donning the flamesuit, or my review of this series

Hello everyone out there.

Spoilers ahead.

Perhaps it's time I reveal how I found out about Wing Commander in the first place.

When I was in middle school, I found a WC book in the school library. It was the movie novel. Needless to say, I watched the movie soon after, and loved it. It wasn't until I googled the title though, that I found out about the games.

I actually was a little confused, as the ships in WC1 snes looked remarkably different from the movie ships. It wouldn't be for a while that I would discover that many people were dissapointed by the movie. I liked it.

I found out my uncle had several large-floppy WC games. I played almost the entire wc1-wc2 series, and enjoyed it.

Then, I played WC3. I dropped my controller after about an hour. I shut off the game, and only went back to it just to say I beat it. Why did I hate WC3 so much?

Well, it was just too different.

The idea of adding movie-like scenes was a brilliant idea, well-acted and much better than the movie in hindsight, however, the plot of the game itself and the art style got me.

First of all, to me, The WC game series was like playing an interactive comic book. The characters looked like comic book characters, and the art style was amazing.

Most importantly, every last ending event in the game was under my power! It was under my control wether each system in Vega fell or not. The first game and its expansions are the ones i liked the most.

Then comes WC2. Overall, pretty good. This one tends to be the fan favorite because of its new speech pack and stuff. It was pretty good, but we see one problem right away, a new problem I like to call:

The Blair Effect:

The last ship your character served on will be destroyed in the first 5 seconds of the new game.

The Tiger's Claw goes down in the intro. the intro.
In Wing commander 3, the concordia goes down.
and so on.

However, I liked WC2. It was new, and the losses you took just proved it was still a war.

But then there's WC 3. Why don't I like it?

Because the above problems in WC2 were magnified.

You might need to open up TV Tropes to understand, but the first thing they did was stuff Angel in the fridge. Seriously. They killed her off, and she was Blair's love intrest. In the end he ends up with some girl I didn't know from the first game. I thought maybe there was a way to rescue Angel, but there wasn't. There was less control over the game's events than the older games. You can't even save the Behemoth, and it's a ship.

The art change also got to me. Yeah, it's based on live-action film, so you can't have comic-book ships. But, why not simply take the older ones and plate them over with metal instead of green and brown plastics? It made no sense. Granted, the gameplay is great, but the art change got me. It seems that they were changed for realism, but threw out their staple art style.

Overall, WC3 is a great game. But I'd have to say the original game was the best in the series.

Still, I wondered why WC3's events were so messed up. What happened?

Mark Hamill happened.

Star Wars crept into WC3. Let's be honest, the final level is a redo of the death star attack, replacing SW terms with WC ones. although this is like comparing apples and oranges, you should understand this. Mark Hamill is a great actor, but should he really be in a Wing Commander game? Maybe, but only if he doesn't drag SW with him.

In the end, I think the idea was great, but the game put our favorite pilot Blair's life in a downward spiral, leading to his ultimate pointless death in Prophecy, litteraly done just to sweep him under the carpet, an act proving that they were trying to forget about their poor plot choices. Ironically, Maniac is the only survivor from WC1.

In the end, I consider WCStandoff to be my personal ending to the series. Why? Because things turn out well in the end. We don't lose as many characters. We keep the original artstyle, and the plot makes the most sense.

I know alot of people are thinking: "Deal with it", but the truth is, while the games are satisfying, the plot just falls to pieces, and too many changes are made. I'm not mad or upset, but I wish the series had gone differently.

I hope one day Roberts will start over and remake WC1 in 3D. Maybe when he gets back around to remaking WC3, the plot will change enough to satisfy my anger about the events. For now, I'll just deal with it and play WC1.

Thanks for listening.
 

t.c.cgi

Vice Admiral
I think a lot of people prefer the WC1/2 style over WC3/4. It's not exactly something we're going to burn you as a witch for.

As for the style of the ships, I think it's less about making things look realistic (really, the Longbow? the only bomber that looks like a giant freaking torpedo?) and more about the polygon budget they had back then. Making really curvy ships like WC2's and having them look good in a 3D engine would have meant either there could only be three ships at any navpoint or everyone would have to wait a couple years for 3D accelerators and better CPUs & RAM just to load the game.

Compare, for example, WC3/4 with Prophecy. Those chunky fighters and space shoeboxes are replaced with sleek fighters and artsy capships. I would say that if we had a time machine and brought today's technology back to then, the art style of WC3/4 would have been very different.
 

J "Phantom" D

2nd Lieutenant
Okay, while I'm not going to burn you for your opinions, as you are entitled to them, I am going to respond to some of the points you make.

