The eyebrow raised by Sam Bass, head of story on the Command & Conquer series, points to an epic conclusion. It points to the end of an era. And it points to rebirth. In the fourth C&C strategy game, EA are upfront about ending it all. They're putting a full-stop to Command & Conquer. This will be the last in the Tiberium series, and the last of the games that stars Kane.
But, at the same time, that eyebrow also points to a rebirth of a franchise that has started to turn stale. PC gaming is a very different place to what it was 15 years ago. Game design has moved on. C&C hadn't, until now. The clichés - fixed bases, long supply chains of trucks and harvesters, and epically swift tank matches - are being replaced with a true 21st century strategy game: a 'sticky' online experience that will continue to evolve well past launch. One which players will return to for that extra hit of XP. The team talk about respawning, about mobile bases, about classes. Oh, and Kane will almost certainly die in newly credible cutscenes. For good, this time.
C&C 4 is being produced at EA LA - a stern and anonymous building just off the LA coast. The studio began life as part of Hollywood - the games division of Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks Interactive - but was bought by EA in 2000. The Hollywood connection lives on: the C&C team have their own studio for filming episodes of Battlecast (their multiplayer community TV show) on the ground floor, while above, away from prying eyes, Spielberg still pops in to work on unnamed collaborations.
This is a smart place to be right now: the C&C team is a place of swift promotion and innovation, fully engaged with PC gaming. It's led by the ebullient Mike Gloseki - a man who rearranged his desk and cubicle so that he never has to sit down: his PC is suspended at shoulder level. He, more than anyone else, appears to be the driving force behind Kane's last stand.
"We didn't want to do just another Command & Conquer sequel which ends with an enigmatic fade to white and Kane saying something mysterious. We wanted to really bring that story arc to a close."
It's a complicated story to finish. The mysterious Kane is the leader of an ancient cult called the Brotherhood of Nod. Having designed technologies to extract power from tiberium, the poisonous crystals seeded on Earth by an equally enigmatic alien race known as the Scrin, the Brotherhood aimed to spread the toxic material worldwide. This put them in opposition with the Global Defence Initiative, the military force of the future world government.
Sam continues: "We want to have a lot for our long-term fans, people who've been playing the game for 14, 15 years, and me. But there are people who are not going to want to go back and play Tiberian Sun or Tiberian Dawn and we wanted to make sure there's an entry point so they can get into the universe. We want it to be friendly."
"The game begins in 2062, which is about ten years after the end of Kane's Wrath," Sam continues. "Humanity is pretty screwed. The things that we used to keep the crystals from growing aren't working any more. By the end of 2068 we will have no air, no water. We're doomed and there's nothing we can do about it." This is when Kane steps in. The one common fixture of the series, neither death nor time stop Kane. As Sam puts it: "He's the centre of the universe." He does the unthinkable: he offers the GDI an alliance. He has designed a system to control the growth of tiberium worldwide, but he needs GDI's resources to help build it.