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Former EA Dev Shares Thoughts on the Cancelled C&C 2013

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In a post on Ask Reddit asking if you could bring back any game from your childhood and have it re-mastered for today's graphics, what would it be? Some of the Command & Conquer games have been mentioned. And it looks like a former EA developer, under the name of "phpdevster", has joined the discussion and shared his thoughts on the cancellation of the Command & Conquer 2013 project.

Quote

The biggest problem was tension between free to play, and monetization. There's really no good way to find a happy medium. Either you incentivize people with persistent upgrades like levels, or new unit loadouts, or you have fair, competitive play. There's just not a good happy medium. Naturally, money talks and bull**** walks, so the game was leaning towards monetization and away from competitive play (except it's the competitive play that really keeps things interesting over the long term, so....)

The second biggest problem was also a result of the need to monetize: content sprawl. We were adding two new Generals every month or so, so that there would be lots of unlockable content. 2 weeks per General is not even remotely close to enough time to fully develop each General. Like... not even close. You need distinct units, generals powers, upgrades etc. 2 weeks is probably 1/10th the time necessary to even get the assets built, let alone tuned, polished, and balanced. So what was the solution to this break-neck cadance? Strip down the Generals so they only had a subset of units, and go for MOBA style 3v3 gameplay where you had to pick complementary Generals to form a team. SNORE. We were trying to clone LoL in a fundamentally different genre. Also, I hate being dependent on 2 other randos, or spending time trying to coordinate with 2 other players I trust. I just want to hop into a 1v1 ladder and start playing. But this game was not built for that, at all.

Next was the siloed development. Art was doing its thing. Engineering was doing its thing. Design was doing its thing. There was no vision holder creating a cohesive product. Art was laser focused on realistic visuals, which actually HURT game readability substantially. You could hide a terrorist in the shadow of a palm tree, and he would just blow up half your tanks. When you're playing a game competitively, you're spending literally fractions of a second on a given screen, and need to be able to assess conditions instantly. This can't happen when the map is full of visual clutter (burning piles of trash, crumbled walls, shrubs everywhere...). Zero Hour's simple graphics actually enhanced the gameplay. Generals 2's hurt it. I actually created a test presentation for the dev team called "Count the terrorist" where I'd show them a screen, give them 5 seconds (an eternity) to count how many terrorists were hiding on the screen. I did this for both Gens 2 and ZH. Nobody got the number right on Gens 2, but ZH was more accurate. Why? Better overall readability.

Moreover, we wanted to do things like make Technicals transports. Art was against this because they didn't have time to model the dudes sitting in the back of the technical, and the load/unload animations. Like.. who gives a ****? It's a game, not Saving Private Ryan FFS.

The third biggest issue was I was hired as the CNC expert to move the game more towards a CNC direction. The lead gameplay designer at the time was a huge StarCraft fan, and the gameplay he had designed reflected that. Units didn't have mass, and all behaved in very homogenous ways. No variety in turn rates, no acceleration, nothing. All of that nuanced micro that made CCG/ZH so special? 100% non-existent in Gens 2. I was hired to fix this. Except right up until we were cancelled, I was never really given that authority. I was told to create special community builds in secret rather than just getting to work making the game feel more like CNC. Of course, a big part of that is requesting engineering features to make that happen, but that's not possible when you have one designer requesting StarCraft-like features, and another requesting CNC-like features. Other things like the maps themselves were designed like SC2 maps - large platforms and huge maps, with narrow entrances that newbies could use to wall off. The goal was to make it easier for players to avoid being "rushed", but several design elements contradicted this goal. Unit build times were too slow, and movement speeds too fast. It would take a tank 35 seconds to cross a map, but a tank would take 35 seconds to build. This means you could at most, have 2 tanks built by the time one of your opponent's tanks arrived. Even on small maps in ZH, you could often have 3 or 4 tanks ready by the time one arrived. Why? ZH had short build times. Short build times and somewhat slower movement speeds actually create a natural defender's advantage that actually helps people repel "rushes".

Speaking of engineering. God damn. The game was an authoritative client-server model, where the server would model the game, and broadcast game state to the clients, which merely rendered it. Great for stopping cheating, but due to performance issues, the game's logical frame rate was 4FPS (literally 250ms per tick). And that didn't really account for latency. So you'd order a tank to go in one direction, and then very noticeably later, it would finally obey that order. This slow gameplay frame rate also made things like accurate crushing, and other effects (like high rate-of-fire weapons like gatts and quads) almost impossible. Also, apparently Frostbite 2 (the engine it was built on) is really not well suited for RTS gameplay according to the engineers I talked to. Things (like range detection) that would have been cheap and simple in an RTS-dedicated engine, were not so straight-forward or cheap in Frostbite.

