So, a long time ago, I wrote a retrospective for PC Gamer about Command & Conquer. Like a conscientious hack, I did a tonne of interviews with people who’d worked on the project – far more than I needed to, because it’s always fun to reminisce with your heroes. So here they all are! (NB – I’ve not had a chance to through this and correct the transcriber’s errata, so there will be timestamps and transcription marks in the below.)
Mike Legg, Petroglyph
DG: How did the studio come together? Did it start as a porting house?
ML: Brett Sperry and Louis Castle started the company 1985, when it was just the two of them at first. (I worked with Louis at Century 23 Computers. a local computer store.) I happily joined Westwood in 1986, and there were about 5 or 6 people working there. We were originally working on ports, taking games to the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga. and Apple II GS, but there were also some Commodore 64 and Apple II, and Mac Plus versions mixed in there. The ST, Amiga and Mac were very exciting since they supported the mouse interface.
One of the first publishers that we worked with was Epyx, doing ports of games like Winter Games, World Games, California Games, and Temple of Apshai Trilogy. Another early publisher was Strategic Simulations, Inc (SSI), with titles like Questron II, Phanastie III, Roadwar (2000 and Europa), and ultimately some new original D&D titles like Hillsfar, DragonStrike, Eye of the Beholder 1 and 2, and others. (It’s interesting to note that we worked closely with Chuck Kroegel who was the President and VP of Development at SSI, who eventually became COO of Westwood in 2000, and has been the General Manager of Petroglyph since 2003). Other early publishing partners included Electronic Arts, Disney and Infocom.
DG: Was Las Vegas a good place to come up with game ideas? It doesn’t strike me as, ahem, conducive to work. Did you stay in the same place all through development?
ML: Las Vegas is a great place to make games. Westwood started up with a group of local talent. Most of us had recently graduated high school, while some were still in it. Some of us worked at the same local computer store, Century 23 (mentioned above), and ended up transitioning to Westwood as more people were needed. Westwood stayed in Las Vegas for all of it’s years through 2003, transitioning through 4 different office locations through the years.
With Petroglyph (which has a good chuck of former Westwood people), we are still located in Las Vegas, just two doors down from the former Westwood building. Brett is still in town with his company Jet Set Games, along with his own art gallery and bar. Louis is also in Las Vegas, working for ShuffleMaster, a casino gaming company. I’m delighted to still be close friends with both of them, and get to see them quite often.
DG: Was there any carry-over of teams from projects?
ML: Yes, some people worked closely together between the various projects, helping out where and when needed. For instance, when we were programming Dune 2 (Joe), Legend of Kyrandia (me), and Eye of the Beholder (Phil Gorrow), we shared a lot of core library code back and forth. Sometimes other team members were needed to pitch in and help a project that was wrapping up and needed some extra effort to get shipped out the door.
DG: Who was the hero of the project?
ML: Definitely Brett, Joe and Joe. (As an interesting side note, I went to high school with Joe “Kane” Kucan and his brothers. He was very involved in theatre, and extremely popular with the local crowd). To the best of my recollection, other key members of the team included Eydie Laramore (writing and design), Erik Yeo (design), Eric Gooch (art, also played “Seth” in the game), Joseph B. Hewitt IV (art), Aaron Powell (art), Ed del Castillo (producer), Paul Mudra (audio director), Dwight Okahara (sound), Frank Klepacki (music), Steve Wetherill (tech director), Bill Randolph (programming), Denzil Long (programming). Mike Lightner (design), Glenn Sperry (QA lead), and Chris Rubyor (QA). There were definitely many people that greatly contributed to the project, and were not named here.
As a side note, my wife of 18 years, Maria del Mar, wrote the animated installers for the C&C games, which became very popular for the graphic presentation and audio. Joseph Hewitt now works at Jet Set Games with Brett. Joe Bostic, Frank Klepacki, Steve Wetherill, and Eydie Laramore all work with me at Petroglyph. Brett, Joe and Joe were definitely big heroes on the project. Brett was an incredible visionary for the game, working on the game all day and playing it all night. Joe (Bostic) worked crazy hours programming the game, while contributing to the design of the gameplay mechanics. He loved the game and never ever seemed to leave the office. Joe (Kucan), brought the face of Kane to the game and gave it amazing personality, and made it very memorable and an instant classic.
Joe Bostic, Petroglyph
DG: Strategy games were seen as in decline up to Dune II; why were they? How did that change with it and C&C?
JB: Turn-based strategy games generally appealed to the turn-based board game older player, but by moving the game to real-time the excitement level and appeal increased greatly which was much more attractive to the young computer game audience.
DG: Did Command & Conquer’s success lead to the Westwood buy-out? Are you sad that Westwood got shut-down / absorbed?
JB: Likely the success of C&C helped with the value of Westwood and thus indirectly helped lead to the studio sale. However, regular Westwood staff were not privy to the decision making process, so I’m speaking from speculation.
DG: Do you think RTSes have moved on much since Dune II and C&C?
JB: To a degree, but many of the fundamentals are still the same. The genre is ready for something new. Particular areas for improvement lie in the on-line and cooperative gameplay areas.
DG: Where did the name come from?
JB: Brett Sperry came up with the name Command & Conquer. Catchy name, isn’t it?
DG: Whose idea was the game?
JB: Much of development in those days was cooperative and people wore many hats. I was lead programmer, but also the tactical-gameplay designer, and even created some art for the game. It is hard to say if there was any single person who masterminded the game idea.
DG: How did it develop?
JB: The inspiration was to recreate the imagination of sandbox battles with toy soldiers and tanks. We also wanted to advance from our experience with Dune II. In particular, the need for a context sensitive mouse to give unit commands.
DG: When did you realise you were onto something special? How did it make you feel?
JB: We realized we were on to something when the studio testers would play the game for fun more than play it to test. The tester would start up a game to test some element and it would lead into hours of gameplay unrelated to testing.
DG: I’ve heard that the original idea was for a high fantasy game. Could you tell us more about that?
JB: The original pitch I proposed for C&C was for a fantasy-based world where there were three factions – the humans with traditional medieval technology, the wizards with magic, and the monster faction with access to dragons and other extraordinary fantasy beasts.
DG: If you’d made that version, do you think that in an alternate universe you’re now running World of Warcraft?
JB: Anything is possible in an alternate universe.
DG: Why did you go for a contemporary world rather than any other? And why a parallel timeline?
JB: We went with contemporary military style with near future technology because of the first Gulf war which was in the news at the time. It was felt that familiar military would be more approachable to a wider audience than fantasy would. At the time, fantasy was dominated by Dungeons & Dragons and it was believed didn’t have a wide enough market appeal. We didn’t want to be constrained by contemporary technology and the idea of a parallel timeline allowed us freedom to create.
DG: How do you feel about predicting the advent of a global, fanatical anti-Western terrorist organization?
JB: The foundation of the Brotherhood of Nod was less about terrorist organization than it was about imagining what a megalomaniac Bond-style villain that had worldwide influence would be like. Such an evil faction needed to be strong enough to balance out the forces of good – GDI.
