It's frightening how dependant I am on getting up to date news, Indeed I suppose it's buggers like myself that have led to the exponential growth of CNN, BBC News 24 et al. Not that I'm complaining you understand, but when I was away in Thailand at the International Jamboree, this really hit home. You might have spent your New Year in a drunken haze; but for me it was a grander affair: A chance to mock every national stereotype in a safe environment. Scouting really has given me a chance to broaden my horizons. I spent time laughing at the pride of Bavarian nationalism, and running from a manic Slovenian, who seemed to have taken offence when we jokingly called him Slovakian. After a few other "cross-cultural" experiences, which included trying desperately to pull Italians in a language where I can say "Mi Chiamo James", perhaps it's understandable that I was blissfully unaware of what was going on home.
Despite being away for a little under a month, the world was on the edge of collapse when I came home. Escalation in Iraq I could deal with. Revelations about North Korea's nuclear program were bearable. But Pete Townshend being a paedophile was simply too much. So as I settled down at my computer and put on "The Who", perhaps my third favourite band of all time, with a shattered view on the lead guitarist, It was reassuring to see some wholly unexpected news.
Not worked it out yet? Well, it appears the bean counters at Electronic Arts have realised the potential that an expansion pack for Generals might have.
Optimistic? Not half. It shows one of two things about EA, that they've either got complete confidence in Generals, and have made up their mind that it will achieve the market penetration to warrant an expansion pack, or, they're just being pre-emptive and foolish. At this stage nobody, not even the fat cat EA executives can have any idea what kind of result Generals will have. Many of us, including myself, have been lucky enough to participate in the beta testing of Generals, and have, generally, been singing praises of the game. Having seen the community's positive reaction to Renegade, and that game's subsequent massacring at the hands of critics and game players alike; I think we have to take our biased views with a spoonful of salt.
Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, interest of picture unknown
Looking back at past titles from the Command and Conquer Empire of course, it's completely unsurprising to find that an Expansion pack will be released. From the pixellated affair of the "Covert Operations", to the most recent psychic escapades in "Yuri's Revenge", those extra disks, and indeed their extra cost, have been something we've come to expect. As all of you should know, Not all Expansion packs are made equally. From the roll of honour consisting of "The Covert Operations", "Counterstrike", "The Aftermath", "Firestorm" and "Yuri's Revenge"; it is highly debatable whether any of them were genuinely worth the extra expenditure. For skint students like myself, I honestly believe that the £20 I spent on Yuri's Revenge could have been better spent on Beer or Football tickets for the mighty Morton.
My major problem with expansion packs for Command and Conquer, perhaps indeed, expansion packs for games as a whole is that few of them do anything beneficial to their parent title. The opposing argument of course, is that if you try to truly re-invent a game, or give it a new dimension, you can mess it up in a big way. One only has to recall the catastrophic effect of added a new side to Red Alert 2 had, causing much resentment over its bad impact on the Multiplayer scene. The reverse of this is also true; The new units given in "The Aftermath", in my view at least, had a very positive affect on gameplay, and truly added depth to an already great game. The history of expansion packs for C&C is a legacy that runs in a parallel with the success of the series as a whole, and something that has come to be expected.
The reasons for releasing an expansion for any game are always financially motivated, no matter how the developers try to dress it up in fancy language. I have absolutely no doubt that the expansion in the works for Generals is being made along the same lines. With this in mind, we have to ask if such a purchase represents good value, especially when professional looking modifications such as Blitzkrieg 2 are in the works. With EAP taking steps away from the traditional, centralised ladder, things, at this early stage, are actually looking up for the modifications, which never hit the online scene of Red Alert 2. I'm in no way suggesting that my proposed mod featuring the massed armies of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen could ever match the sales of Yuri's Revenge, but that the implementation of fan ladders will give mod teams a chance to see their hard work played as it was supposed to be: With one human against another.
Jim on a karaoke machine in Thailand.. quite what this has to do with a Generals expansion is unbeknown to me
Nevertheless, the cost of the expansion pack will not be the first thing I check; I'll be more intrigued to find out what kind of new features or units or whatever are implemented. While we all know the cries on the Generals forum of "The Vatican City should be in it! Plz Read!" I cannot see the addition of a new side being feasible. The three sides in Generals seem to be pretty well balanced, and EAP would do themselves no favours if they disturbed this with the addition of a new faction. A shame - I always felt the Celtic Liberation Army or Soldiers Hired in Tasmania would make for a better combat experience.
Another area I feel expansion packs can have a negative effect on is in regard to updates and patches, with many developers "Cleaning their hands" of a game after the add-on is out of the door. Many fans of Westwood saw this as the case in the aftermath of Yuri's Revenge; it was generally accepted that the single patch released for it was simply not good enough. Judging by the frequency of cheat reports on our forums at CNC Series, I'd probably have to support the critics. EAP have pledged already to support Generals through patches and such; and they certainly excelled themselves in reacting to fans' feedback during the beta test. Granted this took away my Buggy Rush, possibly the greatest tactic ever for Generals, but this small sacrifice benefited everyone. In reality of course, I'm still spiteful towards the little rats that ruined my strategic genius, but overall, the support shown the beta was exemplary. If the development of an expansion pack in any way compromised frequent patch support, it's something I fear many people would hold against EAP.
Since the very beginnings of Command and Conquer, expansion packs have offered fans more maps, missions, and vehicles; in effect, "more of the same". What sets the add-on for Generals apart from these is the pre-emptive announcement of its release. As I said at the opening of this article; it comes across, to me at least, as being very optimistic, or very arrogant. I suppose we just have to hope that the developers can make a good job of it. Have faith my friends … Just like I had faith in Pete Townshend and my Italian language skills …