Some (Hopefully) Constructive Criticism [some spoilers]


Rogue Leader
It took me several months to get into it (busy with other things, previously), but I’m finally playing Saga’s Darkest Dawn campaign. I must say, it’s quite fun – it’s refreshing to be playing something close to the original Wing Commander experience, yet still be new to me (in the sense that I don’t know what to expect, taking each mission one at a time). Here are a few thoughts I have on the game so far, I’ve only just finished the liberation of Cairo. (I haven’t been keeping up-to-date with the other discussions on the project since its release and I also know very little of the behind-the-scenes politics, so consider this an outsider’s opinion from a random WC fan.)

What works well:
  • Capital ships! I suppose this is one of the strengths of the underlying engine. I know the original Wing Commanders focused on fighter pilots and, in particular, making a hero of the player character, but big fleet actions give a greater sense of the immense scale of the war. I think Prophecy and Secret Ops were leaning towards this direction, but this takes it a step further. Only slight downside to this, sometimes I find friendly ships tear through the enemy too fast and I only have a small part to play in the overall battle (which makes sense from a ‘realistic’ point-of-view). For example, liberation of Cairo: I only took down a couple of Zartoths and the heavy carrier, the numerous other Confed wings + the incoming capital ship missiles made short work of the escort capital ships and their fighters.
  • Voices: The voice actresses for Commander Sweeney and Lieutenant Hasselbeck are pleasant to hear, in my opinion, and not just because of the ‘novelty’ of having a female voice – their characters are well presented, too. But, really, for the most part I found the voice casting to be really well done, especially the senior officers. Captain Moran sounds suitably aged (even if he had a couple of odd pronunciations here and there) and the squadron commanders’ voices also sounded strong and mature, befitting veteran pilots. The voice actor for Ramius even sounds like he has a news reader background, with some of the unusual emphasis he puts on his words. Compilation of the lines was also done well, everything seems to flow, which can’t have been easy when (I presume) the lines were recorded individually, without knowing how the other characters would sound. I only have one major complaint about the voices, which I’ll mention later.
  • Ties to Wing Commander III: It’s really fun having Darkest Dawn as a window into another part of the Confederation war effort, yet still maintaining links to WC3 via references to the TCS Victory and her battle group. Having a role in the support of the Behemoth as well as assisting the Victory’s incursion into Alcor reminds me, as the player, of Chris Blair’s efforts and how everyone holds but a small role in the grander scheme of things.
  • Briefing videos: Every briefing seems to have a unique animation which must have taken a lot of time and effort. Having a clear view of the squadron commanders helps me relate to their various personalities by having a visual cue to go by. Lip synchronisation also seems to be done very well.
  • Characters: There could be an argument that there are too many characters, but for the core group of fellow pilots that Sandman meets, at least, tend to be memorable because of their wildly different and fun personalities. Some are less pleasant to deal with than others, of course, but you can't have everyone getting along with the player character, I suppose.

