Pass the Crayons

A recent thread over at the CIC Forums discussed the different colors of Confederation ships. Rather than undergoing a mass-repainting between Wing Commander 2 and 3, the prevailing theory suggests that the individual colors are representative of specific fleets or particular roles. Deathsnake took the concept one step further and mocked up some brilliant examples of how familiar ships might appear under different circumstances. They look pretty sharp!

It's a case of different units and ships with different roles having different paint schemes. Roles is a key one. I think about Hunter's describing Landreich ships as being painted "stealth black" at one point in Fleet Action.

The Excalibur in Wing Commander III is probably an example of "stealth black". My guess is that the green ships in the earlier games harken back to the first days of the war, where the role for carrier-based fighters was supposed to be largely space-to-ground operations (actually, one of the novels mentions "ground camo" on a Kilrathi fighter).

I think it's not a coincidence that the paint schemes follow World War II--with specifically camoflaged spacecraft giving way to unpainted ships with only unit markings as time goes on.

In terms of cap ships, I think it's largely unit based. Remember that the 'red' Border Worlds ships in Wing Commander IV are fighting for a fleet that came into being a few hours earlier (and we actually see them before that)--so they probably come from a particular Confederation fleet which had red trim rather than the blue seen in Wing Commander III.

Lexington Rejoins the Fleet

The WC Saga team has updated its Lexington design. This latest iteration carries the game's "modern" textures and has some pretty nice lighting on the interior areas. They've taken the "special operations" version seen in Armada and made it a more common heavy carrier. You can read up on the history of ships named Lexington here!

This carrier was first seen in the Super Wing Commander remake on the Sega CD game as an alternate model to the TCS Tiger’s Claw and the rest of the Bengal-class carriers. It is also seen in Wing Commander Armada as the player’s carrier, the TCS Lexington, a self-sustaining carrier that was sent deep behind enemy lines in a high-risk operation.

Norway Tilbakeblikk at Wing Commander

Joachim Froholt from Gamer.no has posted an awesome retrospective article about the original Wing Commander. The piece is in Norwegian, so be sure to pass it along to any friends who speak the language. Everyone can get the gist of it though via Google Translate. The pictures used throughout the article are actually from the original Amiga version of Wing Commander, which featured less advanced graphics. If you haven't played that version, it's actually very cool to see what they did with a smaller color palette. Check it out here!

Italy Acknowledges Wing Commander Too

Hurleybird spotted another background article from VideoGame.it. This one is a more concise Italian summary of the entire Wing Commander series. It runs through the highlights of the core games and then ends with a nod to Privateer. It's nice to see all the fans fondly remembering the series from around the globe! Check out the feature here.
Before closing the chapter on Wing Commander, however, it is necessary to mention Wing Commander Privateer. Published in 1993, just before entering the stream of interactive films, Privateer tried to embrace the kind of space simulators of Commerce launched by Elite David Braben and approached, while still boasting an approach commendably free, especially by the standards of Wing Commander. Despite a fair amount of criticism, Privateer had a sequel, published in 1996. Privateer 2: The Darkening could only throw itself headlong into the genre of interactive movies and did so with a budget of excellence and the participation of actors like Christopher Walken, John Hurt and a still unknown at the time Clive Owen. Despite the high quality of the game, repeatedly suggested Privateer 3 never saw the light.

A Good Man Goes to Bioware

Ultima Aiera has posted an article about a Washington Post piece on Bioware Mythic's Paul Barnett, the man behind Electronic Arts' renewed interest in the Ultima series. Although it's an interesting article and Mr. Barnett has been very kind to Wing Commander fans in recent years, there has been no evidence that he is doing anything with 'our' Origin franchise. Nevertheless, here's a picture of the man in his natural habitat:

But wait! Computer, zoom in on the boxes in the picture!

Origin games?! Ultimas, Savage Empire... makes sense... but what's that towards the bottom? Enhance!

It's Privateer 2: The Darkening! Now that would be a great setting for a social game... You can find the Washington Post article here.

This Durango Packs a Punch

Astro Commander is experimenting with the BWS Intrepid and has mocked up a possible precursor. Although there is no firm evidence that the original ship was externally different, it's been an occasional fan theory that the Border Worlds structurally expanded the vessel when they took ownership. This is based off a comment in the WC4 novel that the Intrepid is the former Confed heavy destroyer TCS Delphi. Astro has slimmed away the flight deck and installed a large cannon as a concept design. It's not just for looks - this new "battlecruiser" may find its way into an upcoming tabletop game!

I too had been contemplating that. If you separate it into two pieces you get two hulls that loko like similar design generations to the Southamptons. However, the halves (hangar removed) are quite asymmetric.

Then I considered they might have just expanded the central hull section to accommodate a short hangar. So I made a model that likewise removed the hangar and shortened the width of the ship. But it seemed to be lacking. So I added a massive railgun with the story that this was a second retrofit design of the Durango base design. The railgun takes a long time to charge but can deliver significant damage. Unfortunately, the base hull design of the Durango isn't all that tough so these aren't front-line ships unless heavily escorted.

I have had one printed already but haven't painted it.

TCS Victory Built in Minecraft

Everybody's talking about Minecraft these days, and DavidYanakov has made a mighty impressive project with it. The result is a pretty cool looking light carrier built out of the game's blocks. The exterior is pretty far along, and there's more work to do on the interior (flight deck) next. You can download the worldsave for yourself here.

Scale model of the TCS Victory from Wing Commander 3. Built at half the size due to height limit restrictions and mostly because digging 7 million blocks in order to start the build at bedrock was a bit beyond my scope. Blue was changed to dark green because it's a lot easier to bake 500 cactus than it is to dig up that much lapis. If I ever do manage to get it, I might consider changing it. Aircraft from the planes mod will fit comfortably in the bays along the flight deck.

Interior is almost entirely bare at the moment. I've only put in a couple decks in the top of the conning tower. Next priority is to build an alpha class shuttle to put the nether portal in. I would welcome any ideas or help from those who are better at interior design work than I am. Access to the interior from the flight deck can be found at frames 3, 5, 7 and 9 on the port side. Frames 2 and 9 on starboard.

Plenty of Pilots at the Ready

The CIC Facebook Page hit a big milestone this weekend. Over 500 Wingnuts are now following us there! The page is currently used to post breaking news stories and occasional special features. Thanks to all the fans who are staying in the loop. We're also working on some cool new social media integration for a future update. For now, you can follow us on Facebook here.

Poliwhirl Preview Offers Tantalizing Taste

Klavs has posted some cool "turntable" animations of his hot Wing Commander 1 fighter designs. Even more exciting is the hint at what he's got in store for the future... Check out each of the videos below!
All sorts of stuff happening behind the scenes that I can't show you right now, but I can share some fighter turntable movies for you guys. Nothing you haven't alread seen in still images, but still-Enjoy! And Thanks for the continued support!

Wikipedia Alert in Deep Space!

Big changes are ahead for the WCPedia - would you like to know more? If you're a WCPedia contributor, would like to become one or are just interested in learning about the bright future of the project then you should stop in to #WingNut tomorrow evening at 7 pm EST!

You can learn more about connecting to #WingNut here or access the Java-based version of the chat here. To sweeten the pot, we will be giving away the keys to a copy of Privateer from GOG to one lucky visitor!

GOG Sales Update

We have a big update to the GOG sales rankings posted last week. The big news is that all of the Electronic Arts titles continue to rise, including drastic gains for Dungeon Keeper, Alpha Centauri and Ultima Underworld. Privateer went up 15 rankings, too, and remains the top-selling Origin game offered on the service! So keep buying Privateers--for yourself, your family, your friends, your co-workers... anyone! We want to see it in the top 100 real soon!
EA on GOG - Sales Rankings

87 - Dungeon Keeper (290)
92 - Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (172)
131 - Wing Commander: Privateer (146)
133 - Ultima Underworld 1+2 (284)
167 - Crusader: No Remorse (204)
269 - Magic Carpet

WC Saga Posts Update

The WC Saga team has been mostly quiet since the game went into its latest beta test this year, but they've managed to collect some new screenshots. They feature the explosive clash between a Confed & Kilrathi fleet. You can find more images here.

So what's next?

...model/mission polishing/bug fixing. It can take three months, it can take six months. It all depends on our workload and thus how much time we can spend working on Wing Commander Saga.

The Admiral Gets Another Star

Zelvik noticed that Wing Commander favorite Malcolm McDowell will soon receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He's part of a batch of recipients announced this week who will make up the 2012 additions. Check out the full list here. Congrats!

HOLLYWOOD, CA. June 21, 2011 —A new group of entertainment professionals in Motion Pictures, Television, Radio and Recording have been selected to receive stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, it was announced today by the Walk of Fame Committee of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. These individuals were chosen from among hundreds of nominations to the committee at a meeting held on June 17, 2011 and ratified by the Chamber's Board of Directors.

The Walk of Fame recipients for the year 2012 are:

MOTION PICTURES: Jennifer Aniston, Vin Diesel, Scarlett Johansson, John Lasseter, Malcolm McDowell, Sumner Redstone, Kate Winslet and Richard Burton (posthumous)

Ultima Discovery Stuns World!

There's some exciting news for Ultima fans: Ultima Aiera has posted the original 'Bob White' plot to Ultima IX. This 53-page document lays out a far more complex version of the game which was cut down for various reasons in 1998. For those unfamiliar with the situation, this is a major "get" for the Ultima fandom--one of their holy grails, akin to the original script to Wing Commander Prophecy or the workprint of the Wing Commander movie. Congratulations, Dragons! You can read the document here.

