We're sat in front of a tasty PC rig, opposite Joe Kucan aka the man who's played series villain Kane throughout the entire Command & Conquer series, even directing some of the cut scenes. He is the face of Command & Conquer for all intents and purposes and we're sat right in front of him playing as the GDI to his Nod.
And we're winning! We might actually defeat Kane himself, we think to ourselves. That is until the tide of battle swings during the fraught closing seconds of combat, and Kucan delivers a crushing blow to our remaining ragtag forces. So close.
Later, we sit down again, but in a different chair away from the latest C&C, where the game's producer Raj Joshi joins Kucan to talk all things Tiberian Twilight.
As it turns out though, we ended up talking about everything but C&C 4, going off on surreal, though often hilarious tangents. We tried to stay on-topic, but it was simply impossible and admittedly, a lot more fun to let Kucan and Joshi just talk.
It really doesn't stand up to explanation. You'll just have to read it for yourself.
Strategy Informer: OK. Hi Guys. So we have Raj Joshi, producer on C&C4 and Joe Kucan who plays Kane...
Joe Kucan: Jill Kucan.
Strategy Informer: Jill Kucan, right. That's big news then? The name change?
Joe Kucan: Well, it's not just the name that's changing! There's gonna be a lot of changes, because this is the end of the Command & Conquer cycle, I've got to try a new approach, so my grand re-emergence on the scene as Jill should shock and awe. It's my shock and awe campaign!
Strategy Informer: So this is something for the sequel and so, I take it you're here in London to get the operation?
Joe Kucan: Yes. But don't tell anybody. It's really top secret. I am putting up a poll on the newsgroups so people can vote – should I actually go 36D or 38DD? Once I get the fan input, I'll know which way to go!
Strategy Informer: Can I put my vote in for 38DD, please?
Joe Kucan: Yes! That's the first vote. Is that thing on?
Strategy Informer: Yeah. I'm revealing your secret to the world. A real question now: what's the biggest aspect that you're really pushing for Command & Conquer 4?
Raj Joshi: You know, I think if it's related to Joe...
Joe Kucan: (Laughs)
Raj Joshi: ...nittier, grittier cinematics... a new style of cinematics, moving away from the campy cinematics we'd been using over the past 15 years...
Joe Kucan: (Gets up in RJ's face) How dare you! How dare you, sir! How. Dare. You! I can't believe you'd insult me like that. And to my face too!
Raj Joshi: It's too bad you can't do a scratch and sniff audio portion for this. But the big thing we have for C&C 4 is new mobile Crawlers, which really ties in with the three new classes, which give you a new way to play C&C. You no longer have a static base, it's a movable base and you can come in as any of the three classes that you can change at any one time. It's a really new strategy for play, no longer going after another player's base necessarily. You can kill your opponent's Crawlers and get a big points boost boom to your team, but they can re-deploy and keep the match going. So, it's no longer just going after a player's base and you have everything accessible at any time. You can choose the strategy you want to play – offence, defence or support.
Joe Kucan: And it's a board game actually. They're not releasing it on PCs or any videogame format, which they're not really advertising. But it's purely a board game, so it's actually a totally new way to play C&C. There's six-sided dice, eight-sided dice and for the more advanced players a 20-sided dice.
Strategy Informer: So all the code we've played so far is an elaborate ruse for what is actually a board game?
Joe Kucan: Exactly. This big elaborate, computer-generated demo we've put up has fooled a lot of people, but yeah, it'll be released primarily as a board game. We may port it over to computers later, but the board game is the lead because – and I think EA has made this clear with a lot of their business decisions – that's the way the videogame industry is going. Towards board games.
Strategy Informer: Towards board games? OK. That's huge news!
Joe Kucan: It is big news and I'm happy to be the one to break it.
Strategy Informer: Do you get much input into the game at all beyond the acting stuff?
Joe Kucan: Me? Oh, they run everything by me first.
Raj Joshi: Run being the operative word. We run past Joe as fast as possible.
Joe Kucan: That's right. Because of my carefully worded contract, I get to sign off on everything from the smallest unit design to Raj's salary.
Raj Joshi: We have a special disappearing notebook we give to Joe, so he can write down all of his thoughts and within about ten minutes, both Joe and the pad have forgotten everything that Joe's written down.
Joe Kucan: That's actually true! What was the question? I've forgotten already.
Raj Joshi: I don't think he's asking you any more.
Joe Kucan: I'm sorry, Raj. Carry on with your pre-programmed, planned speech. I'll just sit over here!
Raj Joshi: (in robot voice) I am a talking robot.
Strategy Informer: A question for both of you – what's your favourite single element of the game?
Raj Joshi: I personally like the ability to re-deploy at any time. In previous Command & Conquer games, I was always accidentally selling my MCV, so if I accidentally kill my Crawler, I can still come back at any time and I'm not the best at this game, so I often get taken out, but then I don't have to sit out the match. I can come back in, re-deploy as any of the three classes and get right back into the game. I'm no longer sitting on the sidelines, twiddling my thumbs until it's time for a new match. I really like that aspect.
Joe Kucan: After I've done my work on the game, after the cinematics have been finished, filmed and everything, two-three weeks later, I go to my mailbox and there's this cheque in the mail and it clears every single time! That's my favourite. It's amazing. I don't have to wait. Actually, the cheque that comes is representative of money that I then put into my bank account and use to pay off my huge gambling debts.
Raj Joshi: What he's trying to say is whereas in the past he's used to playing alone, he really likes the fact that he's forced to interact with other people in the multiplayer aspect of our game.
Strategy Informer: It's actually a revelation to me that you're paid by cheque, Joe. I always pictured you being paid with a big briefcase full of gold bars.
