Staff Editorials

Red Alert 3 Community Summit Report
Posted: 26.06.2008 13:00 by Comments: 7
Recently I was invited to the EA Community Summit for Red Alert 3. Before then, all we’d heard about the title was scraps and pieces. In fact, after the event there are even more questions to ask, and all attendants still know very little about the game.

However, in this two-part Red Alert 3 extravaganza, we’re going to go over the intricacies of the designing of Red Alert 3. For two grueling, exciting and unforgettable days, EA made us keenly aware of what they’re doing, looking to accomplish, and where they are aiming. I’m going to share just that.

The Red Alert team is going to extraordinary measure to make RA3 not just another RED Alert or just another RTS. There is an enormous emphasis to make the most realistic storyline (to the RA universe) while keeping gameplay fun and exciting. The extent to make a proper score and system of sounds was surprising.

And it all comes from EA.

Walking into EA’s Los Angeles offices, it’s easy to forget the image of the giant, evil game corporation we’re all used to thinking of them as. Elegant wooden walls and a giant windowed entrance shine into the very vibrant lobby. A coffee shop, game room and store line the walls while a giant open area is filled with seats, posters and comfortable surroundings.

Having just arrived from breakfast in the building next door, housing the cafeteria, gym and a few other accommodations, the group of fansite, modding and some press invitees try to make themselves comfortable. These aren’t the most talkative and relaxed bunch; most of them were unprepared for the cloudy, slightly breezy morning in Southern California, and the attitude was foreign to the natives.

“Are you ready to see Red Alert 3,” Aaron “Apoc” Kaufman shouted to this entourage, arriving exactly 10 minutes late, better known as Apoc time. An emphatic ‘yes’ led us to our main facility, a presentation room rigged with Dell XPS machines and 24” monitors, all top of the line. “This is where you’ll be staying for most of your time here,” he said, “where we’ll give our presentations […] and hands on time with the game.”

Using a giant television screen, we basked in the white and red light of Microsoft Powerpoint and Red Alert’s Soviet insignia, the hammer and sickle. The legal warning is written in Russian. Tim HeXetic Gokcen from Planet Command and Conquer was taking pictures of everyone and everything, a mood he set for the rest of the summit (all pictures posted are courtesy of Mr. Gokcen).

Mr. Kaufman who detailed our schedule and what we should expect over the next two days. He tells us RA3 isn’t even in Alpha yet; that the team is pushing for a huge naval entrance, and most importantly the Apoc tank has been redone since fans expressed disappointment with the previously released model.

We are shown a long list of units by Greg Kasavin, Producer and Scriptwriter for RA3. Mr. Kasavin comes from Gamespot as former Site Director and Editor in Chief, and is now an essential part of the RA3 team. (Actual units are described at the end.) He describes the difficulty with camera angles for viewing units, unit scaling and how they both interact with gameplay.

The units are described in great detail, greater than any of us expected. Then we learned why; the team had painstakingly written up an 80 page character reference guide, complete with pictures of who they think each character represents, a half-page description of each character, and anything they need to know about every single one. Considering that each page we saw had two characters, that means there is a total of 160 characters (or less) in the game. Characters include units, and may or may not include buildings.

Next, Greg Black, lead programmer (I believe) shows off buildings and their traits. The darkened room has a sense of awe and comfort…many of the people attending the summit seemed more at home on the computer screen in front of the game instead of in their own skin. They aren’t what you would call hardcore fans, which may number in the top 10% of any fanbase. These are the elite of the hardcore, the top 1% who follow everything that goes on and know every outlet, facet and expression of the Command and Conquer series.

Suffice to say, I was ill qualified to converse with them about the game except when yelling expletives after losing a match. Having nearly parted ways with PC gaming two years ago for strictly console gaming, of the few exceptions was Total Annihilation, one of my favorite Real Time Strategy games of all time. My idea of an RTS is spending 20 minutes preparing the perfect strategy and employing the most advanced technology, and attacking.

After some lunch and sit down time, we got to the real meat, as far as I was concerned. We often get videos online or with special editions of games explaining the design process, though what they really talk about is creating characters, visuals and story. Knowing this, the team brought out their Lead Composer (whose name escapes me at the moment but it will be posted the second I find out) to talk to us about music and sound.

Music and sound is what creates ambiance in games, and for the most part, both players and reviewers don’t notice it much in anything but horror games or when it’s tragically bad. As a games reviewer, I thought of all the reviews I’ve read and realized this was right, and that I have been guilty of it as well. But credit must be given where credit is due, and if the music and sound isn’t registered immediately or after hours upon hours of gameplay, it means that the musicians did an excellent job. The player is fully immersed, at least audibly.

It is a tricky situation then for reviewers, because immersion is much more important than just the audio. Some publications grade based on both, and they don’t necessarily go hand in hand. But having listened to some of the music made for RA3, it’s clear that the team is going in the right direction. There’s still some kinks that need to be smoothed out, but they’ve got a top notch team of composers (five of them) working on the project, including recently announced Frank Klepacki.

We were then shown, after being blown away by the sound development, how sound works. It was the only presentation that was boring; suffice to say it felt like they needed a time killer. Age of Empires 3 was put up and we bared witness to a horrible display of sounds, compared to Command and Conquer 3.