The biggest connection for Wing Commander fans is unfortunately a sad one: this version of Ultima IX was developed in part by John Watson, who passed away in 2007. It was mentioned prominently by several of his co-workers in the comments we posted at the time. You can learn about John at the memorial page we maintain here.

Huh, It Really Was Genetics

Wired is running an article which claims that human eyes may hold, inactive, the ability to sense minute electromagnetic fields, a power used by some types of animals.
The ability to see Earth’s magnetic field, thought to be restricted to sea turtles and swallows and other long-distance animal navigators, may also reside in human eyes.

Tests of cryptochrome 2, a key protein component of geomagnetic perception, found that its human version restored geomagnetic orientation in cryptochrome-deficient fruit flies.

Flies are a long, long way from people, but that the protein worked at all is impressive. There’s also a whole lot of it in our eyes.

“Could humans have this cryptochrome heavily expressed in the retina as a light-sensitive magnetoreceptor?” said University of Massachusetts neuroscientist Steven Reppert, lead author of a June 21 Nature Communications cryptochrome study. "We don’t know if the molecule will do this in the human retina, but this suggests the possibility."

Why is this of interest to Wing Commander fans? Because this is exactly how 'Pilgrims' from the movie work! The Confederation Handbook explains that Pilgrims came into being when a mutation that allows humans to sense magnetic fields was selected for among populations born on deep space stations. You can find the full article here. Thanks to The Gneech for pointing it out!

Movie Crashing Patch Patched Up to 1.2

Mash has updated his Kilrathi Saga WC3 movie crashing patch to be even more compatible with modern systems. The program works to prevent a bug that disrupts KS WC3 during movie playback, and it also incorporates various speed fixes. However, due to its DirectX implementation, the patch was incompatible with the awesome DirectDraw Hack. The new update now allows the two to be run simultaneously! Pick up version 1.2 of the movie fix here.
This patch is an attempt to fix some of the problems associated with running the Windows version of Wing Commander 3 on modern OSes and on modern hardware. This release includes a fix for the 'Ingame Movie Crashing Bug' and a slowdown fix for the Nav Map Screen. I've also added a series of slowdown fixes for the Pre Flight Power-up Screen and added an ini file where you can adjust the slowdown delays to your own liking.

Installation details can be found in the included read-me 'Wc3_KSaga_Patch.rtf'. The read-me also includes some info on how it all works.

De(s)cent Free Space Sim Engine Simulates Universe

Dran is always looking out for fellow Wing Commander modders and wanted to share his latest find. The aptly named Space Engine is a free space sim engine for Windows that actually looks pretty decent. There's a sample video available at their website, and the core program itself is about 400 megs. Even if you're not a modder or the engine isn't suitable for your project, it's touted as an educational tool and looks like a lot of fun to fly around in.
Basic Controls

* Left Mouse Button – Click to select object, Click and hold to look around
* Right Mouse Button – Click and hold to rotate around selected object
* Mouse Wheel – Change velocity
* F1 – Options
* F2 – Solar System Browser
* F3- Find-by-name menu
* G – Go to an object
* Shift + G – Go to an object’s surface

There are a ton of controls for the game. Simply open the ‘readme09_eng” file in the Space Engine folder to find a full list.

Father's Day: The Story of Arnold Blair

"Arnold Blair was the true model of an officer, gentleman and scholar. We celebrate his heroic and honorable life, and grieve for the loss of a heart so pure and a mind so brilliant at such an early age. On behalf of myself and all the others who had the privilege of working with Major Blair, I wish to extend my profound sympathies to his family." - Lieutenant Geoffrey Tolwyn, public statement on the death of Arnold Blair

Arnold Blair was born on Earth in 2597, the son of Confederation Council member Melissa Blair. He had one sister, Jennifer. As a young man, he accepted a commission with the Terran Conferation Space Force Reserve. Arnold was a computer genius, but also had a strong sense of duty and a desire to honor his family's 750-year martial tradition. In college, he studied cybernetics, earning a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Kingston and then a Masters and Doctor of Philosophy from the Sorbonne. Blair was especially impressed by a particle physics course taught by Jebiah Omans. His graduate work earned a Golden Moebius for software design in 2620.

After graduating, Blair joined Sung Datasystems as a troubleshooter. He spent the latter half of the 2620s working on colonies in the Enigma and Argent sectors, where he earned two letters of commendation from Confederation Colonial Services. He also used his time on the frontier to earn his light space-craft pilot certification.

Towards the end of this period, Space Force officer James Taggart introduced Arnold to a beautiful young Pilgrim woman, Devi Soulsong. The two quickly married and established a home on Nephele. On 2630.168, Devi gave birth to the couple's only child, Christopher.

In 2631, with the advent of hostilities with the Pilgrim Alliance, Arnold's Space Force reserve commission was activated and he was ordered to Titan. He went on to serve a 25-month combat tour aboard the TCS Harrison, where he was certified as a double-ace with 13 kills (11 fighters, 2 capital ships). His years on the Harrison earned him two Blazes for Conspicious Gallantry. Meanwhile, Devi returned home to Peron with Christopher.

In early 2633, Arnold was selected by Midshipman Geoffrey Tolwyn to join the secret design team organizing the Confederation's Grand Fleet. He was made senior cyberneticist on the project and would earn a Conroy Medal and a Senatorial Commendation for his work designing software for controlling Grand Fleet maneuvers. He was also responsible for programming military access codes which would still be in use two decades later. In mid-2634 Arnold, now a Major, returned to combat aboard the TCS Foster where he earned three more kills and a citation for bravery.

Believing he would not survive the war, Arnold turned his cybernetic experience to creating a lasting gift that could express his love for his son. The result was Merlin, a holographic interface for Christopher's Portable Personal Computer created from Arnold's own proteins designed to operate as a guardian and advisor. Arnold specifically refused to craft Merlin in his own image, instead choosing that of his former particle physics teacher. Merlin was designed to permanently deactivate upon Christopher's death. As one of his last acts, Arnold wiped Merlin's flash memory of any information about the Pilgrims and the war.

As the battle came to Peron, Devi succeded in having Christopher smuggled off world to live with his aunt Jennifer and uncle Samuel on Nephele. However, she could not escape the Confederation siege herself. With the arrival of the second Grand Fleet and the Pilgrim refusal to surrender, it was clear that the siege would become a massacre. Arnold, desperate to rescue his wife, stole a Merlin-class fighter and attempted to land on Peron to reach her as the battle reached its final days. He was killed on 2634.301.0900 by what is believed to have been a Pilgrim automated stratospheric defense drone. Devi also died in the fighting around the same time.

The Grand Fleet Information Office released news of Arnold's death the next day, but out of consideration for his survivors opted to spare his reputation as a war hero by claiming he had been flying a mission classified by Grand Fleet Operations. Both bodies were recovered and Devi was buried in a distant graveyard on Nephele. For four years Arnold would be hailed as a hero of the Pilgrim War. In 2638, however, the true story came out when a reporter published an article "War Hero's Secret Pilgrim Romance" which identified the Blairs by name.

Christopher Blair would remain on Nephele with Jennifer and Samuel, who lived as subsistence farmers. He had a difficult youth, first celebrated as the son of a war hero and then demonized as the child of traitors. Merlin was installed when he was five and he was given Devi's cross when he turned eight (he would not start wearing it for five more years). Some time later, his uncle was killed in a farm-equipment accident and his aunt left the planet looking for work. She eventually remarried and did not return, and Christopher spent the rest of his childhood under the care of his maternal grandfather, Abraham Truepath, and grandmother.

As he grew up, Christopher would retain only hazy memories of his real parents. Nevertheless, he chose to follow in his father's footsteps by joining the Terran Confederation Space Force. Among his few posessions when he arrived as a green lieutenant on the TCS Tiger's Claw were his mother's Pilgrim Cross, a photo of Arnold and Devi and the hologram his father had created for him.

(Happy Father's Day to CIC staff members ace and AD and to WingNut dads everywhere!)

A New Light Shines on WC2 Mod

Deathsnake has posted a batch of new pictures that show off his Freespace 2 mod inspired by Wing Commander 2. The first two shots are cutscene images with new lighting features enabled. Additional glimpses show off some classic ships in action, including a tight Broadsword carrier launch. You can find a test demo of the game at the project's website here.

Needed to change the size a little bit so that the new Broadsword (Standoff Version) fits in the hangar bay of the Confederation (class dreadnought). Width was over 39m, now down to 32m and it fits, but you can't steer too much in the bay when you launch from the flight deck. ^^

Black Prophecy Expands Open Beta

badaim let us know that more people can now try out the Black Prophecy MMO space sim. The game is available for European players and the US is now in open beta. Earlier this year we posted an interview that discussed the game developers' affection for Wing Commander. You can try out the game here.

Next-generation graphics
Black Prophecy uses the latest in graphics technology to produce breathtaking visuals.

Fast-paced action combat
Black Prophecy is more action-oriented than a traditional space simulation. We are trying to avoid long travel times or other activities where the player isn't really doing anything.

Exciting Player vs. Player combat
Black Prophecy allows players to organize big PvP battles and also offers varied PvP missions.

Captivating Story
Black Prophecy's universe, story and background has been created by the award-winning Sci-Fi author Michael Marrak.