What doesn’t work so well:
  • No mission branching: Mission branching, in my humble opinion, is one of the defining aspects of Wing Commander and the linear mission structure in Saga is a bit of a let-down in this regard. However, I do realise this may be a limitation of the engine, or a time/resource limitation on the developers’ part, or both, so I can understand this shortcoming.
  • Scripted losses (spoiler!): Two events (thus far) really annoyed me – firstly, the destruction of Fort Crockett and, second, the loss of virtually all of the Kinney battle group. I realise the need to present major losses to the player as a means of driving the dramatic tension of the story, but the inability to do anything about it leaves me, as the player, dissatisfied with the inability affect the outcome. Of course, I imagine such helplessness like that would happen often in a real war situation, but from a game-player point-of-view, it feels like missed opportunities. Those ‘what-if’ questions of what might have happened if the player had managed to save either of those major assets could be a useful branching point in the mission structure. But, again, I understand the time constraints being an impediment to this option.
  • Game-play balances: Always a hard thing to achieve, but I’m probably just not used to the underlying game engine. I feel as though I’m always running out of gun power (not something I usually experience in the original WC games) and often find myself shifting power to guns just to help bring down the heavier fighters and capital ships. Also because of not being used to the engine, I found myself missing a lot of my shots in the Arrow and Hellcat… but once I was in the Thunderbolt I was raking in the kills compared with my wingmen (at least in those smaller-scale missions where there was only myself and a wingman). I suppose my flying/playing style favours the heavier ships anyway.
  • Afterburners: Another game-play note – the shaking with every afterburner initiation is very annoying. Probably deliberately so, I don't know if it's a pre-defined part of the underlying engine. Not something we encounter in WC, but if it’s meant as a special effect of sorts, it really gets in the way – why not tone down the shaking a bit? If it’s a deliberate mechanism to discourage use of afterburners… well, I honestly don’t see much use in that. Just as well that I tend to use the afterburners sparingly in WC anyway.
  • Miscommunication (spoiler): There was one mission involving the destruction of all Kilrathi encountered in order to preserve the secrecy of a mission. At one of the nav points in this mission, the player is required to destroy two transports fleeing to a nearby jump-point and a wingman orders the player to attack the second transport while he focuses on the nearer one. When I did as instructed, I failed the mission because said wingman failed to disable the transport he said he would attack. What the heck? This was a rather frustrating experience and I’m not sure what the intention was behind this particular piece of dialogue.
  • Bio-weapons (spoiler!): I’m not sure what the intention was for this mission, but the encounter with the Savannah derelict left me confused and in disbelief about being ordered to destroy it. If I understood the dialogue correctly (perhaps I didn't), the Kilrathi unleashed this bio-weapon which killed all but the ten crew who managed to get into bio-hazard suits... but they didn’t want to risk said weapon contaminating the Kilrathi? I suppose I can believe the altruism in not allowing the enemy to suffer the same fate as they dealt to the humans aboard the ship, but it didn’t make sense to me to blow up the cruiser. The crew couldn’t activate self-destruct and there was mention of a bio-hazard clean-up crew incoming, wasn’t there? I also had the feeling of Sandman, as the junior officer, being the one ordered to make the kill so they’d have someone to use as a scape-goat if the higher-ups disagreed with the decision to destroy the cruiser. Overall, a puzzling and frustrating part of the story for me.
  • In-game fiction: Early on, especially in the prologue, there were huge chunks of text to read through to further the story. I don’t really mind this – in fact, furthering the story is one of the main things keeping me playing a given game – but the issue I had here was the very poor choice of font. I understand this may be another engine limitation, but the font and the use of all-capitals made it very difficult for me to read the wall of text presented and almost made me give up and skip it at times. I’m glad I persevered, because it helped explain certain pieces of dialogue, but I really wish it could have been presented in a more eye-friendly format.
  • Sandman’s voice (sorry!): Really, I’m not making a personal attack on the voice actor for Lieutenant Markham, only his performance. I cringe a bit every time the player character says something – perhaps it’s a deliberate design decision (in the sense that the character is supposed to be a ‘newbie’), but Sandman really sounds like a very young, immature teenager which is in stark contrast to all the pilots around him – including fellow rookie pilots. I recall some people being bothered by Steven Petrarca’s Casey, but me, not so much. But Sandman... in this regard, at least, I can see why Greywolf would want to get stuck into the poor lad – he really does sound like an excessively young, all-too-inexperienced pilot who will probably just get killed in the next few sorties anyway.
  • Accent variety: Again on the voices, I noticed a lack of variety in the accents of the characters. To me, another nice aspect of WC (especially in the early games and the movie) is its international nature and having nearly everyone sound the same was a bit of a downer. Of course, I understand you make the best with the limited resources you have, and in this case, those resources are volunteers. On the flip side, I suppose you could point the same argument against the later WC games too, and besides, given how well everyone performed their roles, generally, this is a very minor criticism.

I think that's all I have right now. Remember, please take said criticism in the spirit in which it's given - I'm only trying to help in providing feedback for a project that took many years to complete and the fact that it was completed in the end is an achievement in itself. For all it's faults, I'm still finding it fun and I'm still finding myself looking forward to the next mission... just as I felt with playing the original WC games all those years ago.
Since I talked about it in Quarto's thread it is only fair that I do it here as well. But please excuse me if I don't talk about all the stuff, or only briefly, I recommend to read the first few pages of Quarto's thread instead. Judging by the progress you mention I guess you can read the whole thread until now. It explains some stuff.

Just a few things I haven't mentioned yet (or at least I don't remember mentioning)

Afterburner shake: I agree with you that the shaking effect is too strong for the average WC player since WC has none, for FS2 players it is normal I guess. The good news is that you get used to it, and I also admit that I like it because that way. Afterburners accelerate pretty awesome and that way you feel it. I wanted to change it in my Kilrathi mod, though, to be a bit less shaking, but it seems to be hard-coded in the game engine.

The Bioweapon cruiser mission in the nebula:
Most people I talked to liked that mission because it is a change of pace. It is supposed to feel dramatic that you have to kill your allies on that ship.
The self-destruct device was broken IIRC and the problem why they could not be saved was that the Kilrathi were coming. There was no time for the bio-hazard crew to come and save the cruiser's crew.
As for why YOU had to blow it up: You are the player.

