Happy Holy Day of Acclivity!

Would you like a reason to celebrate? March 23 is the Holy Day of the Acclivity, the most important day in the Pilgrim religion! We thought we’d celebrate with a little background on the origin of Pilgrim (or McDanielist) theology. Strap in, it’s going to be a rocket ride through 24th century history!

What is a Pilgrim?

The term Pilgrim has come to refer to several related, but distinct, groups. Most broadly, it can mean anyone associated with the former Pilgrim Alliance, a political entity which existed from 2325 to 2635, or the surviving culture it created. The term can also be applied to anyone (generally descended from early human space settlers) who carries any of a number of specific genotypes which are beneficial to space travellers or to a small group of militant terrorists who identified with the former Pilgrim Alliance and targeted the Terran Confederation in the mid-2650s (and their sympathizers.)

In the case of this article and holiday, it refers to the religious sense: followers of the writings of Ivar Chu McDaniel, also called McDanielites or McDanielists. While there is a great deal of crossover between these groups, they are rarely all one and the same. In the example of Christopher Blair, he is a Pilgrim because he carries the so-called “Navigator” gene and because, being the son of one Devi Soulsong, he is descended from a citizen of the former Pilgrim Alliance. At the same time, he was not raised on Pilgrim culture or theology (his mother died at a young age) and has no other connection to (or practical knowledge of) the McDanielite orthodoxy (similarly, he was actively involved in opposing the 2654 Pilgrim terrorist attacks and held no pro-militant sympathies.) Note also that while the church historically favored those displaying Savant abilities, they were never requirement to be a believer or a member of "the Elect."

The Origin of Pilgrim Theology

Ivar Chu McDaniel, the founder of the McDanelist religion, was born in 2257 in the Outer Planets of the Sol System. McDaniel was an organic chemist and lay-preacher assigned to the Neptune research station, generally regarded by his peers as a shy academic. In 2294, he began experiencing ecstatic visions, which he believed were prophetic revelations being communicated to him by a divine force who had identified him as a spiritually receptive person living at the very edge of human settlement (Neptune being the most distant human outpost at the time.) From these visions, he came to believe that the Abrahamic apocalypse had already occurred, in the form of the Great Pandemics currently isolating Earth. Humans who had already chosen to leave Earth were the “Elect,” destined for spiritual salvation and divine protection. He further claimed that the off-world colonies were a form of Limbo from which the Elect must escape in order to become fully empowered by the divine presence. Paradise, then, was the rest of the universe, whose dominion was promised to the Elect who could escape Sol. The Elect, he said, must travel to the stars in a “Final Exodus” to achieve spiritual and genetic perfection.

McDaniel initially wrote about these experiences and thoughts privately in correspondence with friends on Mars. These friends were taken with his writing and suggested he collect and publish his experiences. He did so enthusiastically, publishing a book about his experience and then shedding his shy persona to begin strongly preaching his vision of mankind’s “Final Exodus.” The socio-political climate in the Outer Planets at the turn of the 24th century was ripe for exactly this kind of thinking. Earth and the Lagrange transit stations had been quarantined for nearly eight years and had become largely reliant on the charity of the outer planets for resources. The long quarantine meant a cultural divide, with the outer planets developing their own distinct culture distinct from that of the disconnected homeworld. By the time McDaniel was experiencing his vision, there was a strong resentment towards the prosperous colonies and a general feeling among the colony worlds that they should not be so responsible for subsidizing Earth’s fuel and resource needs. Support for McDaniel’s writing and preaching was further ensured in 2304, with the development of the first faster-than-light engine, the Morvan Drive. Why expend resources keeping Earth alive, many reasoned, when they could now go towards interstellar expansion?

McDanielist also saw the rapid development of so-called ‘Savant’ phenotypes among those born off-world as evidence supporting their theology, abilities granted by the divine specifically for those destined to settle the stars. By 2300, McDanielists were referring to Savants (and especially Compasses) as "the Graced" and encouraging research into their abilities. Sloship missions went out of their way to recruit humans with these abilities and the church encouraged them to marry and reproduce. By the turn of the 25th century, Compasses had been divided into the three distinct subsets we know today, Navigators, Visionaries and Explorers.

The Final Exodus

By 2309, the governing body of the outer planets, the Outer Planet Policy Council (OPPC) was under the control of McDaniel’s followers and preparations were made to begin launching Morvan Drive “sloships” to settle distant stars. The first, the Exodia under Hella Ti and a crew of devout McDanielists, was launched on February 19, 2311 carrying McDaniel himself and 1,199 other colonists to settle Sirius A-B. On March 23, the Exodia made the final .22 light year hop to Sirius successfully. The slowship had barely launched its single-person scout when McDaniel felt an overpowering force making him look to the portside, where a glittering blue spot had appeared in space. The spot rapidly expanded, seeming to grow thousands of hostly tendrils until it had become a massive cloud five times the size of the Exodia. Captain Ti ordered scans, but they came back with nothing. The cloud quickly enveloped the ship, and McDaniel experienced a sudden happiness, a disappearance of ordinary human discomforts and a sound of music playing. His final recorded words: “Whatever it is, it’s beautiful.”