Modular ship design
Player ships are not sold as whole, but instead consist of modules like cockpits, wings, engines etc. All these modules are available in different shapes and sizes, which allows the players to customize their ships.

Item modification system
In addition to the modular ship design, players can also further customize their ships by adding modifications to their ship's modules and weapons.

Modular clan station system
Player clans can build clan stations that are expandable through a module system. Different modules add different functionalities to the station.

Resource system
Clans can fight each other to conquer resource stations.

Award and medal system
Similar to an achievement system, players can earn medals and awards for performing specific tasks.

Tactics system
Players can learn and execute breakneck flight maneuvers.

BREAKING NEWS: More Wing Commander on GOG Confirmed

G4 is running a video interview with GOG's Head of PR and Marketing Trevor Longino in which he confirms that more Wing Commander and Ultima games will be released in the "next few weeks". Here's the relevant quote:
Now we're coming back with a new wave of EA classics. And we'll be bringing you more Wing Commander games, more Ultima games, games from the Lands of Lore series and games from the Sim City series, tonnes of great EA classics all coming to GOG in the next few weeks.
Mr. Longino also confirms that GOG is actively pursuing the rights to release games from the Syndicate and System Shock franchises. You can watch the full video, which explains the GOG service, here. Thanks to Elie for reporting this news! (Note that Lands of Lore is distinct from Chris Roberts' Times of Lore. That would be a cool game to see on the service.)

Wing Commander Goes Commercial

In 1995, Origin partnered with microchip manufacturer Intel to develop a series of advertisements. Co-sponsored magazine advertisements touted the performance Pentium chips would offer Ultima VIII and Pacific Strike... but the most interesting product of the partnership was a television commercial which featured Wing Commander!

The commercial shows a boy studying the solar system using the Redshift planetarium software. He goes through several planets and recites facts about them; then he announces that it's time to "study the Kilrathi system," picks up a flight stick and instantly switches to an Arrow cockpit playing Wing Commander III!

It's amazing to think that 'Kilrathi' was a perfectly explicable word for a national TV spot in 1995. The footage itself is very interesting as well: of course, the instant switch between Redshift and Wing Commander III was impossible at the time... and eagle-eyed Wing Commander fans will also recognize that the game itself is a prettier mockup rather than the released version. The game mirrors the planetarium software with a lush planet image in the background and pairs of high resolution Arrows swoop past the view.

You can view the full commercial on YouTube or download your own copy here (WMV, 16.4 megs).

EA on GOG: Magic Carpet

GOG has released the sixth and last of their 'early summer' Electronic Arts games. Unfortunately, it's not an Origin title--but it is the next best thing, Bullfrog's Magic Carpet. Grab your copy here for $5.99. GOG is working on another round of EA releases which is expected at the end of the summer--and will likely include a number of other Origin games! Expect more news in August.
As the last release from the first batch of the huge deal with Electronic Arts, we’re giving you a chance to become a wizard that needs to save the world.

Magic Carpet is an extraordinary action shooter game from the acclaimed Bullfrog Productions. All magic wielders are battling between themselves for the most valuable resource (no, not oil) - mana. Casting huge meteor showers or invoking a terrifying thunder storm, one could summon a castle in the middle of an ocean or just create a volcano right on top of this little harmless village. If you’re not the type of guy that likes to let the hell loose you could always just throw fireballs here and there or just summon a massive skeleton army to plow your way through the plethora of hostile creatures. Apart from other wizards and genies fighting you over the oh so precious mana, you’ll encounter various fantasy monsters ready to devour you (like a hydra or a dragon) or convert mana into more monsters (like the crabs do ;)).

Apart from this awesome flying-carpet action you can slow down a take a look at the normal lives of the townsfolk to admire the normal day to day activities that the AI performs. And if we’re on the subject of AI, the one controlling the opposing wizards is exceptional even when looking from today’s perspective. If you ever wanted to live the life of a carpet-zooming wizard now you can! Want to do much more than just sing-along “A Whole New World” with the prince and the princess? Then this is the game for you!

WCPedia Adds Tags, Types & Talons

Bob McDob is one of the talented Wingnuts who has been dedicating his time to the WCPedia this year, and he's got an update on where the encyclopedia currently stands. Follow some of the links to see some of the cool articles that have been added recently and where there are opportunities to expand our knowledge.
When Privateer was released on Good Old Games it caught all of us off-balance. For me personally, as a member of WCPedia, it was embarrassing: Privateer on sale again and our Privateer section fairly pathetic (the star systems and commodities in, but none of the bases or missions, and most of the ships missing - particularly, none of the player ships).

Well, that's changed a bit now. With the creation of the Galaxy article, we are now up to 2154 articles. Just 500 more to go before we reach Wing Commander I!

Forty new articles in three months might not sound very impressive, especially after the fit of creation at the start of the year - but that doesn't tell the whole story. Speaking for myself, what I've been focusing on these past few months is organizing what we already have - for instance, 726 articles, over a third of the total, are now tagged by Source, which means that if you want to know where something came from or where it appears, you can now do that. Ship types, fighter and capital ship classes are available for search as well. (A full list of properties can be found here). Another thing I've been very proud of is the Historical Documents section. This started off as a one-off on my part when I decided to type up the prologue to Action Stations - but now you can read a fairly diverse number of pieces, ranging from the news extracts from said book to articles from the Confederation Handbook. The latest, a primer to the (pseudo)science behind space travel, can be found here.

Besides that, some minor work has been going on at the technical front. I've been trying to get infoboxes to look better and be easier to read - that's been only partially successful, mainly due to the way the software handles bullet points (it seems like an isolated case - I haven't noticed this problem at other wikis).

Still, while I won't (and can't) speak for the others, as one of the most recklessly prolific contributors to the Project I feel like I've personally been slacking off. So, no more: as soon as this hits the thread I'm going off and finishing the rest of the P2 articles we have material for. I've got a brand new laptop and Privateer 2 on my thumb drive; no more excuses here.

For those of you curious as to what Privateer articles are present, Category:Wing Commander: Privateer currently serves as something of a portal. Hopefully we can make it look nicer.

How Do You Like Us Now?

GOG has issued the first update to their sales rankings since the EA licensing deal was announced... and the numbers are good! Out of the 290-game GOG catalog, Privateer is now in 146th place--meaning that in under two weeks it has sold more downloads than half of the games ever released through the service. More telling, Privateer is also far and away the best selling of the Origin games released to date. Crusader: No Remorse ranks #204 and Ultima Underworld 1+2 ranks 284th. Privateer is also the top-selling EA game, beating out Alpha Centauri at #172 and Dungeon Keeper's sad last place. If you haven't picked up Privateer yet--keep buying so we keep flying!
EA on GOG - Sales Rankings

146 - Wing Commander: Privateer
172 - Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
204 - Crusader: No Remorse
284 - Ultima Underworld 1+2
290 - Dungeon Keeper

Looking for a franchise to relaunch, EA?

Happy Flag Day!

In the United States, June 14th is celebrated as the anniversary of the 1777 adoption of the familiar 'stars and stripes'. So, what better day to look at some flags of the Terran Confederation?

The end of Wing Commander I offers up the first flag in Wing Commander history, with soldiers erecting it on Venice in reference to the famous Iwo Jima photograph. Unfortunately, the scene is all done in silhouette, so the details were unknown. The first visible flag in the Wing Commander canon appears in a cutscene in The Secret Missions 2: Crusade. The Firekkans stand under a bejeweled rock column and the Terrans under a distinct blue flag with two white five-point stars and a red stripe:

It's worth noting that the Confederation went without a single distinct emblem for quite a while. Both a five-point star and the distinctive "Origin logo" roundel appear at various places in the earlier games. In Wing Commander II, Ferrets have red Origin logos on their wings but Terran capital ships have yellow stars. In Wing Commander III, the familiar logo is more prevalent but pilots also wear a 'sword in star' logo on their uniforms. Super Wing Commander even has a different elongated star!

Special Operations 2 shows us an interesting flag--it's derived from the Wing Commander I flag but swaps the five-point stars for 'Origin logo' style jump points:

Wing Commander IV created a flag for the Confederation by placing the now-familiar roundel on a blue field (sometimes with a white trim).

Wing Commander IV has another treat for flagophiles: 16 other flags hanging above the assembly, likely representing different Confederation members:

Then came the Wing Commander movie! The wonderful opening sequence actually shows another Confederation flag, one that is almost a mix of the Secret Missions 2 and Wing Commander IV versions (and part Texas State flag). Unfortunately it is only a faint image that is overlayed over a map of the galaxy. Star*Soldier uses a version of the Wing Commander movie flag on two pages, offering a canonical color scheme:

Later, concept art of the sketches from the movie intro were discovering--allowing Bob McDob to create an image of how he believes that flag should be colorized!

Get Tactical with Astro Commander

Astro Commander will be setting up his tabletop Wing Commander galaxy later this summer at Tacticon in Denver, Colorado. Check out the rules that were used in his last fleet battle here. He's currently looking for suggestions on how to tweak the action for the next game. Let Astro know if you have any suggestions, and if you're going to be near Denver on September 1, be sure to check this out!

Wing Commander Fleet: Ashes of Kilrah
Kilrah may have been destroyed, but there are key facilities in-system that the Federation-Kilrathi alliance desperately need in its fight against the Nephilim. Players will take control of at least one cap ship, a compliment of fighters, and a "Hero" in this fleet scale space combat game. All Models provided.

