C&C4 - Game Design - Crawler & Online
September 02, 2009 - 03:55
(I admit in advance that this section is probably the least comprehensive, due to sheer tiredness..)

Game Design - The Crawler

The Crawler is one of the most controversial things about C&C4. The idea of a single unit acting as an entire base? A unit able to single-handedly remove base building from the game (effectively). All this and it can be continually respawned if you loose it? Crazy!

The dev's opinion of the Crawler is to try and have the Crawler represent *you* on the battlefield. You can upgrade it, to some extent personalise it, and have it as your central base of operations. It should be something you want to defend, while at the same time use to push through the enemy lines. Its a nice idea, but it didn't appear to work in practice. The problem is the respawns of a Crawler. As we played it, there was very little penalty for loosing it. Loosing something so apparently vital and important, didn't actually have much effect. Sure you couldn't build anything, and you lost your repair radius for a while, but you didn't worry for the simple fact that you knew you could come straight back after 30-60 seconds.

One of the things argued about the Crawler is that, by removing base building, it removes some of the strategy. There are counter arguements to this in that, there is little strategy in base building, because eventually people find a particular build order to follow, and you then have to stick to it to have a hope in succeeding, at least online. I semi-believe this, but I also believe that there should be another way to approach the problem. Not all of the strategy was in the build queue. Half of the strategy was from the other side; knowing what enemy structures to attack and destroy. Base building is a big thing to lose, and hopefully with the defense class, it won't be entirely lost. Something Jason Bender said was, although there is less base building, there is still plenty of strategy, its just in a different place.

Something I disliked about the Crawlers was the similarity between them all. Granted the defense class will hopefully be different, but to be honest I'm a little tired of having the defense class being the apparent saviour to features ingame. Offense and Support should be distinct enough that they hold their own. But apart from one flying and one not, there is very little difference. They both have the same upgrades, and they both have the same purpose. Obviously the perpose is quite centralised, and it can't be changed too much, but to give each class aspected to their crawler which makes them more unique and useful would be a big benefit. The same can be said between GDI and Nod Crawlers. There just is no difference except in the appearence. One exception to this, from talking with Jason Bender is that, the Nod Crawlers will actually pop up out of the ground, rather than being dropped in by an oversized zone-trooper Droppod (temp art, I'm sure). Some differences between sides and classes could really help improve various aspects of the game.

I am still intrigued by the idea of the Crawler. I think it has potential. But in its current form I find it severely lacking.

Game Design - Online

While C&C3 could be said to try and bring more of a focus of RTS as a sport, to help fuel its popularity online, C&C4 intends on doing this to a whole new level. There is a huge drive to bring multiplayer into focus, both in competitive online play and working together in the Campaign. One of the themes mentioned at CommandCOM was to "share the game".
Now this is something I greatly approve of. I enjoy playing online with friends, in particular working together, mostly in comp-stomps. I like developing strategies with each other and trying something different (although admittedly, with C&C3 there will be a glorious squadron of firehawks flying over at some point). I enjoy playing online in co-op, and a lot of games in other genres (again looking at Battlefield) involve online team player matches, which promote good team play to succeed. The class system has been designed with co-op in mind, such that the classes work better together than alone. I think that the class system and the co-op options online hold a lot of potential. But they need to really be done right to have a hope of succeeding.

The big thing with C&C4 online is the Domination mode, 5v5 team match. Its designed to really involve people to work together, while at the same time giving people objectives to seperately work on. For most maps involving domination there will be around 5 objectives. Objectives will be the new way of winning a game (unless a death match mode is added to the custom section). Each team starts with a certain number of points. The team which holds the majority of the objectives causes the opposing team to loose points. The first to team to reach 0 points, looses. So rather than first to win, its first to loose. Additionally, having so many people in a team based game means that it should hopefully be more friendly to new starters. With a large team a new starter can be more easily guided while defended, without being a major demeaning factor to the team. For me thats a good thing as, I have generally found the online arena of C&C3 a bit out of my league, despite how much I play it. Its a sharp learning curve, and often its a style of gameplay I have no desire of playing.

Online there will be several modes available: PVE - Automatch for similar ranked players to work together in a team comp-stomp, PVP - Automatch for similar ranked players to fight in a team game, but against other human players. There is also co-op campaign, which works differently to that in RA3. Whereas RA3 always required a team-player in the campaign, either a friend or an AI, the campaign in C&C4 can be played alone (with no AI team player) or with a friend. There is also a custom match section of online play. The custom section adds a lot of flexibility to the game in that, here it will be possible (through devs, I believe) to add new game mode types, and to modify existing ones to provide improved gameplay. While the flexibility of the game itself is still in question, the idea that there may still be options to how to play online to some extent is a good sign.

It was mentioned that there will be less maps online, but that each map would be better, to help improve the replayability of them, to allow each map to have multiple strategies and tactics available. Similar to the campaign missions, less, but better, with improved replayability. Personally, I don't see this as a bad thing, providing its done well.

The online side of C&C4 is designed to be a big thing. And it needs to be, because of the continual requirement to be online. This requirement is needed for several reasons, such as game validation and progression stat updates. The online side of C&C4 really needs to shine through, for the fanbase to not be bitter about needing to always be online. One of the things involved with always needing to be online is the non-inclusion of LAN play. One of the arguements for not including LAN is because you need to always be online anyway, so you can just play online. A counter arguement to this is that often the online servers are noticeably slower than a LAN server. The always needing to be online and lack of LAN play is a big issue with the community, and one to which I am not sure what will happen. I doubt offline play will be included, or if it is, it will be severely limited. But I hope that the devs really help make the online play good enough to compensate for this.

I guess, it just sums up my end opinion of the game in general. It has the potential to be a good game, but it has a long way to go to get there. It hasn't proved itself yet. I have faith in the team, because they're trying to address these issues as best they can, to make a great game which lives up to the series, which is enjoyable, while at the same time new and fresh, and I really hope it will. But, as the saying goes.. time will tell.