DG: Do you think EA would have allowed you to make C&C after 9/11?
JB: Probably since they were ok with releasing C&C Generals which had the GLA as a faction and that faction is almost a direct mirror of global terrorist organizations.
DG: Where did the idea for Tiberium come from? It’s different from Dune’s spice.
JB: The function and form of Tiberium was inspired by the B Sci-fi movie Monolith Monsters. I believe Bret Sperry was responsible for coming up with the name Tiberium.
DG: The AI cheats so badly. Was this because AI was hard to program?
JB: Computers, especially consumer PCs circa ’92 are no match for the brainpower of human opponents. Battles often started with the enemy base already partly constructed and operational to compensate for this disadvantage. At the time, and probably still true today, this was not considered “cheating”, but rather making the game challenging enough to be fun.
DG: You got rid of Dune’s concrete bases. Thank god. What other building decisions do you think were critical to the gameplay?
JB: The biggest improvement from Dune II to C&C was drag-select of units and implied action with mouse click – ie, click on enemy to attack, click on ground to move.
DG: Similarly, you made missions that had limited unit numbers, structures and resources, which completely altered the play style of the game.
JB: The limited number of units allowed was a side effect of limited ram and limited CPU speed. Without a limit, the game could reach a point where it was unplayable and even cause crashing due to lack of available RAM. The upside of this limitation was that that players had to think more about effective strategy rather than mere numbers to achieve victory.
DG: How important was the mainstream advent of the mouse to managing realtime games?
JB: RTS games are so dependent upon the control that a mouse provides that I’m not sure there is any other control mechanic that will eclipse it in the foreseeable future.
DG: The game was a great leap forward graphically from Dune II. What allowed you to do this? Was it a gamble pushing the boundaries of the time so far?
JB: The visual improvement was due in a large part to better artists and more RAM for art. We also rendered units in 3D and then cleaned them up into 2D sprites. This made the units appear more 3D than they would by traditional hand drawing them.
DG: Multiplayer was possible over modems and LANs, is that right? Was this the first RTS multiplayer? Again, how do you go about defining a genre?
JB: I think C&C was the first RTS multiplayer game. The multiplayer aspect is what really launched the RTS genre as there is endless replayability when human opponents are involved.
DG: You supported cutting edge sound for the time and ran with a futuristic techno soundtrack. How did that happen? Who made the call?
JB: Frank Klepacki is responsible for the excellent techno soundtrack.
DG: One of these technical advances would have been huge, but you crammed them all in. Were you mad or just tremendously confident?
JB: Well, everyone is crazy in some way or another, but the answer is more like we were trying to make a great game that we would love to play ourselves and that passion drove us to add in all the things we could.
Frank Klepacki, Petroglyph
DG: Did Command & Conquer’s success lead to the Westwood buy-out? Are you sad that Westwood got shut-down / absorbed?
FK: It indeed was sad day when the studio closed, was the end of an era. So many great people and great memories. And a lot of great work to show for it.
DG: Do you think RTSes have moved on much since Dune II and C&C?
FK: There has been some key things that have caught my eye in terms of approach, like Dawn Of War with they way they used capture points, or Supreme Commander with the insane zoom out and mass. Star Wars Empire At War’s space battles were epic to me, and its galactic mode was a great layer as well. It seems that having a unique thing or two that separates your game is a good thing, as long as you don’t mess with the recipe for RTS too much or else it starts to get away from you.
DG: Was the highest point of development?
FK: for me it was the general energy of the team working on it. A lot of passion and ideas going back and forth and being able to execute on it right away. There was a definite pulse and excitement about it.
DG: When did you realise you were onto something special? How did it make you feel?
FK: When I started scoring some of the videos, and playing the game at the end of the night against others over speaker phone (long before ventrillo) taunting each other. Was a blast.
DG: Do you think EA would have allowed you to make C&C after 9/11?
FK: Interesting thing about that was that Red Alert 2 was shipping right as 911 happened – There were images of the twin towers on the original box and we had to remove them.
DG: The video cinematics obviously served to define the game, replacing the charming-if-primitive animations of Dune II. How important do you think they’ve been to the games’ long term success. Who was responsible for them?
FK: They certainly became a staple of the series. It was like a reward for completing that part of the game, you got to see a new movie, and they were talking to you, so you felt like part of the story. Before C&C the only game I saw video in was Wing Commander.
DG: You supported cutting edge sound for the time and ran with a futuristic techno soundtrack. How did that happen? Who made the call?
FK: It was an exciting time to score a game back then. I had just finished scoring Kyrandia 3: Malcolm’s Revenge, and it was the first game Westwood did with streaming music in 22k mono, and it was a huge step to take considering everything we did prior was always midi format. Music was now being heard the way it was recorded to sound, and I was using high-end synths of the time period, and guitar to create the soundtrack now for C&C.
The president, audio director, and myself, had a kick-off meeting in my office that consisted of listening to all kinds of music. Elements of dozens of songs were singled out for reference. Everything from Peter Gabriel, to Pink Floyd, to Nine Inch Nails, to various soundtracks. I took these influences and combined them all together along with my own touch, and the C&C style was created. I was allowed to be creative and diverse, no holds barred. I was encouraged to try absolutely anything.
For some of the earliest C&C songs I completed, I included voice samples that we recorded at the office with various employees at the time. However we removed many of the samples later, after it was discovered that they conflict with the voice sound effects in the game, making it a bit confusing to play. This is the answer to why the stand alone CD soundtrack has voice samples in the songs while the game versions do not. The CD versions are in fact the original versions.
Some tracks did not make the cut though. A thrashy number called “Die” complete with distorted screaming was way over the top, and even the instrumental version was cut. A retro 80′s club style song called “C&C 80′s mix” was also cut. A couple other weird numbers were left out as well, like “Reaching out” which played out more like a commercial jingle with asian samples, and also a very chilling art piece called “Hold On” which was in the style of Laurie Anderson. All these clearly did not fit the game, although it was a fun experiment for me. I also recreated the theme “Flight of the Valkries” which was not used in the game but acted as place holder music for a while.
Some of these cut tracks however somehow remained in the code files of the game, and fans would later extract them and wonder what they were for.
Doing underscores to the videos were a lot of fun too. I remember seeing for the first time the scene of Kane shooting Seth and I jumped out of my seat. I thought to myself “This game just got serious!” I also got to be one of the pilots in the cyberspace scene, where I meet an electrifying end. Many Westwood employees made cameos in the videos.
Ultimately, I felt that modem music styles of the time were not really present in any video game, and I wanted to put that influence into it. When the game was released I was very surprised that the music was so well liked by fans – I kind of dismissed it thinking it could only be the die hard fans of the game that liked it so much. But when Red Alert came out, it was even more so, and I think proved that video game music can have as big an impact on people as any other, and is as viable as any other medium. To this day, fans still talk about how much they love the early C&C games and their soundtracks, and that’s pretty awesome that the game has had this kind of longevity.
Rade Stojsavljevic and Joseph. B Hewitt IV
DG: So, tell me about how the game started.
