GAMES: Command & Conquer Red Alert 2 – Harvard Bonin Interview

ra2

This is an interview taken from the RA2 press preview CD. Answering the questions is Harvard Bonin, Producer of Red Alert 2.

Q: What makes Red Alert 2 stand out from the other RTS games out there?
A: The biggest change is the style of gameplay. We’ve created a real-time strategy game that’s fast-paced, in-your-face and visceral, as opposed to slow and methodical. When we started designing, we took a long, hard look at the real-time strategy form, and agreed that, more often than not, the genre usually involves a slow war of attrition — sometimes you’ve pretty much lost the game in the first ten minutes, and the next two hours is spent playing it out. Well, we wanted to pick up the pace, and make the game a real roller coaster ride in which the tides can turn at any moment — without sacrificing deep, strategic gameplay. We wanted to make it a real blast right out of the box. When it comes down to it, often the units in real-time strategy games are balanced low — that is, they’re within a point or two as far as attributes go.

We’re balancing Red Alert 2 very high. We have a healthy mix of units that are unusually powerful and add a lot of intensity to gameplay. In the original Red Alert, if you dropped a nuke, you did some damage. If you get the nuke bomb in Red Alert 2, someone is in big trouble unless it can be stopped before the launch. Luckily everyone will get plenty of warning that someone is about to drop the big one.

There are a lot of “magic bullets” that, if you use them smartly, can make the battle shift dramatically.

Q: Will we be seeing some of the units from the original Red Alert?
A: Sure! We wanted to bring back a few favourites like the Spy or the Iron Curtain. Even though some are back, they’ve been upgraded a lot from the previous game. The Spy, for instance, does a lot of different things this time around. If you sneak a spy into the enemy’s power plant, their power is shut down for 30 seconds. Or you can sneak him into an enemy’s ore refinery and steal all their cash. You can get him to steal enemy technologies combine them with your own to get brand new units unavailable anywhere else in the game. We also beefed up the whole Chrono and Iron Curtain technologies.

Q: How about the infamous Tanya?
A: She’s back and as bad as ever. We call her “All-Terrain Tanya,” because she does everything. She swims through rivers and oceans, blows up ships and buildings. She’s deadlier than ever and has the same saucy personality.

Q: What else is new?
A: The interface is brand new and much easier to use. We’ve switched to a tab system, so structures you want to build are just one click away. That gets players off the command bar and on to the tactical map, because that’s where the fun is. We also included the optional Advanced Command Bar that makes some of the more elusive keyboard commands accessible on the game screen. The game will also feature a planning mode, so players can easily synchronize multi-pronged attacks on enemy bases. With just a keystroke or two, you can set your attacks off at just the right time.

And I’d definitely say the mood is the same. When we started the project, we wanted to capture the feel of the original Red Alert, but exaggerate our fantastic alternate universe even more with a lot of pop culture stuff. We really play up the Soviets’ dabbling in psychic phenomena, for instance. They’ve even got psychically-controlled giant squids as part of their navy. We did a lot of military research for weapons and actually found some pretty kooky things. This research influenced the weapons we created. Many of our weapons are based in conspiracy myths of the 20th century. I’ve got two big binders of stuff that’s pretty wild. Would you believe that at one point the U.S. was working on a weapon called HAARP that would heat up the ionosphere and use it as weapon? Then again, that doesn’t hold a candle to the stuff we’ve got cooking in Red Alert 2.

Q: What’s the story behind single player on Red Alert 2?
A: After Stalin was crushed in the original Red Alert, worldwide peace was restored. America then made the mistake of becoming a little complacent and didn’t realize that the puppet dictator in Russia is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The premise is nothing less than an insidious, full-scale invasion of the United States.

Q: Yikes. Sounds grim.
A: But it has a lot of quirky comic-book elements that give the game a high fun factor. For instance, much of the Soviet arsenal is based on psychic technology — and we’re not talking about bending spoons. We’re talking about the Soviets using mind control to shut down America’s early-warning systems as well as its nuclear arsenal, so by the time the U.S. figures out what’s going on, it’s almost too late. What’s important, though, is that the Soviets don’t want to destroy the U.S. They want to take it over and use its resources.

Q: So we can expect to see a lot of battles on American soil.
A: Yes, we’ve got an excellent cross-section of America in the game. To name a few, there are missions in Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York City, the Florida Keys, Pearl Harbour, even Ohio. But there are global missions too. We’ll see fighting in Egypt, Germany, France and, of course, the game wouldn’t be complete without a mission in Siberia.

Q: So how does the U.S. fight back?
A: The Soviets harness their psychic power using these special mind-control beacons they have to set up wherever they’re entrenched. If the U.S. wants to break the Soviet grip, it has to take those psychic beacons out and fight its way to Moscow, where the mother-ship beacon resides. The U.S. has a few tricks up its own sleeves as well — it’s honed its chrono-technology to a very fine point.

Q: The game sounds like it has a lot of personality.
A: It’s definitely not a history lesson. Instead, we poke fun and play around with a lot of historical events, and throw in classic landmarks, like the White House and the Pentagon, and spend some time on the fun “what-ifs” introduced in the first Red Alert. I think the game strikes a nice balance between white-knuckle gameplay and comic relief.

Q: What about strategies?
A: We’ve introduced a second level of strategy into the game that adds a whole new realm of tactical possibilities. It’s one thing to use different units in concert with each other, but in Red Alert 2, you can use units in a much richer, defined way. For instance, the Soviet Tesla coil can shoot only so far, but if you make three Tesla Troopers force-fire on the coil, you can give it a super-charge so it has a huge range. Or you can have the Soviet bomb guy, Crazy Ivan, plant a bomb on an unsuspecting cow, and use your psychic Uri to send the hapless cow into the U.S. base.

Q: How about multiplayer?
A: We’re still expanding multiplay to give gamers a great time. We’re going to add some non-traditional modes that take multiplay beyond the range of Worldwide Domination and laddered tournaments. I can’t quite say yet what we have in store, but the variety will be astonishing. Whether a gamer is playing alone or with friends, it’ll be a ride he won’t soon forget.

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