Articles: Red Alert 3 Community Summit 2008: Part 6: Worldbuilder and Modding

Worldbuilder and Modding
By Worldbuilder team and Level Designers (three or four of them, at least, and most didn’t give full names)

This was definitely the most contentious presentation, and I won’t shy away from being frank about it. First, for the basic stuff: the Red Alert 3 terrain structure is a bit different from C&C 3. It uses a grid-based design for construction, which makes it a bit easier. Also, terrain levels are more structured, with fewer rolling hills, but more clearly defined cliffs (units from a lower level cannot observe or attack units on a higher one). I can see arguments for and against these design choices, but I will say that they are relatively minor, so we’ll just need to wait for the final implementation before we comment on them.

The folks doing the Worldbuilder and modding presentation

They did demo the Red Alert 3 Worldbuilder for us. I was not impressed and neither was the rest of the group (or those who cared about modding and mapping), it appeared. The tool itself seemed relatively useful, but looked to have a high learning curve and little documentation. Before I could even begin asking questions about this, Tim “HeXetic” Gokcen from PlanetCNC was strongly pressing the presenters on why this was the case. They did not really have answers, but I suspect it’s simply because of a lack of time and resources. Their higher-ups, as they said, the ones “telling them what to program and design” were not giving the presentation and were not open for questions, so I did not think it quite fair to harangue the presenters too much—but I do not blame Tim and I am not happy with how the presentation went. Tim’s points were blunt, tough, and fair. In one instance, I’m pretty sure he said, “That sucks. I’m sorry but there’s no other way to put it.” And he was right: Worldbuilder was poorly documented. To be fair, I could possibly have thought of some other way to put it that might have been a bit nicer, but I respect Tim’s direct questions. I hope EA listens.

Tim "HeXetic" Gokcen (left, sitting) and Apoc talking to one another about modding support or lack thereof

I asked a few questions myself, mostly about mod support. The presenters said that the Mod SDK would not be available in time for release, though Aaron said it would be. My guess is that both the presenters and Aaron would like it to be, and both don’t know if it will be. We will see how it turns out. What’s not good, in my opinion, is the lack of support for newer versions of modding software, specifically Maya in general or versions 2008 or 2009 of 3D Studio Max, none of which work with C&C 3. Maya is a different platform entirely, so while it would be beyond wonderful for it to work with the SDK, I would not expect it to ever be the case. Not supporting the last two versions of 3DS Max is more problematic and less acceptable. I pointed this out to Aaron in an email earlier this year, and he said they would include such support for the Red Alert 3 SDK. Such will not be the case, according to what the presenters and Aaron said at the summit. I pressed for an answer on this, until someone from the community cried out, “Just pirate a version off torrentspy and be done with it!” I’m guessing this is not exactly EA’s endorsed policy, but for many, it seems to be the only alternative. It’s not what I am going to do (I am not an artist, so I have no need for such programs) and not what I’m going to tell my team members to do, however.

In the end, though, I was not happy with the mod support outlook and tried to make that clear. I know I asked a lot of tough questions during this presentation, but I hope that the folks from EA thought they were fair ones. I was not there to cheerlead, but to give feedback, ask questions, and get answers. I did all three, though I didn’t always like the answers. I will say that EA and Aaron were more honest and forthright than past public relations representatives have been and that it was a welcome improvement. They have also promised support for a “live team” (I believe, but do not know for certain, that community member Mastermind will be working on it), which will develop patches and mod support. They recognize that the Kane’s Wrath patch and mod support was botched in the extreme, and promise to take steps to improve it immediately. Time will tell.

Editor’s note: Much of what happened next I can’t talk about yet, since it directly relates to the game and to the community’s feedback of the game. I’ll get into the gameplay in the next article.

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Adding Depth to the Game
Part 3: Sound Immersion and Music
Part 4: SAGE Audio and Medieval Times
Part 5: The Ritz Carlton (and its guests) and the C&C Website
Part 6: Worldbuilder and Modding
Part 7: Community Presentations
Part 8: Conversations with Developers and Conclusions