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Command & Conquer - Origins

Feature: C&C co-creator Louis Castle on the birth of a legend

HOW THE WESTWOOD WAS WON

Will Porter harvests the knowledge of C&C co-creator Louis Castle and stores it in a silo

Before C&C was absorbed into the EA mega-corporation, the company who made it were known as Westwood - founded in 1985 by two chaps called Louis Castle and Brett Sperry. The pair set up shop in a garage in Las Vegas, and 10 years later would create one of the biggest gaming franchises on Earth.

"We had zero business acumen at the time, and when our first cheque to Westwood came to us we had no idea how to cash it," laughs Louis Castle as we chatted with him while preparing this month's C&C extravaganza. "We had never filed to register a company, opened a bank account, or anything like that. I guess you could say we learned how to be entrepreneurs from the very basic stages - as ignorant as you could possibly be."

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From here came a long line of worthy games. "One of the very first games we did as Westwood was a port of a game called The Temple of Apshai Trilogy, and the reason I bring that up is because we implemented realtime gameplay into it," explains Castle.

"Our publisher told us that it was just too difficult for people to understand, and that we had to go back to making it a turn-based strategy game like the original was. So from the beginning we were always looking to make games that had that sort of time pressure in addition to making you think. It's not enough to make people have to act quickly, but they have to think quickly as well."

After this came a deluge of titles - notably Eye of the Beholder (a classic RPG influenced by Dungeon Master) and also fantasy point-and-click trilogy Legend of Kyrandia and the Lands of Lore RPGs. The most direct steps towards C&C came with Dune II.

"The first time we showed that game internally it had wizards and castles," recalls a smiling Castle. "We were working with Virgin at the time, and they said that they had this great IP, Frank Herbert's Dune, and Brett loved the books. So we took the game we were working on and recreated it in the Dune universe.

"It solved one of the fundamental problems we had with making an RTS, which was that we wanted to have a central resource that everybody was fighting over. Dune has spice, which made perfect sense - and it was also used when we came to the idea of tiberium. It became the anchor of the C&C universe because people were arguing over a limited resource that represented wealth and power".

But, for their next trick, they had to create a living world around this soon-to-be-fabled crystal.

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"We wanted to make it a contemporary war for a contemporary world, with contemporary politics." says Castle. "At the time, Brett had said that it seemed to him that the next wars won't be fought nation-to-nation, but fought between Western society and a kind of anarchistic terror organization that doesn't have a centralised government. That's the scariest thing in the world: something you can't actually attack. It turned out to be very prophetic".

Before this unexpected social commentary from a game that contains the macho line "That was left-handed!", came the revolutionary way in which C&C portrayed itself.

"We wanted to make a game that used the things conspiracy theorists suspect," explains Castle. "We wanted players to imagine that their computer at home was a terminal to a real battlefield that communicated directly with your units in the field.

"That led to that whole concept of the C&C game with the commander in control. It also inspired some things that were unique to the game, like the installation software, which was meant to be a piece of software that you used to hack into the military infrastructure."

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