World Domination in a box.

Command & Conquer (officially, retroactively, titled 'Tiberian Dawn') is a real-time strategy (RTS) game developed by Westwood Studios and released in 1995 on PC CD-ROM (DOS native). The mechanics of the game bear a striking similarity to Westwood's previous title Dune II: The Battle for Arrakis. However many people consider Command & Conquer to be the originator of the modern RTS for a number of reasons.

It was the first game of its kind to use FMV for the mission briefings and plot-advancing cutscenes. These video clips (over an hour's worth) were seamlessly integrated with the game and boasted hitherto unmatched production values in terms of CG as well as live-action footage (all relatively speaking, of course- the video looks crude by today's standards but at least it was full-screen and wasn't bookended by loading pauses). There were no big-name actors just yet, but the presentation still had a great impact.

The setting was transposed from the sci-fi fantasy of Frank Herbert's books to a near-future Earth. Spice was replaced with an alien crystalline plant colony called Tiberium, which served as a commodity and energy source for the players' forces. It was however highly toxic, and was inexorably spreading to cover vast tracts of the Earth's surface. The states of the free world put their trust into a military organisation called GDI (Global Defense Initiative) to ensure that Tiberium was distributed fairly. However, a religious/terrorist cult called the Brotherhood of Nod instigated a territorial war with the GDI on behalf of corrupt governments and to harness Tiberium to their own nefarious ends. You could play through the game from the perspective of either side (2 CDs).

The top-down view and unwieldy menu screens of Dune II are replaced with a reasonably detailed 3/4 down view (where all the buildings and vehicles are pre-rendered sprites) and an all-purpose sidebar allowing construction and navigation without taking your eye of the battlefield. The commitment to top-notch presentation has since become Westwood's trademark. Even the installation routine was presented 'in character', with an Autodesk Animator-generated futuristic computer called EVA convincing the player that they had linked their humble 486 to a top secret quasi-sentient defence network.

Although most levels involved building up a large base and sending in an army to take out the enemy base(s), there were a couple of missions where you were put in control of a lone commando, who could fight brilliantly and plant bombs in buildings. This idea has been taken up in some form by nearly every subsequent RTS from StarCraft to Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds.

A final point worthy of mention was the music. Encoded as .AUD files (ADPCM encoded wave files), there were tracks spanning several genres, from atmospheric battle chants ("Fight! Win! Prevail!") to strange early-Nineties pop-funk.

The game also supported up to four players over a LAN (I remember playing it many times over a serial link). Although the game was utterly unbalanced and 'raw', it was the first multiplayer RTS and highly addictive.

Command & Conquer has become a highly lucrative franchise for Westwood, with several sequels, prequels, data disks and spin-offs carrying the brand name. The formula has remained successful by catering to the die-hard fans, and by not requiring much more than the bare minimum of entry-level hardware.

Of course, the massive commercial success and creative interest in the newly spawned genre soon meant that every publisher worth their salt was soon trying to clone C&C. Some of these were pale imitations, while others managed to take the genre in new directions (and make the more belated later entries in the C&C series look positively dated). However, even now most RTS games don't stray far from the blueprint Westwood laid down.

The first game in a series of strategy games. Initially, you choose which side you want to support - either the Global Defense Initiative, (GDI), aka the good-guys, or the Brotherhood of Nod, (NOD), aka the bad-guys.

You take control of the battle by means of manipulating soldiers, tanks, etc, and building a base. The further on you get in the game, the more your technology improves, and by the end you can make nuclear warheads.

The aim of the game is simple: annihilate your opponent.

This game is a lot more fun when played against other humans!

Other games in this series:

Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn did for the RTS (real-time strategy) genre what Doom did for First-Person shooters. That is, the game was so darn successful that all the other game companies said "Hey! I wanna make one of those stategy-thingies!"

C&C's main highlights were its superb use of in-game music to create atmosphere (featuring an interactive playlist!), between-mission cutscenes that were well ahead of their time, and the absolutely frigging brilliant installation sequence. I haven't installed a game before or since that put so much effort into impressing you during installation. You were sucked in before you even started the game for the first time.

C&C's downsides included a pathfinding algorithm that could be a little disappointing at times, and a poor sense of balance between the two "sides". The GDI was superior to NOD in the majority of situations, simply as a result of having better units (can anyone say "Orcas"?), and NOD had far more difficult single-player missions. They could have worked on this a little more. For good side balancing whilst maintaining an interesting set of distinctions, see StarCraft, Total Annihilation, and recently, Command & Conquer: Generals. C&C also had a fairly mediocre unit AI. For example, if you surrounded an enemy base with sandbag walls, instead of destroying the walls with great ease, the enemy just got stuck behind them, cutting off their resource collection etc. Many's the time I used "sandbagging" to win single player missions. It's not really a challenge, but has good chortle value. For an example of good, sophisticated AI, see Dark Reign. However, given the amount of new ground C&C covered, we can really forgive the development team for these drawbacks.

