The next installment of Electronic Arts' Command & Conquer
RTS franchise for PC and Xbox 360, Red Alert 3
, is just about ready to roll, hitting North American retail at the end of this month.
Ahead of the title's release, preview trailers
generated buzz and amusement over one of the game's most standout decisions -- to incorporate real actors
like Tim Curry, J.K. Simmons, Jenny McCarthy and George Takei for hyperbolic cinematics.
In some ways, this is clearly an intentional nostalgic echo of earlier C&C
games, which were some of the first to use high-quality filmed full-motion video in the 1990s.
But why do it in 2008? Gamasutra recently sat down with EA Los Angeles senior producer Amer Ajami and producer Greg Kasavin, who played "a little bit" of a role in the decisions and casting around the live-action cinematics.
"The casting for this game and for our previous game, C&C3
, was kind of a collaborative effort between certain members of the development team as well as PR and marketing." says Ajami -- who explains that there was a "four-tiered filter" in place when evaluating whether or not actors fit the game.
"One, of course, is that we're always after big-name Hollywood stars. And you see that a lot in our game," says Ajami. "We also look for people who kind of have geek cred that satisfies certain members of our audience." Or who don't mind being in something as offbeat, objectively, as Red Alert 3
"But George Takei is a perfect example of that," says Ajami. "He's in Heroes, and just before that, Star Trek."
"We also look for actors who just kind of bring a smile to your face, who might not have starred in a lot of big name movies. We think people like Peter Stormare kind of fit that role."
Actors like Stormare, says Ajami, might not have top-of-your-head name recognition -- "but you'd certainly recognize the face and point to the VW commercials or his work on Armageddon as the cosmonaut there."
"And the last filter, of course is, this being a video game, and a C&C
game, and with a 97 percent male audience, you look to have a couple of hot females in the game," he adds. "We have that with Jenny McCarthy and a lot of our co-commanders as well."
And when actors fit in the "four pillar" framework and have good chemistry with one another, Ajami says, it's a good fit.
But all the familiar faces beg the question of budget -- does the slate of actors affect revenue projections?
"Yeah," says Ajami. "Needless to say... if you take a movie, for example, and you cast somebody big, then your expectations of that movie is going to be higher. While it's to a lesser extent, that does apply to games as well."
"Again, that's one of the reasons why marketing is pretty heavily involved in this, because they know who best to sell our game to and what actor or actress can best speak to that audience."
Kasavin feels the use of actors lends the series a unique appeal. "There aren't a lot of games with live action video anymore," he says. "And in this game in particular, I think we did a lot more than the previous games to inject it into the gameplay."
"It's not just this thing that's off to the side, where you play a mission, you watch a video, and so on, especially since you're playing with these co-commander characters."
Characters seen in missions, then, either get to fight with or against the player. "Hopefully it will help pull the whole experience together again in a unique way to make this game not just stand out from other RTS games, but from other games in general," Kasavin adds.
If it sounds like a "pretty pricey pursuit," that's exactly what Kasavin calls it -- though Ajami points out that it would be even more expensive to do the equivalent of 60 minutes' footage as pre-rendered cut scenes.
Still, says Kasavin, "It must have felt pretty risky for Command and Conquer 3
, since that was the first game in a while to do full-motion video. But, I think, with Red Alert 3
, we felt pretty confident in taking that approach that it would work out well for the game."