This article has been reposted from RTSGuru.com, which has been decommissioned. I’ll be periodically reposting some of my best writing from that site, in an effort to preserve it. Thanks for your patience if you’ve already read this!
Ah, the Brotherhood of Nod. Easily one of the most famous, or notorious, organizations in RTS history. What RTS gamer hasn’t heard of and either admired or reviled the prophet Kane and his minions? Sadly, nowadays they and their eternal opponents the GDI seem to exist only in the browser as factions in a game that doesn’t very strongly resemble the Command and Conquer most of us grew up loving. Read on to travel down memory lane with us, and revisit the glory days of the Brotherhood as we look at how the Brotherhood has evolved over the years.
The Glory Days – Command and Conquer
Ah, Command and Conquer. The genre was fairly young when this game came out in 1995 (and so was I)! There was no shift (or Alt) queuing for structures or units, fog of war dissipated permanently when revealed, and units had inspiring names like “Chemical Warrior.” But, in reality, there is something a little inspiring about this title, as long in the tooth as it might seem at first glance. It’s the start of one of the most loved real-time strategy franchises out there, and there’s something about the gameplay that is appealing despite it really showing its age. It’s almost… elegant about the design of this game, which boasts some surprisingly complex graphics for a game of its age: the minimap is only activated after the construction of a Communications array, the MCV can unpack into a Construction Yard, and the classic Command and Conquer sidebar is present, though not as full-featured as it becomes in its future incarnations.
Though I pick fun at the unit names in this game, we see here what go on to become some of the iconic units of the Command and Conquer franchise: the Engineer (though this isn’t unique to the Brotherhood, obviously), the Stealth Tank, the Devil’s Tongue Flame Tank, and the Obelisk of Light, just to name a few. These units, along with the aforementioned Chemical Warrior, gave the Brotherhood their reputation for stealth, terror tactics, and brutality that remain hallmarks of their nature to this day.
Getting Hotter – Tiberian Sun
Interestingly enough, the Brotherhood undergoes some major design philosophy changes from the Tiberian Dawn to Tiberian Sun. In some cases, as with the Obelisk of Light, structures become more angular and complex, where in the case of the Temple of Nod and Hand of Nod, we see rounded architecture with angular piping, very unlike their predecessors in many ways. The Obelisk in particular undergoes a sea change: it’s fitted with a large semicircular base that greatly adds to the size of the structure.
In some ways, the unit and structure art is a refinement of that seen in the first game, and in some ways it is a replacement: the Refinery, which in Tiberian Dawn was a generic-looking structure, is replaced with a circular, flame-gouting facility that’s much more up to Brotherhood code. The Power Plant likewise gets a reimagining, and generic walls are replaced with sinister red Laser fencing. The oddest departure is the Hand of Nod. Where in the first game this structure was depicted as a military barracks surmounted by Kane’s hand grasping a globe, the Hand of Nod is much more humble in the second conflict, looking for all the world like a discarded glove.
In addition, the Brotherhood received a whole host of units designed to further differentiate them from the GDI: in addition to the returning basics (including a renamed Chemical Warrior called the Toxin Soldier) hijackers, mobile stealth generators, hunter-seekers, and the first uses of Cyborg technology appear in this game. Here, we see a refinement, rather than a replacing, of the vehicle mechanics from the first game. There are so many new units that it’s hard to compare directly. Do note though that all of the most important Nod units (from a design perspective) are carried over from the first game. Namely, the Stealth and Devil’s Tongue tanks, attack buggy, attack cycle, and even the Nod’s nuke superweapon are carried over from the first game (though this last has a different source than the Temple of Nod).