Over and above the pros and cons of the game's design, C&C was fun to play, both in single player mode and against other people. That's what really makes a game stand the test of time, and what makes this one a fond, firm favourite for so many strategy gamers.

A Metanode

Westwood Studio's classic RTS series boasts the following entries, expansion packs, spinoffs, and related games: (Not all of them are noded, but I aim to change that.)

The series proper, in the order they were released:

Spinoffs:

Related games (the Dune series of games shares more than a little history with the C&C games):

  • Dune - Not really an RTS, but included here for posterity.
  • Dune II - The first RTS.
  • Dune 2000 - The remake of Dune II.
  • Emperor: The Battle for Dune - Westwood does 3D RTS.

Source: memory and generic mining of various retail websites (e.g. amazon.com)


A Nintendo 64 Game

Looking Glass Studios developed (and Nintendo published) a version of this classic RTS for the Nintendo 64, which was released in May of 1999. Westwood's name is also attached, though I think their involvement was limited to creating the original.

Consoles and real-time strategy games generally don't mix. Moving units is something usually done with a cursor, and moving a cursor is a great deal easier when you have a mouse. However, it is bearable with the N64's analog joystick. The A and B buttons on the controller take the place of left- and right-click (you can even swap them, if you wish); one selects and moves units, while the other cancels any selection you may have made.

The graphics are worth mentioning: Looking Glass completely re-did the graphics into 3D (the N64 being better suited for 3D than for 2D, I suppose), though honestly the only real difference is that the view now has perspective: things farther north are farther from the camera, and therefore look a little smaller. It's actually a very minor visual effect. Also, if you have the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak, you can have more detailed terrain than you could otherwise, but this sucks up the framerate.

Like the PC version, there is no "skirmish" mode (or custom game, or instant action, or whatever you want to call it), and, because this version has framerate problems enough already (the game chokes when a number of explosions are visible), there is no multiplayer mode. The standard single player campaign is there, but it very sadly lacks the briefing movies I enjoyed so much from the PC version (due to a lack of space on the cartridge, I'd guess), opting instead for slideshows with the audio track from the PC movies running over them. The game also includes a new campaign unique to the N64 version, which is a nice touch. The short "teaser" movies (those things which just show units from the game doing cool things) are rendered in-game (there's a 3D engine now, remember?), again I'd guess to reduce the space they use. The soundtrack, as far as I can tell, is here in all its glory. The awesome channel-changing opening movie appears to be gone completely, replaced with something cribbed from the installation sequence of the PC version (those old DOS games could have installation sequences that this modern InstallShield stuff can't possibly match; most games don't even try).

Ever play the version of Red Alert for the PlayStation? That game had a very horrible control scheme. It involved a very convoluted method of accessing the all-important sidebar, wherein all of your build options are contained. This game has a much simpler method: pressing the Z-trigger button will bring up the sidebar, and pressing it again will make it go away. Simple enough. There's also a shortcut: holding Z while clicking on a unit will cause you to start building another of that unit; very very useful for when you're in the middle of a battle.

The R shoulder button cycles the cursor through its various modes: sell, repair, guard, that sort of thing. It also, used in conjunction with the C-directional arrow buttons, can define up to four quick groups, which can later be selected with the C-button you defined it to (it's just like the number-grouping in the PC version). The Directional Pad, way on the left side of the controller, can either center the screen on your Construction Yard (with down) or cause the current selection to scatter in random directions (with right). Various combinations of these buttons, not documented in the game and difficult to figure out without a manual (I bought it used), cover many of the other functions.

It suddenly occurs to me that it would be slightly ironic to play this on an N64 emulator. Not that I endorse the illegal copying of older console games. Ahem.

The game is eminently playable, which is quite a feat for an RTS on a console. However, it is just C&C; moreover, it's C&C without the briefing movies, which add so much character to the game. If you have an N64, find this used, and for some reason would rather have this than the PC version (which is unquestionably better and can usually be found in the used section of your local videogame outlet), by all means pick it up. Or you can save your $10 and get, I don't know, Fallout or something. This game will merely go down as a nice try in bringing RTS's to consoles, but it just goes to show that PC's are just plain better at them.

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