Joe Kucan: (Laughs) Gold bars? Oh yeah, it used to be Euros and I'd just roll around in it naked before I ship it off to my favourite charities in Tibet.
Raj Joshi: I don't think Joe's going to be receiving a real cheque from anybody after this! He's asked for some kind of keepsake.
Joe Kucan: They're putting an end to that (Tiberium Wars) storyline, so there's a very real threat of my having to get a job sometime in the future, which frankly scares the crap out of me. I'll tell you the truth – from my perspective, the most fun of working on the game was just the style in which they're trying to do the cinematics. They're a little bit grittier and for me, there's a lot more interaction with other actors as opposed to just talking into a camera, which is a lot of fun as an actor actually: to work with other people. It wasn't fun for the other people because I'm a really obnoxious and not very popular fellow, so they had a horrible time having to work with me. But I enjoyed being let out of the box a little bit and getting to work with other real-life humans.
Strategy Informer: Is it ever difficult to remember where Joe Kucan ends and Kane begins though?
Joe Kucan: You know, it's never difficult because there's nothing but overlap. Kane begins, Kucan ends – we are one. We are the same.
Raj Joshi: Kane's actually a little more popular with the ladies, because he doesn't speak his mind as much as Joe Kucan.
Joe Kucan: But he's taller. Kane is actually taller than Joe Kucan by about two inches.
Strategy Informer: So you're wearing heels on-camera?
Joe Kucan: Yeah. Stilettos actually. Or leopard skin pumps.
Raj Joshi: Joe has really dainty feet. He can fit into a women's size 6, which makes it very convenient.
Joe Kucan: It's true. A really high wind will blow me right over because my feet are so small.
Strategy Informer: So much new information. It's incredible!
Raj Joshi: And none of it's publishable. That's the best part.
Joe Kucan: Or interesting. Neither publishable or interesting, so we're running the gamut!
Strategy Informer: If the current Command & Conquer storyline is ending with the fourth and final chapter in the Tiberium Wars, where is the franchise likely to go next?
Raj Joshi: Well, we really wanted to tie up a lot of the loose ends for the community and one thing I think we're seeing in modern media and something we've embraced, is that all great stories need a good beginning, a good middle point and a good ending, and so we wanted to tie up the Tiberian Saga, but not necessarily close the lid on Command & Conquer. We definitely expect a lot more great RTS gameplay from Command & Conquer in the future, but we just wanted to round out the storyline and especially stop the obnoxiously large cheques that have to go to Joe Kucan.
Joe Kucan: My salary demands were quite substantial, so they're clearly looking for a way to get out from under the huge weight of debt incurred by signing me up. But if you look at the new game, you'll see that it's evolving and storylines are going to have to evolve around what players are expecting from new versions of the game. But my time is done, I am a dinosaur, not wanted , unwelcome and it's remarkable how anxious they are to get rid of me.
Strategy Informer: But you're pretty much the face of Command & Conquer, so there must be a new role for you in the next C&C game?
Raj Joshi: Well, my PR people don't want me to say anything, but there is a new character – Pepe the Clown that Joe's been working very hard with juggling professionals around the world to bring to the game.
Joe Kucan: I was pitching Bobo Monkey Boy for a long time, but I couldn't get the amount of body hair that was necessary. Raj had actually auditioned for Bobo Monkey Boy and his amount of body hair was just right, but unfortunately he doesn't speak orang-utan as fluently as I do, so...
Raj Joshi: I'm still working on my lip articulation. Anyway, we foresee a long future for C&C and we definitely hope that C&C 4 goes on for a long time. There's a lot of online gameplay and we're really trying to get people to work together and to play, so we see a long future with it. And really the crux of Command & Conquer, the core is the gameplay. It's great and we love seeing Joe from time to time, but we really want to push people playing together and see people's concept of an RTS.
A lot of us on the team love playing FPS multiplayer games and you'll see a lot of that coming into our multiplayer aspect. Objective-based gameplay, working together with other people, rather than just that one-on-one stuff. We really want to support tournaments and people playing against one another competitively, like 1v1, but we really want to push more towards multiplayer gameplay. The kind of stuff we see in first-person games is a lot of players working together and they're really getting into that whole community aspect. And the best opponents really in our eyes, is always a human opponent. So getting people to play in that way is really where we see the future of Command & Conquer.
Joe Kucan: We are marketing this game specifically to humans, so the human opponent out there is key. Although there's a feature in the single-player version, where in the past you could skip through the cinematics and just go through the gameplay. In this particular version, you can skip through the gameplay and just go straight through the cinematics and that's going to be a really popular feature (laughs).
Raj Joshi: That's a Joe Kucan mod right there.
Joe Kucan: And I of course have been working on my own personal project, Celebrity Cheerleader Tickle Fight 2000, which EA has just purchased and are demoing way in the back with a private showing. We'll be shooting cinematics for that next week, so we're holding auditions.
Strategy Informer: You must be excited about that!
Joe Kucan: I am physically excited.
Strategy Informer: Have you had much chance to play the new game then, Joe? What do you think of it?
Joe Kucan: Oh, it's fantastic. It's a lot of fun. We've been playing all morning just to pass the time while groups came in and I can say without fear of contradiction that I am the undisputed champion of the game. I beat the crap out of Bryce, I beat the crap out of Raj , I beat the crap out of that IT guy they snuck in on me. I crushed all competition, and I'd like to issue this public challenge to all the Command & Conquer players out there. Any time bitches, I will take you all on and I will not be beat. I will not be beat at the game.
Strategy Informer: Would you like to add anything to that, Raj?
Raj Joshi: Joe Kucan cut his head while shaving this morning.
Joe Kucan: That's what you do when you... oh, never mind...
Interview by Richard Walker
Check back soon for our Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight review.