Game Design - General

As everyone will know, the gameplay design for C&C4 is dramatically changed from that previously established from earlier C&C games. C&C4 could be said to be a merger of gaming genres, namely merging RTS with aspects of RPG. This can noticed particularly with regard to the new "Progression" system. I'll cover that more in the next sub-topic, for here its more about some of the smaller general changes to the gameplay.

I'll cover weapons a bit more in the tiers & progression section, but one thing I'd like to point out is, I noticed with beam weapons (namely the Titan's railgun + Scropion Laser) that they can target air units! This was a very interesting suprise when I suddenly noticed Titans tilting back and firing at the sky! This is a very interesting development, and I'm unsure if it applies to all weapons, or just a few, like missiles, beam and maybe machine gun. I guess this is to help be more effective against the heavily air-power Support Classes. I admit I think they've missed something by doing this. Having only a few units AA helped to add an element of strategy in choosing task forces in previous games. If they want to help promote co-op play, having a group of units better equipped against AA could be benefitial if it then needed to be heavily defended from ground units.

One of the big things for me ingame (apart from the gameplay itself) is the maps. They're a big part of the immersion, having a good world to play within. The single player map we played was brilliant in theming. The attitiude of the shanty town was nicely captured, and some of the small dynamic parts of it were nice touches. Such as the spit-roasted Visceroid. It was brilliant. For a yellow zone. But not in my mind a red zone. Granted, in the storyline Tiberium is apparently being controlled by this new TCN, so there is a lot less Tiberium around. One of the things I loved about red zone maps in C&C3 (and also in various fanmade TS/FS maps) was the dominant presence of Tiberium, not just on the ground but in the atmosphere as well. The dymanic lighting really brought an edge to it, and dynamic lighting was often a key aspect of maps in previous C&Cs. That was the main thing lacking in the map, in my mind. And I think its a very important thing.

Also, for a single player map, there was a large amount of symmetry. Now, that is to be expected to some extent in a multiplayer map, to ensure balance, but not in a single player map. In a single player map, surely its *designed* to be unbalanced. Surely there should be lots of little hiding places, hidden back routes to objectives and tactical bottlenecks. Admittedly it was a small simple single player mission, probably built for the demo only, but its just something I think which should not slip into the main campaign. Its really not needed. I hope that the symettry and dynamic lighting of maps will be seriously considered in future mapwork.

Something else I'd like to note with regards to maps, (but on a lighter note) is the map border. I remember being mentioned in Ryan's "Tiberium Wars Post-Mortem" that the map edges were just solid black borders, and that something like a simple grading effect would be a huge improvement. Well, it seems someone listened because at the map edges was this graded effect. It was only a small gradient (a bit bigger would be brilliant!) but it was a definite improvement in my opinion. So, thanks to whoever took notice of that! I wonder how many more of those Post-Mortem points have been noted and fixed ingame.

Tiberium. Its what the series effectively revolves around. Its changed and its evolved throughout the series. Its been feared and utilised, but in C&C4.. I haven't seen it. As mentioned before, the Tiberian Control Network is controlling Tiberium a lot more, but I don't think it should have removed effectively all traces of it, at least not ingame. My opinion is simple, Tiberium should be ingame, in one form or another. It should at least be a map object to avoid/utilise, or just as a graphical addition. It needs to be present. It maybe easy with the TCN to clear up most of the infestation, but for something so dramatically widespread, it should be very hard to completely clear it up. There needs to be some small remains of tiberium, clinging on to some buildings, or scars in the ground which has been burnt from a previous Tiberium infestation.

The snow map played in multiplayer was even less atmospheric. Granted, I accept there is little you can do with a snow map, but even so, the previous arguements should still hold true.

Game Design - Tiers & Progression

The progression system is something which while not new to gaming, such as in other titles, like Battlefield, it is new to RTS. As you progress through the game, both in single player and multiplayer, you can collect "battle points" which enable you to unlock new technology and slowly expand your forces. You can spend your points however you wish. If you play as the Defense class, you can spend your points on the other classes, even if you haven't used them. The points are side-specific however. Which kind of makes sense. Playing as GDI shouldn't enable you to tech up Nod.
In addition to the "battle points" system, as you play through the game and explore the world, you can discover and unlock special upgrades and features. This sounds more like something from World of Warcraft than C&C, but I like the motivations behind it. It enables you to customise your forces more, make them more personal. Something which has never really made an appearence in the C&C series before.

The developers have assured us that a tier 1 army has everything it needs to potentially beat a tier 3 [the current highest tier] army. The unlockable units, while potentially more powerful, are designed to be more specialised, such that they don't necessarily replace earlier units. The higher tier units can also come with special abilities, which when used properly can help bring the battle in your favour. The weapon system seems to be quite specifically planned. There are 4 major weapon types: Machine Gun, Cannon, Beam (Energy) and Blast (Flame/Sonic + Rockets?). There are specific armour types to complement the weapon types; Light, Medium, Heavy, Reinforced. The weapon types and armour combinations allow a more rock-paper-scissors system to apply. Such that, there is no single weapon and armour combo which will clearly dominate over all others. There will be also be special armours which can have a specific benefit [such as the energy shield on the Nod mechs, which deflect laser weapons]. Because of this system, its possible for a tier 1 army to have all the components to equally fight a tier 3.

While this is good for balancing and for online play, it does make me worry a bit. Both sides have the same weapon system, and there seemed to be quite a bit of mirroring between the sides, too much for my liking. This was my main gripe with C&C4. It felt like Supreme Commander in that, while the units looked potentially different, they effectively were the same. And its not until you get to the high end units you really get the differences. The problem is, we didn't get access to all the units, or all the factions, so the full extent of the side mirroring is unknown, its also possible that the units could be tweaked to be more different. I had hoped that, given the battle concentrating more on GDI/Nod again, without worrying about the Scrin for the most part, that it would be possible to make the sides more distinct and different, yet still balanced. Especially given the nature of the online play heavily focused on GDI vs Nod. The main problem with such non-mirrored balancing is it requires more time to get properly balanced. Time, alas, which the guys working on C&C4 don't have. Upon asking Jason Bender about it, its one of those things which they would love to work on, but simply don't have the time to do. And thats a big disappointment for me, and many others, I'm sure.