RS: So you want to talk about the evolution, Joseph?
JH: From what I remember back in the day, because I’m old and I have a horrible memory, we definitely wanted to do our own IP. That was the big catalyst, to say “Well that Dune thing was one thing, let’s go and do our own IP”. Believe it or not, the original proposal was a fantasy based game where you have the human race, the undead race and this insectoid race which probably sounds very familiar if you’ve played Warcraft or Starcraft. Tiberium was actually going to be Manna that rained out of the sky. For the longest time I held onto that design document. It was written by Joe Bostik, the lead programmer but at the same time the first Gulf War was heating up and Brett was really keen that we turn it into a modern military game because he thought that it would have a wider appeal. So everything was rewritten very much more modern and then as the storyline developed that’s when it got pushed a little into the future.
DG: How far did you get into that wizards and warriors type game?
JH: It was really just like a 4 or 5 page design proposal and Brett said “no, we want to go more modern day warfare tanks and stuff, because that’ll have a wider audience”
DG: Did you carry anything over from the wizards & warriors stuff – stuff that you would otherwise have carried over to a modern warfare setting?
JH: No, not really, nothing besides the stuff that was already there. There was a resource, you are the resource. You had multiple sides. We definitely wanted to incorporate that idea that the sides aren’t equal. It’s much easier to develop any video game, even if you’re doing a first person shooter, where the two factions are equal. The [3:43 mazes?] are mirrors so that no one really has an advantage. But you really want to do something different so the two sides, they have their own unique feel, play style, abilities. It’s just much more difficult but Brett was very adamant that we would do that.
DG: You had that in Dune 2 originally. You had the top end units…
JH: We just wanted to push that more, so you’ll notice Nod is very much light fast units, stealth technology where GDI was very ham-fisted, bigger tanks, “Hulk Smash” type mentality.
DG: They’re both kind of aspects of the American war machine, though. Obviously Nod have the equivalent of the stealth bomber and the GDI have got the huge main war tanks. It’s both parts of that standard American thing that went out there and saved the world so many times in this century.
DG: Was that intentional or was that just ’cause that’s what you knew and what you could see around you?
JH: Well, no, because the stealth thing is always fun. I think that was more towards why they went that direction was, “Ok, we have the big GDI forces that are the Americans, the big tanks…” but the whole stealth thing can be very ninja / thief.
DG: The future or the insurgents and terrorists, really.
JH: Right. There was a lot of talk about that, what would the next war be? It was quickly being evident that what was going on the Gulf War at the time was very much the Big American Army going “Yeah, look, your forces are really nothing”, so what would the next war be? Once the world learned that, where would it go?
RS: That’s asymmetric warfare.
JH: It would be counter insurgence, and guerrilla warfare and all that sort of stuff.
DG: It was interesting because there hadn’t been a war for possibly since the British sent their Iron-clads into Japan and China and set up the Opium Wars, really, where they just sent boats with guns and steel hulls against people who still had wooden junks. There hadn’t been something quite so asymmetric where they completely decimated what was considered a state of the art modern military army in a few weeks. I guess for you that would be relatively inspirational.
JH: It’s kind of related to that. When we were doing Red Alert, that was originally going to be Command and Conquer: World War Two. It was the big 50th anniversary of World War Two and that’s what we started doing, except nobody on the team was very excited about just, “Oh look, it’s World War Two again, we’ve played with this.”
RS: That was before the slew of World War Two remakes came out.
JH: [Mumbled 06:58 That’s the thing], everybody was doing World War Two stuff. Can we do something different? That’s when the Red Alert stuff started creeping in and the fiction started going, and it became something like an alternate past.
DG: The beginning to that is the most audacious beginning to any video game that I’ve experienced, with Einstein going back in time and killing Hitler.
JH: You know, that was supposed to be a lot more mysterious about what was going on. If you watch that opening video, what’s supposed to be happening is, you see the camera on the chair. The assistant bumps it, so you’re not supposed to realise that it’s Einstein. But there was some communication not going back and forth between the two guys writing it and the guys filming it, and it just became what it became.
DG: it was a great sequence anyway. Of all the sequences that established the Command and Conquer brand as moving more towards something kitsch, that was probably it. Not that it’s ever jumped the shark, but if there was a point when it went into something that was a bit more camp, that was Einstein killing Hitler. That’s pretty camp.
JH: We don’t know if he killed him or if he just locked him up somewhere.
DG: Anyway, sticking to the main Command and Conquer. So you had this design for the Wizards and Warlocks thing and then you went more Gulf War-ry. You went more Modern Warfare-y. What did you bring in that you really wanted to change from Dune 2 that made this such a distinctive game?
JH: I don’t know if I can answer that off the top of my head. “What it wanted to be” was a big phrase that was thrown around a lot of the time.
RS: The pacing definitely came out faster, that was one of the things I remember.
JH: Yeah, and there were some restrictions that we had… well, not necessarily restrictions, just stuff that was built into the Dune lore, the universe, about the sand and building things on rocks. There were some elements there that we wanted to keep which became the power grid and having to power your stuff and it just kind of got tweaked a little.
DG: Thank you for getting rid of building degeneration and having to build concrete, because they were the most… it was a great game but I remember spending so much time fixing bits of concrete…
JH: Right, so it just became that you had to build next to each other which kind of… you know, because there were some [09:59 exploits] in multiplayer where you just tried to build concrete all the way up next to your enemy’s base… you could still kind of do that with silos and stuff if your opponent wasn’t paying attention but…
RS: Well there was the whole thing in Command and Conquer where you could do the power out and get the tower right by the enemy’s and just destroy all the harvesters.
JH: You notice how that all the buildings have a little dirt bib underneath them? That was to prevent you from blocking yourself in, because if you could just put a building down then put another building down, you could actually block off areas of the base where your harvester couldn’t get out or people couldn’t get in to attack you. So that was kind of a way to force you to have a little space in front of your buildings.
DG: I remember harvesters having to go completely circuitous routes to get round to places in Dune 2.
JH: After the product shipped I wrote a little joke email that I was told actually upset some of their programmers. It was an ad for “Big Willie’s School of Harvester Driving”. Eventually it appeared on the website, but the jokes had gotten toned down a little bit. It was like, the big selling point, “Do you feel like you can drive through a missile barrage unscathed? Learn how to turn your dash radar into a beer cosy…” all sorts of stuff making fun of the fact that the harvesters would just, you know, go through the enemy base.
DG: Yeah, they were pretty dumb. With the Nod, obviously you have the guerrilla side of them but you also had Joe Coogan doing the video sequences. They’re something I want to talk about. You had this ethos for them which was very strange and very cultish, which wasn’t necessarily the case with what you’d expect from insurgency / army at the time. Do you know why they went down that?
RS: I talked to Brett about this a lot when we were trying to write the fiction out for the rest of the games. One of the things he wanted to play with is the idea of First World vs. Third World countries and really not coming out and exploiting the fact that the majority of these people are living in poverty and if they had somebody that had some resources that could get behind them and really build up a fighting force to voice their concerns, that they could be a power to be reckoned with. Of course it just winds up that Kane is just manipulating all these people, but it’s sort of like an interesting concept about how out of nowhere a great power could arise pretty quickly.