1) The loss of the ship that you served on in the prior game. Yes, it's kind of a cop-out to get you into a new atmosphere, but I think the point is to hammer home to the player that you are in an all-out war where there are many casualties. Despite your best actions, shit still happens. And the only way to have the player connect with the loss of life all around them and understand the great scale of this conflict (since we're not actually in it) is to lose something that means everything to the player. Again, it's done for dramatics and to pull the player into the game and show them the sense of desperation the Confederation is facing (Remember, the Confederation is in VERY dire straits throughout the course of WC3)

2) Change in art style. As stated above the practical reason for the change is because of polygon counts. The in-universe explanation, I believe, is that Confed is running out of top-line fighters and has to revert back to older ones just to keep carriers stocked (If this isn't the case (as I've always assumed it was), I'm sure Loaf can correct me). Again, this is to give a sense of desperation. You're flying these clunky old things instead of the sleek, cool-looking top-of-the-line fighters from the past two games because they're becoming limited in supply. It makes sense when you think about the straits the Confederation is supposed to be in.

3) Mark Hamill. Personally, I thought he did an excellent job playing Blair, and always played him the way I thought he would be. You never see any Luke Skywalker creep into the acting at all (IMO). As for the final run, yes it's kinda star warsy, but would people be saying that if it wasn't Hamill playing Blair? Possibly, but it'd be less pronounced. I don't think Hamill's inclusion influenced the game design at all.

4) Control of the destiny of the war. Yes, in the previous games your performance meant good or bad things. However, the point of WC3 is that the shit is hitting the fan and everything it's all or nothing now. The game has to draw the player into this bleak mindset so that they can accept the things going on around them and connect with the situations. This means that there are no ways to save people/ships because they have to be destroyed to actually create that sense of desperation. You couldn't have honestly believed with all the talk in the previous 2 games about how bloodthirsty the Kilrathi are that Angel would've survived an arenafull of Kilrathi. As for the Beheemoth, I tried desperately to save her as well, but finally gave up after about 100 times and then realized it had to happen and accepted it.

Anyways, the point of this post is to say, I understand your disappointment due to the change in tone, but I personally think it works well in the game. It makes the war that much more personal and engageable. It makes you feel like things are going wrong despite your best efforts (remember 1 pilot can not dictate the course of an entire war) and makes you understand the many choices made in the game.
 

Dondragmer

Rear Admiral
I agree that Wing Commander I was a magnificent game, and some of its best features were never repeated... but that alone isn't reason to hate the sequels.

It's easy to assume Chris Roberts wanted to make our favorite game, and executive meddling dictated otherwise... but take a look at the WC1&2 Ultimate Strategy Guide if you ever get the chance. According to pages 239 to 240, Chris Roberts wanted to have the player flying for a morally ambiguous Empire, and a writer called Jeff George convinced him to simplify until we had good Humans fighting the evil Kilrathi.

Was this a good choice? Chris Roberts' original vision sounds so ambitious that it would probably never have shipped. However, as technology improved, every entry in the series got closer that vision. Those games were both commercial and critical successes, so Chris Roberts' aims were good, and Origin executives were correct when they (mostly) let him pursue them.

If you want a game like WC1, look for an optimistic team of software developers out to make a new game and a new universe. For its creators, WC1 was a vital step... but it was a step towards a different goal, and they're not turning back.
 

-danr-

Vice Admiral
J "Phantom" D said:
Yes, it's kind of a cop-out to get you into a new atmosphere, but I think the point is to hammer home to the player that you are in an all-out war where there are many casualties.

Also consider it from a game design point of view, fans at the time wanted new material, new characters, new ships to fly - it requires Blair's career to be long and eventful just to accomodate all the new themes the designers brought in. A nuked carrier at the start of the game guarantees a new home and colleagues, all fresh for the player.
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
As for the style of the ships, I think it's less about making things look realistic (really, the Longbow? the only bomber that looks like a giant freaking torpedo?) and more about the polygon budget they had back then. Making really curvy ships like WC2's and having them look good in a 3D engine would have meant either there could only be three ships at any navpoint or everyone would have to wait a couple years for 3D accelerators and better CPUs & RAM just to load the game.

This is something of an urban legend; fans have been claiming it forever, but it has never been sourced. BradMick actually went back and recreated the Wing Commander II ships fairly perfectly within the polygon/texture size limits of Wing Commander III a few years back (and the claim fails some other logic tests, too--Wing Commander III *has* rounded-seeming ships... like the Arrow!)

The big thing that changed for Wing Commander III was basically two interrelated things--Chris Roberts had an increased amount of control over the vision and the art team changed significantly between the two games.

