Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day
It's International Talk Like a Pirate Day! ITLAPD is an internet favorite, with all sorts of goofy nonsense occuring every September 19th. Of course, this is nothing new for Wing Commander fans: we've been talking like pirates since the 1993 release of the Wing Commander Privateer Speech Accessory Pack.
Before the advent of CD-ROM technology, the single most expensive aspect of manufacturing a computer game was the number of 3.5" or 5.25" diskettes that needed to be included. By 1990, the development of multimedia elements like VGA graphics, recorded speech and even video were pushing ahead of storage and compression. In only one year, the average AAA game doubled in size... and along with it, the production costs to duplicate and pack so many disks increased significantly.
Origin, never a company to shy away from technological innovation, found itself at a crossroads: creative forces were desperate to improve games with features like speech... but the numbers did not add up. Creative's Sound Blaster was not yet the industry standard and costs were already rising astronomically: the original Wing Commander shipped on three high density disks... Wing Commander II, launched less than a year later, required seven. Adding two or three more disks of digitized speech that much of the player base just did not make sense. And everyone involved could see a future where a game could make use of hundreds of such disks.
How strong were Origin's convictions? CEO Robert Garriott famously penned a letter directly to customers, included with Wing Commander II, urging the early adoption of CD-ROMs. Origin would eventually switch to developing CD-only titles... but that switch would not be possible until 1995. Until that time, the company developed a unique way to add more multimedia content to games without incurring additional manufacturing costs: speech accessory packs which would add several disks worth of spoken material to existing games!
Origin would go on to develop five SAPs, starting with Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi in 1991. The success of this first release, which helped define the Soundblaster card as the industry standard through today, led to packs for Strike Commander (1993), Wing Commander Privateer (1993), Ultima VIII: Pagan (1994) and finally Pacific Strike (1994.) Contrary to popular belief, the packs do not add 'full speech' to the games: the limited number of diskettes meant that speech could only be included during flight and in a select few cutscenes. (Another rumor to squash: there was no speech pack for hte original Wing Commander.)
One fun note about Privateer's pack: the box art specifically shows the game WITHOUT the pack installed! The in-flight subtitles pictured on every screenshot are not available when you have the pack installed... so, while they're necessary to 'picture' what you're hearing, they're explicitly not what you're buying. (There's also some false advertising, especially in the alternate European version: none of the bartenders or fixers have speech added with the pack... this would not happen until the 1994 CD-ROM version of the game.)