Behind C&C’s Iron Curtain

By Alec Meer on July 21st, 2008 at 4:49 pm.

I’m faintly surprised to discover that the recent Command & Conquer 3 expansion, Kane’s Wrath, was not developed by the folks behind the love-it-or-meh-it parent game. KW was definitely a lesser product than its surprisingly splendid daddy, most especially in its humdrum campaign, plus I hear it was fairly heavy on bugs and imbalances (the latter being the reddest of rags to RTS Angries). But as it chronicled Kane’s most recent resurrection and continued the tale beyond C&C3, it was an important chapter in C&C’s convoluted, comical lore – so surely it needed Tiberium old-hands at the till? Apparently not.

Fansite CNCGeneralsworld (via Blues) has taken a thorough look at the team behind Kane’s Wrath, and it turns out most of the key names from C&C3 only appeared in the game’s credits when attached to a “Special Thanks To” note. Instead, most of the development was apparently farmed out to one Breakaway Games, who usually specialise in the likes of military simulations (as in, for the military), but turn out to have a bunch of strategy game expansion packs under their belt. Notably, they’d never been near a C&C game before.

The piece goes on to surmise that Kane’s Wrath’s generally lower scores and bugginess were a direct result of this outsourcing, pointing out other EA RTS expansions that have suffered similarly. It doesn’t directly blame Breakaway for this, and nor should it – there’s a long-standing tradition of RTS expansion packs apparently existing solely to milk a few extra quids out of an existing fanbase, and that’s usually a publisher decision.

Kane’s Wrath’s a prime example – its many cutscenes are effectively gibberish if you’re not frighteningly au fait with a decade plus of C&C lore. When the expansion’s entire existence overlooks the possibility of attracting new players in favour of insane focus on the most ardent fans, it’s hardly a surprise that it’d be offloaded to a less experienced team lumbered with a tight deadline.

Worth a read, anyway. Much of it’s disappointed griping about Kane’s Wrath, but it provides a whiff of how tokenistic expansions can be. It also nods to EA recently claiming Metacritic scores play a massive part in whether retailers buy up their games, which could mean we might see a little more love poured into expansions in the not too distant.

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16 Comments »

  1. Nimic says:

    Actually, I quite liked Kane’s Wrath. Of course, I can definitely be considered to be frighteningly au fait with a decade plus of C&C lore =P

  2. propanol says:

    A lot of people disliked C&C3 – I thought it was fine. No revolution, sure, but a nice recreation of the original Tiberian Dawn plus some much needed improvements (only having one build que really killed the old games in multiplayer, they’d turn so slow after a while as you were just waiting for shit to complete being constructed). The single player story sucked, fine, but here’s the thing – if you’re looking for a good narrative, why the hell are you playing RTS games in the first place? They might have been bastions of great storytelling at a time when the only way to convey a relatively complex story was to have cinematics in between missions, but nowadays technology’s gotten to the point where you can integrate storytelling and gameplay fairly successfully, which other genres lend themselves much more to.

  3. Joe says:

    I really liked Kanes Wrath too. C&C3 was the m’eh one. KW bought it all back.

    Problems? Sure, but surmountable ones.

  4. MasterBoo says:

    EA, not surprising.

  5. Dolphan says:

    Conquests was a pretty good expansion for Civ 3, IIRC.

  6. edcalaban says:

    Kane’s Wrath was fun, but like you noted the campaign was lackluster to say the least. The lore was fun though.

  7. FhnuZoag says:

    I suspect (or hope?) most of the important people were far more interested in working on Red Alert 3.

  8. CitizenErazed says:

    I liked KW. Enough was done well or tried that was new that I could forgive the problems, and I never scream about BALANCE OMG because I play about one multiplayer game a month, so the imbalances are less obvious.

    Plus the Global Warfare mode was new, interesting, and rather well done, the only problem being that the skirmish maps seemed to have no correlation to where you were in the world. Oh, and there was no naval combat.

  9. Chris R says:

    I also liked KW, and thought the factions were pretty neat, catering to different play styles. I’m much more a “tanks n armor” guy, so I loved that the Titans and Wolverines made a comeback.

  10. Zeitgeist says:

    Perhaps this explains why it took months to get the first patch out?

  11. JonFitt says:

    CoH:OF is a direct contradiction to the “expansion packs are shovelled out to extract more money”, it’s an excellent addition to a fine game, and I’m just sad it took me until recently to buy it.
    Relic are definitely my top pick for RTSs of late.
    Although, more Homeworld plz!

  12. New Guy says:

    This isn’t the first time a C&C game was outsourced. All the Red Alert expansion pack(CounterStrike and Aftermath) to Intelligent Games. They also handled Dune 2000 and Emperor Battle for Dune. It’s Westwood tradition to outsource expansion packs.
    Even Blizzard outsourced Beyond the Dark Portal and Broodwar. Capcom with Resident Evil Code Veronica, Konami with the upcoming Silent Hill Homecoming.

  13. RichPowers says:

    Relic outsourced Dawn of War: Soulstorm; it’s arguably the worst of the expandalones, though by no means terrible. The other RTS expansion you mention, from what I recall, are fairly generic as well.

    Blue’s News also reports that Kane’s Wrath has an issue with SecuROM that causes explorer.exe to crash. EA has since fixed it, but that problem shouldn’t exist in the first place.

  14. George says:

    As a working developer, I’m getting increasingly tired of the internet-wide attitude that some developers are worthy and some developers are not, some developers are saints, some developers are villains.

    Is it a coincidence that after EA dropped five of its top technical people from the team (see chart above), Kane’s Wrath suffered as many technical problems as it did? Is it surprising that after losing its Lead Balance Designer, Kane’s Wrath has balance problems?

    The author of the article is just so depressingly far out of line. Magical wonderful him, able to identify all these balance problems and find all these bugs that the developers and QA team couldn’t. Or maybe they are perfectly capable, but just weren’t given the same amount of time, because an expansion pack isn’t a priority. And “is it surprising” that the article author completely ignores the Global Conquest stuff, despite that being completely new and “[deserving of] high praise” (-KG).

    I hate the pervasive attitude that if a company makes a mediocre game, then they are incapable of doing better next time and all its employees are hacks. And while I think that’s slightly beyond what he’s saying (it’s perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back), his conclusions are such bullshit. Small expansion packs like this are what gives upcoming developers their break, their chance to grow and afford to create the next awesome blockbuster game. The idea that publishers should deny these developers these projects is utter crap and so dangerous. It’s disappointing that you guys give it a wider airing. I can easily see it becoming one of those memes that enters internet forums – check the credits on release day and if it’s not the same team, then decry the game as “sure to be unworthy”. And then how does that help anyone.

    Got a bit ranty, sorry.

  15. Erlam says:

    I’m also curious how having a different team (who are often off-shoots of the company that made the original) make expansions is somehow terrible. Look at the beloved Homeworld series — Cataclysm was made out of studio, and scored better than the game it was an expansion for.

    Not to mention that as a company grows, different team members take over old jobs. So just because company ‘x’ made whatever game, doesn’t mean those same people will make the expansions, or even the sequels.

  16. RichPowers says:

    I don’t care who makes a game, so long as it’s good and bug-free and well supported. The problem isn’t outsourcing, but lack of QA. Kane’s Wrath and Soulstorm are good examples, especially the former (some EA dude even issued a statement saying that EA’s post-release support of the C&C series has been abysmal).