Visual Reference: Wing Commander I Rooms

Following our gallery of Wing Commander II backgrounds, here is a smaller selection of backgrounds from the original game. There weren't as many places to go on the Tiger's Claw, but it's interesting to note they didn't 'double up' on similar places--the Hangar Deck and the debriefing area have separate backgrounds.

Briefing Room:

Debriefing:

Hangar (Medal Ceremony):

Colonel Halcyon's Office:

Officer's Lounge:

Goofballs Battle for the Enigma Sector

Last year, I was lucky enough to take part in a 25th Anniversary livestream of Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi. Unfortunately, if you missed the live showing it has not been available... until now! We've put a copy online for Wing Commander fans who missed out on the event. It's a little over 11 hours long, and if you're brave enough you can start watching below. If the playlist does not continue, you can view it here.

Wing Commander Makes History

It's time for some serious history! The Digital Antiquarian has put together an excellent article titled From Squadron to Wingleader which follows the first half of the development of the original Wing Commander! It's a story hardcore fans are likely familiar with (much is sourced from Mike Harrison's Wing Commander I & II Ultimate Strategy Guide), but it has never been presented in so-compelling a form. Of special interest is the attention to the mood surrounding Chris Roberts' early days at Origin Systems and the story of how he came to become part of the company:

But whatever the relative disappointments, Times of Lore at least wasn't a flop, and Chris Roberts stayed around as a valued member of the little Origin family. Part of the reason the Origin people wanted to keep him around was simply because they liked him so much. He nursed the same passions for fantasy and science fiction as most of them, with just enough of a skew provided by his British upbringing to make him interesting. And he positively radiated energy and enthusiasm. He's never hard to find in Origin group shots of the time. His face stands out like that of a nerdy cherub — he had never lost his facial baby fat, making him look pudgier in pictures than he was in real life — as he beams his thousand-kilowatt smile at all and sundry. Still, it was hardly his personality alone that made him such a valued colleague; the folks at Origin also came to have a healthy respect for his abilities. Indeed, and as we've already seen in an earlier article, the interface of Times of Lore had a huge influence on that of no less vital an Origin game than Ultima VI.

You can find the complete piece here. A follow-up following the game's development from CES to release is promised (and, I add personally, highly anticipated!)

It’s the End of the World as We Know It!

Happy Earth Day, everyone! There are certainly important issues facing the world today… but let’s take a moment to jump forward and see what disastrous await our home planet in the Wing Commander timeline! Soon Earth itself will be in our grasp...

2219 - The Great Pandemics

The Confederation Handbook tells us that in 2219, the first in a series of Great Pandemics strikes. The disease completely destroys Luna Station and results in a 204-year quarantine of Earth itself. Isolated from the expanding solar system, Earth was ravaged by disease and famine, both of which were compounded by a crippled biosphere and a shortage of fossil fuels. Traditional farming became impossible, with the only source of food for the population being self-contained hydroponics stations. The planet became increasingly reliant on the goodwill of the Outer Planets to provide the fuel and material resources needed for these stations, trading cultural resources for unmanned supply drops.

2668 - Kilrathi Orbital Bombardment

Fleet Action tells the story of the ‘false peace’ and a surprise Kilrathi attack that ravages the inner worlds of the Confederation. It’s also the first time in the Wing Commander franchise that we spend any time on Earth itself (though we visit Earth orbit briefly in Wing Commander II and Freedom Flight.) Unfortunately (for Earth in 2668) the story doesn’t exactly leave the planet in the same shape it began: during the climax, a Kilrathi cruiser squadron breaks through the defenses and destroys a host of cities using antimatter weapons. A pyrrhic victory ensues when the cruisers fail to launch their final volleys of Strontium-90-clad weapons which would destroy the planet’s biosphere permanently. Here’s the scene:

"No!"

Doomsday screamed with impotent rage as he saw the heavy antimatter rockets streak away. A light screen of enemy fighters, launched from the cruisers, moved to intercept, and with a wild frenzy Doomsday slashed into them, killing them with a mad insane glee, while behind him, four modified Sabres lined up for the first torpedo launch.

