Compilation Frustration
By: Adam Faubert

Compilation games can be a funny thing. They’re a prime example of a certain nostalgic feeling that flows through players as they age. The chance to play games from yesteryear creates a spark of youthful exuberance with a chance to gain back a part of their youth. Sonic Mega Collection, Namco Museum, and Midway Arcade Treasures all stand as a testament of the “olden days” of gaming and are a prime example of what can happen when a developer does it right.

When Electronic Arts announced Command and Conquer: The First Decade and their commitment to update the classics to run in Windows XP a shockwave emanated throughout the C&C community. Was it really true? Were the times of shady patches and backdoor work-arounds over? Would the days of a wise-cracking commando that sprinkled the corpses of his enemies with his cigar ashes finally be realized on Windows XP?

Louis Castle, co-founder of Westwood Studios, the creator of the Command & Conquer franchise assured fans that they would. In a podcast on February 2, Castle reminded the masses that while EA wasn’t re-making any portion of the games, it still wanted to communicate the original experience of the C&C games to its fans. There would be no increased resolution, there would be no pixilated re-mastering, just the games as fans remembered them packed with a bonus DVD of fan-tributes and interviews.

“As fans remembered” indeed. It seems EA may have a slightly altered version of the past. Players of the original Red Alert most certainly remember the cheesy, pseudo-serious cut scenes of the game which explored an altered past where Hitler was exterminated and the fate of mid-20th century Europe was fought bitterly between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies. All the fake-Stalin goodness must have slipped the developer’s mind since a certain percentage of purchasers of The First Decade have reported errors in the Soviet faction’s cut scenes, which have made them un-viewable.

Aside from cinematics there’s also one major omission from the compilation pack’s roster—Sole Survivor. The oft-forgotten 1997 release is considered by critics to be the black sheep of the C&C franchise. It was an online-only strategy game where players took control of a single unit and could participate in free-for-all or team-based matches. With play modes like capture-the-flag and football it was a game that became popular to only a few C&C followers. Still, games could regularly be found on Westwood Chat, the early-series main multiplayer hub, well into 2000. Perhaps EA should’ve changed The Decade Pack’s description from “You can collect 10 years of Command & Conquer” to “You can collect 10 years of reasonably-selling and profitable Command & Conquer.” History seems to remember the game being released, but that must have slipped by EA.

But there’s probably a good reason for Sole Survivor’s omission from the pack. It’s the same reason that some fans have reacted angrily on fan sites and the official EA forums. Planet Command and Conquer’s resident tech guru Tim Gokcen summed it up best: “There is apparently no multiplayer functionality in [Tiberian Dawn] and Red Alert.” Gokcen also pointed out that past re-releases of games, like Warcraft II Edition, have featured enhanced multiplayer instead of being completely stripped out like in The First Decade. So Sole Survivor would really do nothing but highlight the fact that the compilation pack features some broken elements.

Multiplayer and LAN matches were a huge reason the C&C franchise skyrocketed in popularity in the mid-90s. Gaming back then was a scene to behold in and of itself.

Empty Doritos bags sprinkled around the floor, spent cans of Mountain Dew rolling about the computer desk as someone yells, “Behold my gigantic phallic Obelisk of light for it has rained destruction upon your infidel horde of GDI tanks!” to his/her buddies in the same room.

The lowly and unarmored Engineer sprinting to a battered Construction Yard for an instant repair, giving one last gasp of hope against a determined Internet opponent.

Seeing for the first time the pure destruction caused by a sneaky deployment of a Commando-filled Chinook in an enemies base as expletives flashed across the screen and were soon accompanied by the deafening boom of an exploding Tiberium Refinery.

Those were the matches that made the Command & Conquer franchise so much fun and to take those away from dedicated fans seems like a sucker punch. Asking EA to go back and change netcode and multiplayer protocols would seem like too much if the compilation itself were not advertised as a way to get the classic games working on a modern operating system. When a claim like that is made it’s assumed that all the features of a game will be working. There’s a lesson here that when companies meddle with their old libraries they shouldn’t be out to make a cash grab or fans will voice their discontent. One angry fan on CNC Den said simply, “They repackaged the same games on a DVD and clicked ship.”

Sure, there’s a third-party workaround that will enable some of the older C&C games to have limited multiplayer functionality, but after forking over $40 consumers shouldn’t have to scavenge around the Internet to find unofficial fixes for their games. EA has confirmed that it has received information regarding all the problems and is currently looking into the matter. However as the ostentatious Commando in Tiberian Dawn often yelled, the release of this compilation pack seems a little “left-handed.”

Related links:

EA Games:
Planet Command & Conquer:
CNC Den: