The Wing Commander Art of Alan Gutierrez

Last week, we showed you how the developers behind the 1995 Wing Commander CCG used a single painting to create two different cards. Today, we'd like to share another example by walking you through the incredible art of Alan Gutierrez. Mr. Gutierrez is the extremely talented artist behind much of the game's 'space art,' used for Modifier and Nav Point cards; he also painted several unique Luck cards. In total, he provided fifteen paintings for the game which were used for a whopping twenty four cards!

The first and most visible duplication is in Nav Point cards. Nav Point cards were not part of any deck and were instead part of the playing field. Every game started with players laying out five of these cards (or more, in some variations) between their carriers. These cards featured beautiful environmental space art such as planets, stars and nebulae without Wing Commander-specific ships or characters. There were a total of ten designs, five by Alan Gutierrez and five by Robert Daniels. Each card had a Greek letter, harkening back to the wing assignments of Wing Commander I.

As the game needed to be playable using any sealed starter deck, these cards were printed with both Terran Confederation and Kilrathi card backs. To make sure every starter deck included at least five, they were printed with the game's commons (as a side effect, Nav Points would show up in booster packs.) The front card artwork is identical for both factions and there is no impact on gameplay, but each Nav Point appears twice in the card list. Carriers were also printed as commons, and were also reprinted on the starter boxes to make sure every player would have a home base! Here are Alan Gutierrez's five (or ten) cards: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon:

Next, each faction in the CCG had a set of blue-bordered Luck cards. The official rules describe Luck cards as follows: "Luck cards represent the effects of karma, bio-rhythms, bureaucracy, human natue, a cat's nine lives, and fate. They may affect any of the other cards, subject to the text on the card." These cards can be played at any time during the game and are discarded after use. Players are not allowed to have multiple copies of the same Luck card in their deck.

Luck cards were generally unique in terms of art, though in several cases they were duplicated from a mechanics standpoint so that each side could have the same ability. For example, the Confederation and the Kilrathi both have cards that turn pilots into traitors or disable them for a turn for drinking too much. Alan Gutierrez's work includes two of these in the form of four paintings: CAPTURE PILOT and RECOVER PILOT images for each faction. It's interesting to see these grouped together; you can see how all four are thematically connected (note also a great attention to detail in how the space suits match from card to card.)

Mr. Gutierrez painted two additional luck cards, SKILLFUL USE OF MISSILE DECOYS and MAGNUM LAUNCH for the Terran Confederation. These are distinct paintings and each is worth a closer look. In my mind, MAGNUM LAUNCH remains the signature piece of artwork for the game; it's both unique and captures the spirit of Wing Commander perfectly. Then the missile decoy card features an outstanding Thunderbolt VII front-and-canter. There are no directly equivalent Kilrathi Luck cards in either case.

Finally, we come to Nav Point Modifier cards. These were cards that the player could summon during the Mustering Phase and place on any Modifier-free Nav Points. As the official rules explain, "Modifier cards include natural phenomena, such as asteroids and enemy obstacles such as capital ships and mine fields." The roster of Modifier cards included capital ships, which used renders from Origin and varied from faction to faction, and four 'space weather' for each cards painted by Alan Gutierrez. Here, again, four paintings were used to represent eight different cards: two each of NEBULA, MINEFIELD, ASTEROID FIELD and PULSAR SNARLS COMMUNICATIONS. For the Nebula card, you can see that each side's card was identical save for the logo.

The same is true of the Pulsar Snarls Communications card. What makes this card a little more fascinating is the fact that Alan Gutierrez has posted the original painting to his DeviantArt site, giving us a better-than-ever-before look at the work behind these two cards! His comment on the extremely piece:

Commissioned by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman 1996, for the card came "Wing Commander"
I did about 10 small illustrations for the card game, with various celestial effects, that might affect the outcome of the game.
This was the only one I ever scanned from the original art.
It's been many years, but my understanding is that a collapsed star-burnt out and becoming more dense, emits electromagnetic radiation (the blue streaks) and, spins very fast, with the light (the eruption in orange) "pulsing" as it spins.
There may be other more accurate depictions, but this was done just for fun, so I'm not interested in the specifics. Just the wonder of outer space...
Gouache on masonite, 7" x 10"

It turns out Mag Force 7 had one more trick up their books for keeping the art budget down: cropping different parts of an image to represent it differently for both factions. Check out the Asteroid Field modifier card. This is one of those small things that has been looking us in the eye for years but that you rarely have cause to pick up on!

For the final painting of the set, the same trick is used. Here, Mr. Gutierrez has scanned the original artwork so you can see exactly how it was cropped to create two different views of the same Minefield!