----------

I am attempting to determine what mission to run and realized this is probably the best place to get such info. Please PM me if you have suggestions and I will consider/integrate aspects that I hope will make the game fun for all involved or watching.

Forces available:
Quite a bit of Terran (Confed/UBW), Kitty, Bug, and a tiny bit of Steltek that needs some dialing down in power.

Thanks for any suggestions!

New FC Ship Editor Makes Progress

Iceblade has made huge advances with the Flight Commander ship editor that he's making in conjunction with Wing Commander Fleet Assault. It already works for basic ship features, but he's expanding it now to integrate tweaks to turrets and eventually a mew 3D viewer to more readily see modifications. The current program is also designed to work with FC version 1.7, which is still in development, but modders will have a neat toy to play with when this comes together. You can learn more here.

If you've read my recent posts under the Modding Tutorials Poll thread at the WC CIC Chat zone, you'll notice that the Java-based Ship Editor initially programmed by Eddie was giving me some trouble. Well after spending some time working on python scripts/modules for a new ship editor, which were turning out to be more a replication of Eddie's code in a different language, I started to get a clearer understanding of his code.

So I decided to give updating the older editor another try. The step that was giving me the most headaches was updating how weapons are handled, since in FC 1.7 tags are used to reference weapons as opposed to a list of numbers corresponding to weapons. Considering the way Eddie's program was setup for weapon hardpoints, this kind of change is rather involved especially with unfamiliar code.

In any case, the editor now will read-in and use weapon tags like a first language or at least be really fluent in a second language. Also I added the code necessary to make the remaining empty fields shown in the first picture below fully functional. This includes adding in the missing code for the editor's frame (ie the frontend) by-hand.\

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Addendum: Completed the remaining aspects for the turrets and the conversions from the rotation matrices to Euler angles and back works perfectly. Aside from some tweaks and beta testing, the editor will soon be ready for release.

Comm Importation Tool to Help Spice Up FC Mods

Ship stats aren't the only advanced modding technique that Iceblade is working to expand. He's also developed a comm importer that streamlines the processing of Secret Ops audio clips into Flight Commander. This program is virtually complete, and Iceblade just needs some volunteers to test it out. Let him know if you can help!

I've been busy doing some comm/VO conversions. Capships are pretty simple since they only have 11 or so comms total for the majority of them. The conversions I did from a years back help out a little bit, but these are from before the introduction of comms.xml files, which I now have to prepare for each pilot. Back in the day, comm importing was relatively simple with no captions and only a small number of comm types. Capships were really quick, but even then, fighter comms took time with trying to find at least one voiceover per type out of 60 to 150 voiceover files per pilot.

Nowadays, comm conversions require significantly more voiceover files with the huge increase in comm types implemented in FC, not to mention needing to write captions for each one. And there are more comm types on the way, so I really need to just convert all of them. For the occasional capship this is manageable, but it would take me hours to import one fighter pilot. An impossible task, especially for trying to convert a dozen or so.

This task is a lot less daunting then what it might appear, however. While Eddie has been busy increasing features in FC over the last 4 years, I've been learning and working in reverse engineering (as part of Forgotten World - an Ultima IX Mod Project) and (more recently) programming (Python). So over the last two evenings, I've been coding up a Python script to do the lengthy conversion work for me. Now, what would take me hours can be done in a few rapid steps.

Currently, the program can receive the name of the comm file (essentially the pilot's name usually like Amazon or AACE1), extract all of the information from it, use peripheral files (including two editable text files that contain the values used for the comm videos and comm types) to determine what that information means, read in the English strings for that comm pilot, and export complete comms.xml files. This is actually a sizable portion of the conversion work.

Rockstar Roll Call Rolls With Rollins

Wingnuts who have recently picked up a copy of Rockstar Games and Team Bondi's most recent open-world adventure may have noticed a familiar face! Radio Rollins A.K.A. Courtney Gains has a small role in the recently released crime thriller L.A. Noire which is now available for the Xbox 360 and the PS3.

Courtney's character in the film-noire inspired L.A. Noire is a far cry from the Victory's paranoid communications officer that he played in Wing Commander 3. As a pedophile named Eli Rooney, Courtney's character is first encountered in the case of the Golden Butterfly, lurking near a highschool...

It's Crusader Day!

We can't help it: try as we might not to, we love that red Boba Fett. Crusader: No Remorse on GOG is here, and to celebrate we're offering a lineup of Crusader-meets-Wing Commander related articles today! We can't promise a record-breaking number of updates as on Privateer Day a week ago... but, after all, Crusader isn't our focus (we'll leave its history to the experts at Echo Sector.) Instead we are going to focus on how Crusader connected to Wing Commander--both with a series of 'easter eggs' and with the story of a never-released Wing Commander project developed by the game's talented Loose Cannon team.

Crusader Day: W.E.C. What You Did There

In 1998, a piece of Secret Ops Episode 5 fiction shocked the very foundation of the Wing Commander community by referencing the "W.E.C." (Crusader's world government) in an article about the prehistory of the Confederation. Did Wing Commander and Crusader take place in the same continuity? Unlike similarly referential Ultima, which would add magic and dragons and TIE fighters to the continuity, Crusader seemed like a nearly perfect fit. The game was set some five hundred years before Wing Commander, in 2196, and could seemingly function as a passable (if irrelevant) prequel showing us the early days of what would become the Terran Confederation.

The answer was no. Origin/IMGS writer Chris McCubbin posted to alt.games.wing-commander explaining that it was just one in a long tradition of Origin "easter eggs"--while Secret Ops designer and author of the article John Guentzel mused that while he liked the idea of Crusader functioning as a Wing Commander prequel, there was no good way to explain its use of teleporter technology. Here's the text:

Recent public interest figure turned activist Sam Langtry, who is involved in an investigation into the unsafe R&D practices at Confederation Military research facilities, was at the head of a UIN protest against the, "deceptive methods of information management" allegedly employed by Confederation officials.

At a public gathering on the third settlement of Zeta Orionis Prime he stated, "This is par for the course for the TC. Not since the W.E.C. have we seen such destructive policy played out on the populace. If the next fifty years go the direction the last fifty years have gone we could be heading for another civil war that could make the W.E.C. dissolution look like a Sunday in the park."

You can read the full article here.

Crusader Day: The Gang's All Here

What if Origin had a party and everybody came? Well, this 1995-6 promotional t-shirt attempts to answer that very question! For the first time Hobbes and a Crusader Stormtrooper can stand side by side while carefully avoiding eye contact with the CyberMage.

Here's who we know:

Above-

  • AH-64 Longbow (Jane's AH-64 Longbow)
  • Sopwith Camel (Wings of Glory)
  • Minotaur Mech (Prowler - cancelled)

Main Row-

  • Unidentified Red Robot
  • Lex (Bioforge)
  • Elite Stormtrooper (Crusader: No Remorse)
  • Unidentified Swordsman (Ultima IX or Silverheart)
  • CyberMage (CyberMage: Darklight Awakening)
  • Ralgha nar Hhallas (Wing Commander III)

Inside the "O"-

  • The Avatar (Ultima VIII)

Crusader Day: Making Movies

There is another Crusader reference in Wing Commander--a big one. The Star*Soldier manual for Wing Commander Arena took the reference to the W.E.C. from Secret Ops and ran with it... producing a full page advertisement for a Crusader movie called No Mercy (the title of a cancelled third Crusader game)!

The poster uses the Crusader key art and is full of Origin, Wing Commander and Crusader in-jokes (you can read the full gloss for the page here)... but the most interesting part is the movie's tagline, which indicates that it is "the true story of the man who brought down the WEC." Maybe there's something to this prequel idea after all...

Crusader Day: Snell, Snell!

Crusader: No Remorse features a character named Senator Everette Snell (played by Ron Jackson), a powerful, corrupt politician who answers to Chairman Draygan. Without spoiling the story for new players, he plays an important role as No Remorse develops.

... but four years earlier, Wing Commander II featured a cameo from a General Snell! As Blair leaves Niven to return to the Concordia, you have this exchange:
Niven: The course in your Nav computer takes you back to the Concordia, but General Snell’s got a job for you to do on the way.
Maverick: Roger that, Niven. What’s up?
Niven: You’ll escort the Bhomis and the Excalibur to their jump point. After they jump out, proceed to the Concordia by your programmed route.
So who the heck is this guy? Origin Systems' Vice President of Product Development Dallas Snell! Mr. Snell executive produced both the Wing Commander and Ultima series in their heyday. It is known that the Dallas system on the Wing Commander Universe map is also a namesake, referencing a piece of company lore which involved his drawing an org chart that was his own name pointing back to itself. It's also believed that he was namesake for both pilots named "Dallas", in Wing Commander II and Prophecy. He also appears twice in the Ultima series: first as "Dallas Garrett," Tesla's body guard in Martian Dreams and then as "Le Snel," a librarian with a terrible secret in Ultima VII.

Today, Mr. Snell (far right in the photo) is a co-founder of Portalarium, the social gaming company that is returning Richard Garriott to gaming! It's very exciting to see that former Origin luminaries will be once again creating worlds...

Crusader Day: Game, Movie, Real?

So: in the world of Wing Commander, Crusader is... a movie? A movie based on real events? But wait, there's more--because everyone also also references System Shock! Welcome to the most confusing history of in-jokes taken seriously that you'll read today (unless Ultima Aiera decides to try and explain 'Mount Drash' this afternoon).

