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Candid interview with former C&C Developer Greg Black

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# 1JimRaynor Jun 30 2010, 00:56 AM
Former key EALA employee Greg Black provides a candid snapshot of his time at EALA. We get a look at the C&C development cycle, GameReplays.org's importance to EALA and EA's corporate culture of deceit.

During the interview Greg is very critical of his own work and that of EALA. That said, I think I speak for all of GR.Org in thanking him for helping build some games that fostered great competition, intriguing game play and remarkable drama.


1. You worked for EALA and helped develop some Command&Conquer titles such as Tiberium Wars and Red Alert 3. How do you appraise these titles? What do you think about them? What was good?


This is a somewhat tricky thing for me to answer. In truth I was probably the harshest critic of our games on the EALA RTS team. I got started with C&C back in '95 and was instantly hooked. I loved the story, loved the gameplay, loved the setting, and loved Kane (in a totally platonic way). For me C&C was something of a sacred game and I desperately wanted to do the series justice with all the C&C games I worked on. Unfortunately although we had a very talented team of passionate gamers, EA simply would not give us the time we felt we needed to make a truly great C&C game. In the case of C&C:3 our development cycle was something like 11 months. Compare that to Blizzard or Relic who was spending 3-6 years on their RTS titles. Our longest development cycle was 18 months on RA3, but at that time the team was split in half and added another platform (PS3), so the extra dev time was kind of a wash. EA simply needed us to keep cranking out games to keep the LA studio afloat while many its other teams floundered. So to answer your question I was not happy with how C&C3 or RA3 turned out, our games were always rushed, our engine technology aged and degraded over the years, our path finding was horrible, our online implimentations were embarassing, and ultimately our games did not, in my view, live up to the orginal C&C, or RA2, or Generals (which I also worked on but in a very lowly capacity).

I do however have to give credit to the development team. Given the circumstances under which we were making these games, (crappy tech, super compressed schedules) I think what we were able to ship was quite impressive. Unfortunately the gamer who just spent $50 on our games doesn't have any clue how much time we had to spend on them or what the internal politics of EA were at the time, they can only see what is in the box.

2. You were the balance designer for Tiberium Wars and Red Alert 3. You had opportunities to bring some ideas from the fan community to the game directly. What was important and which propositions were taken seriously?

I worked very directly with the community. As many of you probably know we would fly in "pro" C&C players from all over the world to help play and balance the game. In addition to that I would monitor many of the C&C forums daily, especially GameReplays.org, to get the "pulse" of the hardcoore multiplayer community. I took every idea seriously as long as that idea was presented with a logical arguments and reasoning behind it. Unfortunately by the time the community actually knew enough about the game to make suggestions, it was already too late for us to implement them due to our short development schedules and late betas.

My only real regret with the fan-community is that I don't speak/read German and couldn't monitor the big German community sites. I always felt like I was probably missing out on a bunch of great information.


3. Is it difficult to balance a game properly? Were you able to balance out every glaring balance error you saw in the titles you worked on as Lead Balance Designer?

It is extremely difficult to balance a game right. Its not just a matter of finding the proper math, playing the game and iterating on it, but the game design has to carefully account for the balance. If the game is not designed to be balanced, no amount of tuning or tweaking can fix it. Unfortunatly our schedules usually meant we couldn't do any real iteration on the design. We were essentially shipping out "first pass" work as final across all areas of the project, balance and design included. Additionally the schedules precluded us from having meaningful multiplayer betas. This was always a huge source of frustration and disappointment for me. I can not blame everything on time pressure though, Dustin Browder was under similar time pressure with Generals and that game had great multiplayer.

With every game I've worked on ultimately all I can see are it's flaws. Its hard to not look at something every day and just see the problems. Pathfinding and UI responsiveness were the two things that always drove me nuts with the sage engine.

4. Looking back what would you have changed in your work at EALA or CNC. What were your best moments at EALA?

There are too many things to list in terms of what I would have liked to change in our games. I did, however, love working on C&C and had a great deal of respect and admiration for the RTS group at EALA. I think my favorite game to work on, surprisingly enough, was BFME2. It was a lot of fun to be working on a game no one really cared about and just having a good time with it. Working on C&C meant a lot of self imposed pressure and expectations to be met. BFME 2 was just us having fun making a silly game about elves and dwarfs.