The torpedoes leaped out, tracking in on the first cruiser, and seconds later detonated. Kruger's fighters swarmed in, slamming the cruiser, which appeared for a second to collapse in on itself before bursting asunder. The comm link was filled with mad screams of hatred and rage as the strike team turned towards the other cruiser.

Down in the Earth's atmosphere Doomsday could see pinpoint winks of light as point defense systems fought to knock down the incoming wave of more than a hundred missiles. And then there was a flash of light over the center of the North American continent. It looked like Chicago going up, followed seconds later by a dozen more: Pittsburg, Boston, Miami, Quebec, then across in Northern Europe: Amsterdam, Berlin, Stockholm, Constantinople and Paris. Other flashes detonated over the primary control centers for Earth's American and European space defenses at Omaha, Rio, Tripoli, and Kiev.

2669 (alternate) - Earth Explodes

If you can conquer an entire 11-sector Campaign in Wing Commander Armada then you are rewarded with a blink-and-you-miss-it cutscene of the enemy homeworld… well, exploding. It’s not specified exactly how the Kilrathi blow up the Earth as the result of a victorious Armada round (or vice versa, with humans and Kilrah) but it is likely one of the series’ most unseen cutscenes!

2669 (alternate) - Kilrathi Invasion

If you can’t hack it in Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, you find yourself in an impossible situation defending Proxima and then Earth itself from a massed Kilrathi invasion. And bad news for any Captain Kirks out there: it’s a no-win scenario. The game will continue throwing wave after wave of enemy planes after you until you either eject or die. And you are then treated to one of the coolest losing sequences in history, in which the Kilrathi destroy Washington DC and render Earth an apocalyptic hellscape!

Visual Reference: Special Operations 1 & 2 Rooms

Earlier in the week, we collected all of the 'uncut' Wing Commander II 'sets.' Today we're following up that selection with the new rooms created for the Special Operations addon disks. A key consideration in that era of development was disk space; the mission disks could budget only a small amount of space to add new art content. As a result, each game added one cinematic ship view (the Crossbow and Morningstar, respectively) and one new location. That's the Gettysburg's brig in Special Operations 1 and the courtroom for Jazz's trial for Special Operations 2. Note that Tolwyn's shadow is part of the artwork, making for a somewhat creepy scene once he is removed!

Special Operations 1:

Special Operations 2:

Got Any Brilliance?

In honor of April 20th, here's a quick rundown on some of the recreational drugs of the Wing Commander universe! Blaze up some Arakh Leaves or swallow an Elysium capsule and let's get started...

Brilliance

Brilliance is probably the Wing Commander universe's signature drugs. Introduced in Privateer as a commodity available only at pirate bases, Brilliance is frequently namechecked as 'the' narcotic of the 29th century. Unit cost averages about 200 credits each. Most famously, Privateer features three missions in which the player is asked to run Brilliance from Oakham pirate base for Tayla; if you refuse, the game is over and you can never earn the Steltek gun. As hard as it is to imagine today, this upset a number of fans in 1993 who were not happy to be made to play a 'drug smuggler!' To address the feedback, Origin left a second set of Brilliance runs in Righteous Fire as optional missions.

Ultimate

Ultimate is Brilliance's much harder cousin (and likely named after Wing Commander's famous sister series of CRPGs.) Like Brilliance, Ultimate is available only at pirate bases... but at a much higher cost, averaging around 1,000 credits per unit. It does not appear in any of the scripted missions. Militia and Confederation patrols that scan Ultimate aboard your ship will attack on sight.

Tobacco

Welcome back to one of the oldest Wing Commander message board topics: smoking in WC is illegal?! The answer is yes, tobacco is considered contraband in Privateer and Confederation Broadswords will happily sink your Orion for transporting it... but it's also claerly smoked in cigar form in mixed company by Hunter in both the original Wing Commander and various novels. Perhaps a case where only transporting it is considered a felony?

