one purpose: entertainment.
All good things must end.