Commander of Nod's northern forces, programmer, game designer and a lunatic-level crazy backup dancer who enjoys swimming in the cherry blossom -colored sea.
Creator of the CnCNet client that is used by almost every active Tiberian Sun and Red Alert 2 mod.
Co-leader of Dawn of the Tiberium Age and Twisted Insurrection. Author of most of DTA's maps and missions as well as the lovely AI.
Enjoys all cute things and large groups of enemy units to wipe out.
!!! If you need help with a certain mod that uses the CnCNet client, contact the authors of that mod. Don't ask for help in my personal profile. Other comments about anything else than support requests are welcome.
Like the rest of the C&C community, I've been following EA and Petroglyph's C&C remaster project with great interest. I recently pre-ordered the Anniversary Edition of the game, despite that the 180€ price (with shipping) was relatively scorching. But it's the first and possibly (although hopefully not) last time when I can buy C&C merch from an original source, since I was both too young and too poor to buy merch when the series was at its peak relevance, so of course I had to get it! Hopefully that Obelisk, Tesla Coil and Mammoth tank are going to look great enough to overshadow my Touhou figurines.
But on to the point. EA / PG have, for the most part, done a great job with the remaster. The graphics look great; the feel of the games is spot-on with the original engine; the community-driven approach has been refreshing; they've listened to the community and fixed issues that have been pointed out such as the inconsistent remap color in the first gameplay preview; the menu previews and options are modern; Frank's soundtrack is as epic as expected and I'm also excited for the bonus content. I'll also be checking out the ladder on release and see how far I can climb - I finally get to put my C&C skills into a proper test. But, based on the results of the AMA they held roughly two weeks ago, I'm worried that the game will be lacking in the most important aspect for the game's longevity, specifically gameplay. IMO it would be a massive shame if the remaster was otherwise perfect, but had so much room for improvement in the very basics.
In particular there's two big issues that I can see from EA_Jimtern's replies: 1) the remasters stick to the original balance and 2) they've had a hard time with updating the games' AI. There are also other things I'll cover, but I'll focus on these points first. The post might be a bit long, but hopefully worth a read as I've been closely watching the C&C community from a relatively unique perspective for a long time. In particular I've worked on CnCNet for a decade, having written over 90% of its most popular online play client that is used by hundreds of thousands of players for playing Yuri's Revenge and mods. I am also the co-leader of Dawn of the Tiberium Age, which has also been "remastering" TD and RA1 on the Tiberian Sun engine for the last 15 years as well as receiving praising reviews and reaching high ranks on the annual Mod of the Year contest on the side. So to some degree we've faced a similar task - with similar challenges - to what PG and EA are doing with their remaster. Just with far less responsibility because we're a mod instead of an official game :)
1) Biggest issue: Game balance and lack of target audience for RA
This criticism is mostly directed at the Red Alert remaster. We know that Westwood never really did that great of a job with the balance of their games. Tiberian Dawn is a bit more varied, but high-level Red Alert gameplay is nearly completely focused on tank-spam and micromanagement. In high-level games, you never see any Allied Artillery, V2 launchers are rare, and infantry is mostly used for early scouting and a bit of support in case you have too many resources to just spend them all on tanks. Some people like it, but looking at community preferences as a whole, I think it's safe to say that most people wish the game to have more tactical options than the original Red Alert had.
Screenshot from the following CnCNet video showing high-level RA1:
Looking at the active C&C community as a whole, there are 3 signicant online communities: CnCNet, OpenRA and C&C Online. Of these, CnCNet is by far the largest, with peaks of almost 2000 simultaneous players recently. Looking at the CnCNet status page, Red Alert 1 players form roughly 30% of the entire playerbase. RA2 / Yuri's Revenge is bigger, Mental Omega is almost as big, and then there's a lot of smaller games such as Tiberian Sun, Tiberian Dawn and mods like my own Dawn of the Tiberium Age that combined have a significant population of players as well. Of non-CnCNet communities, OpenRA hits peaks of slightly below 300 simultaneous players, and C&C online seems to have similar or slightly bigger numbers as well (I couldn't find statistics on their page).
Summing these up with some quick math that likely isn't super accurate but accurate enough for an informal blog post, we can see that roughly 25% of the player base are into RA1 as it is. The rest of the games, from Tiberian Sun, Yuri's Revenge, mods, OpenRA and 3D C&C games, have much more complicated balance than Red Alert. As such, I think it's unlikely for the original balance to attract the non-RA1 part of the C&C community in the long run.