The artists who created the look and feel of Wing Commander I and II were experienced Origin veterans, people like Denis Loubet and Daniel Bourbonnais who had previously been doing very different art for Origin's fantasy games. As a result you wound up with a very 'fantasy sci fi' look to the early games.

By the end of the Wing Commander II cycle, though, those guys were moving on and Origin was hiring 3D artists specifically for their new most valuable franchise. (You can see it in the Special Operations disks, where guys like Chris Douglas are just coming up--you suddenly have a space fighter that looks like an F-22.)

... which matched up with Chris' vision for the series. He had always wanted ships styled after modern military weapons rather than what he called the overly 'anime' look in the first games... and now he had a fresh art team who were hired based on their experience doing that kind of artwork. (Really, understanding the degree to which Chris Roberts is a perfectionist is key to understanding a lot of the changes over the series... especially the changing look of the Kilrathi!)

The in-universe explanation, I believe, is that Confed is running out of top-line fighters and has to revert back to older ones just to keep carriers stocked (If this isn't the case (as I've always assumed it was), I'm sure Loaf can correct me). Again, this is to give a sense of desperation. You're flying these clunky old things instead of the sleek, cool-looking top-of-the-line fighters from the past two games because they're becoming limited in supply. It makes sense when you think about the straits the Confederation is supposed to be in.

It's a little hard to pin down.

It's *not* something that the Wing Commander III team decided--for them there was no question... it was simply a case of we're making a new game so of course we're creating a new batch of ships for the player. (Remember, the player who *really really cares* about the details of the Wing Commander fictional world is one in a thousand or ten thousand... the fact that you 'should' still be flying Sabres or Broadswords four years after WC2 was never a possibility.)

In terms of the 'expanded universe' that we all love, the story is more along the lines that all the ships existed at the same time. Thunderbolts and Excaliburs and Crossbows are newer... Arrows and Hellcats and Scimitars are older. Each one has its own background established in various places and it all meshes together rather than having wave after wave of ships replacing each other.



4) Control of the destiny of the war. Yes, in the previous games your performance meant good or bad things.

Honestly, the biggest problem is that Wing Commander *I* dedicated so much to getting this right that no one has ever been able to match it. You end up with a game where some 60% of the missions are various 'losing paths'... and that's not sustainable from a development standpoint.

They had already given up on this by Wing Commander II. It has a lot of losing missions, but they're just mirrors the winning missions with the dialogue tweaked. I don't think it's any more impressive than Wing Commander III, which had both simple (Tamayo-L, Locanda-L) and complex (Delius, Proxima) losing series' available. (And added the moral system for the videos, which was something earlier games didn't manage.)

According to pages 239 to 240, Chris Roberts wanted to have the player flying for a morally ambiguous Empire, and a writer called Jeff George convinced him to simplify until we had good Humans fighting the evil Kilrathi.

You can find Chris Roberts' original pitch for "Squadron" here: https://www.wcnews.com/articles/art20.shtml (I have a nice high res scan of the original docs that Joe Garrity did for the DOSBox re-release of Wing Commander that NEVER HAPPENED FOR SOME REASON that I need to post.)

Was this a good choice? Chris Roberts' original vision sounds so ambitious that it would probably never have shipped.

I don't know, this is the company that went on to publish Cybermage...;)

Seriously, reading through that document it's surprising *how much* of the proposal ends up in later games and other spinoff projects. The 'Terran Empire' morality stuff (which does become the basis for Wing Commander IV's storyline), I think dropping it was the right choice--a big part of the *joy* of Wing Commander I was that it was the first time a game had ever let you really BE Luke Skywalker (heh)... the complexities would have clouded that a lot.
 
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-danr-

Vice Admiral
BradMick actually went back and recreated the Wing Commander II ships fairly perfectly within the polygon/texture size limits of Wing Commander III a few years back

Wow! I'd never seen that update before, these are gorgeous!

bradmicklowpoly4t.jpg
 
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Bob McDob

Better Health Through Less Flavor
I do have to wonder whether these ships would actually work in the RealSpace engine. I remember years ago playing around with 3D modeling, whipping up a Starship Titanic-ship that looked like it came out of Freelancer, posting it to the Freespace (yes, Freespace) modding community and being told that it couldn't work - the two shapes that formed the hull were so widely divergent they'd have to be counted as two different meshes.

The only way we'll know for sure is to actually import them into Wing Commander III (looking at the meshes, the seperate elements is worrisome - I don't think that any of the ships ripped from the game were like that).
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
You know what should be enough evidence that the engine can display things that at least seem like curves? Most of the aircraft in Strike Commander.
 