5. How were the ideas and propositions of the fan community submitted to you?

I either found them myself while reading the forums, or another team member would find something and bring it to my attention. The community team (Apoc mostly) also gave us regular updates on the community and the hot forums threads.


6. Your departure from EALA was met with great dissappointment by C&C game players and fans. For what reason did you leave EALA?

It was not an easy decision for me to leave, EA is where my career in game development got started, but ultimately I needed to do something new. By the time I left EA many of my good friends from the RTS team had gone. EA had broken many promises to us and was continuing to make bad decisions at the expense of the C&C franchise and over the protests of the development teams. I just needed a break from the EA insanity.

7. Do you miss EALA? If yes, what do you miss most?

I don't miss working at EALA but I do miss working with the people there, and of course I miss working on C&C. My new office is less than a mile away from the EALA campus so I still see it and think about it every day when I drive to work.

8. What do you think about Command&Conquer 4? Many people are state C&C 4 is not a game true to the C&C franchise.

It's unfair of me to pass judgement on C&C4 as I did not work on it nor have I played the final game. I was however at the studio during much of C&C4's development and have played pre-release builds. The important thing to know is that C&C4 was never meant to be a true Tiberium universe canonical game, but rather an experiment in online play. It originally started as out an Asian market online-only version of C&C 3. At some point the company executives decided it made the most business sense to add a single player campaign, call it C&C4, and put it in a box. The team of course protested this change in direction but the decision stood. The team did what they could to make a good game given the realities inside EA, but ultimately it was the product of a dysfunctional corporate culture.


9. How much does C&C and its community mean to you?

C&C has been an immensely important part of my life and its very significant to me personally. C&C is the first PC game I ever bought. The C&C community is the only video game community I was ever active in. C&C is and will always be one of my favorite games of all time. Working on C&C games was like a dream come true (although once in a while dreams can be nightmares )

10. Now you are working with some other famous people at Zygna. Please tell us something about your new job!

Myself and a few other C&C team members opened up a studio in LA for Zynga. We're currently working on an unannounced project for which I am the Lead Designer. Unfortunately I can't say much more than that.

11. Was it difficult for you start at this new developer-studio (Zygna)? How difficult was it for you to introduce yourself to Zygna's people?

As one of the founding members of the studio, and having founded it with many friends from EA, it was not at all difficult starting at Zynga. Zynga is a very different company from EA but many of the people there I've worked with for years so it felt very comfortable.

I've also had a chance to meet and work with some industry legends. Getting to brainstorm with Brian Reynolds for instance (who just released the awesome new FrontierVille) was an amazing moment for a strategy game geek like me.

12. What is the specialisation of this developer-studio? Were your hopes and expectations fulfilled?


Again I must decline to comment other than to say I'm having a good time at the new studio.

13. What are your future plans?

Right now I'm just focusing on my game at Zynga and trying to find good strategy games to play (at least until SC2 ships). One day I hope to open my own game studio, but that's still a long way off I'm afraid.


14. What are you doing in your free time? What hobbies do you have?

I recently started flying Remote Controlled (RC) Helicopters. Its far more expensive, difficult, frustrating, and dangerous than my video game hobby. I highly recommend it!

15. Do you want to say something to CnCSaga.de and/or the C&C Community?

Thank you for all the good times. I had a great deal for affection for the C&C community, even when you were ripping our games apart. I often felt the very same way you guys did about the games we were making and if not for a few lucky breaks, I would have been on your side of the fence instead of on the development team.

Source: CNCSaga Forums


This post has been edited by Ctk: Jul 11 2010, 09:35 AM


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# 2methuselah Jun 30 2010, 01:10 AM
Nice job Jim thanks. Terrific interview by the way kudo's to the boys at CNCSaga.

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# 3Croutonman Jun 30 2010, 02:06 AM
I added the ever so sexy sourcequote code to this.

That aside, it is good to hear from Greg again and even better to see that he shared many of the same sentiments about short dev cycles that many of had as well. You can't blame the buy or the team for lack of trying in the short time frames that were given to them.

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# 4methuselah Jun 30 2010, 02:46 AM
The source code is sexy isn't it? smilie_naughty.gif

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# 5Flopjack Jun 30 2010, 05:11 AM
Glad to hear him let some steam off and share some secrets I'm sure he's wanted to express to the community for years. RIP C&C. sad.gif I've always known it was a time issue rather than a level of dedication that tore apart C&C 3/KW, and that 11 month development cycle comment confirmed it.