In the Wing Commander universe, System Shock is a fictional movie based on a game. In Wing Commander III's Victory Streak manual, we are treated to a movie review of "Hail SHODAN," which describes the events of System Shock:

Hail SHODAN radiates with cyberpunk action and the good looks of Clint Mason. After streetwise hacker James Finn (Mason) accepts the challenge to punch deck into Citadel research station, he unknowingly removes the logic systems behind the station's artificial intelligence. Finn finds himself trapped in a steel jungle with nothing but his good looks and a few electro-magnetic grenades. The furious pace of this epic game-based HoloVid will send you reeling through the aisles ... the ending will astonish you. (2.24 hours) ***
The 3DO version of the manual even goes so far as to include a System Shock screenshot as a picture from the film:

So far, so good. In the 27th century someone makes a movie of System Shock. But then in Crusader, which purports to be a Wing Commander prequel... System Shock is REAL! The newsletter included with No Remorse includes an article about the invention of SHODAN:
The most exciting revelation at this year's forum was the conference on Project: SHODAN, a previously confidential long-term research project of the Cybernetics Cartel, based in Chicago. SHODAN is designed to produce a program that's not only capable of human-like thought and emotion, but that also far surpasses human intelligence levels. Dr. Titania Omolu held spellbound the capacity audience in the 40,000 seat main auditorium of the Perth Hall of Commerce with her presentation, describing how a fully functional SHODAN AI could manage and maintain all the operations and functions of a self-contained orbital research facility housing more than 1000 citizens with only minimal human support.
You can read the full Topline newspaper here. Even more confusing, the paper references a series of movies called "I, Crusader" that seem to also be about Crusader. In Crusader.

And it gets worse! In System Shock itself, Wing Commander is a GAME! The CD version of System Shock includes a minigame version of Wing Commander called "Wing 0." Designer Sean Barrett says:

"...for the CD game I outdid myself with a relatively complete Wing Commander minigame, Wing 0--written just before Wing 3 was released, it's both an homage and a parody, featuring, for example, one pacifistic wingman who refuses to fight (and strangely never gets attacked either, because he's actually a traitor!!!), a mission where you get something like 8 wingmen, and a final 'aww, what the heck, let's send you out by yourself to defeat their entire armada' mission."

You can learn more about Wing 0 here.

(Finally, not to further confuse the matter, there's still Ultima! As we have seen recently, that series tackles the Kilrathi in two different ways in Ultima Underworld 2 and Ultima VII... but then Crusader also references Ultima as a contemporary setting! Crusader: No Regret features an elaborate easter egg which reveals an appearance by The Guardian.)

Crusader Day: Avec Grande Vittek

As Crusader: No Remorse opens, three Silencers are walking through a sewer. One of them tries to make small talk and another turns to him to deliver what, oddly, be the game's most famous line: "Shut up, Vittek!"

Then, in Ultima VIII the name shows up again--when the Avatar discovers a letter about the missing Skull of Quakes signed by "Lieutenant Vittek"!

Okay--but what about Wing Commander? Well, unfortunately his WC cameo never made it into the canon... but look closely at this screenshot from Privateer 3. That's right, it's the TCS Vittek:

So who is this guy? He's Mark Vittek, a prolific and multi-talented Origin veteran! Mr. Vittek got his start working on Wing Commander II. He helped design several Ultima games and went on to be lead designer on the Crusader series. After that he was an essential member of the Privateer 3 team (more about that in another update) and later worked on Brute Force at Digital Anvil. Today, he is a filmmaker in Austin.

Crusader Day: Three Games in a Boat

In-jokes, developers, history? Just tell us if Crusader ever shipped in a SKU that included a Wing Commader game, already! You're in luck: it did!

Crusader: No Remorse (the game released on GOG yesterday) was re-released as part of something called a "Space Adventure Pak," bundled with Shockwave and Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger. The Space Adventure Pak came in an enormous rectangular box and actually included all the manuals and posters that shipped with the original game.

Crusader: No Regret was later included in the '3 Mega Game: Science Fiction' pack alongside Privateer 2 and Wing Commander IV! That's one hell of a "pak"! The 3 Mega Game release came in a regular box and dumped all the original manuals.

Crusader Day: Then What Didn't Happen?

Shortly after the release of Crusader: No Regret, the game's lead developer, Tony Zurovec, left Origin to help Chris Roberts found Digital Anvil. There he spent several years working on an ill-fated car combat game named after his former team, Loose Cannon. But what about the development group he left behind? Development was done on a variety of Crusader followups, but none were deemed workable. In the end, they moved to the Wing Commander universe to build a game called Privateer 3.

I don't think I'm exaggerating when I express that the mid-1998 cancellation of Privateer 3 numbers among mankind's most terrible crimes. Privateer 3 was a beautiful game. Set in a familiar area of the Wing Commander universe, it was well designed, beautifully renered and a huge amount of progress had been made in development. The game had just been unveiled to the public to great acclaim and then... the other shoe dropped. Mere days before the game was scheduled for its Austin FMV shoot it was no more.

But because so much work went into the title, a great variety of documents and artwork has been collected over the years! In honor of the team that built Crusader, we have collected what we know in this update. We have scripts, design documents, a video, a great big stack of screenshots and more!

Documents:

Video:

Art by Charles Workman:

Privateer 3 was a project I worked on that never made it to the shelves. It was a PC space adventure title and used pre-rendered background screens throughout. I had fun designing ships, creating and lighting backgrounds for levels and making some fly-in cinematics. The primary software I used was Alias Power Animator and Photoshop.

Art by Art Wong:

Art by Ruben Garza:

The final piece appears in the art book Spectrum 6. It is titled Privateer--Black Star (17"x11").

Art provided by EA Mythic:

Art provided by Mark Vittek:

Synopsis for Origin's Official Guide to Privateer 3:

What challenge do you want to take today? Hunt down a wanted criminal? Defend an embattled planet? Escort a vulnerable transport through a dangerous sector? Whatever you choice, you'll need Privateer 3: Prima's Official Strategy Guide. Inside you'll get complete specs for all ships, space combat tactics, shipbuilding strategies, write-ups for every mission, get-rich-quick advice, and descriptions of the most lucrative missions.

Whether you're looking for general tips or detailed explanations, this guide delivers the goods with: complete specs for all ships; space combat tactics; ship-building strategies; world descriptions; write-ups on all missions; best plot choices, best trade routes and get-rich-quick advice; and the most lucrative missions.

May 1998 Computer Games Strategy Plus magazine preview:

You've probably never heard of Frank Lucero, but Origin is trusting him to guide one of their premiere franchises through its third iteration (referred to in this story as Privateer 3, though the name will likely change) He and the Executive Producer Rod Nakamoto, (who filled the same slot on Wing Commander Prophecy) left Sega and brought much of their team to Origin, where they merged with what was left of the Loose Cannon team responsible for the Crusader series. The team members started the Privateer project by helping out the Wing Commander Prophecy team finish that game. This allowed the programmers to become familiar with its 3D engine.

On this day, however, Lucero seems troubled. He has a journalist in his office to see Privateer 3 and he hasn't had adequate time to prepare. He's concerned with the status of his game--it features a lot of placeholder artwork (or "programmer art," which is as terrifying as it sounds) and exists only in pieces. A lot of the design discussed here is preliminary, and could change drastically by the time the game ships. And finally, this is a license and a genre that people have a great passion for, so expectations are likely to be sky high.

A Brief History of Privateer

Or are they? In the original Privateer, you traveled from planet to planet, bought and sold goods, fought an occasional battle, and navigated your way through a main plot line. While there was a linear narrative, it felt like the galaxy was yours for the taking--all it too was some cash and a lot of firepower. It received plenty of acclaim from the public and the press. Privateer 2: The Darkening was a product that lacked focus. Originally designed as an original game set in a new universe, Origin tacked on the Privateer name at some time in its development. Unfortunately, all it shared with the original game was its basic structure and gameplay. It wasn't a true sequel (It didn't even take place in the same game universe), had numerous technical glitches, and moved towards a Wing Commander style "interactive movie" concept, losing some of the open endedness that characterized the original game. Many fans, and critics, weren't happy. Privateer 3 returns to the universe, once again assuming its role as the more unstructured and less narrative focused cousin to Wing Commander. There will be no full-motion video shot for the game- all plot-specific animated sequences will either utilize the game engine (for space scenes) or will be rendered. Regarding the video, or lack thereof, Lucero admits player feedback influenced their decision.

"Most people didn't think it was necessary. They felt we would concentrate on the gameplay."

Under the influence

Privateer 3 designer Mark Vittek's walls are lined with a motley assortment of products that either directly, or indirectly, serve as the inspiration to competition for this game.

"We revisited a lot of games that had an open ended design to see thethoughts behind them. One of the games I keep harkening back to, and this will make Frank cringe,[which he proceeds to demonstrate] is the original Pirates." "Cringe is a bad word,'' Lucero clarifies, "because that's a great game."

"It [Pirates] was much more about building up you character and open ended [than most games], but there were many more storylines you could explore," explains Vittek. "And that, I think, is what we're trying to accomplish here. Fans are going to be able to get more into the story because of the Kilrathi -- they're the best bad guys we have. We're bringing back the Klingons, so to speak." Lucero admits that much of the design for Privateer 3 is taken from the original Origin-penned (but discarded) Privateer 2 design.

