Pak it Up
We recently ran an article running through the history of Electronic Arts' "CD-ROM Classics" line of re-releases. This week, I made a cool discovery on eBay: a bundle containing five of the first wave CD-ROM Classics together in a slipcover. Bundling unsold software in this way has a long tradition; in fact, Origin's own "Ultima Value Pak" (1990) is one of the more sought-after Ultima collectibles! But until today, I'd never seen a Wing Commander (in this case Privateer) re-released in such a manner.
In honor of this discovery, I thought I would put together a quick guide to 'Paks.' What's a Pak? Well, it's a seemingly-intentional misspelling of 'pack' that Origin and later Electronic Arts used to market 'shovelware' budget re-releases. The concept is simple: once a game is no longer selling new copies, it can be re-sold bundled with others in collections (sometimes at a discount.) The sales strategy for 'Paks' really came into its own with the rise of the CD-ROM, which significantly decreased the cost of reproducing older games.
Here we are listing every known 'Pak' that includes a Wing Commander game. Electronic Arts marketed many 'Pak' products beyond those listed, often with themes such as the 'Fantasy Pak' or the 'Sports Pak'... but since they didn't bother to include any Wing Commanders in these, other communities will have to do that research! We've identified eight Paks that include Wing Commander games and there may be more out there... if you know of another, please let us know!
Top Ten Pak (1994)
Notes: The original! The Top Ten Pak is a single CD-ROM with all of the games listed below.
Includes: Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat, Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi Deluxe Edition, PGA Tour Golf, Ultrabots, Kasparov’s Gambit: World Championship Chess, Ultima VII: The Black Gate, SEAL Team, Indianapolis 500: The Simulation, Grand Slam Bridge II, Financial Workshop
Top Ten Pak II (1995)
Notes: Harder to find than the Top Ten Pak. This came in a short 'half box' with multiple CDs rather than a classic 'big box.' Also a rare example of Electronic Arts re-releasing Wing Commander I on CD-ROM (which was problematic from a technical standpoint at this time.)
Includes: Wing Commander Deluxe Edition, Shadowcaster, Michael Jordan in Flight, Grand Slam Bridge II, Seven Cities of Gold Commemorative Edition, Starflight 2, Kasparov’s Gambit: World Championship Chess, Heroes of the 357th, Indianapolis 500: The Simulation, PGA Tour Golf
10 for $10 Pak (1995)
Notes: A spinoff of the original series. Very similar to the original Top Ten Pak, it does notably add Strike Commander to the mix.
Includes: Extreme Pinball, Grand Slam Bridge II, Populous II, Power Poker, Strike Commander, SEAL Team, The Complete Ultima VII, Ultrabots, Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi Deluxe Edition, Chuck Yeager's Air Combat
Top Ten Mac Pak II (1996)
Notes: This Pak contains the Macintosh versions of the games listed AND a copy of the Wing Commander IV demo! It also features an amazing box. Unfortunately, it seems somewhat hard to come by today. We're aiming to track down nice versions of each of these for preservation, and will update the picture when a better copy is found.
Includes: Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, PGA Tour Golf III, Wolfpack, System Shock, Shockwave Assault, Spaceship Warlock, Super Wing Commander, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Peter Pan, Putt-Putt & Fatty Bear’s Activity Pack
Electronic Arts Presents CD-ROM Classics Gift Pak (1995)
Notes: Newly discovered collection of five early CD-ROM Classics in a slipcase. Could there be other CD-ROM Classics Gift Paks?
Includes: Wolfpack, Wing Commander: Privateer, System Shock, No World Order, Kasparov's Gambit: World Championship Chess & Grand Slam Bridge II
Space Adventure Pak (1996)
Notes: EA put out two 'wide box' paks in 1996, both of which included Wing Commander III (the other was the Origin Pak, listed below.) These included the original documentation for each game.
Includes: Crusader: No Remorse, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, Shockwave Assault
Origin Pak (1996)
Includes: System Shock, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, Bioforge
Extreme Fun Pak (1997)
Notes: Although this uses the 'Pak' name, it was actually produced by Apple Computer rather than Electronic Arts! That's right, Apple released a version of Wing Commander III. The Extreme Fun Pak was sold through direct mail and alongside Apple computers of the era... and boy is the artwork from the 1990s!
Includes: Marathon 2: Durandal, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, Flight Unlimited, Panzer General, Entomorph, Diamonds 3D