Command & Conquer and Red Alert going open source for remaster

EA makes the somewhat uncharacteristic move in favor of modding and preservation

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In a move that not many people would have seen coming, EA has made the bold decision to release the source code for the original Command & Conquer, and for the sequel Red Alert. This decision comes as they are preparing a remastered rerelease of both titles, and is intended to bolster the mod community for both titles. By releasing the full source code for these titles, essentially sharing the full inner workings of the game rather than a compiled executable, modders will be able to tinker with all aspects of how the game runs and plays, and will be able to make much more expansive modifications for the games.

The baking analogy would be that typically games are distributed as a finished product, a cake that has been baked and is served on a plate ready to eat. In this analogy, open-source games would be distributed as a recipe with all the required ingredients. This means you can get a better understanding of the baking process, you can substitute ingredients for different ones if you wish, and you can alter the entire recipe if you so desire.

As EA has put it:

“This is a key moment for Electronic Arts, the C&C community, and the gaming industry, as we believe this will be one of the first major RTS franchises to open source their source code under the GPL. It’s worth noting this initiative is the direct result of a collaboration between some of the community council members and our teams at EA. After discussing with the council members, we made the decision to go with the GPL license to ensure compatibility with projects like CnCNet and Open RA. Our goal was to deliver the source code in a way that would be truly beneficial for the community, and we hope this will enable amazing community projects for years to come.”

CnCNet is a fan-made multiplayer implementation for classic C&C games, and Open RA is a fan-made modern reinterpretation of the game engine for classic C&C games. Seeing EA give these particular mods a shout out is very surprising, but certainly a pleasant surprise.

EA is known for being one of the more corporate, cold and calculating of the major video game publishers, a reputation that they have more than earned, so it’s great to see them make a move like this which is great for their players, great for the industry, and great for the legacy of an iconic game series.

The list of games that have been made fully open source like this is relatively short, especially if we’re just looking at historically significant commercially released games. Command & Conquer can now join the ranks of titles like Arx Fatalis, VVVVVV, Unreal, and of course the daddy of them all Doom.

This is perhaps somewhat unique because it’s a massive corporation making this decision, not simply the original creators deciding for themselves. EA could have opted to keep the source code locked up in their vault forever, and no one would have thought any worse of them. Beyond helping modders, this will enable ports of these games to platforms beyond the originally supported platforms, and will even facilitate fan projects to bring these games to future platforms that don’t even exist today, much like how Doom can run on everything from a digital camera to a smartwatch. It’s great for game preservation, as players many years in the future will still be able to revisit these classic games far more easily due to the source code being released.

The remastered collection of Command & Conquer and Red Alert is due out on June 5th, and the Steam page is already up.