Post feature RSS The Making of The Forgotten: Story, Campaign, and Battlefields

What goes on behind the scenes of a massive mod? This article is the first in The Making of The Forgotten series that aims to take you into the minds of the creators of one of the largest RTS mods ever made. Hear from the Executive Producer, Head Scripter, and mission designers about what went in to constructing the mod's special story and campaign--and why there's more there than meets the eye.

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This article is the first in The Making of The Forgotten feature, a series of articles that aim to explain some of the team's experiences and thoughts about making one of the largest RTS mods ever (and currently a nominee for Mod of the Year 2010). This piece is written by Executive Producer Blbpaws, with contributions from Head Scripter Drummin and Mapper Predatore.

Command and Conquer is fiction. Its fiction is what draws the fans in, makes Kane the enigma that he is, and spurs the campaigns onward. We wanted to create a mod in the Command and Conquer universe, that didn’t remove the player from what was familiar but enhanced it. We wanted to invite the player into a story with personalities and conflicts that gradually built into a rewarding crescendo, just like the C&C should be. One problem: we needed a fiction.

The Forgotten were a natural choice. Their motivations are complex but, before our mod, their story was largely untold. Initially, we thought that The Forgotten would be a faction that, to use Head Artist’s Tsumetai’s term, “was thrown together”—here a beam from an obelisk, there an older GDI tank chassis, here part of a Nod jet, and on and on. My contrasting idea was to make The Forgotten a group bound by a near-religious identity, with Tiberium at its core. Happily, we moved away from that. An intermediate stage of the design was “Nod’s Nod,” which lasted a bit longer and which in some forms made it in to the final version: in this conception, The Forgotten are motivated by their economic plight, and the disillusionment they have with Nod. The more I worked on the story, though, the more I realized that the questions of why people fight often relate to money and resources, but rarely end there.

I wrote a line in a perceptive GDI Intelligence Report about The Forgotten (part of the “Forgotten Fiction” story artifacts we produced to accompany the mod) that sums up The Forgotten’s credo: “In this war, identity may be the most deadly weapon of all.” The Forgotten are united not by geography, race, gender, creed, or economic status, but by an identity that transcends all of that. How to craft this identity in the story, though? We began by looking at how unifying identities are formed and, especially, altered. For unification to occur, two things are usually required: a great leader, and a cataclysmic event. So we gave The Forgotten both, in the form of Salvadore Trogan and his idea for the attack on the Fernsehturm in Berlin.

Trogan was someone who was part of The Forgotten from very early on in the process. His own story hasn’t changed that much. Our idea was that anyone who would unify and lead The Forgotten had to be someone who understood war and militaries, but also understood that which controlled them: humans. A mere general, an exemplar of battlefield tactics and strategies, would not be sufficient for this role. The Forgotten needed a former spy versed in the chords of the human mind.

Trogan ended up spying for Nod because what Nod in its early days offered was far better than what GDI could. Nod offered an opportunity to be a part of something special, to be in the arena when it really counted. But, as is revealed in the second Forgotten Fiction (an electronic diary entry by Trogan’s former intelligence partner), Trogan left the Brotherhood when he thought it abandoned this mission. In this sense, the vision of Nod’s Nod lived on, as many joined Nod because they had thought GDI had sold out on their own mission. Trogan left Nod then well-positioned and well-motivated to begin something anew: he had seen the horrors of war, knew the chords of human identity, and recognized that there were Forgotten like him all over Europe desperate for self-empowerment. He needed the foundations of an identity that could span this group, which he found in the stories of Tratos and The Forgotten from Tiberian Sun. It’s worth noting that, just as Hitler was from Austria and Stalin from Georgia, Trogan didn’t grow up in the identity he spread. Once he had the message, Trogan needed someone to let the world know.