JH: …and if you look at the parallel between that and the Dune universe which they delved into quite a bit when we were developing that game, it’s the [12: 52 Fremin] thing yet again. It’s the poverty people rising up and suddenly coming out of nowhere with power and challenging what was the established leader in that area.
DG: So Kane is basically [13:08 Mohadibe]?
RS: More or less. Obviously he’s not doing everything for the greater good, but yeah. He’s essentially channelling a lot of that anger and energy and providing a solid direction.
DG: With the video sequences, were they brought in because you had the technology and you could do something like that, where you just thought, “This is going to be really brilliant and cool”?
JH: Actually they weren’t even sure they could do it, and that’s how Coogan became Kane. He used to work for a Las Vegas children’s theatre, like a local theatre group for children’s stuff, and I was in a play directed by him. He directed me in Big River, I had a bunch of bit parts. One of the other producers at Westwood had met him when she was doing voice over stuff in earlier games. When CDs were first hitting the scene, everybody would redo their game with actual voice acting. So he was hired to head up that area and that original Kane video was just a test video and had him just yelling at the camera and that’s how he became Kane. It was never meant to be… I remember at the time, he was mentioning the fact that Brett had made him Kane without ever really asking if he wanted to be Kane. He was like, “I’m a professional actor, I’m in the guild. We need to sit down and negotiate on this because it’s not part of what I was hired to do.”
Then there was even talk that his voice wasn’t menacing enough and they were going to dub over him. I’m really glad they decided not to do that.
DG: What sort of person were they envisaging getting instead of him?
JH: I don’t know.
RS: I don’t think they were. I think what happened was, he just did the test for technology purposes and it just clicked and everyone said, “That’s it!” and they didn’t really go down the path of casting anyone else.
JH: It was all very amorphous at the time and it wasn’t necessarily one thing being put in front of the other. It just sort of moved along and became what it was.
DG: So you’ve got this movie sequence stuff going on, and you’ve got your main game developing more along these military lines. How are you bringing these two together? [15:55 You’ve got the plot going through, how did you structure that?]
JH: Again, it was very freeform. I know that a lot of the guys were learning 3D Studio at the time, and just doing some movies. I was actually working on Lion King and so was Eric Yeo who became the lead designer on that first one. We did the Lion King on the Sega and Super Nintendo. [16:35 DG snip]
So when we finished up, Brett offered him the lead position and he just had a bunch of stuff that wasn’t really connected. He had a bunch of 3D movies that really didn’t have anything to do with anything. It was just the 3D guys going “I’m going to render a jet!” The Wind Loss movie stuff. [16:58 Something that was in the briefing stuff] and he just kind of took it and worked with it. At the same time, I was supposed to then go off and learn 3D and I remember I was sitting in my office looking through the art work and they had rendered everything out, all the buildings and units, in red or gold.
I called down to Joe’s office and I said, “I thought you were supposed to have like, 6 or 8 player multiplayer. How are you going to remap these if they’re all red?” He said, “I don’t know. I keep mentioning this in the meeting, nobody’s paying attention.” So I’m like, “OK, don’t worry about this, I’ll do it.” and so as the guys were coming off Lion King I had more own little secret art team and we just started doing stuff. I was sharing an office with Eric Yeo at the time so we were just picking up whatever we could and making stuff up, Edie was writing the story and she was going very biblical with Kane [17:57 in/and] the land of Nod. You notice that your first commander on the Nod side is Seth, which is one of Adam and Eve’s first children. Just throwing all that stuff in there because it was cool.
DG: It was all cool, it was all lots of different strands of content that all made something quite nice together.
JH: Yeah, just pulling all this stuff together and it worked.
DG: I was talking to one of the guys that worked on The Sims the other day. He was talking about the fact that when Will Wright started doing that, he did the same thing as you. He couldn’t persuade Maxis that the Sims was going to sell, because why would anyone buy a dolls house game?
JH: Funny you should say that because when we were at E3, I think it was Red Alert, and we had the corner of the EA booth, and right off to our left was a table area and The Sims was the last one on the left, so they were wedged in behind us because we were spreading out. It was off in a corner and no one was demoing it. We all thought it was the greatest thing in the world. We were like, “This is just so cool!” so while everybody else is looking at Red Alert, we’re behind the little cockpit share playing The Sims.
DG: The Sims guy was talking about that. He was saying, the first day they were on the back of the booth and they had to make their own sign, no one noticed they were there. Then people came along and went, “You’ve got to see this game” same as you guys. It was that same thing for them. There wasn’t any confidence that the game was going to do well so Will Wright was pulling programmers in for skunk works work in his own time to keep it going. Were there any low points during the development of the game? Were there any points at which you thought we might not end up making this or this might not work?
JH: No. When you’re developing a game sometimes and five, six, seven o clock rolls around, you see the parking lot is still full. What the hell is everybody doing? We were all playing. I remember there was a joke in a meeting that was actually kind of a bad thing. Somebody had said something like, “Have you looked into something” – he was supposed to be doing some research on some plug in or something and he kind of smart aleck-ly replied “No, but I can tell you the rocket towers are overpowered” because he’d spent all his time playing the game instead of looking up what he was supposed to be doing for work.
DG: So you’re saying that you made a game so good that it slowed down your own development?
JH: It did at some time and there had to be a stern talking to about when it was appropriate to play.
RS: That was good though, because to this day that was the primary way that we were balancing all the factions was just to stand up multiplayer as quickly as possible, get the units in there and then everyone just have at it. You could do it two ways. You could do it the spreadsheet way which makes a lot of sense if the sides are symmetric, or you could do it by feel which [21:29 ...] you to some asymmetric stuff. It worked out pretty well on all the subsequent stuff.
DG: Was yours the first standard RTS asymmetric multiplayer?
RS: The first RTS? Yeah, I can’t think of a single other one.
JH: Right, ’cause there was Dune 2 and then Command and Conquer was the next one out. Warcraft came out in between but if you look at Warcraft compared to Dune 2, it’s the same game. I have a story here; take this with a grain of salt. We had one of the sound guys who I think works at Naughty Dog now, we called him Dwight “Face of a Thousand Lies” Okahara. [He’s at Insomniac] He knows I tell this story. They would pull a lot of practical jokes at Westwood and he was part of the crew that was involved with a lot of them and he was the guy you went to to back up your story, where on the spur of the moment he would just fill in all the back story to whatever crap you were trying to convince somebody. So he told this story, I wasn’t there.
