Having an emotional and engaging story requires the characters to be just as emotional and engaging. They have to interact face-to-face with the player, but not be too emotionless nor too over-dramatic - basically, to avoid stereotypes and the "cheesiness" that results from them. An interactive, emotionally engaging, multi-layered storyline will draw players back into replaying the campaign over and over. Different outcomes to a story can help even more.
Full-motion video was always an important part of C&Cs of past. Some might say, Alex, why do you ask for FMVs in Generals? Well, Zero Hour had them, for once, so it’s not that far-fetched, and they are a great way to engage the player into the game. Now, as we know, Generals 2 uses Frostbite 2, which has realistic graphics. Now, that could be a good reason to forego FMVs. However, it would be at least interesting to have the kind of acting and full-motion videos we’d see in past C&Cs done in-game, like with StarCraft II, but with the facial complexity and realism of L. A. Noire's characters or those from the upcoming PS3 exclusive titled "The Last of Us".
BioWare’s always been about having an engaging, emotional story. As a result, Generals would have to go the way of C&Cs 1 through 4 and Red Alert 1 through 3, rather than Generals, Zero Hour or Renegade.
Renegade’s main character seemed to lack emotion and, well, character. Generals had a generic voice, not unlike the “EVA” of past C&C games, give orders to the player. Zero Hour changed that, but did not come close to the engaging, emotional interaction of Tiberian and Red Alert games. We had FMVs, but they were mainly news reports. We did not engage in interaction with the characters in FMVs, they merely recited to us a piece of news. It was merely a one-way, objective conversation. Generals, as a whole, seemed to stay away from the idea of having two-way emotional conversations. Even Generals Challenge, which was more interactive than the campaigns of Generals and Zero Hour, seemed to be based on one-way conversations; Enemy Generals had cheesy lines that served merely as taunts to the player. Additionally, those characters never talked to you face-to-face. You never saw the emotion on their faces when they were talking to you, and never could feel anything for them, be it admiration, respect or hate. They basically never made you feel anything towards them.
Even when there were characters, such as Colonel Burton, Dr. Thrax, The GLA General, Prince Kassad and Black Lotus, none of them interacted with the player. They merely talked to their forces or said something generic so you can recognize them apart from other troops. You were basically told by a generic electronic voice agent to simply lead them or protect them, but never did they interact with you nor tell you, face-to-face, in a cinematic, “protect me, we have to get out of here if we want our plans to bear fruit” or anything of the sort.
This is where Generals 2 should improve. Whether we get FMVs with live action, or realistic in-game cinematics, it would be easier to engage the player emotionally if they had characters talking to them, such as when Kane gives you orders and confides in you in Tiberian Dawn, Tiberium Wars and Kane’s Wrath. You play a character in the game, and the other characters interact with you; You are not just “the player”. You are not disconnected from the characters and what is happening. Some might think this detracts from the larger conflict. However, it wouldn’t be a problem, if simply the larger conflict affected the characters, and the commander/general/terrorist cell leader interacted with these characters and got a chance to feel their own emotions about the entire situation.
There is no need to have cheesy or over-dramatic characters like the wife of C&C4 (which might not go well with players that are married or not ***ually attracted to women). That should at the most be an optional choice, like Commander Shepard’s military background in Mass Effect. The director and the writers should aim for realistic characters rather than over-dramatic characters such as those in C&C4. Marcion in Kane’s Wrath, Ajay, General Granger and Redmond Boyle in C&C3 and Kane in Tiberian Sun and Tiberium Wars are good examples. Characters that are over-the-top, such as Dr. Thrax in Zero Hour, Eva & Tanya in RA3, Tanya in RA2, Kane and Lilly in C&C4, Alexa in KW, McNeil in Tiberian Sun and Kilian Qatar in C&C3 are too satirical or show too much emotion for their role. Leaders need to be objective, not complete badasses, absolute idiots, internet trolls or emotional messes. It is especially shameful when all if not most women tend to turn into emotional messes. The writers should accommodate the characters to be emotional and interactive with the player, but there’s no necessity to go over-the-top to make them interactive and emotional. Movies do not usually do so, and it is why sometimes games are looked down upon; there are far too many stereotypes.
It would also be interesting if there were some kind of moral choices, which could affect your faction’s alliances, affiliation, missions and perhaps even the ending of the game, as BioWare is known for such things.
A good, though perhaps badly-written example for Generals 2 that incorporates my suggestions, would resemble the following:
"- Hey, General, they killed our friends, our families, we can't just stand here and wait for orders from someone we don't even know might still be alive or not!
- I agree, soldier, but we must remain objective on this matter. / We cannot allow our feelings to override our objectivity; we are defenders of society and preservers of freedom. / Absolutely, let’s kill these *******s. "
Finally, it would be good to look for actors who have played military roles and tend to get into character. It wouldn’t be fair to look for unknowns because we do not know them and we have no stereotype of them and because they cost significantly less. Actors with experience tend to do well. While it is not necessary to look for Hollywood celebrity actors such as George Clooney or Tom Cruise, it would very well be easy to look for actors who can get into character and enjoy doing so, without prejudice towards the script or the fact it is a video game. Actors such as Avery Brooks, Jennifer Hale, Robert Clotworthy, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Glenn Close, Tymothy Olyphant, Laurence Fishburne, Alan Tudyk, Ed Norton, Lance Henriksen and Glenn Morshower could all probably fit well into Command & Conquer.
It is not, I believe, the actors who are mainly to blame for cheesy lines, so unknown actors will not necessarily fix the issue, as we have seen with C&C4. It is especially the writing and filming that is problematic, thus one could say too much green-screen, a lack of chemistry between actors, the writers and the director are all at fault for this.
P.S. - It would also be interesting if no character is particularly vilified, sort of like what C&C4 tried to do.
- Immersion; the player feels like an integral part of the story. He gets a sense of accomplishment and feels like he is part of the story.
- The game might be more successful to die-hard C&C fans who did not enjoy Generals and plan to pass up on the sequel.
- The possibility of setting a standard in compelling story-telling in an RTS, a genre which lacks it dearly, and for BioWare to make use of its talent in story-telling.
- Might detract away from missions and players who want to "get to the action". Especially if there is a morality system; skipping it is hard because the mission choices and ending might be tied to it. A solution would be to do a "replay mission" after the campaign is finished or even a different mode, similar to Generals Challenge, which has no story.
- Could over-complicate the storyline and take longer to complete the game.
- Could over-complicate the storyline and take longer to complete the game.