Enter the player. In The Forgotten, the questions of identity are handled by Trogan. We knew most RTS players want to just blow things up as part of a broader campaign, not design the campaign themselves. So the player was tasked with carrying out Trogan’s vision. We designed the campaign in various stages, but the goal was to create a diversity of hard experiences against a variety of enemies. Our excellent scripter Drummin brought these to life. People have often said The Forgotten’s campaign is hard—maybe even too hard—and the reason for this is the powerful scripting that Drummin meticulously designed, in which the AI constantly changed tactics. One thing we came up as a team with was the idea of defending an attack from multiple directions. The goal was to create a more fluid battle environment in which every part of the map was on the front lines; we were trying to reject the too-common RTS notion of a more linear battle in which two sides throw units at the same chokepoint. This focus on making every part of the battlefield in play resulted in missions like mission four—where a huge gulf of water makes the player divide his attention as ion storms and two enemies attack—and mission five—where three enemies all attack from different directions. Even on maps that are heavily chokepoint based, such as mission two, we added new attack vectors, including enemy unit drops behind the front lines, coordinated air and ground assaults, and some elements of occupation warfare in which The Forgotten must clear GDI troops out of occupied Forgotten towns before they can expand.

We wanted to avoid a war of attrition in our campaign missions and keep them balanced an interesting. I'll let Drummin explain how he did that:

"To accomplish this goal, I needed to script control of a team’s reproduction so flags and timers were added to not only control when a team is built but when a team could be rebuilt. This allowed for a second set of conditions to be added for a second build. So for example a straight timer might be used for the first build. The second build might check if the player has built a Machine Shop and three jeeps. Even with these controls, balance was tweaked countless times for each mission with well over fifty revisions on Mission 1. Actions of teams were also controlled to give a more random approach or to make more effective use of teams such as having an infantry team guard an area until an ally’s tank group comes to join them and from there they hunt together. As already mentioned, we wanted multiple approach vectors and these were often controlled by a random script or controlled by the player’s actions or what defensive structures they’d built. Hundreds of hours went into scripting and testing of each mission and though some find them hard, earlier versions were much harder and, in my view, significantly less interesting."

Video games are inherently a visual medium, and so our story and scripts would mean nothing if we didn’t make the battlefields worth fighting for. In this sense, we were lucky to have one of the best mapmakers in the community, the very-talented Predatore. I asked Predatore to share a bit about how he approaches making a map. The general abstract approach is similar for both skirmish and missions, but the steps below are specifically for a skirmish one, as that’s what we figure most fans are in a position to make.

1) Get an idea of the map: Decide the amount of players, the map size, the ambient (blue, yellow or red zone), symmetrical or asymmetrical, etc.
2) Create the concept map: Open a map that has the cloud shadows which you like, then create a new map (you won't be able to change the clouds later). Set the terrain heights, the start locations, the rivers and seas, the bridges, the tiberium fields, and the civilian capturable structures. Hints: Remember to use the Terrain Copy tool if you are creating a symmetrical map. Modify the Tiberium grow rate of the farther Tiberium fields to grow faster.
3) Test the concept map: Play some skirmish matches against the computer. Make sure you have enough room to build a base, some place to build an expansion base and some place to have skirmishes away from player's bases. Check for pathfinding issues, and try to capture all the civilian structures.
4) Detail a small part of the map: Choose a small part of the map to have a glance of the final look. Add a few test civilian structures and paint the terrain with the main texture that the map will have. Calibrate the global light options, the fog and the post-effects as you like. Use some of every tool of the Worldbuilder to get the final look: Place the roads and sidewalks, paint the textures, place the main structures, add small objects, add trees and shrubs. You may also add scorchmarks and destroyed units. Add a skybox object if you have a body of water on the map (to create reflections).
5) Expand the detail to the entire map: Remember to use the Terrain Copy Tool if possible.
6) Create the minimap.
7) Add sounds and check for impassable terrain.
8) (Optional) Add interesting and balanced scripts: Make civilian units move, customize Reinforcement Bays, add visual effects, etc.
9) Test offline and online.

There you have it. You’ll hear more from us in the future about what it’s like to make the mod, hopefully with articles on coding, art, music, and—of course—our cinematics. Also be on the lookout for the mod’s 1.1 patch in the near future, which will have a host of bug fixes and a couple small balance changes, and for further updates to our other mod in development, The Red Alert.

As a final note, The Forgotten is up for the Mod of the Year Award this year. We'd love your vote!


Good read.

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Very interesting. I can see that, indeed, you guys put much more work into this than we knew (especially the story, personally, I was surprised by how much you actually were considering in your approach).

And as a comment on the last note, The Red Alert sounds like a great idea and looks great so far. I know many gamers were introduced to the RTS genre by Red Alert '95, and Red Alert remains as one of my favorite old-school RTSs.

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