[22:49 It] was at the Virgin booth, and it was the last CES or Comdex before E3 started rolling, and it’s our first showing of Command and Conquer. He says he was demoing it for this couple and he’s showing it to them, and while he’s demoing it several people came up in suits behind him. This is the first show after Warcraft was a success so Blizzard took everybody. There was literally 60 people running around in those black Blizzard t-shirts and they were just having a blast. These three or four guys come up in suits and they’re watching him demo it and they’re kind of like whispering to each other. When the couple leave, one of the guys steps forward, he goes “you know, your Command and Conquer looks a lot like our Warcraft” and Dwight says “Really? That’s funny because your Warcraft looks a lot like our Dune 2” and the guy’s like “Oh. Your guys are the guys that did Dune 2?” and they all just scrambled off.
As a lead off to that, if you ever get a chance to find the press release demo of Warcraft 2, you’ll see that it had the old control scheme where you clicked on a unit, you clicked on the move button and then you clicked where you wanted him to go. You clicked on a unit, you click on the attack button and then you click on the unit you want to attack. So while I was drawing the mouse cursors, I was thinking “Wait a minute. If I have a unit selected and I click on the ground, obviously I want to move there. If I click on an enemy, obviously I want to attack, why do we need these buttons?”
I told Joe and Joe’s like, “That makes sense” and we think “What if we want to deploy something?”, well we have two mouse buttons so you right click and your harvester or your MCV would deploy or whatever. That’s the scheme they built into it. So Warcraft 2’s press demo comes out, Command and Conquer was released, and then Warcraft 2 comes out. They had switched to our control scheme.
RS: [24:56 That just makes sense]
JH: Right, and I had talked to several people who were there at the time and they said there was a big argument between people who wanted to keep it the old way and some people going “Well, no, this is obviously what it should be”.
RS: Mike [25:08 Morhaim] said the exact same thing at Dice last year. This happens anywhere in game development. You’re doing something that’s kind of similar to someone else and it’s just like, “That is obviously the best way to solve this problem, let’s just do that”
It’s like first person shooters that did the W-A-S D-keys versus the arrow keys, once you did that and moved your hand around you were like, “Well, duh”. It just works.
JH: Well that’s just what the game industry does, period. You take what someone else has done because you really like it. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. You polish it, you add something new and therefore things progress.
DG: External iteration as well as internal iteration.
What sort of time line are you working on here? When did you start development and when did you finish?
JH: I always thought the game came out in ’94 but I guess it did come out in ’95. I remember, then we released a Windows ’95 version that increased the resolution to 640×480 because the original was in 320×200. People made fun of that when it came out and they said “Oh, mnnduhduhduhduh” but we made so much money in the UK and Germany and countries who didn’t have what we were up to in the US for computer minimum spec.
DG: I think I had a 486 SX at that point. I was running at 25MHz so I wouldn’t even have been able to run the game at that point. It’s nice that now, any smart phone is about ten times as fast as that.
RS: Yeah, it is.
DG: So you’re getting towards the end of getting game made, did anything change substantially towards release? Were there any problems you hit?
RS: The whole German thing was a big deal.
JH: In Germany, you’re not allowed to show blood or humans killing humans.
RS: At least, at the time.
JH: So, at the last minute we had to go back in and recolour all the blood black and say they’re all androids and they’re bleeding oil.
DG: Did you have to change the plot, the actual text then?
JH: The ending on, I think the second to last mission on the Nod side, I think it was Ed who was associate producer on the project, he was standing at a table and Kane comes up behind him and shoots him in the head. He falls over and bleeds on the thing. That got cut. That was, I think, the only change.
RS: This was a big deal because there was some feedback from the guys over at Virgin who were dong publishing about the market size and everything, and the call was made to do it. It was a last minute thing that was a fairly big deal and it turned out that Germany was the second biggest global market for C&C behind the US. It was close. I think it went a long way to establish the game, you know, put some roots down in that country.
DG: Well it is the strategy game country of the world now, isn’t it? They still play these games.
JH: Did you ever see the Virgin Games UK billboard, “Previous High Scores?”
DG: I don’t think I would’ve done, no. ’95 or something?
JH: I have a picture here, I can send it to you. It was basically a giant billboard they put up next to the freeway somewhere. It says “Previous High Scores”. It has Idi Amin, Hitler, Mussolini, Napoleon… all these dictators. It got a LOT of flak at the time.
RS: …and then there’s the cut out. It’s supposed to be you as the player. So you end up compared to these people.
DG: Well that’s why you hire advertising people, they don’t have the same morality restrictions.
JH: The Virgin UK marketing guys were very cutting edge. When it sold a million units, they put an ad out in [29:59 DG – MCV, maybe?] It basically was Hitler at Muellenberg, or something like that, a big speech he’s giving. So they took out all of the swastikas so all you see is this guy ranting up on the thing, and it says “A million units sold. Oh, what a feeling”
RS: That was kind of tasteless.
JH: They got a stern talking to for that. They printed it, it went out to press.
DG: I think I know some of the guys who used to do the marketing, I might go and talk to them.
JH: These are the same guys that, when they were advertising their [30:42 ...] before the buyout. Virgin were young and growing and they had all their male producers lined up completely naked but turned and covering themselves so you couldn’t really see anything. That was the trade ad they put out.
DG: It’s chutzpah. Whatever happened to Virgin?
JH: Westwood took them over.
RS: Well, that’s sort of what happened, and then they got shifted around a little bit. At one point they were owned by Spelling Media, and then the core assets went over to EA in the buyout in ’98 and there was a little group left and that kind of fizzled out. They didn’t have any development.
JH: The problem was, in the UK, EA and Virgin were the number one and number two publishers, so when EA was buying Westwood they said they didn’t want Virgin because they wouldn’t be allowed to buy them because it would be a monopoly. But Viacom who owned everything at the time was saying, “Well, we’re not going to split them” and I’m not exactly sure how it worked out but they wound up getting rid of a lot of the Virgin stuff so they could buy Westwood.
DG: Were there any big leap forwards in terms of the tech you were using on C&C as opposed to Dune?
JH: All that full motion video stuff, that was the very birth of that.
RS: [32:19 Mike] wrote a proprietary codec for that.
JH: If you saw the Dune game, not Dune 2, but the Dune game that came out at the same time, “Kryo” or something, it had like a video opening sequence but it was like, every fourth pixel was an actual thing so they had a pixel and then a space and then a pixel and then a space and a pixel, and that’s how the managed to get the video to that size. We were all really impressed with that ‘cause it just looked kind of cool. That’s what was the impetus to put all that video stuff in there. The question was, could we overlay computer graphics in there and do that and would it look stupid or silly? Which led to all the test footage that was done and Joe Coogan being cast and Kane.
RS: The other thing that happened was that tech let them put way more units on the screen in C&C. Both machines got faster and that core rendering tech got optimised so you could have a large number of units. That’s one of the reasons why C&C never had a unit cap.
JH: I remember there was a patch for Warcraft 2 that said something like, “now you can select 128 units” I think it was, and Joe [33:45 Bostik] goes, “What, there’s a limit in that game?” ‘cause basically, anything you could get onscreen, you could select in Command and Conquer.
RS: It did have some game play ramifications. Without that you couldn’t have had the tank rush [33:59 in Red Alert?] which, depending on your point of view is either good or bad, but it did have implications.