Further Pilgrim theology teaches that McDaniel and the crew of the Exodia were translated directly to a higher plane of existence and that McDaniel continues to spiritually direct his followers from this new plain. Surviving McDanielists insisted that leaving the Sol System was the responsibility of the Elect and additional slowship journeys were successfully completed. Colonies at Alpha Centauri, Proxima Centauri, Cygnus and Sirius were quickly established, followed by eight more in places like Tamayo, Triune, Luyten, Faith, Beacon, Promise and McDaniel’s World. By the end of the 24th century, all of McDaniel’s followers, who prior to this point had come to make up 75% of the population of the off-world colonies, had successfully left the Sol System for the twelve colony worlds established as the Pilgrim Alliance. It was around this time that the term Pilgrim came into use, initially referring to those who booked passage out of the Sol System and later coming to refer to all of the Elect. With the practical completion of the Exodus, contact with Titan and Earth was cut off save for the occasional semicovert trading mission and the two cultures continued to move in very different paths.

About The Faithful

Pilgrim culture is very family oriented. One of the first things outsiders notice is that Pilgrims have a distinct manner of referring to fellow members of their family: brotur for brother, sostur for sister, grandsontur for grandson, grandfrotur for grandfather and so on. Brotur and sostur are generally used to refer to both family members and members of the faith. Additionally, the Pilgrim calendar uses family roles to identify days of the week: Broturday (for the day of rest), Proturday (for the holy day) and so on.

The ceremonial aspects of the Pilgrim religion are heavily focused on storytelling. Pilgrims conduct “con/crit” sessions where they act out and discuss elements of their history, such as Ivar Chu McDaniel’s ascendance and the self-imposed exile to McDaniel’s World following the war with the Terran Confederation. The stated goal of these sessions is to, through music and conversation, exorcise ol ideas. The initial induction to the faith takes five days of sessions, with more following as a Pilgrim attempts to gain further connection to the divine. As a result, Pilgrim art is highly musical and dance-oriented, with different dances representing different aspects of the faith. The protur has a troupe of chanters and dancers who help perform these ceremonies, and a variety of special instruments adapted from Earth’s history (including the soultom and soultar, from the drum and guitar.)

Ivar Chu McDaniel’s teachings went beyond the broad belief that terrestrial humans were doomed and that the Elect must be saved through travel to the stars. He adapted Abrahamic traditions as he saw necessary, including attempts to alter the human conception of death. (Pilgrims, for instance, teach that what they call gomuth, murder by death, is sometimes unavoidable and should be accepted rather than feared. This element of the faith is sometimes seen as why it would later give rise to militants such as those that took power over the Alliance in 2615 or those that launched a series of terror attacks on the Confederation in 2654.)

March 23rd, the Holy Day of Acclivity, is celebrated by Pilgrims recognizing McDaniel’s ascension to a higher plane of being. The Pilgrim religion is headed by a spiritual leader, the “protur,” who is similar to the Catholic Pope. For the week following the celebration, the protur travels to a secret retreat known only to himself where he fasts and prays in order to seek communion with Ivar Chu McDaniel and others who have ascended.

It’s All True

The strangest aspect of this Pilgrim history is, of course, the fact that McDaniel’s ascension actually happened. Until 2654, most historians assumed that the Exodia had simply been lost in a gravity well, a fate not unheard of for Morvan Drive sloships. Then, at the height of the Olympus crisis that seemed it might end in the mass destruction of surviving Pilgrim worlds, McDaniel and his crew reappeared, apparently ageless, to complete the Final Exodus. Little is known about what actually lead to this point, but we do understand that McDaniel did not so much ascend to a higher form of existence as he came into contact with a supportive alien intelligence far beyond modern understanding. It is not known if McDaniel’s original visions were a lure or if the Exodia simply happened to encounter this intelligence for the first time at Sirius A-B. In either case, this unknown intelligence (experienced mainly as the color blue to humans) carried the initial 1200 to a star system which would take the sentient species of the Milky Way “a hundred billion millennia” to reach.

On his return, McDaniel offered to evacuate all surviving Pilgrims who wished to leave the galaxy and then insisted to the Terran Confederation’s Senate that his people had no interest in warfare or fighting those who remain. Nevertheless, there is some indication that the ascended Pilgrims will return again in our lifetime… and that there will be war.