Saga's gun energy stuff works along the lines of WC3 concerning number of shots and stuff.
In Wing Commander 3 you could run out of energy pretty quickly when using full guns, regardless of the ship you were flying. In the Arrow it was the ion guns that consumed lots of energy, in the Thunderbolt it was the plasma guns IIRC, and in the Excalibur you could just fire three salvos or so when using full guns because of the tachyons. So this is quite accurate to WC3 gameplay.

Your accuracy will return with a bit of practice. In Saga ships are a bit harder to hit because they lack hit boxes. That will also help with your energy problems, because when you hit them more often you can destroy them with less energy.

Energy management: I don't know about others but I personally like playing with that much. In most WC games I almost never touched it. I don't even remember which WC games had it...
And yes, when fighting capships it is very useful. You can blast a Kamrani-class corvette to space dust by transferring everything into your guns as soon as the turrets on one side are destroyed. That helps a lot.

The miscommunication thing: Yeah, I also did that mission twice because I attacked the wrong transport the first time. It was not intentional and I still wonder whether the command makes sense in some way since the mission passed the beta test without problems it seems. Mustanger explains it a bit in Quarto's thread.

About the fiction viewer: I think the font was changed for DD, but since most people didn't like the wall of text anyway there is only one in DD.
I appreciate you taking the time to reply, even at the risk of some duplication. I skim-read a bit of Q's thread, but it seems a bit more detailed than I have time to get into, plus it looks like there may be some spoilers still present for me (my brother, who's already finished it long ago, says I have about a third to go - basically all of the Excalibur missions).

Oh, so it's Freespace 2, I haven't played it, so I couldn't be sure. Well, certainly, it's something different for a WC player, but I still think it's excessive. I think it's more of an issue in the lighter fighters than the heavier ones - it makes sense that a 'lighter' craft would get bounced about more. I suppose I have got 'used to it' a little because I'm on a more solid platform. (That's another thing I wasn't too fond of - Sandman putting words in the player's mouth. Okay, so he doesn't like heavy fighters and bombers? So? What if the player does? It felt a bit like telling the player what to feel about certain ships.) Another down-side to the shaking: sometimes I don't want the full burst of the afterburners, just a moderate boost, so I tap the afterburners a few times instead of just holding on to it. So the shaking effect occurs with every single tap - it's very jarring. But, as you say, it seems to be hard-coded, so not much to do about it there.

(spoiler) The bio-weapon mission... I suppose that explains most of my questions. Even it it was a 'change of pace, it felt as though the bio-hazard aspect had already been done in Secret Ops. And that was another puzzling thing - how did the ship become infected in the first place? And if it was so effective, why was it not used against other ships? After the survivors transmitted their data, it never seems to appear or get used again. But, I suppose, as something a little bit different, it serves its purpose. Still felt a bit contrived to me, though.

Well, I suppose it does seem as though the shields in WC3/4 extend further around the fighters than they do in Saga. Especially for fighters like the Dralthi, with its flat profile. As you say, I hardly used the power management in WC games, but it feels as though I have to micro-manage everything all the time in Saga. At least the default keys are easy to remember.

I found it easier to hit targets with the Thunderbolt than the Arrow. More guns, I suppose, as well as not moving around so fast.

I was wondering how that mission got past beta testing too. I must have missed that particular post in Q's thread.

That explains why I don't remember it from the original prologue release. Good to know there aren't any more of it in Darkest Dawn, though it does seem a bit incongruous to suddenly shift from that, to Captain Moran's updates. Again, I'll accept it as time/resource constraints.

Thanks again for taking the time to respond.
I thought of one more positive point and discovered a negative (in my opinion).

Positive: Stability. Aside from one occasion where I had garbled text after switching to desktop and back to the game (and even then, I blame that on the driver, not the application), I haven't had any issues. No crashes to speak of. I'm guessing this is due in part to having access to the code for modification - no potentially unstable hacks as with the Vision engine.

Negative: I just met Colonel House. Not once, but twice. House? Really? This seems like a risky choice to me - only those who know of the show House and like it would enjoy this long, drawn-out reference. I've never seen the show and from what I know of the character, he's thoroughly unlikeable (which is clearly his aim). But more to the point, it's a shame that the writers chose to copy someone else's character rather than continue designing their own - I think the original characters I've met have all served their purpose well. There really was no need to plop a copy-cat character from a TV show, in my humble opinion, especially when the character concerned is so darned annoying (at least the version presented in the game - no idea how bad the TV show's original character is).
(spoiler) The bio-weapon mission... I suppose that explains most of my questions. Even it it was a 'change of pace, it felt as though the bio-hazard aspect had already been done in Secret Ops. And that was another puzzling thing - how did the ship become infected in the first place? And if it was so effective, why was it not used against other ships? After the survivors transmitted their data, it never seems to appear or get used again. But, I suppose, as something a little bit different, it serves its purpose. Still felt a bit contrived to me, though.