Finally, we are able to answer an age old question: what do you get when you mix it all up? The answer is that you get a (sort of) new piece of Wing Commander art! In December of 2016, Alan Gutierrez digitally updated the Minefield painting to include his fantastic Thunderbolt from the Skillfull Use of Missile Decoys card. You can see the original post on his DeviantArt here.
From the Wing Commander card game, commissioned and published by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis, 1995
This is the combination of 2 traditionally painted works, "Minefield", and "Skillful Use Of Missile Decoys" from the game. Since I had the original scan from "Minefield", I digitally added the ship (unscanned and had to be digitally restored from the printed card) to present this new variation.
Top half gouache on Masonite.

All card scans are courtesy of Jetlag. You can find much more of Mr. Gutierrez's incredible work at his DeviantArt page.

EA Gives Free Access

Still on the fence about this whole Wing Commander thing? Electronic Arts has announced that they are adding a seven day free trial to their Origin Access service (previously reported here.) Origin Access, the PC equivalent of their Xbox-based EA Access program, gives you the ability to play a host of Electronic Arts games free of charge. It also makes new titles (like the upcoming Mass Effect sequel) available early and includes a 10% discount on Origin store purchases. Origin Access includes Wing Commander, Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom and Wing Commander: Privateer. You can learn more and sign up for a seven day trial here.

Retro Ad Highlights Tricky Windows Transition

Anatoly Shashkin of DOSNostalgic shared this awesome advertisement for System Commander. Although it shares no relation to the Wing Commander series, it still has a pretty cool name, and this ad includes a shout out to WC4. "Win 95 is cool, but sucks with DOS games!" is the warning at the top. While that may sound overblown today, there was quite a stretch of time in the late '90s and even early 2000s when DOS/Windows compatibility was a big problem. DOS games often required specific drivers and memory management that simply weren't compatible with Windows. Or in other cases, sometimes hardware that needed special software to run in Windows created further conflicts with games. So boot loader programs like this were one helpful way to maintain distinct DOS and Windows environments to keep your gaming going. Today we have programs like DOSBox to help that along, but in the long history of PC gaming, that's a relatively recent development! It's worth noting that WC4 eventually got a downloadable Win 95 Upgrade and boxed editions preloaded with the patch were eventually sold in stores as well.

Digital Wing Commander in HD Discounted to $6.99

Vudu enthusiast Jacob reports that the company has included Wing Commander in their latest monthly HDX sale. Through March 7, digital ownership of the movie will run you just $6.99. A few months ago, Vudu phased out their 720p "medium" resolution encodings in favor of just 480p and 1080p Full HD, as the company begins to roll out 4K UHD content. If you purchased Wing Commander in 720p, you should have already received a free upgrade to Full HD. Note that on Vudu, 1080p is called HDX.
Based on the best selling video game, Wing Commander is a science fiction-war movie spectacle.

Just Play the Classics!

In 1994, Electronic Arts hit on a sales trick that has since become commonplace: re-release your recent back catalog as budget 'classic' titles using simple packaging and digitized manuals to lower printing costs. The original cost of producing these games could be further amortized, ultimately helping further support the ever-growing game development budgets needed for new titles to stand up. You could call it GOG's great, great grandson!

Initially priced between $7.99 and $14.99 each, the first wave of 'Electronic Arts presents CD-ROM Classics' contained a host of mid-1990s Origin titles alongside other EA favorites such as Chuck Yeager's Air Combat. The idea was a hit, and these and other Origin classics would go on to be re-released in several series over the years, with some Wing Commander games still being available at retail today! A simple collector's guide to these releases follows.

Black Series: Also known as the original or black series, these classics came in a one-piece cardboard package similar to Origin's add-on disks. Each box included a printed install guide booklet and a CD-ROM containing the game and digital copies of the original manuals. The black series were released in several waves over multiple years. Wing Commander games represented are Wing Commander II Deluxe, Privateer, Academy and Armada. Other Origin games in the black line included Strike Commander, Shadowcaster, System Shock, Ultima Underworld I & II and the Complete Ultima VII. The Wing Commander Academy release is among the harder classics to find.

Gold Series: In 1996, Electronic Arts began issuing the CD-ROM Classics in gold bordered boxes. These versions came in more traditional two-piece boxes made of a heavier cardboard. In some cases, these versions of the games were updated with scripts to assist in running older titles using Windows 95. Wing Commander II Deluxe, Wing Commander Privateer and Wing Commander III were released in this series. Other Origin titles included the Crusader: No Regret, CyberMage, Bioforge, Complete Ultima VII, Ultima Underworld I & II and Ultima VIII: Pagan. Completists take note: the gold series version of Privateer's cover promoted a $10 rebate for the newly-released Privateer 2: The Darkening in some printings!