JH: There was some stuff that kind of got left out. After the product shipped we kept working on it and the engine that eventually evolved and became the Red Alert engine, we got bigger map sizes and at the time we were calling it C&C Zero. We never really got the AI smart enough in the shipped product to build its own base but in between the two products Joe coded it so the AI could build its base. So we were playing Command and Conquer on Red Alert sized maps with an AI that could build its own base. The base building in the original was all scripted. If you play through once, you know where the enemy’s going to build its base, you know what structures [34:54 she’s] going to build in what order. Afterwards, the AI was smart enough to know it needed a silo, it knew how to put down rocket towers and defend its base, and it could kick your butt very easily.
DG: it was much more organic. Did it react, did it have choice trees going on?
JH: I’m not quite sure exactly what extent it was, I just remember that’s when Adam [34:24 Isgreen] first started, and we were playing a game where it was me, him and two AI opponents and we got our butt kicked so bad that we decided to try and play again with us teaming up against one AI and we barely beat it.
DG: There was multiplayer in Dune 2, but you’ve much improved it for C&C. LANs are more common, modems are more common by the time that came out. Still it wasn’t that quick but how did that define the RTS multiplayer genre, because you guys got the chance to kind of set it up there, really.
RS: Well it did spawn Westwood Chat which later became Westwood Online.
JH: Actually, Westwood Chat was spawned by Monopoly which was multiplayer too.
RS: Yeah, but this really took it off.
JH: We [36:24 ....] around in there too. I remember, I think it was Bill Roper from Blizzard had talked to Brett once and said something like “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we built BattleNet. We saw Westwood Chat and thought ‘Oh, that’s easy’ and Westwood Chat sucks and we could do so much better, and yeah, I realise that we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into”
RS: It opened up some things game play-wise, it was really one of the first places, at least that I ever saw, where you could actually get some metrics. The guys would look at the outcomes of the battles and say “All right, well GDI’s winning 50.1% of the time, Nod is winning 49.9%, that’s pretty well balanced” and if some change was made in one of the expansions and it skewed the percentages one way or the other they could watch how that would progress. At the beginning of the game a lot of people were playing GDI, the percentage wins were much higher then, everyone was bitching that it was unbalanced. No one really made any changes, but it started self correcting as people started learning the strategies and tactics of the other sides. I would say looking back on it now, that was one of the births of gaming as a service. That sort of mentality of “All right, well there’s multiplay, it’s going to lead to community and a lot longer longevity of these games” and it changes the way you wind up.
JH: That took us by surprise, the community. You figure you’ve got this service, Westwood Chat, it’s really just for people to match up and play multiplayer games of Command and Conquer, Monopoly and then Red Alert. But people started hanging out in the chat and chatting in the chat, and we didn’t really expect that and we had to hire moderators and it became and thriving community. No one was really expecting anything like that to happen. It was like, well, there are other places to chat. Why are you chatting here?
DG: It’s shared interest I guess.
RS: it also opened up things like what’s the right game size for multiplayer. Just because the technology now would allow you to do a 64 player RTS map, that’s not necessarily fun. The numbers that people were doing back then, two on two up to eight players, still stick today because they just feel right. There’s also issues about jumping from peer to peer [39:07 ...on a] client server, but that’s kind of irrelevant.
JH: Just learning silly lessons that seem obvious now, like, somebody drops out, do you count it as a loss or a win? There was a lot of controversy about people when they would start to lose and they would just, “Whoops! I guess I lost connection” because that happened a lot. Eventually having to start to be a little hard-ass about it and say, “Well, you know, you drop all the time. It’s a loss, sorry”
RS: That goes all the way to what [39:34] are and I think StarCraft is probably the ultimate example of that.
DG: It’s interesting how the Petroglyph guys in their new The End of Nations game have made it so it’s continuous all the time, the drop in-drop out thing is completely normal now because there are so many people playing either side. It’s normalised, which sounds like a solution to the problem, but it has taken them 15 years.
RS: The tech wasn’t there. I don’t think until recently you could even contemplate building a game like that.
DG: MMO RTS things didn’t really work until very recently. It was nice to see one that seemed to be working.
JH: I was thinking about some other things that kind of got dropped. If you play the first GDI mission, you land on that beach head and when you finish it, it expands into the second map so your first map is still there but the area expands. They really wanted to do that all throughout the game, and it just didn’t happen. It only remained in the final GDI mission going against Nod depending on which [41:00 way?] you took on the overhead map. The centre of the map was always the same, but you could either attack from the left, right or from above. It just [41:09 made it seem?] that half the map was static and then you had your three choices of the other half of the map.
DG: Again it’s interesting that Supreme Commander has the same thing where it would start you with a small area and then, just to show off how big their maps were ‘cause they can do that.
JH: What we also really wanted to do on the maps screen, where you were picking where you wanted to attack next and it was really your choice of one or two, and it was pretty much predetermined, we really wanted to do something where you would attack and while you were doing that battle you would come back and the computer had done stuff. It was reacting to where you went and you kind of had to play like a meta-game on the map mode. They just decided to drop that for time reasons and we’d do it in the next one. We never really did, it was one of those things that kept getting dropped because it’s very complicated and they decided there was other places they’d rather spend those resources.
DG: Again, the Total War guys I spoke to described their initial efforts as just trying to rip off Command and Conquer. What they were initially hoping to do was exactly what you were saying. They’d have a dual level so they’d have your over-world map which is what they did for Shogun Total War, and then you’d have the Command and Conquer game beneath it. Then someone released a proper 3D card and they went “Oh! We can make a proper 3D game!” and it diverged. If 3D cards hadn’t advanced as quickly as they can, all the Total War series would’ve been just like you described there.
RS: it’s interesting watching how everything’s evolved in that strategy space. The whole impetus to Dune 2 was, these turn-based strategy games are getting too damned complex. Let’s just simplify the hell out of it and I think we could even make it work in real time. A lot of people were saying “That’s ridiculous, there’s no way”
Obviously it worked. We’ve come full circle now where some of the strategy games are so ridiculously complex, they’re worse than what turn-based ever was, and now turn-based is the simple stuff.
JH: To remember Westwood, some of their early games were working for SSI on those really complicated turn-based strategy games. So, there was a lot of experience messing with that and that’s why we decided, real time.
DG: When I talk to a lot of studios, their big success was their first game. For you guys, you were working on Eye of the Beholder and all these other things at the same time, and also working on Command and Conquer. You’d done Dune 2 and that had been a big success, so this to you was just like a continuation of the success and it doesn’t sound like it was that big a deal. It was great that it was so successful, you were astounded, but you already had a bit of success behind you and if this had failed, it doesn’t sound like it would’ve hurt so much.
RS: The studio certainly would never have grown at the pace that it did. I think to look at it in retrospect, it was the next logical step. The goal was always to say, “We want to expose more people to this sort of stuff, how do we do that?” and I think that real time solution was the way to do it.
DG: it did seem to work. Can I quickly go through the timeline? You displayed at E3 first, was that ’94?
RS: I think that was CES.
