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» Generals: Menage à trios

Many people begin articles in magazines and newspapers with the infamous "I remember when". The problem is, I don't remember much of what they babble on about. I don't recall the Blitz. Suez was a blink in the past. The Falklands was a TV program, and the falling of the Berlin Wall but a fragmented memory. With the release of Generals however, I'll be able to look back over the many titles that made up the C&C Franchise, sit back and think: "I remember when Command and Conquer games had 2 sides"

Because long gone are the Global Defence Initiative, Brotherhood of Nod, and the brawling armies of East and West. Instead, we're shooting the Super-Powers in between the eyes and saluting the modern psycho-political minefield of third world conflicts. Gone is the traditional Command and Conquer style of two technologically advanced, but perfectly matched armies. Instead we're being presented with 3 armies, each with an individual style and "feel".

You're shivering just looking at that - aren't you!
The USA flexes it's economic and industrial muscle once more, and creates the most advanced, but smallest army. The Chinese follow the doctrine of "quantity over quality" in it's fight; choosing the Stalinist trick of out-producing the enemy with low-grade equipment. The GLA scavenge parts from the other two armies, and as China and the US grow weaker, the GLA grows stronger. Sabotage, Stealth and Subterfuge are to expected.

Do I have fears and apprehensions about the addition of a 3rd faction to Command and Conquer? Yes. A lot. I'm not for a moment saying adding in the GLA is a bad thing; in fact, the ability to play as an Anti-US terror group is distinctively attractive to me, despising as I do, US Sabre rattling. The problem that EAP have is their singular production involving 3 sides did not exactly stimulate cries of joy. As much fun as it was to play, Yuri's Revenge was, and still is, riddled with flaws over balancing.

Perhaps EAP have taken the view that most modern conflicts are not simple 2 sided affairs. If we look at the major conflicts of recent times, from the Second World War to the current action in Afghanistan; it has been rough coalitions and temporary alliances that fight, rather than groups under a common banner. "My enemies enemy is my friend" has been a much-quoted inspiration. There is, as ever, a fine line between implementing this dynamic successfully into a game, and cocking it up. You can factionate a game too much; with too many choices and decisions to make, this was seen at a small level in people's indecision over which Red Alert 2 country to choose. When you realise these people struggled over a single unit, you see how scaling up to an entire army could cause problems.

Ash being witty. Or trying to.
And that's just with the multiplayer. Erk. The majority of the people who buy Generals will probably be ill informed and/or foolish, and not try out the glorious world of Westwood Online / Gamespy: Where the insults come thick and fast (r). Examine the sales figures of Red Alert 2; some 228,000 people bought a (legitimate) copy. Two Hundred and Twenty Eight Thousand. That's a lot of people looking at Tanya's cleavage; almost 3 times the population of Luxembourg. At any moment on Westwood Online, you'd be exceedingly lucky to find any more than 1000; and that's including the 'llamas', 'n00bs' and '|337' players that seem to add to the atmosphere so much.

With an extra side comes a torrent of extra work for Programmers. Now, we all know "Real programmers drink Irn-Bru", but even that most refreshing of Scottish drinks will not disguise the fact that not only will an entire new group of units need to be created, but an entire new campaign need to programmed and tested. This will take time. The net result? The dreaded delays. Westwood sidestepped this issue to some degree in Yuri's Revenge by simply eliminating a campaign for Yuri, but I doubt a similar tactic would work with Generals.

A third side gives us so much; extra campaigns, better Multiplayer options and longevity. But all of these can be rendered irrelevant if we are given another Boomer or Gattling Cannon. It may sound like a cheap advert for myself, but the key to avoiding this would be to pick experienced players (particularly article writers!) as beta testers. While pushing back the release date will annoy people, and lead to spammage (If such a word exists) of forums, the only thing that would infuriate the community any more would be if Generals was released with a side serving of buggyness.

The third side brings advantages, as well as disadvantages. Whether or not the chemical weapons it also brings will compensate remains to be seen.

» Jim

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