The surviving crew do explain in the mission that they had been ordered to capture a transport with something important on it but they weren't told exactly what it was, while they captured it they were unable to transfer the cargo before more Kilrathi backup arrived, and in the rush to get away, they abandoned the cargo, but in the rush some of it was broken, infecting the crew transferring it, and from there, the rest of the crew
Miscommunication (spoiler): There was one mission involving the destruction of all Kilrathi encountered in order to preserve the secrecy of a mission. At one of the nav points in this mission, the player is required to destroy two transports fleeing to a nearby jump-point and a wingman orders the player to attack the second transport while he focuses on the nearer one. When I did as instructed, I failed the mission because said wingman failed to disable the transport he said he would attack. What the heck? This was a rather frustrating experience and I’m not sure what the intention was behind this particular piece of dialogue.

It was Mustanger, with the broken keyboard, in the Fred room. :)

(That's a Clue spoof for those that don't get it)

I have to take all responsibility for this, apology to all the ones who got snookered by the faulty command. Like I said in Quarto's thread, it is pretty embarrassing because it got me too, and I scripted the darn thing! It certainly wasn't intentional, and I really don't know/remember how the line got put in backwards. Something may have changed in the mission with regard to the positioning of the transports, but most likely I just screwed it up.

The line doesn't make any sense anyway, the player should be directed to the near one so if the AI fails and doesn't kill the far one you can swoop in and save the day. That is how it should have worked. Oh well, maybe the Saga guys will release a small patcher to fix it one of these days.
Thanks to both of you for the clarification. With so much going on, I think I didn't properly process the back-story about the infectious cargo. And I guessed the misdirection was a mistake. It happens. Something to fix in a patch, I'm sure.

Okay... I'm confused... I just did the mission where Sandman and friends fly to defend the Bradshaw and the Agincourt as they evacuate personnel from the former to the latter. I receive a message that the Admiral has transferred her flag to the Agincourt and that the Bradshaw was to be scuttled, then all of a sudden Agincourt gives her death comm while the 'health' percentage in the monitor window suddenly plummets from 90-something to 0. Is this a glitch? Scripted? The Events log doesn't give credit for the Agincourt kill to anyone, which is usual when a death is scripted, but at the same time, the oh-so-helpful recommendations in the debriefing implies it's possible to save the Agincourt. Too, the Messages log did not match what I heard on the comms. What happened...?
The Agincourt should survive I think. At least I can't remember any scripted events killing her.
Are you sure there wasn't any capship missile or torpedo or something like that still around?
(Spoilers galore!)

The only thing I can think of was that the Bradshaw was killed prematurely, and Agincourt was caught in the shock wave. Maybe I'll give it another go later, I just wanted to get the campaign finished as quickly as possible, that mission was way too long to retry. Aside from that mission, Hyperion 4 (protecting all of the Armageddon's battle group - stupid pack of Gothris popping up at the very end) and defending the Victory group from the skippers (I was more than 70 thousand klicks away when they popped up - were they really meant to be so far away?), I think I got all of the sub-objectives.

And finish it I did (else I wouldn't be able to sleep). Overall, it was very fun, and at the end I was left on an emotional high like all the characters, so mission accomplished for the developers in terms of player immersion. Great to see and hear the links with Lancelot Flight and the others from the Victory and the Intrepid, even if the short voice clips was in stark contrast with Saga's voice team. Also nice to see what happened to the numerous Hermes characters post-war. Venom sounds like just the type to get caught up with the Black Lancers and somehow slink away afterwards, sneaky bastard.

Also great idea to have Deathfang and Wratghar to make the war personal (and the grudge match between Moran and the captain of that heavy carrier earlier on, even though it wasn't on the same level). Dozens and dozens of silly little kitties are trivial. Killing one arrogant snot of a Kilrathi is much more satisfying, and killing his beloved dreadnought, all the more so.

Did I read the credits right? The voice actor for Ramius and Markham are the same? Well, that's a credit to him if he is - I didn't pick the similarity at all. And it confirms my guess that the voice style for Markham was deliberate.