Good luck, Greg. I hope I meet you in the industry soon. thumb.gif

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# 6Vitensby Jun 30 2010, 05:59 AM
Hey Greg, all the best but I can only say that half heartedly. I will explain why:

Im sure you have heard something of an NDA, that in almost all cases is binding for years after you have left the company. You clearly have an axe to grind with EALA and I find it ironic that you decline to comment on your new project but openly bash EALA. I worked for Vivendi Games/Sierra Entertainment/Activision Blizzard for 2 years and when I got laid off at the merger end, I didn't feel compelled by ego to bash my former company all over the internet. You have fans and influence sir and this was a clearly stupid move.

You release sensitive information to the cnc rts community like it was yours to give out. You say you care about your coworkers. What a hypocrite, there are still people working there that you had relations with. Their jobs depend on sales of EALA's games. A company who has already cut 30 percent+ of their workforce in terrible economic times.

So you coming to the internet to polish your axe can severely influence these sales and their job. You know this and I know this and that why this whole article is pathetic.

That is a sign of immaturity and as much as reading this article was enlightening, I sincerely hope you get sued because your a traitor to the very agreements you signed with the company that paid you shit tons of money for many years. Pathetic man, revealing sensitive company information for no gain (you have a new job why not just move on???) at all but to polish your axe. FAIL sir, FAIL.

This post has been edited by Vitensby: Jun 30 2010, 06:41 AM

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# 7Trojan. Jun 30 2010, 06:05 AM
Sensitive information?

Apart from a tidbit of details on the total dud that is C&C4, all that was mentioned is common knowledge, Greg just added a personal touch to it.

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# 8Vitensby Jun 30 2010, 06:18 AM
QUOTE(Trojan. @ Jun 29 2010, 23:05 PM) *

Sensitive information?

Apart from a tidbit of details on the total dud that is C&C4, all that was mentioned is common knowledge, Greg just added a personal touch to it.


Common knowledge is one thing, having a respected game developer actually confirm these things to the community is another. Especially a well respected person like Greg Black who I can no longer respect. Ask yourself would he say these things if he was still at EALA and if he did would he still have his job?

There are just some things that are better kept personal. There are some things you don't talk about because its just plain stupid. Unfortunately this guys ego was let out of his pocket and that's why I strongly feel this was a bad move for a person who I actually liked to follow for a long time.

You didn't even lose your job in a time period when 10's of thousands of your industry peers are out of work and struggling to get back into the industry. I know many of these people who are in this position, so I am not your average forum goer, I am someone who is personally insulted that you would do something like this. Again, you left the company which makes parts of this article double pathetic and insulting to the people who work at EALA.

I dont even work for EALA and I was offended by this article for what it stands for, sheer irresponsibility.

This post has been edited by Vitensby: Jun 30 2010, 06:47 AM

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# 9JimRaynor Jun 30 2010, 06:41 AM
QUOTE(Trojan. @ Jun 30 2010, 02:05 AM) *

Sensitive information?

Apart from a tidbit of details on the total dud that is C&C4, all that was mentioned is common knowledge, Greg just added a personal touch to it.


1. during Greg's entire time at EALA he stated did not state "i was dissatisfied the way Tiberium Wars and RA3 turned out".
2. he states he felt he missed out on a lot of good information provided by the german community....
3. his acknowledgement of GR.Org's key role in gathering feedback AFTER his employment with EALA is over indicates it was not just "fan site patronizing blather" but a genuine comment....

this is just after a quick skim through the interview.. i can probably find 10 other new points.... all and all a tonne of good insight that is not "common knowledge"... and all provided from the perspective of Greg Black NON EMPLOYEE meaning we are probably getting something a lot closer to the plain truth.


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# 10JimRaynor Jun 30 2010, 06:52 AM
QUOTE(Vitensby @ Jun 30 2010, 01:59 AM) *

That is a sign of immaturity and as much as reading this article was enlightening, I sincerely hope you get sued because your a traitor to the very agreements you signed with the company that paid you shit tons of money for many years. Pathetic man, revealing sensitive company information for no gain (you have a new job why not just move on???) at all but to polish your axe. FAIL sir, FAIL.


in my article i stated EA has a corporate culture of deceit. i stand by this comment.