Them’s Fightin’ Words – Tiberium Wars
I want you to scroll back up to the Tiberian Dawn section for a second, and take a quick look at the images there. You see it too, right? They look very similar to the structures we see in Tiberium Wars. Interestingly, we see here a departure from the unit and structure designs of Tiberian Sun and a return to an aesthetic very reminiscent of the first installment of the series in many cases. We can see this very striking resemblance specifically in the structures which I picture above. (OK, it’s only striking if you look at Westwood’s design intent from Tiberian Dawn)
Once again, we see the gameplay become more complex. Support powers are introduced which do things like jamming the enemy’s radar, drop land mines, summon Shadow Strike teams (unit call in) and, yes, drop Nukes on your foes. This is supplemented by new units not seen in the previous installments of the game, though interestingly, Nod loses its ability to burrow in this version of the game, meaning that the Pavement mechanic from the second game is no longer necessary. Walls, other than around individual structures, are also a thing of the past. In some ways, despite the new mechanics and research, it could be said that aspects of Command and Conquer 3 are simpler than its predecessor.
It’s also in this title that the Nod gets some really interesting and memorable units, notably the Avatar of Kane. I’m not including a picture of this yet (you can see one below). Also introduced in the expansion are super units, like the Redeemer.
The Twilight of the Franchise?
Sorry, I couldn’t resist comparing Tiberian Twilight, which many Command and Conquer fans consider to be an abuse of the IP, with Twilight, which many people consider a gross abuse on the human sensory system. In spite of the comparison, though, I’ll admit that I very much enjoyed this game, and played it regularly.
In many ways, Tiberian Twilight is the largest departure of Nod artwork in the history of the franchise. Even some artwork in Tiberium Alliances (we’ll get to that mess in a little bit) is closer to “true” Nod designs than what we see in this title. Some of the more outstanding departures:
The units in Twilight are much cartoonier, for lack of a better descriptor, than the units in previous installments of the game. Or, at least, than units in the 3rd title of the series. Looking back through the years, Command and Conquer titles have always been brightly colored (with the exception of Tiberium Wars) and a little irreverent. Could these unit designs stand on their own laurels without the gameplay changes which also blackened the eye of this title?
Ultimately, it’s much too late for Tiberian Twilight. The game was never particularly popular, due in part to the departure from traditional C&C basebuilding and its radical design changes, and with the launching of more interesting titles such as StarCraft 2, the community all but dried up. Some people still play it, but there are alpha and beta versions of games with larger communities. And not to say it would have ever been a hit, but the development team was reputedly unable to continue patching or improving the game past a very narrow window. Almost assuredly, additional content such as maps, units, gameplay modes, etc would have given this title a little more oomph.
Still, ingame, the graphics do hold up fairly well.
A Devil’s Alliance
I’d originally set out to include Tiberium Alliances in this list out of a sense of honor to the franchise, and out of interest to see how the units and structures held up, at least across the latest 3 Command and Conquer titles. But in many cases, it just didn’t work very well: there’s no Temple of Nod, the Obelisk of Light is nigh unrecognizable, and the gameplay is just too different to draw real parallels with the other games. In short, and to no great surprise, Tiberium Alliances is a Command and Conquer title in name only. While it contains many of the units from previous titles, interestingly enough including the 4th, it simply doesn’t have that Command and Conquer feel, though in a far different way than the 4th installment.
In some ways, Tiberium Alliances looks somewhat like a combination of the second and third titles, and the sprites do look very good, but like 4, the gameplay just doesn’t hold up. It’s quite good for a browser game, and is apparently being played by a large number of people, but those of us who enjoyed the original or Tiberian Dawn are unlikely to appreciate it much.
Ah, the Brotherhood of Nod. Across 17 years and more than 5 games, not counting expansions, who can fail to recognize your units or structures? Truly one of the most memorable leaders and design aesthetics in all of RTS history, the Brotherhood has lived under 3 game studios (if you count Phenomic) and may yet be resurrected for another title (sadly a planned 2013 Generals reboot was cancelled). Before beginning my research for this article, I had assumed that the first two titles would resemble each other the closest, but when playing I found a lot of visual homage to the original included in Command and Conquer 3. And really, it’s the first 3 titles that are most interesting to compare against one another: Twilight and Alliances are interesting projects but bear little resemblance to what most people think of as Command and Conquer.
Whatever happens to the future of the Command and Conquer universe, we can be thankful for all of the moments we’ve had in the past playing these excellent titles: from the still-engaging Tiberian Dawn to the complexities introduced in Tiberium Wars, we’ve been able to enjoy this vision of the future, and the bitter wars that the Brotherhood fought under the direction of the prophet Kane.