JH: I looked it up on the Wiki, it said it came out in August of ’95. I started on the product seriously when Lion King hit theatres. I guess I’ll look that up on the Wiki real quick.
RS: I first saw it at a CES.
JH: It was shown almost a year before it came out, I think.
DG: How was the reception, was it well received?
RS: There was a line. I’ve seen this a couple times, where there’s games that just do this. You go in there and you’ve just got to fight people off to go see it. You don’t really know ahead of time whether your game is going to be one of those. That was certainly one of those, where people thought “There’s something cool here” but there’s no way any of those guys anticipated that sort of reaction.
JH: Yeah Lion King was ’94, it doesn’t have a month. Did you see the Diversion booth where it had the bar and the big open space and then there was like, that tunnel? It was very poorly designed. I don’t know if they just didn’t expect anybody to crowd in there but it was this little tunnel of games and it was packed around the little Command and Conquer thing. They were showing a good eight, twelve games in there and Command and Conquer was only running on one, and it only played the first two missions on the GDI side.
RS: You just didn’t see anything like that before, really.
DG: So, it’s well received. Did anything change when you come back from CES, does anybody say, “We shouldn’t work on this, have more resources, have more people working on this” or does it go according to plan from start to finish?
RS: There was no surge of staffing, if that’s what you’re referring to.
DG: There was no surge of interest from the publishers?
JH: It was a race to get it out. I remember we were crunching and the dinosaur thing came out. As we finished up, it was actually Bostik’s idea but I’m kind of responsible for it even though he took all of the heat for me, talking about, “Oh, it’d be cool if in those little scenes you had little dinosaurs” [47:26..................] It was sort of like skunk [47:31...work?...] “Let’s do some dinosaur units”. We even got one of the 3D guys to do a 3D intro of one of the GDI Landers going through a prehistoric thing with dinosaurs in the background. It kind of snuck out throughout the team. Brett and one of the producers from Virgin, you know, big muckety mucks, are in one of the programmers office. It was a big office with like, 3 people in it. They’re over at one guy’s desk and they’re trying to work something out and nuhnuhnuhnuh…. and Brett was kind of bored and he starts looking around, he looks at one of the other programmers who was building a dinosaur mission on his screen. He’s like, “What the hell is that?” and “We’re trying to crunch! What are you people doing?” so that was actually in the initial release, it was just a flag that turned it off. [48:24 (Then)] it was put in the Covert Ops add-on, but it was in there the whole time.
DG: The fun park stuff, is that the same thing?
JH: Yeah. In Red Alert we did giant ants, just because we were trying to keep that up. We didn’t do anything in Tiberium Sun.
RS: We didn’t have time to do anything.
JH: We couldn’t think of anything cool, either.
RS: No, that wasn’t the problem. It was a time thing.
JH: I remember trying to think of something. I was like, “Well, we could do alien invasion – Oh, we can’t do alien invasions ‘cause that is the whole secret to Command and Conquer”
DG: Was that always a long term plan?
JH: I was always a long term plan, that aliens were terraforming Earth because those minerals were poisonous to them, so the Tiberium leaches all those minerals out into an easily collected pod and they were changing the atmosphere so then they could invade us.
DG: So Command and Conquer 3 was always planned, I didn’t realise that.
RS: It’s one of the first times I’ve ever seen anything like that. Obviously the full detail wasn’t there but there was an outline of what the fiction would be.
DG: It’s so rare for a game to follow what was in the fiction or what was in the original design document anyway whatsoever. That’s really impressive.
JH: I know it morphed a bit but yeah, it was always the plan.
DG: So, you’ve done your CES, you’re going up to release, you’re doing crunch time. You’re being told off because during crunch time you’re making dinosaurs. It comes out. Are you worried? What are you expecting? Does it do as you expect?
JH: You know, I don’t think I was really paying that close attention. Like you said, everything Westwood had done all throughout the ‘90s, it was, it came out – yeah, it’s a number one hit. Well, of course it’s a number one hit.
RS: I think there was an expectation that it would earn, but not do what it did.
JH: Yeah. I remember when Tiberium Sun was coming out, that’s when it really dawned on me that these are big games. My email at the time was Joseph@Westwood.com. So I was getting Joe Kugan’s fan mail, because he puts his name in the credits as Joseph D. Coogan or whatever his middle initial is. Then word came down from above about what you were allowed to say to the press, don’t post in forums, and that [51:09 slurred/mumbled] “people are posting in forums?” so I went looking on the web and searching and I was like, “Oh my GOD, this is like, a big deal”
RS: I think what happened at that point is that it went from being a hit within a gamer community to really going broad. Then, “Oh shit. Time to grow up, actually [51:27] be careful here”
JH: When we got our limited editions of Tiberium Sun, somebody at the office, because we got them like, a week before they hit the shelves, turned around and sold it on eBay. That was put down as “Hey, look, we’re giving you these games, you can do what you want with them but don’t do that”
RS: “Do that again and you’re fired” – it was one of those things.
DG: That’s impressive that he wasn’t fired straight away.
RS: He was a good artist. I remember that one vividly because there were 20 different boxes in there and we were trying to get issue number one for Brett, and we’re opening them up and [52:10] “Oh this is 300” and he’s like “I don’t want a damned 300, I want number ONE!”
I think I’ve got like 5 or 6 on my shelf.
DG: Not the number 5 or 6?
RS: Yeah, they were numbered issues.
JH: Yeah, well 13 was my favourite number so I got 13.
DG: Good work, lucky for some. How did it do numbers-wise? It was a big success, wasn’t it? It sold a lot.
RS: I think it was the first Westwood IP that broke a million for sure.
JH: I know we didn’t break a million ‘til after we switched offices but I don’t remember… ‘cause I remember that magazine “a million units, what a feeling”. That was after we moved to the new building.
RS: I think that year it wound up being 70 or 80% of Virgin’s total revenue, that one title.
DG: Bloody hell. That’s crazy. So, looking back at it, is there anything you would’ve done differently? It doesn’t sound like it.
RS: It’s hard to look back at stuff that old and say what you would change.
JH: I like the fact that we were isometric in Tiberium Sun. That was my impetus, to push towards that. It solved a lot of problems. It made the grid easier, allowed us to do height. I really liked when we added height to the terrain though I think I would’ve done that a little differently.
RS: There was about a year off until the multiplayer got good on that. When they did the expansion and then the Windows ’95 edition. There was that whole thing because when it launched it was a DOS only title and no one was really sure what was going to happen with Windows ’95, if it was going to be viable for games. There just wasn’t a lot of optimisation for that, and that thing took off faster than anyone expected.
JH: I think it would’ve been really cool if we had waited until Joe had put that AI stuff in and got the really big maps. That would’ve made multiplayer a lot more fun. The multiplayer that we were playing on those big maps was very fun. Trying to play 2 player on what we called the America Map, which was kind of layed out like America with the Rocky Mountains and everything, if you didn’t play with a lot of players, the Tiberium would take over the world. You can only use vehicles because the little guys got killed by the Tiberium. It was very easy to hide from each other, so we would play these games and the code knew if you lost your construction yard, and you would have a 75% chance if you picked up a crate to get a new MCV. So as we were taking out each other’s construction yards, we’re finding new MCVs and building secret bases somewhere off of the other end of the map and the other player wouldn’t realise it until it was too late because the maps were simply that big.