And things like crushing wasn't just a technical hurdle - it was a political hurdle as well. Crushing is kind of a signature part of CNC gameplay, but there were lots of people on the dev team who thought that crushing would just make infantry useless, so they didn't want it. Except there are myriad ways to design infantry to retain a core role, while also allowing crushing...

Other issues like the Generals powers were just lame. They were point and click instant effects. Totally uninteresting, lacked nuance, and lacked depth. My voice of concern over the existing powers and suggestions to effectively scrub them and start from scratch, was not strong enough. Further, the manner in which you earned those powers was incredibly bad. In Generals/ZH, you earned your generals points by destroying enemy units and structures. In Generals 2, they were unlocked as a function of time or tech level (or something else, I forget which now!). No earning them, just suddenly became available to you even if you camped in your base and did nothing all game.

At the time we were cancelled, the game was about 2 months away from open beta. As a massive fan of the franchise, and RTS snob/connoisseur, to me it should have been 2 more years away from open beta. There was so much work that had to be done just to make it feel like a CNC game, let alone balance it and polish it. Honestly, even if that game had been released, fans would have hated it and would have been really disappointed in it. I personally would not have played it, for what it's worth.

The original post can be found here.

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58 minutes ago, Sonic said:

The lead gameplay designer at the time was a huge StarCraft fan, and the gameplay he had designed reflected that. Units didn't have mass, and all behaved in very homogenous ways. No variety in turn rates, no acceleration, nothing. All of that nuanced micro that made CCG/ZH so special? 100% non-existent in Gens 2. I was hired to fix this.

Considering the level of knowledge on Zero Hour and this above quote, I think this may be AGMLauncher, the CEO of GameReplays.

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Considering SAGE runs at a logical framerate of 5 (yay 50ms less, still a **** number) and quite a few other things making his opinions look comical I come to the same conclusion.

(Also considering player powers worked a lot more like in RA3, which he probably never played because he's too focused on Gens, at the start of the closed alpha, it smells even more like AGM)

Edited by Lauren
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Not that matters who, but this does sound more like a community expert... and it does not discount the veracity of their statements.

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While many of his points do stand in this case, AGM's basically founding everything on Zero Hour here, as if no other C&C had good multiplayer aspects that could have been used. Zero Hour still has a multiplayer scene, true, but so do the others, and while multiplayer was one of the few good things Generals and Zero Hour had going for them, it's not perfect by any means.

I also remember people panicking when they saw him join Victory Games, not because he was essentially joining EA, but because they didn't trust his ideas. He doesn't even acknowledge hidden random as a feasible concept!

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AGMLauncher was also staunchly against singleplayer campaigns as far as I remember, which was concerning.

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At least he admitted the big problem with this game having no future, making it F2P. You can never make a F2P RTS work, ever.

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Everyone and their mother agreed with that.  You could have asked any of the devs at Victory Games and they would have agreed.  It wasn't their choice.  It was a corporate level decision.

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22 minutes ago, Zee Hypnotist said:

Everyone and their mother agreed with that. You could have asked any of the devs at Victory Games and they would have agreed. It wasn't their choice. It was a corporate level decision.

Oh no doubt. I know it wasn't their (the devs) choice. It was just good ol' EA being good ol' EA again! And funny enough they were the ones that killed off the project because they even knew they screwed themselves with that stupid idea.

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I can confirm that this is definitely Jon LeMaitre, AKA AGMLauncher. I recognize his writing style and how his post is not concise. He goes a lot into details and adds a bit of his opinion, as well. I bet if you asked him "can you keep only the important information and cut the rest?", his answer would be "All of it is important information!" - I recall former EALA/VG employees and I saying the same thing, but ultimately agreeing that his points and expertise were golden and on-point.

He often sounds harsher in his posts than he really is (notably on the "no campaign" comments someone mentioned, and the criticism about the game's heavy art focus, which he made here), he's just a really expressive guy. Met him IRL and found he's a pretty swell guy.

For what it's worth, I agree with many of his points. Many of the EA/VG employees I talked to said almost the exact same things (albeit in a more neutral manner). The "siloed development" point he made was absolutely true, and he wasn't the only one that told me this. I can also firsthand attest to the fact that JVC was a huge StarCraft fan and wanted to burrow many ideas and concepts from that game. But then again, StarCraft 2 did take many concepts from C&C Generals and Zero Hour, as well (Dustin Browder worked at EALA/EAP before moving to Blizzard, by the way).

I personally firsthand tried the builds that AGMLauncher and compared with the actual VG beta/alpha builds, his felt a lot more right and C&Cish.