Richard Garriott Wrote a Book

Lord British has written a book! Origin founder Richard Garriott's Explore/Create: My Life in Pursuit of New Frontiers, Hidden Worlds, and the Creative Spark was released in January and tells, firsthand, his incredible life story. The book covers Garriott's entire life and many adventures (including, of course, his space travel) but does find time to talk about the early days of Origin and the development of Ultima Online. Any juicy stories about Wing Commander? It is only referenced only in relation to an explanation of why Electronic Arts wasn't interested in funding Ultima Online:
EA gave us the minimal funding, but no other support. We were last on the list to get any resource. We only got to see the resumes of potential hires after every other project had passed on them. There was a reason for that beyond EA’s MMORPG skepticism: When Ultima VIII was published, it hadn’t reached expectations. Instead, our game Wing Commander had become the most prominent money earner for the Origin division of the company. Because Wing Commander was doing so well, and it needed resources, when resumes came into Human Resources that team had first pick. And second pick. So our team became the ragtag group of rejects. We were like the Bad News Bears of gaming.
Want your own copy? The book is available in hardcover and ebook editions wherever books are sold. The Amazon listing is here.

Variants on a Theme

In honor of Mike Winterbauer's Kickstarter we thought we would take a look back through the history of 'that look.' What look? The classic Wing Commander cover art! The original version premiered in 1990 and has been redone in several different styles over the years. Here's a quick tour:

Wing Commander (1990): The original, enduring classic. The Wing Commander cover was created digitally using game assets by artist Denis Loubet. This artwork has been used countless times since for advertising, re-releases, compilations, the official guide and other ports (including the Amiga, DOS/V and SegaCD versions.) The artwork is very true to the Wing Commander experience, although it does have a number of differences from the completed game.

Wing Commander: Freedom Flight (1991) and Wing Commander: End Run (1992): In late 1991, Baen launched a series of Wing Commander tie-in novels which were heavily supported by Origin. It was only logical that the covers should bring to mind the game series. Artist Paul Alexander was comissioned for four cover paintings, the first two of which were patterned after the Wing Commander I art. It's not clear exactly what we're seeing in either image; Freedom Flight may be the cockpit of the Bonnie Heather as it sneaks behind Kilrathi lines... End Run, on the other hand, suffers from the same problem as the Wing Commander II box: the carrier's registry number doesn't match the one in the book (the TCS Tarawa was CVE-8, not 12!) The Freedom Flight cover was also available as a poster; both paintings were reused for the German translations of their respective novels.

Wing Commander (Super Nintendo) & Wing Commander (Super Famicom) (1992): Mindscape licensed the original Wing Commander to adapt as a Super Nintendo game in 1992 (and followed it the next year with a standalone version of The Secret Missions.) As noted recently, the American and European boxes used a new painting by Michael Winterbauer as the cover. In Japan, an entirely different version was created showing a significantly different Hornet cockpit, an exploding Fralthi and a Gratha. Collectors of odd items should note that this artwork was also used on a Japanese phone card!

Super Wing Commander (1994): The last canonical use of the Wing Commander I cover composition was, appropriately, the 1994 remake for the 3DO and Macintosh. This version is clearly a rendered scene rather than a painting of a stitch of existing game assets... but in many ways, it's actually the closest to the original: unlike many of these contenders, it features a Dralthi exploding through a Hornet cockpit!

Unofficial Versions: Sybex's Secrets of the Wing Commander Universe adapted the pose with Drakrhi instead of Dralthi... and even Chris Roberts' latest game, Star Citizen, gave a nod to it in an issue of Jump Point magazine. Know of any other games or products that use the same design? Let us know on the forums and we'll include them in a future post!

We have also collected 'unboxed' versions of several of these pieces over the years, versions that aren't covered by the frame or advertising present in the finished versions. Enjoy!

Laser Gun for Hire

Yesterday, we reported that Wing Commander SNES cover artist Mike Winterbauer has re-launched his Kickstarter project to create a printed art book of his work. The project is going great, already nearing the 50% funding mark in less than 24 hours... and today we can reveal that it turns out Mr. Winterbauer has been proud of his Wing Commander artwork for quite a while! The scan below is from the August 1993 issue of Computer Gaming World. It's a self-published advertisement from the same artist offering his services... and showing the then-recent Wing Commander cover painting as an example. This was not a common tactic at the time at all, and was a pretty clever way to drum up interest for a freelance artist in the era before services like DeviantArt and ArtStation. Pretty neat that the same painting is still loved and sought-after today! (And let's be real here: the cowboy lasso'ing a planet while flying a rocket shark on the surface of the sun is also pretty rad.)