But that is not the only issue. A large portion of the Red Alert 1 fanbase is rather conservative. The remaster adds QoL improvements such as unit queueing and a new, Red Alert 2 style sidebar. While the rest of the community will see these improvements as welcome, the hardcore Red Alert 1 fans will find their game ruined by unit queuing alone. In pro-level RA1, being able to keep up production by constantly hitting sidebar buttons manually is seen as a necessary skill. Queuing largely removes that aspect of gameplay. I personally prefer the game with queues, which is why we have unit queues in Dawn of the Tiberium Age, but many Red Alert 1 fans don't share that same preference.
In other words, because of the original balance, non-RA1 fans who want to play competitively will be disappointed with the game. While competitive Red Alert 1 fans will be disappointed by the QoL changes that have already been implemented - that are improvements for everyone else. In other words, I can't see any real target audience for the competitive part of the game in the current C&C community - the ladders and Petroglyph's dedicated servers will go underutilized. There will be non-competitive players who just want to have some casual fun, but a significant chunk of the most loyal player base will be disappointed from the start when they've beat the campaigns and want to hop online.
This issue is tied to that the C&C community as a whole has different tastes within it. The fans of the original game are conservative, while the OpenRA community wants a completely different game from them. Other CnCNet games provide somewhat of a middle ground. My suggestion on resolving this problem is aiming for the middle - keep the feel and core mechanics of the game similar, but improve the balance with stat changes. Make that Allied and Nod artillery piece useful so that it's a good option to build at least in some situations. Make infantry more damaging or otherwise stronger in Red Alert so that they have a more significant role on the field. With this, it'd attract more fans from the newer and more varied C&C games that have a bigger player-base. Admittedly it also is pretty much what we've done in Dawn of the Tiberium Age and so it fits my tastes, but our mod has generally received a lot of praise for keeping the original feel and mechanics but still having more varied gameplay, so I think it'd be a good recipe for the remaster as well.
When asked about unit AI modernization such as pathfinding, Jimtern replied "I have to be honest, I think AI is going to be our white-whale for this project. We were able to bring Skirmish AI to Tib Dawn, but we found it challenging to improve certain AI mechanics.". I mostly play Tiberian Sun and Red Alert 2 and their mods and enjoy their almost-perfect pathfinding, but recently I've also played the original TD and RA1 and made my friends play the campaigns as well. Watching them, it's easy to say that the - directly speaking - dumb unit AI in those games will frustrate a lot of modern gamers. Fans of the originals will be used to it, but especially new players will have a hard time understanding the cliff-hugging pathfinding, and many of them will drop the game after losing a dozen harvesters that took bad routes home. The remasters are a great chance to get the next generation of gamers into the series, but being used to modern games, many of them likely lack the patience to babysit their units around. Tiberian Sun is soon 21 years old yet has no such pathfinding issues and I can't remember suffering from them in Universe at War in early 2008 either. Surely the people at Petroglyph could do better this time as well!
Screenshot taken from the legendary Tiberium Ecstasy
Then there's smaller issues. The most significant one I can see is the 4-player limitation for Tiberian Dawn, which they say is because of map restrictions. While the original maps might be too small for more than 4 players, the community - myself included - is surely up for creating much bigger maps, so aside from having to do slightly more work on the engine, there is no negative side in supporting 8 players for Tiberian Dawn as well. CnCNet has also supported 6 players for Tiberian Dawn for a decade or so, and with full access to source code EA/PG should be able to do better.
For us modders there's also the question of mod support. It's clear that mods are a big part of what has kept C&C alive despite the lack of official games, and they'd similarly help keep the remaster relevant for longer as well. Modding especially becomes relevant if the original game is lacking in some aspects; for example, if the flawed original balance is kept in RA1, that would likely be the very first thing to get fixed by the community. However, because multiplayer runs on Petroglyph's dedicated servers, it might set some restrictions on modding. Jimtern has acknowledged the importance of mod support however, so time will tell. I might talk more about modding in a later news post, because this one is starting to get too long for a comfortable read.
I sincerely hope that EA / PG haven't set these covered aspects in stone yet, particularly the balance and AI. With this feedback I'm doing my part in giving them ideas on how to make a more succesful game. Maybe they'll read it, maybe they won't, but it's best to try and help them make the most succesful C&C game possible, to raise the series' popularity and pave the way for more awesome C&C games in the future. To be honest I was surprised when they announced the release date; I'd prefer that if necessary, they delayed it by a couple of months just to fix these issues. It'd be a real shame to miss this opportunity to make C&C popular again, especially when it appears they've done everything else almost perfectly, but paid less attention to a few core elements. Regardless of their decisions, I will be checking the game out, enjoying it and trying to reach high positions on the leaderboard, but I'd enjoy it much more if the game was slightly more modernized in unit AI and had more variety in its multiplayer meta.
Looking forward to the next update on the remasters!
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