By the way, if you couldn't tell, his criticism of the dumbed down multiplayer with only a few units per general also applies to StarCraft 2's Co-Op mode, given as that was a direct continuation of the work done on this game. Tim Morten moved to SC2 after Generals 2 was cancelled. He oversaw development of that game mode.

Edited by Alex06
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1 hour ago, HOPE1134 said:

 AGMLauncher, now that sounds familiar. Let me dig through my bookmarks... ah there it is!

https://www.gamereplays.org/community/index.php?showtopic=896548

That massive hate **** for singleplayer.

Wow, this dude did a lot of back peddling now, didn't he? He went from "THIS WILL BE GREAT GUYZ!!!! F2P IZ AWESUM" to now "OH IT WAS HORRIBLE!!"

Honestly it sounds like this guy is a big douche in my eyes.

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8 hours ago, neojames82 said:

Wow, this dude did a lot of back peddling now, didn't he? He went from "THIS WILL BE GREAT GUYZ!!!! F2P IZ AWESUM" to now "OH IT WAS HORRIBLE!!"

Honestly it sounds like this guy is a big douche in my eyes.

Same goes for the rest of the GR circlejerk. 

https://www.gamereplays.org/community/index.php?s=&showtopic=896460&view=findpost&p=9280327

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To this day, players still demand singleplayer content. Titanfall and Battlefront had that problem and was/will be fixed in the sequel. 

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2 minutes ago, HOPE1134 said:

Bet they are eating some damn crow now, aren't they? I mean really...if you like single player you are brain dead...go **** yourself. A big HUGE reason that C&C was popular in the early days was because of the SINGLE PLAYER!!! Multiplayer back then was just a bonus.

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The Reddit post has been edited since this thread was created, it is different now to what is quoted here.

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I don't know WTH was AgmLauncher thinking about back then when he's in the team. Because of his Starcraft experience, he wanted multiplayer on a F2P C&C game, which got it all wrong and no wonder why EA devs don't trust him. Re-trying to create C&C Arena (in Generals style) with a bit of Sole Survivor and Tiberium Alliances is NOT going to work. Isn't C&C all about single-player with multiplayer as a bonus, hmmm?

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1 minute ago, PurpleGaga27 said:

I don't know WTH was AgmLauncher thinking about back then when he's in the team. Because of his Starcraft experience, he wanted multiplayer on a F2P C&C game, which got it all wrong and no wonder why EA devs don't trust him. Re-trying to create C&C Arena (in Generals style) with a bit of Sole Survivor and Tiberium Alliances is NOT going to work.

Honestly, what does all of this even mean?

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Because I read the post in Reddit, Alex06 already confirmed that was AgmLauncher's post. But that was just my opinion, no harm needed.

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13 hours ago, HOPE1134 said:

To this day, players still demand singleplayer content. Titanfall and Battlefront had that problem and was/will be fixed in the sequel. 

Just to back this up, IIRC a developer of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak said that 75%+ of the players never touch the multiplayer component of the game. Generally spoken, there's a lot of games that work well as SP only e.g. who actually played Spec Ops: The Line on MP?

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2 hours ago, TaxOwlbear said:

a developer of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak said that 75%+ of the players never touch the multiplayer component of the game

I've heard numbers like this from other games too. Each component plays its role, singleplayer sells your game, multiplayer keeps it alive. They were trying the reverse.

Additionally, in regards to freemium models, something like 90% of players never spend anything on F2P games. So if you use singleplayer as a pay-for incentive, you are marketing your game for the 25% multiplayers and selling it to 10% of the singleplayers.

If your game is a cheap mobile game that took less than a year to develop with a minimal-sized team, that kind of business model can actually work great. For a high production RTS, not so much.
 

(Disclaimer: I have not verified the statistics mentioned above, they are just hearsay from game developers who may be biased or ignorant. I tend to believe they are accurate, but they should not be accepted as fact.)

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I like how Nmenth has phrased that, makes sense to me as a consumer of content.

C&C won my heart with it's SP, but RA2 LAN kept the game alive a long time after I finished the campaigns.

Alternatively, I play a lot of Overwatch on console, and I'm terrible at it but it's fun, yet I yearn for some SP content to expand the lore.

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On 4/18/2017 at 10:14 AM, TaxOwlbear said:

Just to back this up, IIRC a developer of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak said that 75%+ of the players never touch the multiplayer component of the game. Generally spoken, there's a lot of games that work well as SP only e.g. who actually played Spec Ops: The Line on MP?

That game had multiplayer? I thought it was just SP 

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15 hours ago, HOPE1134 said:

That game had multiplayer? I thought it was just SP 

It does have skirmish and MP, but the SP is apparently way more popular. I don't have a source, but someone on r/realtimestrategy liked to an interview with one of the devs once where they said that.

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