Bob McDob

Better Health Through Less Flavor
I wasn't saying that it would be impossible to make earlier ships work in III - just that these particular models probably wouldn't, and that they'd look a bit different if the attempt was made.

I went to dig up the Strike Commander screenshots from Mobygames, and for good measure those from Pacific Strike and Wings of Glory (I really wish that a fan portal portal for these games existed) and realized that it would probably actually be easier - stuff like fins could be done with double-sided polys, which are frowned upon today but which early games made heavy use of (Privateer 2 has its fair share of them, and that actually would make it harder to port the models that use them to a modern engine).
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
Oh yeah, Wings of Glory -- if you can have a Zeppelin you can have a Fralthra!

I think we're all getting away from the bigger issue, though, which is that having the same ships as Wing Commander II was never something that was considered (or desired), regardless of how possible it might be (it's one of those things that's so many 'what ifs' away, too--presumably if the WC3 team wanted to have Sabres then they would have updated the engine in a way to allow it, if it wasn't possible in the first place... which it probably is).

Strike Commander... had white F-117s with green spots. Was that a real paint scheme or a Strike Commander thing?
 

Dyret

Super Carrot!
Honestly, I can't say I care as much for WC3 as the other games. Maybe I got to it too late to be able to muster the same nostalgia as most people, but I do have some specific problems with it. I didn't particularly care for the gameplay, but I've mentioned that before, what bothers me the most is the sheer strangeness and incongruence of the story.

On one hand, it tries to be a profound grimdark war drama with humanity on the brink of annihilation and Blair losing people close to him and his sanity, on the other hand it's some crazy sci-fi story about space-hero Blair blowing up planets all over the place while darth spacecat holds an evil monologue to evil henchman about his evil plan to hide the space-hole so no one can fly through it... only the meddling kids do it anyway. Then he eats the girlfriend cause there's no puppies to kick in space... seriously, Kilrathi eating humans are all sorts of horrifying, but in the context it just came across as Thrakhath doing it for 'teh evulz' since that's what he is. I haven't read the novel, it might have been better handled there, and WC3's story overall wasn't bad. WC4 and Prophecy were all sorts of cheesy too, with their space Nazis and bug invasions from science and outer space, but they were so in a awesome, congruent stargatey space-adventure sort of way. WC3 felt like it tried to be two things at once that didn't really mesh.

Also, good to see a fellow troper! :p
 

Dondragmer

Rear Admiral
You can find Chris Roberts' original pitch for "Squadron" here: https://www.wcnews.com/articles/art20.shtml

Seriously, reading through that document it's surprising *how much* of the proposal ends up in later games and other spinoff projects.

Thanks for linking to that; it explains a lot about both WC1 and the later games.

Unlike existing airplane and spaceflight simulators, which show -- at best -- the pilots hand on the joystick, Squadron offers a full-body, over-the-shoulder of an animated pilot. Not only does his right hand steer the on-screen joystick along with your maneuvers, but his whole body moves in response to your actions and the environment.

On the other hand, I'm happy that they discarded this feature. It's also amusing, considering that WC1 was ultimately noteworthy for its moving hand and joystick. Oh, and Chris Roberts invented Enviro-Bear.

In all, a typical run through the Squadron Campaign will involve you in about 12 of the 20 scenarios.

Despite this estimate, WC1 shipped with 43 missions in the Vega Sector Campaign; you play 18 to 24 of them to complete the game. So yes, it's hardly surprising that we never saw such comprehensive plot branching again.
 
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NinjaLA

Alex Von T.
I bet you won't find too many other wingnuts like me.

ones who liked prophecy better than wing commander 3 or 4. but even the worst games in this franchise are better than the best games in most others.. so I can't really complain.
 

Dyret

Super Carrot!
Ouch, yeah, I see what I did there.

When I wrote the intention was 'I totally agree with OP that WC3 wasn't quite up to the other games standards, but I don't believe Hamill was to do blame, but rather the somewhat incongruent story. Anyone else felt like WC3 suffered from trying to be two too different things at once? Of course, WC3 is still awesome, it's just something that's bugged me for a while now. Thoughts?'

Why it didn't end up like that 'on paper' I don't know, but if I ever phrase something like that again someone needs to pimp-slap me.

Gah. :/
 

swaaye

Spaceman
I've played 1-3, 5. Skipped 4 because it seemed too much like 3 to me at the time...

I can't say that I am fiercly loyal to any particular installment honestly. The film taught me that Chris Roberts may have been somewhat unstable all along and that was perhaps why there are inconsistencies with the WC series. ;) Also, too bad Freelancer didn't work out as he dreamt.
 
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