BREAKING NEWS: Game Cover Kickstarter Re-Launches

How do you save the Ralari? You just keep trying! In exactly that spirit, SNES Wing Commander cover artist Mike Winterbauer has re-launched his Kickstarter project. Mr. Winterbauer aims to publish a print version of his ebook Classic Game Covers, Confessions of An Art Junkie, which he released as a free download in 2014. Of interest to Wing Commander fanatics, the book includes several pages on the creation and history of the cover painting (and features a Dralthi on the cover!) He says:

This is the second campaign for Classic Game Covers as the first one came up short of the funding goal. I have lowered the goal and all offerings, including my painting offers substantially! Be sure to check out all the cool new offerings which include a special package for my awesome Wing Commander fans. I have also included many super nice signed prints and printed material as part of the new offers. Scroll down to check out more info and pictures of the new offers! We will succeed in getting this cool book printed with your help!

As he explained, for this second attempt the Kickstarter has been modified significantly, with a much lower $4,800 ask (almost 25% funded in the first few hours.) Most exciting, however, is that in addition to the $35 book pledge there are two tiers with special extras for Wing Commander fans! The $65 pledge includes a signed 14"x20" print of the game's cover painting and the $85 pledge comes with both the large print and a set of six smaller ~7"x10" prints which follow the piece from initial sketch to final box cover. Totally cool!

The campaign launched today and ends on April 18th at 1:03 PM Pacific. Given the level of interest from his previous attempt, this one is almost certain to fund--so let's show the Wing Commander community's support and take advantage of this rare opportunity to buy Wing Commander art directly from the artist! You can read more about the project and pledge here. We will update on the campaign's progress and with some historical background on Wing Commander SNES over the course of the next month.

Pre-Christory

Ever wonder what came before Wing Commander? Chris Roberts sold his first game at age 13, and had released seven games before Wing Commander in 1990! I recently took some time at my day job to run through some of the basiscs of that early history on our weekly livecast... and I'll bet Wing Commander fans would like to see how our favorite games were shaped by Chris' early years, too! Here is RSI Museum presents Pre-Christory, an Origin Story:

False Alarm: Book 7 Pre-Orders

The ebook release of Wing Commander: False Colors is less than three weeks away and the first pre-order options have just launched! Amazon and Apple are now listing the book, with Barnes and Noble and Kobo still in a holding pattern. We will update the chart below when the other options come online... but for now, get your Kindles and iPads ready to read a great Wing Commander novel!

You can also pre-order directly from Baen as part of their 'April 2017 Monthly Baen Bundle.' The monthly bundles are a special deal Baen runs that include all the books the company publishes in a given month. They're only available as pre-orders, so if you're interested pick up a copy before the book's April 4th release date. The bundle release will also give you access to the first three quarters of the book immediately, DRM-free. Grab it here!

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

Leading Different Boxes

Hey, that's not how I remember it! Did you know that four Wing Commander games had significantly different box covers in Europe? While the original boxes were designed by Origin, Electronic Arts had regional marketing departments which would then adapt and change designs when they believed it would better suit a different audience. Many wingnuts don't know that multiple boxes exist... so here's a quick visual guide!

For Wing Commander IV, Origin went with a very distinctive box intended to catch eyes at retail. It is larger than usual, red and features markings that suggest it may be an in-lore artifact. When the slipcover is removed, the small key art is replaced by a simple Black Lance symbol. In Europe, Electronic Arts' local publishing arm opted to be much more conservative, developing a traditional black game box that is very much patterned after what was used for Wing Commander III.

The Darkening, released the next year, is the reverse: "Origin UK" (later Warthog) developed a surreal advertising campaign with a distinctive 'eye' box. That was apparently considered a little too 'weird' for American audiences, and a more traditional space painting was commissioned for the US release.

The Privateer speech pack had a makeover for its European release. The reason for the change is clear, as the changed screenshots are much more diverse and exciting in the second version... the only problem is that most of them are parts of the game that do NOT have speech added (remember, full speech didn't happen until the CD-ROM release... the speech pack adds only in-flight dialog. Interestingly, to meet the challenge of how to 'picture' speech, both versions of the expansion exclusively use screenshots where the pack is NOT installed!)

Finally, Righteous Fire had a cool, distinct piece of artwork for the original release that displays the surplus Salthi that figure heavily into the plot. Europe ended up with a far less interesting version: the original Privateer art with a new set of titles. Is this laziness? No, it's branding: EA thought it very important to keep the 'Wing Commander' of the original game in the UK, France and Germany.

Did your region have an 'uncommon' Wing Commander box? Let us know on the forums and we'll feature it in a future article!

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