EA has broken labour laws in my jurisdiction and has had executives fined and been on the verge of doing jail time. Let's get serious here about EA's track record. Here is just 1 quick example
" had "improperly classified some of its employees, including 'animators,' 'modelers,' 'texture artists,' 'lighters,' 'background effects artists,' and 'environmental artists' as exempt from overtime, and therefore failed to pay those employees overtime compensation.""
http://www.gamespot.com/news/6135106.html

as stated in the interview EA made many promises and failed to deliver to its employees.
EALA made promises about upcoming patches to C&C games. EA later reneged on those promises.
Even these monthly ladder wars , players like DasDuelon are still waiting for their prizes or were required to pay a foriegn duty greater than or equal to the prize amount when they could have just send a Steam Key.

Keyamoon was not given the prizes promised to him for winning a graphics contest.

if EALA did not pay Greg Black him the previously agreed to consideration for his NDA and non competition waiver he can feel free to open his big mouth all he wants.

the agreements with an employer go in both directions and if your employer does not deal with you in good faith then there is nothing wrong with telling it like it is.... just as the employees who were ripped off on repeated occasions by EA for overtime even AFTER agreeing in a court settlement to discontinue the unethical behaviour.

the examples provided i just quickly threw together off the top of my head.
any further research and i can find dozens more examples of unethical behaviour by EA and EALA.

This post has been edited by JimRaynor: Jun 30 2010, 07:13 AM

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# 11Vitensby Jun 30 2010, 07:12 AM
Good points Jim Raynor. Fundamentally, I just don't see what he had to gain by being so gosh darn negative? So why "spill the beans" at all? And that's what makes parts, and I should stress parts of it very insulting.

I mean he cites Blizzard, you know what people do when they leave Blizzard, the last time I saw some Community Managers leave Blizzard they just said their goodbyes to the community in a positive, very humble forum post: "thank you for everything and thank you Blizzard." They leave with dignity not leaving a burnt bridge and a path of flames. Think Greg Gerstmann...and how he left gamespot, even under terrible terms and I don't recall reading him act like this.

It seems like he really hates EALA with a passion, but what he must conveniently forget is he was a part of that place for all those years and had some part in making it what it is. OR supported these things by not leaving sooner when he didnt like things the way they are.

He has only himself to blame for that, I cant look past that.

At one point in my college job years before my wonderful 2 years in the industry, the company I was working for changed to where it was more about the money and the bottom line then the customers well being. And guess what I did Greg, I LEFT.

You knew about this shit for years and stayed there, then you come whining about it after the fact when they arent playing you money anymore to shut it. Your partially to blame even if its only .0000001 percent of the picture. You interacted with the execs you vilify all the time I think its safe to say. So there's another point where your being a hypocrite.

Dont forget you were part of the problem even if you were critical and had no power to change it, you still took your money check and ran to the bank and cashed it FOR YEARS. Your almost as bad as the people you portray to be villians to gamers for that.

This post has been edited by Vitensby: Jun 30 2010, 07:49 AM

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# 12JimRaynor Jun 30 2010, 07:23 AM
QUOTE(Vitensby @ Jun 30 2010, 03:12 AM) *

Good points Jim Raynor. Fundamentally, I just don't see what he had to gain by being so gosh darn negative? So why "spill the beans" at all? And that's what makes parts, and I should stress parts of it very insulting.

I mean he cites Blizzard, you know what people do when they leave Blizzard, the last time I saw some Community Managers leave Blizzard they just said their goodbyes to the community in a positive "thank you for everything and thank you Blizzard."

It seems like he really hates EALA with a passion, but what he must conveniently forget is he was a part of that place for all those years and had some part in making it what it is. OR supported these things by not leaving sooner when he didnt like things the way they are.

He has only himself to blame for that.

if Blizzard treats their employees really really well the result is a happy departure when they leave.
and these employees are far less likely to leak sensitive information when working on top secret projects. Blizzard did a masterful job keeping SC2 secret precisely because they treat their employees so well.

how much money does EALA owe him? biggrin.gif
how about the 2 for 1 stock split promised to employees and then pulled out at the last minute?

also, if he is accurately depicting the corporate culture at EALA there is nothing immoral about what he is doing. the primary blame then lays with EALA for creating this bad culture...
... his comments were not 100% negative...
notice in his descriptions he complimented many community members and the actual team itself.
but if things certain things were bad he said so.
i appreciate his insight into the internal activities of EALA now that he is a non employee.

why shoot the messenger?