"We're taking this to where Privateer should have been, focusing on the exploring aspect and being able to build up your ship. This gives it a feeling of role-playing. We're concentrating on making the planets unique, so unlike Elite, where they're randomly generated, these are pre-defined but more individual." As much as people say they want open-ended games, few companies produce them. When asked why he thinks that is, Lucero hesitates. "It seems like whenever there's a successful product that comes out, everyone tries to clone it, and this consumes a lot of development effort and energy in this industry. Some of the other properties, wihich may be really good, tend to get put aside for a while." "Besides," he says, "it's not easy to come up with a rich and detailed universe."

It's the End of the Universe as we Know it

"Where Privateer 2 had about 20 unique worlds to visit, Privateer 3 will have closer to 50, with more than 2000 total locations in the galaxy you can visit with your ship. Some of these will only become available as you upgrade your ship; others appear depending on your style of play. For example, a player with a reputation for piracy may somehow discover the secret pirate lair."

Each location has its own unique aesthetic sense, economy, mission generation system and characters you can interact with. Lucero explains the reason for this. "We want to make sure when you go to each location that you feel like you're there. If you’re in an area of space that's fairly well-protected and doing well, it's going to be brighter. If you're in an area that's run by pirates, It's going to be bleak and grungy."

The Plot Thickens

The team is guarding the plot of Privateer 3 as if it were the next Star Wars movie, and Lucero chooses his words as carefully as a President ducking a sex scandal. "There are several story threads running through the game, but there is one central story, with a single ending." Which thread you follow depends on your actions. If you align yourself with the Kilrathi Bloodhunters, you might be more likely to follow that thread of the story. However the goal of the game will be the same.

The game takes place shortly after the events of Wing Commander Prophecy. The Midway project, where the Confederation sunk a ton of cash into an enormous warship, has been deemed a success and additional ships have been built. You start the game down on your luck. Your ship has been damaged. The freighter you were escorting just got smoked by pirates. Broke, you're stuck on New Damascus without anywhere to turn, so you take a shady mission in order to make some quick cash. This starts a sequence of events that forces you to deal with the Kilrathi.

Learning the Trade

One of your main goals in the game is to make some easy cash, and our next stop, the commodities screen, is where you barter away yout loot. The economy is dynamic and will reflect things going on in the game, so trading one item constantly will cause its price to fluctuate, and each planet will have its own economy. Origin is designing their univers to be self-sustaining. There are certain optimal trade routes where you'll usually find freighters running goods--if you stumble on them, you can capture those ships, and make a killing, at least for a while. The balance again comes in and you'll start seeing more and more stronger escorts. But don't lose sight of the bigger picture--you're having an effect on the worlds those goods were intended for.

On a Mission

Next we hit the bar, where the various low-lifes of the universe gather to swap stories. Here you'll be able to pick up random missions based on your alignment. If you've been going around blowing up Confederation units, you may get missions from pirates or assasins, while a goody-two-shoes player may find merchants asking you to escort or transport goods for them.

"You can join the pirates, but once you're over on their side, people who were your friends- the Confederation, the merchants - suddenly won't like you any more," Vittek says smiling. "But you can play the gray areas to your advantage."

There are two different kinds of missions, the ones generated randomly and the ones that are pre-scripted to occur at certain points of the game. These advance the story and are more elaborate in design. Overall, there will be 30-40 of these missions, and they'll only be triggered once the player has reached certain pre-determined points in the game - either a certain number of kills, a number of credits or based on the quality of your ship.

Unlike other games, some missions will have the player attack entire space stations in order to take them over. Re-supply ships will assist you on these attacks, saving you a trip to the nearest base to replenishing missiles and shields.

"How likely is one fighter going to be able to take out a space station?" Lucero asks. In these cases, you'll have to engage with the support of groups of fighters, taking on both the station and any ships that it may have on-hand to throw at you. You'll have to divvy up the attack, where one person takes out the shield generator, another the turrets, another takes out the power, etc.

At this point, you're probably thinking, "that sounds like a great multiplayer mission." Well, you're right. It turns out that all of the non-plot critical single-player missions are also being designed for multiplayer.

A single-player multiplayer experience

When the topic of multiplayer inevitably comes up, Lucero hesitates and squirms a bit, not wanting to get into any specifics. "I guess I'm a bit gun-shy after what happened with Prophecy. We don't want to promise the customer that we'll give them everything and then fall short." Of course it's the marketing guy that spills the beans.

"This is truly the first multiplayer Wing Commander product," boasts Chris Plummer. "The Privateer concept is obviously the most conducive to multiplayer because all of these people can have their own interests and take on what they want." The plan for the game is to allow players to set up their own Privateer servers that will store the world-state and serve as the mission generator. You'll be able to set up all the parameters for entry into the server, with things like wealth and ship limits. People will be able to use QuakeSpy-like software to find them on the Internet, and will be able to log in and out of the server at any time, send messages to other players, and post want-ads on the bulletin boards. Each server can support an unlimited number of individual accounts, but the number of simultaneous players a server can support will depend on the speed of the Internet connect and the hardware serving the game. Where most games have a set number of single-player and multiplayer missions or levels, the goal of Privateer 3 is to eliminate the distinction between the two. After listening to his colleagues give out all of the multiplayer secrets, Lucero finally gives in.

"All missions are being designed so they can work with a player or an AI ship in any role." This sort of integrated design isn't new, even to Origin. An example of a game with completely integrated single- and multiplayer design is Jane's Longbow 2, which was developed in the same building as Privateer. The bottom line, according to Lucero, is that they're too early in the process to make any sort of guarantees. "We haven't tackled the development issues yet. We've got to get out final flight model up and running, and then we have to do experiments to determine whether or not it's latency tolerant. Of that model takes a lot of time, it's going to cut into what our overall goals for multiplayer really are."

Magazine Art:

BREAKING NEWS: Crusader on GOG

The Silencer is with GOG now: the first game in Origin's third most familiar franchise, Crusader: No Remorse, is now available through GOG for just $5.99! You can pick up your copy here; it comes with the manual and all the modern Windows compatibility jazz you would expect. Check back tomorrow for some more history of how Crusader connects to the Wing Commander world.

For more information on the Crusader franchise, be sure to check in at Echo Sector, which some have called the Ultima Aiera of Crusader sites (citation needed). Also available today as part of the EA licensing agreement is Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Alpha Centauri was developed by Maxis, but Origin's crack promotions department did help to advertise it!

In Crusader: No Remorse you are a Silencer, a member of an elite soldier group of the World Economic Consortium, a mega-corporation. During the last mission, which supposed to be a routine task, your squad gets into a WEC mech patrol ambush. Only you survived and to revenge your team mates you join the Resistance. Now, on the other side of the barricade, you'll face the military wrath of your former employers and save the world! A ton of crazy arsenal is there to help, from conventional guns that shoot bullets, rocket launchers to microwave gun or a plasma cannon. The Crusader can hack into security cameras or even take control of a WEC mech! He also has some cool gadgets to help him annihilate more swiftly, most notably the awesome Spiderbomb. Between missions you’re going to visit Resistance bases and unravel the engaging storyline through talking with other members of the movement. All of that with real life actors and awesome cut scenes! The music is simply amazing, made by Andrew Sega aka Necros, a legend in the demo community.

This game is simply what we call a classic, so if you haven't played it yet, now is the time (and if you played it already, it's time to replay it :))!

Thrakhath's Fleet Grows Larger

Astro Commander's latest marvels are a fleet of fearsome Kilrathi capships. The first is a pretty majestic looking Snakeir followed by two escorts, the Ralaxath and Fralthi II. Finally, he's created a new design that fits surprisingly well with its siblings. It's amazing how much character can be packed into a small package!

I have finished up the Kitty ships. All that is left is the Steltek, and maybe a closeup of all the little fighters....(maybe one picture of each little fighter)

First the old Snakier. Next a pair of destroyers, one modified to have a big laser in the front, the second modified to be a carrier. why.. because I liked these modifications better. Feel free to plug the carrier bay or cut off the laser if you get one.

And finally my favorite, probably because it's purely my design, the Triklah. I liked the asymmetry of the Kilrathi ships but felt it should go slightly further because they were still fundamentally symmetric. This feels just a little more... off to me.

WC vs. History: Building a Better Mousetrap

The megacarrier program was developed in the mid-2670s as a more efficient peacetime alternative to the massive Vesuvius-class carriers then being built. The new megacarriers would outclass Vesuvius and aging war-era ships, not by offering superior firepower, but instead by acting as mobile starbases capable not only of fighter operations but a wide range of roles.

Megacarriers would support three full fighter groups, 252 fighters and strike craft in total, capable of operating independently or in coordination. They would also carry equipment to support two full armored TCMC brigades, with a 1,500-man Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard at all times. Megacarriers would be the first warship ever to field a dedicated Science Division, a cross between a colonial scientific extension ship and a naval intelligence field station. The 120-person multi-service division would be able to go from solving agricultural problems at Confederation colonies to conducting lightning fast intel analysis.

Finally, the ships would would act as HQ for battle commanders, command-and-control centers for strategic planning and communications hubs for support ships. Total crew would range from six to seven thousand depending on mission. The ships would be capable of putting to space for longer than previous carrier designs. In short, mobile starbases during peacetime capable of dealing with a wide variety of crisis which could instantly form the nuclei of strike forces or carrier groups should war come.

The 27th century wins this round. By a lot.

