Co-Optimus: Was the decision to include co-op in Red Alert 3 present from Day 1? If not, why/when was it added?
Greg Kasavin: We knew early on in the development of Red Alert 3 that we wanted cooperative play in it, and we starting designing our missions around having two players in them from the get-go. We had a hunch that co-op would add a lot to the experience because we've all played plenty of two-on-two matches in all our favorite strategy games, and wanted to bring that feel over to the campaign--and to make a long story short, that's what we did! Creating our missions around co-op play did introduce a variety of new challenges for our design team, but our designers were eager to take on the new approach and were able to use co-op play as a means to create bigger and deeper missions than our team has delivered in the past.
Co-Optimus: What influences did the team have when building the co-op play for an RTS? Did you look at any other genres of games that support co-op?
Greg: As mentioned, our chief influences include all those real-time strategy games we loved playing online with our friends. The experience of being in a pitched battle with a friend on the same team is a lot different from the rather solitary, you-against-the-world feel of playing a strategy game alone. When playing with a friend, there's a little more margin for error since you can help each other out of tough situations. You also get to develop unique strategies that wouldn't be possible when fighting solo. We wanted to take this style of gameplay and hook it into the sort of directed experience that a good RTS campaign can provide.
The guys on our team play a bunch of shooters and role-playing games in addition to RTS games, so some of the great co-op experiences we've had in everything from Rainbow Six: Vegas to Gears of War to Diablo II probably motivated our decision to make co-op play a big part of Red Alert 3.
Co-Optimus: Why do you think we've seen such a resurgence of co-op gaming?
Greg: First and foremost, it can be extremely exciting to play games together with a friend. Not only do cooperative games have the potential to provide unique challenges to players, but there's something naturally satisfying about sharing good experiences with people you like. This is nothing new, of course, so I think the main reason for the resurgence of co-op gaming is overall ease-of-use.
Co-op play has been around for ages and it's always been great. Classic arcade games like Gauntlet and Double Dragon were designed around player collaboration and they've long since proved how fun and intense it could be. Video arcades aren't what they used to be anymore but social gaming is stronger than ever thanks to the Internet. Services like Xbox LIVE and Valve's Steam do an excellent job of letting people communicate around the games they like, and get into games together. As a result, co-op play is back in fashion as one of the most exciting ways of playing just about any action-oriented experience. I don't think co-op is right for every style of game, but for a real-time strategy game like Red Alert 3, it's almost a no-brainer.
Co-Optimus: Command and Conquer games have always been about the incredibly awesome and cheesy cinemas. Do the cinemas make any reference to multiple commanders?
Greg: When you're playing Red Alert 3's campaigns, you're the star of the show, just as in previous games. The characters in the cutscenes address you directly as though you were a commander leading their armies. We do have multiple commander characters for each of our three factions, though, and you'll fight against them both in the campaigns and in our skirmish mode. And if you're playing through the game solo, you'll fight alongside these characters as well, since they'll be standing in for player two. Depending on which campaign you're playing, they're either your friends or your foes. We didn't want you fighting nameless, faceless enemies in this game, and we also didn't want you to feel like you were the only commander on earth, especially given that you can play the whole game with a friend.
Co-Optimus: Are there any co-op specific attacks you can do with your partner? Any cool co-op specific things?
Greg: There are a bunch of ways that players can help each other or combine arms, such as transporting one another's infantry units in your transports or repairing your vehicles in one another's bases. As the Soviets and Allies, you can also build in one another's bases, which naturally allows players to make the choice of setting up their own positions or really digging into one area. In addition to that, there are various unit combinations that are really only possible during co-op play, and some of our missions limit which player has access to which forces, which results in a more-structured form of collaboration between the two of them. Since there are dozens of different units in this game, there ends up being a huge variety of strategies possible when playing with a friend.
Co-Optimus: Can you tell us about a great moment you've had during a co-op play session of Red Alert 3? Something that couldn't happen in a single player only experience.
Greg: The first co-op mission we created takes place in Havana, and without spoiling anything, you end up fighting on two separate fronts. There's a naval/air war and a ground battle happening at the same time, and the objectives are closely linked. One player starts out in the water while the other's on land, and both players have their hands full pretty much from the start. I've played this mission I don't know how many dozens of times on both the PC and Xbox 360 and it's different every time--a quality that was a little scary from a development standpoint but I think makes for a game with a great deal of lasting value.
There was a time really late in the game's development where the designer of this mission and I were playing together on the 360 on hard difficulty for a final sanity check on how hard it turned out. We went into it thinking we were probably too close to the experience by now since we'd played this mission more than any other. But it still felt fresh, even after all those times we played. We switched up our strategy a bit. I was player two and decided to go heavy on a naval-based airforce instead of a traditional navy, while building support vehicles from my teammate's ground base. And we were basically talking through our strategy the whole time, calling plays to each other and whatnot. We had a feeling all through development that co-op was going to be entertaining but it was only at this point, when playing the near-finished experience, that I think we finally understood how it all panned out. A strategy game like Red Alert 3 is pretty open-ended to begin with, and once you throw two players into the mix who can develop tactics and collaborate on the fly, the whole experience feels quite different and even more rewarding.