Gold II Series: The second gold series of EA classics began in 1997 and ran for several years. These releases included slightly larger two-piece boxes distinguished from the earlier gold series by having only a single band at the bottom of the game box art rather than a full border. The only Wing Commander games released in this series were Privateer and Wing Commander III. Other Origin titles included the Ultima Collection, Ultima VIII: Pagan, Crusader: No Remorse and Jane's AH-64 Longbow. Other release continued into the 21st century in a similar box design dropping the 'CD-ROM' from the label; no Origin games were reissued this way.

Silver Series: The Silver Series of EA classics launched in 1997 and is, improbably, the one you are most likely to discover in stores today. These minimalist releases included only a single, silver-bordered jewel case, designed for sale in the walls of budget video game options at places like Office Depot. Three Wing Commander games appear in this format: Wing Commander II Deluxe, Academy and Armada. Keep an eye out!

Orange Series: Meanwhile, in Europe Electronic released two equivalent lines of CD-ROM classics. The first was the orange' series, a which were released in individual jewel cases. These were traditional 'English/French/German' releases with all three languages represented on the back of the box. Three Wing Commander games were included: Wing Commander II Deluxe, Armada and Privateer. Other Origin games represented include System Shock, Crusader: No Remorse, Strike Commander, Ultima Underworld I & II and the Complete Ultima VII. Depending on the country, a different install guide was included (making a total of nine total versions for anyone interested in catching them all.)

Blue Series: While the later, multi-disc Wing Commander games were generally not released as classics in the United States, they were re-released in Europe. 'Blue' packaging includes a smaller generic two-part box with a slip cover for the relevant game. Like the orange jewel cases, these are English/French/German boxes with region-specific manuals in each country. Most impressively, these versions included printed manuals rather than PDFs! FOUR later Wing Commander titles were included: Wing Commander III, IV, Prophecy and Privateer 2! Other Origin games include System Shock, Bioforge and Ultima VIII: Pagain.

Did we miss any EA classics? Have you collected them all? Let us know on the forums!

Welcome to Sol Sector, Julianna!

We have the happiest possible news to report today: congratulations to Chris and Lacey Reid on the birth of their daughter, Julianna Ella Reid! Julianna was born on February 9th, a brand new baby girl. Chris, Lacey and daughter are home and recuperating well. As Rollins would reply: "sitting pretty, sir!"

I have been honored to call Chris friend since we were teenagers posting on alt.games.wing-commander together. As dedicated Wing Commander fans and co-founders of this site, we've had many amazing adventures together... and now I am so excited to see him embarking on his greatest mission yet. Chris and Lacey are both highly intelligent, kind-hearted human beings who routinely bend the universe to support their gentle passions; they will make the best possible parents I can imagine.

Please join me in saluting Chris and Lacey and in welcoming the newest future Wing Commander fan to our ranks. I'm confident they'll have her checked out in Rapiers before she can walk... and, of course, that they know to keep her away from Flash-Paks!

Here are some pictures of the happy family:

Love, Terran Confederation Style

We all know Blair and Angel, Maniac and Rosie, Catscratch and Sosa... but the conventional wisdom says that Wing Commander is, by its very nature, not the platform for stories about complex romantic relationships. In honor of Valentine's Day 2017, I would like to respong by remembering two relationships from the Wing Commander canon that are a little more nuanced.

Warning: the first is a downer, a great 'could have been.' The first Wing Commander novel, Freedom Flight, introduces us to Lord Ralgha nar Hhallas (the kil who would become Hobbes) and Lady Hassa, the Sivar cult priestess to whom he is oathsworn. We learn that the pair are old friends who grew up together on Hhallas and that they are now prominent citizens: an honored Khantahr (Rear Admiral) commanding a cruiser and a leader of the rebellion fomenting on Ghorah Khar respectively.

Hassa has ordered Ralgha to support her rebellion by defecting, surrendering his Fralthi to the Terrans at Firekka. Ralgha, an abolitionist deeply loyal to Hassa, has agreed though it will mean his explusion from Kilrathi society. In an open air temple in a peaceful, tree-lined Ghorah Kharran city, the two steal a moment to say their goodbyes, each knowing they will never see the other again. Ralgha beautifully summarizes the moment with a profoundly wistful line:

"Sometimes I wonder if we should ever have left our planet, Hassa. We were so happy there as children, we could have stayed there... perhaps I should have claimed you as my mate and bearer of my children when I had the chance. Years ago, before politics and soldiering claimed my life, and the Lord Sivar claimed yours."

But it was never to be: by the time the day is out, Hassa is most likely dead at the hands of Imperial Security and Ralgha is on his way to Firekka, never to return to that childhood home on Hhallas. You can read their entire goodbye in the Freedom Flight preview chapter (originally included with Wing Commander II) here.

