If EA won't be drawn on further specifics, it will be drawn on "stickiness", a slightly irritating term for a very basic concept. What the development team's saying is that, once you've started playing C&C4, they'd rather like it if you didn't really want to stop all that much, and to that aim, they've co-opted a simple system of bribes that has already been proven to work.
Somebody's been playing Call of Duty 4. "Every unit you kill will give you experience," says Mike Glosecki, affable giant and the lead producer of C&C4, a series vet with a lineage that stretches back to testing on Dune 2. "That will help you level up, which will give you new toys to play with." He pauses dramatically. "This is different than the other ways games handle this feature. You can level up in skirmish, campaign, or multiplayer, and the toys that you earn in all three can be taken back and forth between those modes: it's a global system. Tie that in with product updates after release, and there'll always be something new out there. Look at it as an RTS with a little bit of an MMO in it."
What does this mean for the product? It's PC-only for a start, always online (even in campaign mode, allowing for two-player co-op, and letting your friends track your whereabouts) and has no DRM. Take a look at that list of features: It's enough to make some suspicious that this may not arrive on a disk at all, and might not be paid for in a single chunk, although this is pure speculation at this point - like my theory that Tiger Woods and Veejay Singh faked the moon landings which I am right about.
What does it mean for balance? The developers aren't too worried, as they'd like you to get to the end of this game, no matter how you do it, and then hopefully lose yourself in multiplayer too. "I think it's nice as a player that if I want to stomp a mission, I can go and power up and then plough through," says Glosecki. "If I get blocked in single-player, I can go and play some skirmish, earn some new units, and hopefully allow them to let me get past the single-player mission I was stuck on. It's about the player's comfort factor."
Again, it's aimed at making newcomers feel welcome, but it doesn't damage the delicate core of the experience as much as you might think. "Getting more powerful isn't really what it's about," says Bass. "We're giving you more options: different units to let you try something different."
Much of this came from the team's experience looking at multiplayer, and watching new players repeatedly wiped out by more experienced armies until they got fed up and left, generally never to return. But isn't that slightly wonky logic, as the people who have been playing the longest will also have better toys alongside their better skills? To get past that, there's a command-point cap, forcing you to think about what units to build instead of spamming out vehicles. It's an anti-tank-rush mine, in other words.
Presentation over, Glosecki fires up the demo, and we get to see C&C4 in action. We're in an area of rust-coloured desert, a wilderness halfway through terraforming, and, playing as the GDI, the objective is to get our vast transport ship, shot down by the Nod, up and running again, by connecting it to the Tiberium Control Network.