| Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun - First Look
by Neil "Enzo" Mouneimne
In the early days, Westwood Studios had a modest history of making games that were perhaps short on glitz, but had excellent gameplay. While a little known Sega game called Herzog Zwei was technically the first realtime strategy game, it was Dune 2 that set the foundation for modern realtime strategy, and Command and Conquer that truly put it into the mainstream. Today, Westwood is the most prolific exporter in the state of Nevada, and the entire concept of strategy gaming has been irrevocably changed.
With a performance like that, a worthy encore is hard to come up with. Competition has been incredibly intense since C&C. Most efforts were half-hearted attempts to cash in on a new genre, but a few really raised the stakes. So when you're competing against Cavedog, Blizzard, your own past success, and a few dozen other companies, how do you follow up with a sequel?
To that end, Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun is much more than just a rehash - it's a whole new game engine with a lot of new ideas. Fundamentally, the gameplay should be pretty familiar to fans of the original, but there are many twists to make it a new experience for even jaded fans.
First off is the graphics engine. Unlike the previous "bird's eye view", the game now uses an isometric view similar to Starcraft. This helps show off efforts to make the game look more three-dimensional. Furthermore, the engine uses an interesting technology that's far more sophisticated than the typical suite of sprites. Alternatively called "voxels" and "3d-pixels", it's a way of doing 3d unit rendering that combines a nicely rendered look with the advantages of 3d as long as you're operating with a static viewpoint.
Most likely the finished product's graphics engine will show similarities to MechCommander, but with more dramatic special effects. However, the effects will be better eyecandy *and* technologically superior. Units will throw off realistically shaped shadows while lighting, smoke, and explosions will benefit from some remarkable blending techniques
Aside from creating a more realistic view of the battlefield, height will become a real part of the gameplay, much as it is in Total Annihilation. Objects that are protected from direct fire by a wall or terrain feature may be vulnerable to arcing indirect-fire. Some weapons platforms that can reach high enough may be able to shoot over the obstruction if the angles are good as well.
Perhaps one of the most unique twists will be the environment. Tiberian Sun will make a substantial departure here. Not only will wind be modeled in the game, but so will forest fires, ion storms, rivers that freeze and thaw, and even the darkness of night. Each one will have it's own behaviors and consequences. Savvy generals will learn how to really exploit these "wild cards" to their advantage, potentially creating their own take on the fog of an D-Day style amphibious assault - or maybe even players will find themselves reenacting the frosty lake climax to "Alexander Nevsky."
Storyline-wise, the game takes place in the not-too-distant future. As always, C&C mirrors the technology of the times reasonably well at the beginning, but the upper-end technology that you can eventually access during the game is some really extreme stuff. In this 21st century battlefield, infantry no longer just wander across the field with little more than their fatigues and a light weapon, to be mopped up by the first showing of heavier units. Now they have access to "Starship Troopers" (The book, not the movie) style battlesuits, and can dish out and receive much more damage than their progenitors.
Large robot-like mecha can stomp across the battlefield. Hovertanks reminiscent of those from FASA's "Renegade Legion" make an appearance. Cyborg units, jump infantry, stealth tanks, tunneling tanks, spy vehicles, and more will alter the face of warfare. Each side will not merely duplicate the other side's units, but reflect each side's approach to combat.
Furthermore, unit experience will take on a great deal of importance – perhaps more than in any other RTS game to date. Surviving units will have their experience tallied on an "experience point" system familiar to RPG players. Essentially, the more difficult the kill, the greater the points, so squashing infantry with a tank won't do you much good. Not only will veteran units react faster, they will become more powerful and in some cases will gain special abilities. Now the concept of having "special forces" teams for difficult strikes becomes an intriguing possibility in the grander missions.
So what's all the ruckus about? Your old nemesis Nod is back, and rumor has it that Kane will somehow be involved again. Now the fighting between Nod and GDI spreads to a global scale, and the problems with Tiberium seem to be much worse. The valuable resource will be much more hazardous, and it will come in different varieties as well. You should find your synthetic opponents to be more skilled than ever before. Westwood is using some new techniques that appear to mix doctrine-style planned attacks with AI resource management, decision making, and the all-important hunt for a weakness in your strategy.
From what we know so far, it seems like the folks at Westwood are still tuned in to what made the first games so popular. While certainly working at pushing the technological envelope, it's the play balance, AI, and game twists that will keep player's interest even after the graphical glitz wears off.
Go to the newly opened web site: Tiberian Sun
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Last Updated June 4th, 1998