Greg Black lives on ... EALA's venture into the RTS genre is now dead.

I'm not saying Greg Black is a saint for providing this interview but he certainly is not evil or immoral either.

This post has been edited by JimRaynor: Jun 30 2010, 07:25 AM

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# 13Flopjack Jun 30 2010, 07:32 AM
Such is the reaction of a fan to see his beloved franchise shred to pieces. There are more than just Greg sharing this same pain. Unprofessional? Probably. Overdue? Certainly.

There needs to be a shift in the gaming industry or we're going to end up like Hollywood. It's becoming less about the games and more about the money. What happens when that goes too far? EA happens. It's better for the industry if companies like that are simply brought down. Or more specifically, those making the shots.

Want to make successful franchises like WoW and Starcraft, EA? Then let the artists and designers do their job. Provide the resources and stay out of the way. And certainly none of this 11 month development cycle and obnoxious slave driver like attitude. Trying to bring back a classic installment of a world class game? (C&C) The attempt was verging on the laughable with no fault of the developers. The blame floats much higher than that.

I for one think this is totally justified and something the community deserves to hear.

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# 14Sweep Jun 30 2010, 08:08 AM
Very informative interview. Quite sincere. I've always supported the notion that EALA consisted of some pretty talented devs. They simply had the missfortune of ending up on the wrong side of the wall. sad.gif

Anyway, good luck, Greg! Hope ithings work out for you. smile.gif

This post has been edited by Sweep: Jun 30 2010, 08:08 AM

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# 15Val` Jun 30 2010, 08:09 AM
Basically he is saying he thinks EA's chain of management is fucking terrible, as its quantity over quality. Im glad that he has the balls to admit it, what a great guy.

EA is easily the worst community supporter out there, this interview just gave me some more inside info.


Couldnt agree more with him how good the original Red Alert was, fuk im gunna go buy it.


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# 16Oreb Jun 30 2010, 08:15 AM
Just to chip in something unmentioned but confirmed by another dev. The reason for these short development cycles and mass-production of games in the end was to make up for where Tiberium the FPS failed in terms of chewing up all their money that they wanted back.

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# 17Jamesy Jun 30 2010, 08:56 AM
QUOTE(Val` @ Jun 30 2010, 09:09 AM) *

Basically he is saying he thinks EA's chain of management is fucking terrible, as its quantity over quality. Im glad that he has the balls to admit it, what a great guy.

EA is easily the worst community supporter out there, this interview just gave me some more inside info.
Couldnt agree more with him how good the original Red Alert was, fuk im gunna go buy it.


To add to that point about EA's management, they allow some studios to have the freedom to create games in however long they like, examples of this are bioware and dice who don't have time restrictions imposed on them and can take as long as they need to make a game with hardly any interference from EA's management/board of directors, whereas other studios like EALA have strict time schedules imposed on them to get games out.

The corporate culture at EA is messed up and i'm surprised that nothing has been done about that yet.

I'm sure if the devs had the time to make the games the way they were meant to be TW,KW and RA3 wouldn't be riddled with all the bugs and balance problems that currently exist in the games.

This post has been edited by JamesOwnz: Jun 30 2010, 09:20 AM

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# 1874 Jun 30 2010, 09:15 AM
Well... that explains a lot.

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# 19Aoenian Jun 30 2010, 10:04 AM
This was top 10 best thing I ever read at this website.

And nice to see he got the same feelings as all other c&c fans. EA totally sucks, and I wish they could change their way to make games. It's never good to just make a quick game.

Like if EA say make Red Alert 3 - you got 1 year, or you get fired... It's not that easy.

If EA did like Blizzard it could be awesome, but it wont not be so.

I hope Blizzard will buy the whole EA company 1 day. smile.gif

Okay, it was nice to read in anyways!

Good luck on your new games, I guess it's already better than whole EA noobcompany!

This post has been edited by Aoenian: Jun 30 2010, 10:05 AM

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# 20JayKay Jun 30 2010, 10:14 AM
Hm.. so how do you call all this? Bad luck for a franchise with so much unused potential?

With a higher dev time for cnc3, maybe they wouldnt have had to rely on sex that much for RA3 to sell at all.

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