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.)

Pass the K'ha'haf

You've seen hint books for games, you've seen hint books for series of games and you've seen hint books that cover collections of games on particular consoles... but have you ever seen a hint book for a COMPANY? Better yet: have you ever seen a hint book with a painting of Prince Thrakhath and a basketball player? Well, now you have! Das Electronic Arts Buch by Wilfred Lindo is a circa 1995 German hint book intended to cover multiple games from Electronic Arts (including Origin and Bullfrog.) The book is said to include a special section on the making of Wing Commander and manages to cover Wing Commanders 1, 2, 3 and Privateer! We're tracking down a copy to scan, but for now you can read more about the volume at Kultboy.

No End Run in 2017

Bad news for eBook fans: Baen has published their schedule through December and End Run is still not on it. The second Wing Commander novel was accidentally left off the original schedule because a physical copy wasn't retained in Baen's archives... the publisher intends to issue it when a hole opens on their schedule, but sadly that will not happen in 2017. Here's to hoping it won't be far into 2018! Fortunately, you can find the rest of the Been catalog at the links below!

    End Run
  • Baen Ebook
  • Amazon Kindle
  • Apple iBooks
  • B&N Nook
  • Kobo

Cute Little Mini Ship EXPOSED

Do you remember Wing Commander III's smallest, cutest spaceship? You have to look carefully! The Confederation and Kilrathi transports in Wing Commander III are designed to have cargo pods attached to their latticework. These components change the look of the ship and can be shot off during combat. For some reason, the Kilrathi transports don't ever actually have pods attached in-game... but the Confederation transports you escort do (pictured.) And when you examine the individual cargo tanks and pods you will find included: a tiny, smaller ship! So here's your exhaustive look at the model. Is it a shuttle or lander? A 27th century 'family car'? Some kind of environment pod? Who knows!? (Interestingly, the Wing Commander IV transports don't have pods... making for several missions where you seem to be escorting shipments of nothing.)

In France, No One Can Hear You Scream

Our examination of classic magazine scans continues! This two-page Privateer advertisement appeared in a November, 1993 issue of Generation 4 magazine in France. A similar ad appeared in UK publications, with a somewhat different variant in the United States. Both European versions have the same small error: claiming the game is set in 2670 instead of 2669.

All About My Triangles

The image below is the first screenshot of Wing Commander III's gameplay ever released to the public. An Arrow flies past... a triangular Kilrathi transport. It's a design you know... but it's NOT a ship that appears in the game! (Triangle transports do appear in 'Kilrathi fleet' cutscenes, but they are generally rendered too small to identify at 640x480.)

What happened? For reasons unknown, the Wing Commander III team opted to cut the triangle transport from gameplay and instead use the 'tanker' model that had been created for a specific Behemoth-refueling mission as the generic Kilrathi transport. These 'skeleton' transports became familiar targets...

The triangle transport then immediately started appearing elsewhere. The 3DO port of Wing Commander III restores these noble wedges to their proper place as the game's main Kilrathi transport and the Wing Commander CCG even includes a card of them!

One of the first screenshots released for Wing Commander IV again showed the triangle transport, prompting much discussion as to the role of the Kilrathi in the game. We now know the footage is Melek's 'evidence,' proof that Admiral Tolwyn has been attacking innocent shipping lanes. (Interestingly, transport again does not appear in the game itself... only in the cutscene!)

The triangle transport is still hidden in Wing Commander III PC's files. Here he is in all his glory:

There's even a 'destroyed' version included in the game; unlike other 'lost' ships, the triangle transport must have been fairly close to finished. (Though there's no apparent location for turrets.)

Finally, Star*Soldier managed to name the triangle transport "Dukara," following the 'D' style name for transports introduced with the Dorkir and Dorkathi in Wing Commander I and II (respectively.) Note that the VDU image used in the magazine is NOT the image included in Wing Commander III 3DO.

Look What You Squid!

DefianceIndustries has posted finished screenshots of the next two ships being added to the Secret Ops Model Upgrade Pack: the Terran Confederation F-103D Excalibur and the Nephilim Squid interceptor. There are just two more ships on the docket for the next patch, so once the Orca and the Plunkett are completed there will be a new playable version. We can't wait!

Well we inch ever closer to MUP 0.35a. Tonight's update includes @Dark Sentinel 's most excellent Squid model, and the new F-103D. Both have been converted and are ready for action. So no promises but we should have the next version within 2 weeks. So get ready wingnuts!

Also, a huge thank you to @gr1mre4per for fixing my janky collision meshes on the Cerberus as well as doing the Barracuda and Orca. My collision mesh skills are sometimes suspect. The MUP takes a village. :) Collison meshes and the like rarely get noticed (unless they're totally borked) so if you're enjoying those new capships, thank a reaper!

Wing Commander Sticks With Us

What is there that does not love a crazy, meaningless sticker? Not Origin Systems, that's for sure! In the early 1990s, Origin's manufacturers could barely keep up with demand for new copies of Wing Commander... so instead of manufacturing a single, massive allotment of the games to sell, the production process ran continuously for months after the game's released. One favorite of Origin's marketing strategy was adding different stickers to the packages as time went on... stickers that don't necessarily make any sense! Eagle-eyed collectors have spotted these three, in order of rarity. Most of these were based around cancelling out the perceived fear that you were buying a Shareware game... hence strange references to it being the 'uncut' version (there's no cut version!) Do you have any others in your collection?

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