Real-time strategy developers always harp on about how their console controls are going to be the best. This time. Last time was a step in the right direction, you see. Etc. EA Los Angeles has some form here, and the claims it's making about Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath - out on 360 this past Friday - are all-too-familiar. Still, that doesn't mean they're not true either, so - ahead of our review next week - we spoke to executive producer Jim Vessella to get some more information how it works, the future of RTS on consoles (including Wii and PS3) and what's going on with Red Alert 3.
Eurogamer: Which bits did people like best about Kane's Wrath on PC?
Jim Vessella: Kane's Wrath on PC has been pretty successful. Everyone liked the new sub-factions that we added to the game and all the new powers and abilities. It's really jazzed-up online multiplayer and given players lots more options for strategy. Also, the story went over very well, continuing the Tiberium Wars universe with Kane and a more in-depth look at Nod and what they were doing over the past few years. So we're very excited to bring those features to the console as well.
Eurogamer: What about the Risk-like Global Conquest mode?
Jim Vessella: That was a successful mode for the type of players it was aimed at. That was more for those hardcore guys who like those turn-based modes. We think we had a really good blend of that turn-based atmosphere along with the skirmish matches and competitive AI that Kane's Wrath has. For console we found it wasn't really gelling as well with that audience - it was a bit too hardcore and a bit too niche. Also, the control scheme wasn't translating as we'd hoped, because you need really infinite controls to get to grips with all those objects on the screen. So when we found that out we decided to replace Global Conquest mode on Xbox 360 with a new mode called Kane's Challenge.
Kane's Challenge is a skirmish mode where you assume the role of one of those nine factions now in the game and go through a gauntlet of battles against AI opposing sub-factions. We found this was a much better way of getting Xbox 360 players to learn about the game; learn about all these new units; and learn about how RTS games work before they head online. Along the way you'll also unlock exclusive videos of Kane and unlock Achievements, so we think that's probably the better blend of features for the console version.
Eurogamer: Is that Conquest mode ever likely to turn into something persistent and online, like in Universe at War?
Jim Vessella: There's always potential for things like that. We always look at the feedback from players. I'm not familiar with how successful Universe at War has been with their turn-based mode. I have played it and it is certainly fun, but we have to decide what players to cater to and really double-down on that.
Eurogamer: This Xbox 360 version of Kane's Wrath has "radial analogue controls". Can you tell us how they work?
Jim Vessella: We call it the Command Stick Interface and it works by pulling down the right trigger and then you are presented with a 12-slot radial interface in the middle of the screen, which pretty much mirrors a clock. You can now use the left stick to basically choose any of the different commands, and whether those be build queues or unit abilities or control groups - everything is thrown into that radial interface.
We've found it's just so much faster and so much more accessible for console users to use the analogue sticks rather than the d-pad to go through and set their build queues. And now, with this interface, you can actually manage unlimited build queues from anywhere on the map; all your war factories, barracks, air fields, and so on.
We found from our testing that people were going through the game so much faster and were really able to compete with the AI and give themselves a really cool RTS experience on console. It's leaps and bounds above what we had in Tiberium Wars and we're continuing to evolve this kind of interface for all of our future projects.
Eurogamer: Are there any differences between 360 and PC in the online options?
Jim Vessella: We have the same modes from Tiberium Wars that are still exclusive to those on PC. So we have Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, Capture and Hold, and also a cool mode called Siege, which puts up a barrier between you and your enemy for a set period of time so you can build up your base and not get rushed and destroyed in like three minutes! These four modes are only on Xbox 360.
Eurogamer: Where is the future of the RTS genre? On consoles or on PC?
Jim Vessella: I think it's still both. There will always be a place for the PC players. You're going to see a bit more of a hardcore fan-base there that like tough and competitive games with all the hot-keys and really fast micro-gameplay as they call it. But on console you're going to find a more of a casual experience, one where the player can sit back on their couch with their high definition television and think about the high-level strategy they're trying to do, rather than, "Oh I need this tank to attack that tank and this to move there". There's definitely going to be a place for both, and we're giving just as much love in terms of development; Kane's Wrath was developed simultaneously for both the 360 and PC. We're trying to make each version the best for its respective audiences.
Eurogamer: What about the PS3 and the Wii? Are you going to be working on them?
Jim Vessella: We're definitely investigating PS3 for further down the line. We really want to be able to do the same thing we did for 360 and bring the RTS genre to that audience.
I personally think the Wii is awesome and I would love to see RTS games move onto that platform. It would definitely have to be a different type of game, though. It would take some definite thought from a design standpoint to make an RTS work with that platform and audience - obviously it's a completely different audience to the 360 or PC. I'm not sure a direct translation of a hardcore game would work on a Wii. But it's really cool and is obviously hugely successful and has brought a lot of new people into gaming. And so personally I would love to see Wii get an RTS game in the future.
Eurogamer: So we're talking about a version for Wii, a version for 360 and PS3, and then a version for PC?
Jim Vessella: That's my personal view. It does seem to be what's trendy. We're starting to get more exclusive features for each of the platforms, like Kane's Wrath on 360 with the Kane's Challenges and control scheme. For Red Alert 3 we're really doubling-down on those controls and getting even more functions and abilities into it. So yeah, they are starting to become different types of games almost. We'll see what the future holds. We're learning as we go here, as we move on to this new platform. We really haven't had this challenge since we tried to do first-person shooters on console and set that genre up. We're actually really excited to see what all the other developers do with games like [Tom Clancy's] EndWar and Halo Wars and what they bring to the table, so we can all learn from each other and really try and make this genre work on the platforms.
Eurogamer: How is everything going with Red Alert 3, incidentally?
Jim Vessella: It's going great. It's going to be an awesome game. The units and structures are just phenomenal and really fun to use. It totally caters to the wacky Red Alert universe. We're very excited to debut it at some of the upcoming press events like E3 so I hope we see you there.
Eurogamer: Is it still coming out this year?
Jim Vessella: I'm not exactly sure what the latest announcement was, but it's what ever the current announcement was [EA PR butts in to say yes the plan is to release it this year].
Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath is out now on Xbox 360.