Newly developed megacarrier doctrine claimed that the warships would be more efficient than those which had come before: cheaper to build than their equivalent capacity of multiple war-era ships and easier to defend by focusing protection on a single hull rather than multiple carriers, marine transports, command and control ships and science vessels. The design, whose funding was the source of constant in-fighting in the Senate, would save credits by reducing armor and thus overall tonnage from the Vesuvius-class--but would boast the shields of wartime top-security permanent installations, capable of rendering them nigh invulnerable. A new system of arterial fighter storage, which divided launch operations through a network of tubes and into six independent launch bays, would lessen the impact of the catastrophic suicide attacks against flight decks used by the Kilrathi. Megacarriers would be defended by an array of lasers, missile turrets for anti-fighter work and ion cannons and capship missiles for heavier fighting. In all, the design would weigh in at 1,830 meters in length and 200,000 tonnes.

In 2676, the chairman of the Senate's Armed Forces Committee, James Taggart, approached Brigadier General Christopher Blair to ask that he return to active military duty as chief military liaison for the megacarrier project. As Senior Operational Consultant on the project, Blair would follow the design from space engineering blueprints to the christening of the first ship at TSY Archology and on to fifty days aboard her final shakedown cruise. The historic name chosen for the class? Midway.

TCS Midway (CVX-1) was the lead ship of the Midway-class heavy carriers and the first of the Terran Confederation's vaunted "megacarriers". Midway began her career conducting anti-piracy operations on the frontier as part of her final shakedown. History would soon intervene, having left her in the 'right place at the right time' during the initial Nephilim invasion. Midway, along with the Eisen carrier group, would fight her way to the core of the Nephilim hordes in the Kilrah System and destroy the alien's wormhole gate.

Both Midways made use of their science division! Here, Wernher von Braun conducts a 1947 carrier-based V2 rocket firing onboard USS Midway.

The initial production run of ten Midway-class ships would go on to serve with distinction throughout the violent Nephilim War, with later ships of that set differing slightly visually as the "Flight IIA" model. All ten were named after great naval battles: Midway, Mistral Sea, Tafanda Bay, Coral Sea, Jutland, Ptoloman's Rift, Enyo III, Bataan, Tripoli and Port Broughton. Port Broughton survives to this day, operating as a makeshift refugee waystation on the frontier.

Then, there's the real thing. USS Midway (CVB-41) was America's first Battle Carrier (CVB - C for Carrier, V for Heavier-than-Air, B for Battle), also the lead ship of a Midway-class. She was the first American carrier to possess an armored flight deck. On all prior American carriers the flight deck had been made of Teak, which prevented splintering. British carriers had long had armored flight decks, they actually had fully armored hangars on some ships. However, these carriers had fairly small air wings (36-48 aircraft). The Japanese built an armored deck carrier during the war, Taiho. Taiho was sunk by the American submarine Albacore during the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19, 1944) and never got a chance to see what her armored deck could take. Unlike the British and Japanese carriers, the Midway was designed with a large air group in mind. When fully loaded she could accommodate 130 World War II era Hellcats, Corsairs, Avengers and Helldivers. The desire to operate such a large air group necessitated the massive size of the carrier. USS Midway displaced 45,000 tons standard displacement. That's the same as the Iowa class battleships at standard displacement! The USS Midway's career is marked with research and development operations. The ship itself was no exception.

USS Midway, named for the famous 1942 battle, was laid down on October 27, 1943. Her hull is based on the design that would have become the Montana class battleships, although they were cancelled in favor of building more Essex class carriers following the battles of 1942. When she was commissioned, eight days after Japan's surrender, on September 10, 1945 she became the first US Navy warship that was too large to use the Panama Canal.

The Midway began her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean before she joined the Atlantic Fleet as the flagship of Carrier Division 1. It was during this period of her career, September 1947, that the Midway took part in Operation Sandy. During the operation she launched a captured German V-2 rocket (launched by Werhner von Braun himself). This was the first launch of a V-2 from a moving launch platform. For the next seven years the Midway operated with the Atlantic Fleet before transferring to the 7th Fleet in the Western Pacific in 1954. A year later she entered dry dock for her first modernization. She received new catapults, elevators and most importantly an angled flight deck for simultaneous launch and recovery operations. She rejoined the 7th Fleet in 1957 and would remain in the Pacific for the rest of her career.

At the start of the Vietnam Conflict USS Midway was deployed to the Far East to support American operations. Commander L. C. Page flying an F-4B Phantom with VF-21 shot down a MiG-17 on June 17, 1965. This was the first American MiG kill in the Vietnam Conflict. For their performance on this cruise, Midway and her air wing, Attack Carrier Air Wing Two, received the Navy Unit Commendation Medal and, in addition, Midway received the Battle Efficiency "E," marking her as the outstanding carrier in the Pacific Fleet. Following this tour the Midway underwent the most extensive modernization of any ship in American naval history.

The flight deck was enlarged from 2.8 to 4 acres! New and larger elevators were installed to handle the ever increasing size of naval aircraft. Along with countless other improvements (at the cost of a cool $202 million), the Midway was ready to rejoin the Fleet in January 1970.

She was sent back to the Far East where she stayed on station until 1973. On January 12, 1973 LT V. T. Kovaleski and LT J. A. Wise, flying an F-4B Phantom II shot down a MiG-17. This was the last air-to-air kill in the Vietnam conflict. Quite a book end! For services rendered in Vietnam, the USS Midway received a Presidential Unit Citation. However, the Midway's, perhaps, most famous operation in Vietnam came in April 1975 when Major Buang, along with his wife and five children, flying a Cesena 0-1 Bird Dog observation plane flew from a base in South Vietnam into the Gulf of Tonkin hoping to find a carrier to land on. In an amazing bit of flying, Major Buang landed on the Midway lacking the proper equipment to do so. One officer said Buang came in a perfect glide scope and had he had an arresting hook would have grabbed the third wire (the preferred one) without question.

The Midway continued to serve the US Navy into the 1990s when again the carrier went into combat in the Persian Gulf. From November 1990 until February 1991 the Midway launched strikes against Iraq in support of Coalition forces. She went to Yokosuka later that year. She would soon be back off to the United States for her final voyage.

On April 11, 1992 USS Midway was decommissioned in San Diego. It would be more than a decade before USS Midway would make her final deployment in 2003 to become a museum and memorial in San Diego. Seven years ago today, on June 7, 2004 the USS Midway museum opened to the public. It became an immediate success drawing far more visitors than was predicted. She continues to be a popular destination for those visiting the area.

Space looks like the warmer alternative.

What do either of these ships have to do with the Battle of Midway? Well, only the name. It certainly made sense in 1943 to name a new carrier after a great victory in the current war... and it's a testiment to the enduring importance of the battle that the name would still be relevant 738 years later. More than that, though, the fact that both carriers represent massive new strides in Naval aviation are something borne out of the Battle of Midway's legacy. The importance of carrier warfare was confirmed for all time on June 4, 1942--and whether it was the United States of America or the Terran Confederation investing in a new class of carriers built on the bloody lessons of their war experience, doing so was still a tacit acknowledgement of the lessons of Midway.

Very special thanks to this update (and series)'s history author, Dundradal.

Origin is Here

But it's still not a whole lot different than the EA Store, yet. It did get a bigger launch for the E3 kickoff today, and a variety of exclusive videos are now available. The site also promises to be the sole digital source for several limited editions of games coming out later this year. Starting with the Scrabble game currently available now, programs will also increasingly add social media integration via the Origin service, and there will be more mobile features in general. We're still waiting for the classic rereleases, but until then, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of overlap with the recent GOG announcement.

Origin brings an entire universe of EA games into a single, convenient application. Origin lets you purchase and play your favorite EA games - any time and any place you want. With the in-game overlay, you can chat with your friends and browse the web while playing select games.

Origin's new social features allow you to create a profile, connect and chat with your friends, share your game library, and effortlessly join your friends' games.

Origin streamlines the download process, for quick, easy installation and use. Direct download of PC games requires the Origin client, and once you have it, you'll be able to access your game library from virtually anywhere. You can even play your favorite games on other PCs when you're on the go.

For gamers on the go, Origin services are also available on your mobile device! With the world's leading mobile gaming portfolio, EA offers mobile gamers an unmatched experience through Origin, including the ability to find and connect with your friends to play and share in a leading edge smartphone environment. Learn more about Origin mobile by clicking here.

All for you, all on Origin.

WC vs. History: Tools of the Trade

In today's Battle of Midway commemorative update we're going to look at four aircraft and one ship that served during the battle--and the Wing Commander equivalents named in their honor!

At the close of the Terran-Kilrathi war the F2M Vindicator was one of the most popular Home Defense planes. A "jack of all trades but master of none", the Vindicator was an ideal choice for units on distant frontier worlds who might be called upon to fly many mission types with a single ship. Vindicator units went on to serve aboard the makeshift carriers that formed the backbone of the Outerworlds Fleet.

The Vought SB2U Vindicator was a mid-1930s American naval dive bomber design. It served on four American carriers during the interwar and early war years. It also served with the US Marine Corps, the French Navy, and the Royal Navy. By the outbreak of World War II, they were obsolete but were still in service in some roles until 1943. During the Battle of Midway, a group of Vindicators, part of Marine squadron VMSB-241, led by Major Benjamin W. Norris attacked the battleship Haruna at 0820 am. They bracketed the ship with five or six near misses but they caused no damage. Marine pilots who had gone on to fly the Douglas SBD Dauntless called the SB2U's with disdain “vibrators” or “wind indicators.”

