Five months and counting - or around 146 shopping days left until Christmas and, more importantly to the release, or supposed release, of C&C Generals. While I wouldn't suggest counting the seconds left until then (a little over 13 million for those of you who care), there has recently been plenty of healthy debate about one of the main aspects of Generals that has been overlooked: Shrouds. No, not the white cloth you put over dead people before you bury them - that mystic black cloud that hovers over the battlefield for the commanders of Red Alert 2 and the other games in the C&C series. Cursed upon by some, loved by many, it has been a staple of Westwood games, but since Generals is not a Westwood venture, what, oh what will EA Pacific do? We know, from a quick question and answer conducted between our very own Jeremy and Generals Community Manager, Chris 'Delphi' Rubyor, that there will be a shroud "of some sort" - an answer straight from Delphi's Dictionary.
The idea of a shroud comes form a commander's inability to simply stand up and see the entire battlefield with a real birds-eye view (and until the advent of satellite photography this previous statement would have been exclusively accurate). The shroud was designed to prohibit the commander from seeing everything at once, meaning he had to go and search, to scout. However, there is not just one type of shroud, there are several different types and each with a game example to back it up.
Those of you familiar with the Age Of Empires or Civilization series, will be aware of this variant of shrouding. It is quite probably one of the most realistic types. Basically, the map is covered in a black shroud - whenever your unit moves it uncovers more of the shroud, however, if your unit moves away from that area, you still see the area uncovered, but you can't see the action going on inside it. Most people like this form of shroud because of its realism in regards to what happens in real life combat. Although it's widely popular, others still don't like this variant because they have to go through the work of uncovering an area only to see it effectively recovered almost instantly.
Red Alert 2's One Time Shroud
This shroud is the same that can be found in Red Alert 2, where once you uncover an area, it is uncovered, unless you lose your radar and then only the areas directly near your units and structures are uncovered. This seems to be the most popular option for the "tank rusher" where they uncover your base and don't have to worry about it changing without them noticing, because they can just go to your base and see what you are doing; only the allied gap generator reshrouds an area.
If you can remember back to the original Red Alert, you will find an example of regenerative shrouding. As you uncover shroud it stays uncovered for a time, then slowly shrouds over once more. This is a good compromise between the two "extremes" that are mentioned above - it doesn't grow back instantly but eventually. It should be noted that it was not the standard setting in the original Red Alert, but an option - whereas Red Alert 2 didn't give you a choice, you always used the one-time shroud.
Now that I've taken a look at the different types of shrouds, we should now look into the different types of intelligence gathering systems each of the three sides relies on.
Relies, if anything, on human intelligence and agents being in the field to get the information for the commander. Lacking the resources or technology for the fancy toys that the USA does, they have to scout in the old fashioned way, in the field.
Global Liberation Army:
The GLA is probably the one side that doesn't rely too much on intelligence of any form. I don't see intelligence being a major issue with the GLA, as their 'game' is all about the ability to launch quick attacks and then scarper.
United States of America:
The USA relies primarily on satellites and other technology to get their intelligence data, out with the days of putting an agent in harms way and in with the giant piece of metal circling the earth looking for the information they need.
Civilisation 3 - 'Fog of War'
So, the point that I am trying to get at, is that I think that there is not one shroud type that fits the mold for all three sides. What could be interesting is the implementation of a type of shroud for each side. So the GLA would have the "Fog-of-War" style because they are very limited with intelligence ventures. The Chinese could have the "Shroud Regeneration" style because they have more intelligence capabilities than the GLA, but are still limited to what they can see. The USA would have the "One-Time Shroud" because they can see everything and wouldn't be affected by shroud as much as the other sides would. Having said that, the idea probably wouldn't be feasible due to balancing issues.
Other possibilities could be the removal of shroud totally - while that might take some of the fun out of scouting and sneak attacks it does have an interesting consequence, no map hacking. Yes, without any shroud there would be no need to map hack, since everyone could see everything on the battlefield. Maybe this option could only be implemented in ladder games? Who knows.
What is the solution to this problem then? I don't know. If it were up to me, I would like to see either the "Fog-of-War" or "Shroud Regeneration" types of shroud implemented in Generals. Even the idea of different shroud types for the different sides would be an interesting concept, but ultimately an unlikely one. We still only know a tiny bit about C&C Generals, but hopefully this question and the many other burning questions we have will be answered in due time. Or maybe we'll all have to wait for that snowy Christmas morning to find out.