These presentations showed plenty, about the development process and the work put into games. It also showed the lighter side that EA has had lately. The image of hulking behemoth is nearly gone, but it lingers in darker corners of the Internet. Having been in their work environment, I can guarantee that this is not a company simply seeking money. They want to make a unique, enjoyable gaming experience. And I believe they are on their way to achieving that goal.

Part 2 of the Red Alert 3 news-brief will go over some of the more intricate points, such as gameplay and some very special announcements. In the meantime, you’ll have to do with this list of changes and upgrades to the Red Alert franchise.

General Information:
* The new Apoc tank looks awesome, and you’ll be seeing its upgrades in the very near future. For now, know that it has a tractor beam and a giant generator (Magnetic Harpoon) on its back. Grinders go out side to side. The grinder eliminates any enemies that get in the Apoc’s way, chewing them up to nothing.
* Unit scale is highly unrealistic in gameplay, but it works. Dolphins may appear the size of submarines…but hey, you know it’s a dolphin.
* Ore does not deplete! Once “depleted” only 25% of the original resources can be attained.
* Heidleberg returns, and it looks great. Even has a park and beer gardens.
* Mcburger Kong returns.
* There are 12 different locales in the game, each one very different and very colorful.
* Weather effects are all present, but none of them actually take part in the gameplay. They are all purely aesthetic.
* Fog is now cleared downhill, but not uphill (meaning if units are on top of a hill, they can see far below, but units under a hill cannot see above it).
* Powers are introduced, and some are listed below. Powers are special abilities players can use over time to do a number of things, such as special attacks. They are illustrated by a number on the bottom left corner of the screen, where over time points are built up. Based on how well the game is going for the player, more points may be added over less time, meaning they have access to more power ups.
* Soviet Power ups include: Orbital Refuse, which drops satellites from the sky like bombs; Tractor Beam, which picks units off the battlefield and into space, to later drop them with Orbital Refuse; Time Bomb, which is just that.
* There is a third faction, which has been mentioned only as the “Empire of the Rising Sun.”

The Allies:
* Dolphins act just like real dolphins, meaning they can swim backwards if commanded, jump out of the water (out of the way of torpedoes or over electrical-based attacks).
( A support “Cryo Copter” aircraft shoots an ice beam, dubbed the “freeze beam” (ray would be better). This slows down enemies and, with enough time, freezes them in their tracks. They thaw out over time and no damage comes from this, but frozen enemies can be broken like ice. * The Cryo Copter’s secondary ability is a shrink ray, which literally shrinks friendly or enemy units, making them function on cartoon physics, and of course prone to being run over by tanks.
* The Dog has been fixed. Instead of having the Dog and Bear be basically equal (and have horrid biting fights between them) the Dog has a secondary ability to bark loudly, stunning nearby enemies. It also can go in the IFE for an extended bark attack, having a larger radius of damage.
* Building walls are now included, meaning fortifications can be made for the Allies.
* Base hubs now share tech, meaning only one upgrade is needed for all buildings to produce higher level units or buildings. It also means that if the Command Center is destroyed, all buildings lose their upgrades.

The Soviets:
* The Czar Tank, otherwise known as the Hammer, can steal health and weapons from vehicles. Its rockets cannot be shot down anymore. The Hammer’s secondary weapon shoots smaller, scattered bombs.
* The Tesla tank is not returning to Multiplayer, but it will appear in specific missions for the Single Player campaign.
* The Dreadnaught’s secondary attack makes it shoot faster, but it takes damage while doing so.
* The Acula Submarine’s secondary weapon are dumbfire “super” missiles.
* The Bear is now amphibious, so it is equivalent to both the Dog and Dolphin (somewhat).

Hope you enjoyed part one of the Red Alert 3 special. Big thanks to EA for hosting the community summit and being so awesome throughout the whole thing and after. Aaron “Apoc” Kaufman for keeping everyone not only in the know, but cheerful and on time. The entire Dev Team for Red Alert 3, who made it clear that they wanted our professional input and gave us the chance not only to witness the game in action, but give full presentations on whole sections of the game that most people will never see.

Stay tuned for the next and final part soon!

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By Chaotyk (I just got here) on Jun 26, 2008
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 26, 2008
And thank you James. I was so looking forward to SCII (and still am), and thought my wallet would be pretty safe with just that. But this is looking like more and more an essential purchase for RTS fans...oh the pain.
By ImmortalRite (I just got here) on Jun 26, 2008
gimme gimme gimme gimme gimme!!!!!!!
By Shckr57 (SI Core Member) on Jun 26, 2008
I can&#039;t wait for it to come out. But I am a little dissapointed on the scale part. Strategy and realism go hand in hand. Hope it&#039;s as good as it&#039;s starting to look.
By Jamez (SI Newbie) on Jun 26, 2008
Don&#039;t worry cody. Scale may be off, but it doesn&#039;t affect any part of the game negatively. And if scale were done realistically...there would be many, many problems. Like your dolphins and dogs would be only a few pixels...
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Jun 27, 2008
Yippy! Gosh look at those screenshots!
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Jun 27, 2008
Gosh? Good gracious golly, how retro of you Wow....ROFL. Go the Paratrooper Bears and Spider Bots. This one will rock.