There aren’t three words in the English language that could make me happier than when I hear that phrase:
Welcome Back Commander.
I may have ranted on and on a few weeks back about the elation (and nostalgia) I felt at signing up for the beta of Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft but it was nothing compared to what I experienced after creating an ‘Origin’ account and logging into Command and Conquer Tiberium Alliances!
So what is Tiberium Alliances? It’s a browser based Massively Multiplayer Online Real-Time Strategy game (MMORTS?). And why is that so cool? Mostly because I didn’t know they existed until I came across this bad boy (only good thing that ever came from a pop up ad). But really why do I care about this? We’re on an SF website. If I wanted to gush about C&C all day long I should go write for Armed Gamer or somebody like that. Well I think that at the very least, C&C:TA (that’s a mouthful) brings something to the table in terms of community, and role-playing, which honestly, I never thought I’d be all that into. But apparently I am. Let me explain . . .
(Setting – Plot) + Community = Plot?
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no genius when it comes to math but to me, this equation doesn’t seem to make much sense. When I spoke about Hearthstone a few weeks back, it was clear to me that the WarCraft universe was a field rich in lore and character. A most fertile soil from which to create new and intriguing plot developments, twists, disasters, reconciliations etc. And the beauty of it all was that Blizzard took all of those elements and created a card game which was easy enough to understand in its basic form but could become as advanced as you made it. And after a few weeks had passed, I realized that like many games that rely heavily upon Player vs. Player game play, I was soon discouraged by my own general lack of ability and the prowess of those I faced (Wah). Also, in a similar fashion to the multitude of cell phone apps, players can simply purchase more of whatever material necessary to win matches.
The Command & Conquer universe, is a field equally rich in setting. I believe the original C&C dates back to 1995 and subsequent games followed. I joined the fight with Tiberian Sun around 2000 but didn’t stay with the franchise much past C&C Generals. Even so, I was still exposed to 3 (count em) different C&C universes with as many or more plot arcs. Tiberium Alliance stuck with the setting from the original series and as you might expect, involves the Global Defense Initiative (GDI), the Brotherhood of Nod, and a third faction, the Forgotten. The game play is simple in its premise: push back the Forgotten camps into the center of the map all the while building an epic base (or series of bases) with awesome weapons.
It’s still real time, and still a strategy game, but its online component is what really allows Tiberium Alliances to shine. There isn’t much plot involved. Just destroy the camps and push to the center. However, plot gets created, in real time, by the players as they play the game. For instance, it’s encouraged that you join an Alliance (after all it’s called Tiberium Alliance) as quickly as possible. I’m not sure what the other Alliances are like but the community which I’ve joined seems extremely active, and not just in the game. I’ve been playing for about a week, and already they’ve created a logo (which looks surprisingly professional), an out of game forum (which players can use to discuss strategy, set bounties etc.) and a chain of command/governing body with rules and a few laws. What!? Soon we will begin facing off against other Alliances and working our way ever closer to the center of the map. It’s unreal. The craziest part, is that the forum has sound scripts that run on each of the pages and guide you through the site (all created by players). This navigator is its own character and interacts through dialogue with some other voice scripts or characters. Amazing!
What does this mean?
I once heard somebody argue that videogames can never be an art form like painting or literature, despite all the gorgeous artwork, story, music, etc. that goes in to making a game. The argument went something along the lines of: “Well in its basic element, it’s a computer program. All of the responses are scripted and there is no room for interpretation. True art can have infinite interpretations.” Well despite the fact that this answer seems a bit unsatisfactory (after all the words on a page don’t physically change no matter how I interpret them) I think games like C&C:TA are our first big steps beyond that line of reasoning. The amount of options which are open to me, whether it be strategy in taking a camp, or the emotion felt after failing to negotiate terms with another alliance, are only limited to what I can imagine. I’m sure there are other games out there like this, please comment and let me know what y’all think. Thanks!