Command & Conquer celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with a remaster of the classics. In development for some time, remastered versions of the original C&C (also known under the subheading Tiberian Dawn) and the first Red Alert are arriving soon.
It's a rather surprising turn for EA, which isn't known for pursuing remasters. Indeed, the Command & Conquer Remastered Collection was revealed in the wake of the backlash to Command & Conquer: Rivals—a mobile game more typical of EA's general approach to its classic franchises. EA isn't revealing why it decided to remaster the classic RTS series, but with the help of its diehard fans, its developers are determined to make the most of this unique opportunity.
When Electronic Arts knew it wanted to remaster Command & Conquer, the producers at EA talked with the developers at Petroglyph, many of whom worked on the original C&C games. Lead Producer Jim Vessella says EA and Petroglyph agreed that the right approach was to "kind of take people back to the beginning" by starting with the original Command & Conquer, rather than a later entry like Generals or the campier Red Alert series.
Soon into development though, the decision was made to also include the first Red Alert. This sparked a journey into C&C history, Vessella says, that evolved into an attempt to pay tribute to all aspects of the RTS classic.
"So it just felt like the right place to start, and we've been really humbled by the community's reaction," Vessella says. "And we see the community also wanting more right? So we're hearing that call, and it would be wonderful to be able to do more."
The community has been involved at every step. Petroglyph has been highly active in the Command & Conquer subreddit, showing fans new unit art, as well as cool details like the rapid resolution swapping. Vessella likens the development process to a Kickstarter campaign in how much community input and communication there has been, including a "council" of select C&C faithful—among them pro players and the developer of OpenRA, a popular mod—to help guide development.
"I have absolutely loved this idea of engaging with the community early," Vessella says. "I mean, getting their feedback and insight has been so valuable, because they've allowed us to focus on what they cared about."
Fan feedback has also helped guide resources on what sounds like a beast of a remaster. Units like the Orca provided unique challenges, with design quirks that had to make the jump to full high-definition resolution. The community also helped in guiding attempts at remastering old FMV footage and advised on areas to focus on, like dissuading the remaster developers from overly revising the user interface. Even the box art for the limited physical run of the remaster is a commissioned piece of fan art. It's a process Vessella says he would definitely want to do again on future titles, and that games around the industry "could benefit" from.
In watching gameplay of some classic missions over a Zoom call, I can see the benefits. Everything about the Command & Conquer remaster feels like a portal through time; back to my earliest memories of directing little pixelated soldiers around the field. Even the music, which has received a nice tune-up from C&C maestro Frank Klepacki, sends my brain back into strategic motion.
Every aspect of the remasters, from including the original console missions and cutscenes to the option to determine left or right-click as your unit selection button of choice, feels crafted to cater to fans of old. Though some quality-of-life changes have been made—the zoom options are a godsend—and modern accoutrements like dedicated servers and replays are in the mix, this is a remaster of the classics.
As for future options, Vessella is cagey. He says the focus is on finishing the collection right now; both EA and Petroglyph are excited about it, and are eager to see how it fares at launch.
"We're gonna have to see how this one does, kinda see how the audience reacts to it, and then we'll see kind of where the franchise can go in the future," Vessella says.
If the aim is to relive the glory days one more time, it seems like they're well on their way. One last tidbit for the Command & Conquer faithful: those who played way back will recall "Hell March," a title track for C&C in its own right. Vessella says he asked Klepacki what the words in the song were, whether they were some code or foreign language.
Klepacki's reply? "It's just gibberish."
Command & Conquer Remastered Collection arrives June 5, 2020 for PC via Steam and Origin. Be sure to check out our feature on stories from the making of the original C&C.