The real-time strategy community can arguably be divided into two separate groups: gamers that learned the ropes on Westwood games and those who cut their teeth on Blizzard games. Although Westwood really started the genre with Dune, in 1994, both companies released their first serious RTS games, Command and Conquer and Warcraft. These two games split the future market right down the middle, due to their different approaches to this newly discovered genre.
Command and Conquer took a "higher-level" view to the game mechanics, by being able to select an unlimited amount of units on the screen at once, group all unit production into a taskbar, incur no set limit to the amount of units per player, and by giving each unit only one function to perform. This design gave players the ability to focus on the big picture of the battles and not worry so much about the minute details. Warcraft, on the other hand, implemented a micro-design, by capping the total amount of units per player, making players click on buildings to produce units, and giving some units multiple abilities.
This made both RTS games dramatically different type in terms of both gameplay and overall strategy, creating almost two distinct branches of the RTS tree. These initial C&C and Warcraft products were then unofficially set as the standard for both companies, and future releases building on what had gone before, and adding some new features along the way.
Being somewhat of a devotee of the Blizzard school of thought, the Command and Conquer series can be somewhat confusing to the uninitiated. It can be tough to get used to the concept of moving entire armies all at once, as opposed to smaller groups at a time, and even something as simple as the placement of the taskbar on the right, as opposed to the bottom, can be disconcerting. My foray into the first Command and Conquer was much like a baby learning how to walk (with a bit more swearing). Generally, before reviewing Westwood games, I have to meditate upon them to get in the Westwood frame of mind: "Left click moves units." "Left click to attack." "Build commands to the right." "Construct power generators." "Don't over produce harvesting units." After a day or two of performing these silent incantations, I loaded up Command and Conquer: Generals and much to my surprise, things had really changed.
An alarm went off when the campaign started and there was no full motion video introduction. FMV has been the cornerstone of Westwood's storytelling tools, usually complete with cheesy dialog, over-the-top actors, and glorious green screens overlaid with CG backgrounds. With Generals, Westwood had finally eliminated this some-what-outdated technique of advancing the plot and instead went with a simple mission briefing and basic game engine video. While this may not be a popular move with the hardcore fans, this method provides a more seamless game experience, as opposed to the sometimes-jarring FMV sequences.
The C&C story begins with China being alerted to a presence of a terrorist organization known as the Global Liberation Army (or GLA). The GLA has been making strides in China to boost their numbers and their ranks are quickly growing. During a military parade, the GLA attacks and decimates the Chinese armed forces, using suicide bombers and Biological Toxin Tractors. China then decides that the GLA must be wiped out by any means necessary and starts an extreme strategic movement to rid their nation of this scourge.
Unfortunately, the story in any RTS game tends to get more boring with each new title. The plotlines throughout the genre have become homogenized, with little variation from title to title. The bad guys want to take over the world and the good guys have to stop them, and C&C: Generals does little to buck that trend. While it would be nice to see more imagination, it's really more like the James Bond movies, and C&C gamers aren't here for the story, but to experience the pyrotechnics and getting into (and out of) one exciting scrape after another.