Now the good news: our second relationship is a great deal more fun! The year is 2790, and the name of the place is the Tri-System. Lev Arris is on a quest to learn his true identity and make a quick credit... and he's always happy to rescue a damsel in disgress. Melissa Banks, a similarly skilled privateer who is not above a little gun running, has run afoul of the Papogod at Nav 51. Lev flies to the rescue of her Faldari and the result is a romance, a second mission and a series of cutscenes as the two encounter one another through the course of the game.

In a game with a wide range of cutscenes, these personal moments stick out; Clive Owen and Mathilda May have an excellent chemistry and they give the Arris/Banks relationship a wonderful edge. Seeing the two flirting-ly snipe at one another as they seemingly try and completely fail to keep their connection 'casual.' What's more, they seem to be true equals, each an expert pilot and each capable of a great riposte. It feels incredibly genuine... and more realistic than anything else in gaming from that era. Here's the final cutscene in the sequence:

BANKS: Just look at you. I bet you've forgotten.
ARRIS: Forgotten what?
BANKS: Our anniversary.
ARRIS: Our what?
BANKS: It's the anniversary of the very first time we met. When I came out of nowhere and saved your life.
ARRIS: That's not quite how I remember it.
BANKS: Typical man.
ARRIS: Sorry, do I know you?
BANKS: In every conceivable sense.
ARRIS: I mean, your face is familiar, but...
BANKS: Oh, that's a pity, seeing as I just booked a hotel suite with a freefall jacuzzi.
ARRIS: Melissa! Happy anniversary, darling.
BANKS: Do I know you, mister?
ARRIS: Well don't you remember, you saved my life?
BANKS: Somehow, I just can't recall.
ARRIS: We, ah, we met at the Rampant Robot bar, you gave me a cure for dry lips.
BANKS: I did?
ARRIS: Listen, has the suite really got a free-fall Jacuzzi?
BANKS: You bet.

So cute--LEV+MEL 4EVER! You can start the Melissa Banks side-quest by playing with SOS missions on with Disc 2 of the game in the drive. Of course, we couldn't let a Valentine's Day pass without the famous Love Arrow animated GIF!

Ad Ben: Sound Commander

Here's a nickel's worth of free marketing advice: if it's 1991 and you are trying to sell a PC game it does not hurt to make sure it has the word 'Commander' in the name. The degree to which Wing Commander was a success means that an incomplete list from those years includes Air Commander, Flight Commander, Tank Commander, Air Force Commander, Robot Commander and many more. And the tie-ins didn't stop there: there were even a host of hardware peripherals that tried to ride Wing Commander's coattails. For example: today's sound card, the SOUND COMMANDER.

Developed by the Singapore-based MediaSonic, Inc. the Sound Commander premiered at COMDEX in 1991 to no particular acclaim. Like the Sound Runner, featured in our previous installment, the Sound Commander was an 8-bit 'generic' card promoted as a be-all, end-all solution that was actually an attempt to undercut the price of the quickly-establishing Creative Labs Sound Blaster. Unlike the Sound Runner, the Sound Commander at least had a chance: it included FM synthesis, meaning that it could play speech similar to the Sound Blaster (though the first models did not promise full Sound Blaster compatibility.) The Sound Commander actually lasted for several iterations, with the Sound Commander FX and the Sound Commander Gold following in 1992 (though their advertisement had no Wing Commander connection, for reasons we will see in a future installment of this series!)

Aside from the similar name, why does the Sound Commander appear in this space? Eagle-eyed viewers will note that there are two Wing Commander screenshots in the advertisement: a shot from the Hornet cockpit and one of the Tiger's Claw lounge from before Enyo 1. MediaSonic would have requested these stills from Origin (and the other developers represented) and then used them to promote the card. These advertisements (in two versions, with and without reference to Comdex) appeared in three issues of Computer Gaming World running from November 1991 through January 1992. You can find the entire issues in the Computer Gaming World Museum.

Why does it look so dark? That's because in 1991, advertisements were laid out by hand (along with anything else printed: game boxes, hint books, magazine articles) and there was no such thing as a readily compatible screen grabber. Instead, screenshots were captured with traditional film cameras that literally took a picture of the screen. In this case, the Hornet cockpit and the Tiger's Claw lounge are a publicity stills provided by Origin and then set up in the advertisement by MediaSonic or their ad agency. You may well recognize these same screenshot in other advertisements or in magazine reviews. Origin would create slides duplicates from a small selection of film negatives which they would provide to advertisers, reviewers and other interests (Joe Garrity has many of these source slides archived at the Origin Museum.)

Want a Sound Commander of your own? They are not especially sought after, but do regularly appear on eBay (a 'Sound Commander Pro' model is listed as of this writing.) Just remember, it doesn't actually do anything special in Wing Commander I... the only connection is that the game supports Ad Lib sound and the Game Commander is Ad Lib compatible.

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