Warp Steroids

The premiere drug of the Tri-System, Warp Steroids are all over Privateer 2: The Darkening. Warp Steroids (or "WaStes") are taken by humans hoping to improve their physique... with the unfortunate potential downside that overuse can shrink or collapse body parts. The Tri-System seems to be much more lax about drug use: versions of Warp Steroids are manufactured and advertised by large companies (including PumpUp! and Bulge-U-Like) and are not considered black market goods even they are repeatedly referenced as being typical 'party' drugs (used by rock stars and the like.) Perhaps anyone who wants a real trip in the Tri-System needs only to visit Karatikus... (Note that there are illegal drugs in the Tri-System; you are occasionally called upon to destroy pirate shipments of narcotics in booth missions.)

Elysium

Another product of the Tri-System, Elysium was invented and produced by a company called Stapleton Brothers. The drug returns the user to the cognitive state of a seven-year-old, providing a sense of innocent joy for several hours. It is distributed in capsule form, taken two at a time. In the Tri-System of 2790, Elysium was sold on the open market with an MSRP of 35 credits per capsule. Elysium also made its way to the Terran Confederation, where it was available illegally (as of 2701.)

Happy Death

Happy Death originates in Action Stations in an offhand remark by Senator Jamison More about how addiction is an epidemic that needs to be addressed in the pre-war Confederation.

Arakh Leaves

The Kilrathi enjoy a good trip, too! Arakh, introduced in the novel Freedom Flight, is said to be "like catnip" for the Kilrathi. Arakh leaves give a calming effect and are either chewed or infused in a drink. Kilrathi society does not outlaw the leaves--Ralgha even chews them on the bridge of his Fralthi--but it does seem to judge those who over-imbide and become intoxicated from them.

Kilnip

It's not clear exactly what Kilnip is, but the name certainly suggests it's intended for the Kilrathi! It's one of several illegal narcotics listed in the 'Life at Port Broughton' article in Star Soldier, the Wing Commander Arena manual (also mentioned are many of the above: Brilliance, Ultimate, Elysium, Warp Steroids and Happy Death.)

Sorry, Hunter!

Visual Reference: Wing Commander II Rooms

Wing Commander has, from the start, been called an interactive movie... and the team building the games embraced that in many aspects of the production process. For example, all of the 'talking head' scenes in Wing Commander, Wing Commander II and Privateer were constructed just like film shots, with different camera angles and purpose-built 3D environments (or sets!) When playing the game, your eye tends to follow the characters rather than their environments... so this series aims to remove the talking heads and show you just how much detail there is in the background of the games!

Sets in Wing Commander II have three levels of camera angles: an establishing shot (often a door), a wide (which the game calls medium) that shows the full bodies of the characters and then a close-up that would have the face of one particular character. For this post, we've removed the heads so you can enjoy exploring the Concordia yourself!

Barracks, TCS Concordia:

Tolwyn's Office, TCS Concordia: Also used as Tolwyn's office an Earth during the game's introduction.

Bridge, TCS Concordia: The game mirrors the close shot when a second character needs to speak.

Briefing Room, TCS Concordia: The briefing room has an extra 'wide' shot.

Comm Room, TCS Concordia: Also reused as other comm rooms, including at Gwynedd. Note that the screen would normally display an animated message and not read 'DONUT TOUCH!'

Flight Deck, TCS Concordia:

Angel's Office, TCS Concordia: A redress of the Tolwyn set. Angel's office has a second 'wide' that is used when she is debriefing Jazz (as he couldn't attack her if she was behind the desk!)

Observation Lounge, TCS Concordia:

Repair Deck, TCS Concordia: The Repair Deck re-uses a flight deck image for the wide.

Space Station: Used for multiple stations, including Caernavon and Olympus.

Ground Base: These are used for Niven and Ghorah Khar, depending on the series you earn. While they are a redress of the Tolwyn set, they are distinct renderings.

Kilrathi Flagship:

Kilrathi Throne Room: Used on multiple bases. The game mirrors the close when a second character is speaking.

Ship Cockpits:

Wing One Goes Mainstream

Did you miss out on The Fatman's Wing Commander soundtrack, Wing One? Good news: it's now available via mainstream digital music storefronts including Amazon and iTunes. The 27-track album includes all of the music from the original Wing Commander recorded using a Roland MT-32 (plus a few surprises, including a lullaby version of one track and a live recording of the theme from CES!) It's also available for purchase through Amazon's international sites, so no matter where you are you can add a copy to your digital library!


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