Just a few things I didn't like from the last missions: loss of the Valkyries. It's not fun not being able to do anything to help them, and it felt like Fort Crockett and the Kinney all over again. Speaking of Crockett, the name was used again for TCS Davy Crockett. I only know of the name from watching MythBusters - seems a bit much to be reusing the same cultural reference over and over again. And I suppose it's not so much a 'dislike' as it is a critique: I think Twilight was introduced far too late in the game for her to get much character development. Oh, and I noticed the subtitles in one of the last missions wasn't properly proof-read: I noticed Greywolf being tagged for one of Twilight's lines.

Finally, a question: I take it not all of the voice cast are familiar with WC? It sounded funny having Drakhai pronounced consistently differently to how it is in WC2. It's a small thing, I know, but aside from the other pronunciation differences (Moran's pronunciation of Loki comes to mind), this one bothered me the most, if only because it was repeated fairly often. But again, it's a very minor complaint.

I may think of more things later. But for now, job well done: it was really fun.

Edit: How could I forget? Loved how Darkest Dawn showed the epic scale of the final show-down with the Kilrathi, whereas WC3 shows it on a personal scale (Blair vs Kilrah). Was a very gutsy gamble the Confederation to commit virtually the entirety of their fleet to Freya to keep the Kilrathi tied at home in Kilrah and in H'rissith.

Edit 2: Can't remember how or why, but one time I absent-mindedly tried to land on the... was it Invincible? And Sweeney and the other pilots make fun of Sandman because of it. Does that only happen in one mission or does that happen any time the player makes that mistake?
Glad you liked it :)

I think the 'wrong carrier' thing only happens once. On my second playthrough I tried it with all carriers in all missions and it didn't happen again.
I managed to replay several missions, including ones that bothered me previously:
  1. TCS Challenger: I paid more attention to the description of what happened with the Challenger's crew and the mission seems to make a bit more sense now. I still think it was foolish of them to give up so easily on their lives, though.
  2. TCS Bradshaw: I got a clear view of the Bradshaw and the Agincourt during the battle this time - I'm pretty sure now it was the shockwave from Bradshaw's premature detonation that finished the Agincourt on my first try. The two ships are docked and given the relative size of the Bradshaw, it's blast wave was probably large enough to bring even the 96% hull integrity of the Agincourt to zero.
  3. KIS Wratghar: When her battle group jumps into Freya during the second mission of the series, it's clearly meant to force a Confederation withdrawal. On the first play-through, I didn't want to risk a mission failure (especially since it was a long mission) to something dumb like failing to obey the retreat order, but this time around I felt like playing the suicidal maniac. With everyone else gone, it felt like the original Wing Commander, doing crazy stupid stuff while flying (next to) solo. The Wratghar was scripted to be invincible - it wouldn't go below 1% hull integrity. However, that worked both ways: the TCS Trenton also happened to be flagged as invincible for some reason and once the infinite waves of fighters and bombers disabled the ship, it was amusing to see the Wratghar and this comparatively tiny Confed ship trade blows ad infinitum. Naturally, I took the time to completely and utterly destroy the Wratghar's escorts, just to show that I could be a solo-hero like Colonel Blair, even though it had no bearing on the outcome of the mission. And also because it was just plain fun - amazing what you can get away with once you duck under a capital ship's shields and pump all power to guns...
Another point I forgot to mention: that instance where Sandman is teased if he accidentally lands on the Invincible instead of the Hermes - it's clear, in hindsight, that this was deliberately set-up by having the Invincible instead of the Hermes be the carrier right in front of Sandman when he comes out of auto-pilot at the end of the mission.
If I can add my own critique, on the first encounter with Deathfang, it should have been made a little less obvious that Deathfang was invincible (or allow him to take some damage and then cloak and retreat at a certain level), because my first counter went something like this. I see there's a Kilrathi ace in the wave of fighters, and so of course that's who I set my sights on. The Excalibur makes quick work out of a Sorthak, so even an ace pilot in a weaker Vaktoth shouldn't be too much of a problem. I land a few good gun shots on him (and I know I hit with the auto-aiming guns) and no damage. Needless to day, Deathfang is a lot better at evading than the general pilots, but even with the shots I do land, there's no damage. So his fighter must have really strong shields, I'm thinking. Well let's see how well his shields hold up to this heat-seeker (which was no easy task to lock on, and took two missiles to hit him with one). I hit him point-blank with a missile, and still no damage. I understand building up the confrontation for the final showdown, but I wish wouldn't have wasted all the time chasing him down dodging the other Vaktoths and two missiles to do absolutely no damage.

Food for thought.