The Death of Wing Commander
(Die Among Them: The Same Damn Editorial Everybody Already Wrote)
By Ben Lesnick
You all know the argument: "Wing Commander is dead!", "Wing Commander lives!" and so forth. Every wannabe editorial writer and nihilistic teen who needs to rant about something pointless has already said everything there is to say about this subject. If you're not already tired of it, then you haven't been paying attention.
But wait a minute! We haven't heard from me yet -- the nut with the dynamite!
I could rant on the fact that something which already exists can't 'die'.
I could talk about how we, the fans, are keeping Wing Commander alive -- through our projects and our faith and by sticking together until things change.
I could quote Carly, from back in February: "it just doesn't make any sense to say that there will never be another single player Ultima or Wing Commander after the proven successes in that market."
But I won't. Instead, I'm going to tell a story.
Lets go back six years. Origin's big titles are Wing Commander III and Ultima VIII. The former is a huge hit... the latter a flop. Wing 3 earns incredible reviews and sells over a million copies and ushers in an era of full motion video in computer gaming -- Ultima 8 is criticized by the press and fans alike. Electronic Arts, ecstatic at having been first out the gate in what appears to be the new revolution in computer gaming, gives Origin an incredible budget (rumored at up to $12 million dollars) to develop another FMV Wing Commander game within a year. Lost Vale, a planned addon for Ultima VIII, is silently cancelled.
Over the next four years Wing Commander flourished. There were more games, a movie deal, a saturday morning cartoon -- Origin even took a shot at re-vitalizing the unprofitable series of Privateer spinoffs. Then if everything was so great, then what happened? First of all, the formerly lauded FMV turned into a technological dead-end -- to improve it any further would be to negate any potential profits. Secondly, Origin happened across a second Next Big Thing... the massively multi-player game.
After the failure of Ultima VIII, Electronic Arts refused to support more than one development team for the Ultima franchise -- work on Richard Garriot's ninth Ultima sequel slowed to a crawl as Starr Long developed Ultima Online. UO was originally projected to sell only 30,000 copies and last for only half a year -- but it caught on. It was Full Motion Video all over again -- suddenly MMP games were all the rage, and again Electronic Arts was first on the scene. History repeats itself as EA milks the Ultima franchise for all it's worth -- completing the ninth game, planning another online one, releasing a series of books and so on.
The moral of this story is that things change. They weren't making an Ultima game back then, they are now. They aren't making a Wing Commander game now, they will someday. When they do, we'll still be here.