DG: That’s really nicely structured. Wiki says that before Command and Conquer Generals, the series sold 21 million copies worldwide, so that’s before 2003. In ten years, 21 million copies.
RS: Sounds about right. I thought it was a bit higher than that, but it’s in the ballpark.
DG: That’s before Generals, which was relatively large, and before the more recent ones. Probably now it’s in the 30s, to be honest.
DG: Especially as it’s on all the consoles now. You made it for the N64 and Playstation as well, didn’t you?
RS: That Playstation one cracked a million in no time. Nobody expected that one.
JH: I remember redoing the interface for that and working on that project. It was the, “Yeah, you know, who knows who’s going to buy this” and Sony wanted special Sony-only missions so we designed a couple new missions for it, and they were doing the N64 version at the same time. Yeah, that was a big surprise hit.
RS: Also, not in terms of total revenue but profit percentage, that was probably the most profitable one. I think there were only 4 or 5 people that worked on that entire game.
DG: Do you think C&C’s success led to you being bought out? Are you sad that Westwood got absorbed and shut down and is now dissolved inside EA?
RS: Oh, it was absolutely the determining factor of why Westwood got bought out. So, are you talking about the original buyout or the EA buyout?
DG: Sorry, I hadn’t separated them in my head. Yes, the original buyout.
JH: The original buyout was, they said, “Ok the company’s growing to this giant size. We either need to self publish or merge with a publisher”
They flirted with Sierra Online for quite some time, twice, and couldn’t come to an agreement and then just went with Virgin because we had such a good working relationship with them with Lion King and…[57:34]
RS: [57:34 we were still at?] that decision point in the business of, “Ok, now we need to go a little bit bigger”, the business model was, “We’re going to have something tried and true that brings in some revenue for the company and then we’re going to try and few new things and some of them are going to pan out and some of them won’t” and the costs just get so expensive when the studios step up to that point that if you have a miss and you’re not capitalised enough, you’re screwed.
JH: You know what else, now that I think about it, that C&C really hit on at the time, and I remember Brett telling me all this and showing me some numbers, the expansion packs were nothing. Nobody bought them, they didn’t make any money, it was just sort of like a “Yeah, let’s just do this to keep this alive” type thing. When Covert Ops came out and sold like wildfire, that was a big wake up for us. Hey, this is viable.
RS: That set up the game expansion pack model.
DG: When they were working on the Sims, they spent an extra year working on it so it was completely expandable in every way possible because of things like that.
JH: Right, but like I said, before that had happened, expansions packs were just sort of “meh”.
RS: I can’t think of a single one of those expansions that didn’t crack a million units.
DG: Wow, bloody hell.
RS: [59:00 they were nuts.]
DG: [59:04 There’s rumours that there’s a new Bioware studio being formed in LA to work on (Command and Conquer?)].
RS: I just wrote a Facebook post on this. It’s partly, at first initially a little bit odd, like, why would you label it Bioware, right? Bioware’s an RPG studio. To me, if it means they’re getting back to putting meaningful story and characters into those games, I think that’s huge. That’s something that sort of fell apart in the past several releases, they just didn’t have the magic that they used to.
DG: I think you’re right. The Bioware reasoning is [60:11........]
RS: I hope it’s just not that, that labelling. I hope there’s actually some of that, there are some of those meetings going on where there’s some of the Bioware creatives, the writers and designers getting in there and saying “Hey, here’s some ways that we like to do story and let’s put that in there” ‘cause that’ll help the game a lot.
DG: It would be nice. I remember visiting Bioware maybe 6 years ago, and the way that they were working in one studio in an office block, they’d get snowed into the office block and there was a hotel on the block so they didn’t have to leave if they got snowed in, they were this very tight-knit community and I do worry that they’re going to be dissipated by managing all of these different areas and being dissipated into all these different companies. Like, into Mythic and into this new studio. That’s just me as a Bioware fan boy.
RS: The exec that they’ve got overseeing the new C&C is John van [61:14]. He’s a good guy, I’ve met him a couple times. He’s got a good pedigree with the late Magic games. The fact that they’re using the Frostbite engine which we know can do gorgeous stuff, yeah; I think they’ve got every chance. I hope they make an RTS and not try to do some crazy hybrid thing, ‘cause C&C is an RTS.
DG: If they do what they’ve done with Syndicate, which is a first person shooter, or…. yes.
JH: [61:52] I have a special place in my heart for Renegade, which was Command and Conquer as a multiplayer, oh my God, the single player was so embarrassing, I would never……. uh, um….
DG: I just saw a trailer for Renegade on one CD, possibly Red Alert maybe?
RS: it might have been Tiberium Sun, because it was going on when we were wrapping that thing up.
DG: Yes, I played that a lot at University, but I didn’t get any new games. I never played Renegade. Was it good?
JH: It had a lot of new stuff in the multiplayer where you were producing a unit, you could produce a tank and then jump in the tank.
RS: That’s exactly what happened. There was technology being developed for that game from scratch, so the game really didn’t hit its stride until probably the last 6 months of development. Joseph’s right, the multiplayer with the C&C mode that was going on there where you could capture a building to get some extra stuff to help you out, THAT wound up being absolutely fun but by then the mould was cast.
JH: I remember the hit detection stuff was [63:15 client-side], there was a lot of technical problems with it but it was also one of the few Westwood games that I didn’t work on, so I wasn’t sick of it when it came out. I [63:29 had/have] this habit of working on a game for 3 or 4 years, or even the smaller 2 years, and after it ships I’m like “OK, I’m done with it, I don’t want to play it again”.
RS: Yes, but to put a finer point on it, if we had gotten to that core of that multiplayer a year, year and a half sooner, I think it would have been a great shooter that people would be talking about with reverence. It happened too late.
JH: There were some other failed experiments, the Sole Survivor had a lot of potential but then it went off in a weird direction.
RS: That’s bound to happen when you’re trying new stuff.
JH: They wouldn’t let us sell it as cheaply as we wanted to. Brett wanted it to be a 3 or 4.99 product at the most and they made him sell for 20 bucks. So I think if people had bought that game for 3 or 4 bucks…
RS: If that game, obviously with modern graphics, came out now as a downloadable game, it would’ve done well.
JH: [64:32...] it started off to be like, you would be the infantry guy and if you picked up a grenade crate, you became the grenadier. If you jumped in a Mammoth tank you became the Mammoth. But then [64:43] it went off in a different direction.
DG: Battlezone came out around the same time, it was a very odd looking game but it did all that stuff as well…
JH: I remember, I didn’t like that game when it got to that point where I was trying to drive around in 3D and put down buildings and defend my base. I remember having a blast with it up until that became too much to manage.
DG: It was very tough, the multiplayer was the same thing, it was almost impossible. Well, that was great. Thank you!