The TB-80A Devastator was the Terran Confederation's premiere torpedo bomber at the outset of the Nephilim invasion. Devastators were larger bombers designed to fly off of fleet carriers like the Vesuvius and Midway classes. Dotted with defensive turrets, Devastators also mounted a central plasma cannon that would shake up established fighter strike doctrine. Devastators played a major role in the destruction of the Nephilim wormhole gate at Kilrah.

The Douglass TBD Devastator torpedo bomber entered service in 1937. It was obsolete by 1941. Affectionately called the “torpecker” it lacked speed and maneuverability needed to fight amongst carrier fighters in 1942. This plane is best remembered during the Battle of Midway for the attacks of VT-8, -6, and -3. The 15 planes of VT-8 launched from the USS Hornet were annihilated during their attack run save for one more, Ensign George Gay. VT-6 and VT-3 also suffered under the guns of Japanese Zeroes during the battle.

The Union of Border World's TBP Avenger is an unlikely torpedo plane. Used as S&R craft during the Terran-Kilrathi War, these 'flying bricks' would prove to be an unusually effective striking platform during the 2673 secession crisis. Even Colonel Seether flew an Avenger at one point--destroying the Orlando Depot as part of the plot to convince Colonel Blair to support Tolwyn's move towards war.

The Grumman TBF Avenger was a modern torpedo bomber that entered service in 1942 and first saw action in the Battle of Midway in June 1942. It was a vast improvement over the TBD. It had greater range, speed, payload, and armor than the TBD. It carried its ordinance internally which improved airflow around the aircraft for improved performance. During the Battle of Midway, six planes of Torpedo 8 based on the island used TBF Avengers to attack the Japanese carriers without success. Only one of the six aircraft survived the attack. The Avenger went on to participate in every subsequent Pacific carrier operation. TBFs sank a great number of ships and most famously put a large number of torpedoes into each of the Yamato class battleships, Yamato and Musashi.

When the Terran Confederation first went to war, the Wildcat was the Navy's front line space interceptor. The Wildcat was able, if aging. A c50 million, thirty year old design whose upgrade program died in the senate, Wildcats none-the-less served admirably in the war's first battles. The Wildcat mounted two lasers and two mass drivers and carried seven missiles (six guided, one dumb fire). Ensign Geoffrey Tolwyn, never trained on the fighter, flew a pair of missions in them during the catastrophic McAuliffe Ambush.

The Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter entered service in 1940. It served throughout the Pacific War. During the early part of the war it was the only effective carrier fighter available to American forces. With the introduction of the Thach Weave in the spring of 1942, the Wildcat became a difficult opponent for the Japanese Zero. However, it was still outclassed by a Zero piloted by a superior pilot. Throughout the Pacific War the Wildcat earned a 6:9 kill-to-loss ratio, which pales in comparison to its successor, the F6F Hellcat which finished the war with a 19:1 ratio and over 300 aces.

When we set out to write this update we planned to look at the Order of Battle at Midway and write about all the ships in Wing Commander's coninuity that shared their names. What we discovered is that that only one warship at the Battle of Midway has its name used in Wing Commander--and, a bigger surprise, it was a Japanese carrier. Her Wing Commander ancestor is the TCS Soryu, mentioned in passing in Action Stations:

"The carriers we do have, other than Concordia, were launched before I was even born. They're antiques, held together with spit and duct tape. Even though Soryu is listed as being on-line, the truth is she's nothing more than a floating stockpile for spare parts, which get stripped out to keep the other five like her going. The fleet spends nearly sixty percent of its time docked right upstairs to save on engine time," and as he spoke he pointed up to where the fleet was now docked at Alexandria.
The Japanese carrier Soryu (Japanese for Blue Dragon) was commissioned in 1937. Soryu would become one of the core members of Kido Butai, or the First Air Fleet. Kido Butai was the first carrier centric striking force in the world. Soryu would participate in many prewar exercises and the early war engagements until it met destiny off Midway in June 1942. Soryu took part in the strike on Pearl Harbor with her planes attacking Battleship Row. One of her B5N “Kate” torpedo bombers put the torpedo into the Arizona that eventually sank the battleship. On the way back from the Pearl Harbor Raid, Soryu and sister ship Hiryu were detached to support the Japanese invasion of Wake Island. In February 1942, she along with the rest of Kido Butai launched an air raid against Darwin, Australia. She also fought in the Battle of the Java Sea. At the beginning of April 1942, Soryu took part in an operation into the Indian Ocean. The Japanese raided the British on the island of Ceylon. They took part in the sinking the cruisers Cornwall and Dorsetshire and the carrier Hermes and her escorting destroyer Vampire. She also chased after the USS Hornet and Enterprise following the Doolittle Raid to no success. It was on June 4, 1942 that the Soryu met her end. During the 1020-1025 dive bomber attack, the Soryu took three 1,000 pound bombs. These started uncontrollable fires in the hangar decks full of fuel and partially armed strike planes with ordnance stacked around the hangar because of Admiral Nagumo's rearming orders and counter-orders. She sank at 1913 pm taking 711 of 1,103 crew to a deep grave off Midway.

Tomorrow: Midway's legacy in both the 20th and 27th Centuries.

Very special thanks to this update (and series)'s history author, Dundradal.

Countdown to Origin's Prime Time

Monday's the big day for EA's new Origin service! Follow the EA press conference live webcast at 12:30 PM Pacific time for all the details. EAgamer has confirmed that special content will be made available! Origin is also now on Twitter - follow them at @Origin_gaming.
@EAgamer: Keep an eye on http://store.origin.com for a batch of exclusive content being released tomorrow. @SWTOR @biofeed @origin_gaming #E3

Warren Spector: Comic Book Writer

OSI veteran Warren Spector has followed up his Epic Mickey video game by writing a comic book series based on Disney's Duck Tales. Issue 2 is comming soon!

DUCKTALES is back! The hit Disney Afternoon TV show makes a splash this month as an all-new, original ongoing comic book series! Written by the creator of the EPIC MICKEY video game and illustrated by the fan-favorite Disney duck artist Miquel Pujol, this is the latest and greatest revival of the Disney Afternoon Revolution that “might solve a mystery,” but will definitely “rewrite history!” Existing within the same continuity as BOOM!’s hit series DARKWING DUCK, find out why “life is like a hurricane!”

WC vs. History: Aces Over Eights

For the second day of our Battle of Midway series, we are going to look at another connection from a Wing Commander novel. Action Stations tells the story of Commander Winston Turner, a Naval Academy professor turned intelligence operative in the first days of the Kilrathi War (Turner is something of a Mary Sue for author Dr. William Forstchen, who is himself a college history professor). Early on, we learn that Turner's family history goes back to the first shots of the Battle of Midway, the failed attack on the Japanese carriers by Torpedo Squadron Eight:

Skip's gaze shifted to the other print, of a naval battle, back when fleets still sailed on water.

"You had an ancestor in that one, didn't you?"

"Squadron Leader, Torpedo Eight," Turner said proudly, even though he was speaking of someone dead nearly three quarters of a millennium.

"And they all got shot down, but not one of them wavered from the attack on the Japanese carriers. Their heroic sacrifice pulled the fighters down to sea level, allowing the dive-bombers to slip through. Damn, what guts they had then," Skip said, looking back at Turner who arched an eyebrow in surprise that his friend remembered the story from the Battle of Midway.

The first question--what does Turner's photo look like? The novel specifies first that it is of a sea battle, but later mentions that it is of Torpedo Eight:
Again Skip smiled and looked over at the print of Torpedo Eight going in to the attack at Midway.

"I think you've got some good blood in your veins." Turner looked down into his empty glass and, reaching for the bottle, he refilled it. He gazed at the picture of his old comrades and then at the print of Torpedo Eight. So now the cards get called in, he realized. I've been pitching the line about duty, honor, sacrifice for so long and then this old SOB calls me on it. He almost wanted to laugh at the irony of it.

For obvious reasons, there are no photographs of the attack itself. So this photograph of the squadron forming up near the USS Hornet (source) seems to be the only option:

Who is Commander Turner's brave ancestor? Since he specifies that it was the squadron's commander we know that it was Lieutenant Commander John Waldron (though he died in the battle, he was survived by two daughters). For the true story of Lieutenant Commander Waldron and Torpedo Eight we again turn the update over to Dundradal:

Lieutenant Commander John Charles Waldron was born in Fort Pierre, South Dakota on August 21, 1900. He was descended from colonial New Hampshire families on his father's side, part Ogala Lakota Sioux on his mother's side and was the youngest of five children. Appointed to the US Naval Academy in 1920, he graduated with the Class of 1924, 479th out of a class of 525 men. He received his golden wings and brown shoes after spending the summer of 1927 at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. Waldron spent the interwar period serving in just about every aviation position the US Navy had to offer at the time. In the late 1930s he worked with Carl Norden, maker of the Norden bombsight as the Navy's inspector of ordinance at the plant.

In the fall of 1941 in Norfolk, Virginia, Waldron was given command of a torpedo squadron that was to fly from the new carrier USS Hornet (CV-8). The squadron was called Torpedo 8 (VT-8). It was commissioned to fly the obsolete Douglas TBD Devastator, known as the "Torpecker" for--well, look at the picture and figure it out. It was extremely slow and had poor maneuverability. By 1942 in the Pacific it was a flying death trap. Lt. Commander Waldron was an officer who was willing to make an argument for getting more training time, training torpedoes, better planes, and just about everything else. His persistence is one of the reasons Torpedo 8 was the first squadron outfitted with the new Grumman TBF Avenger in the spring of 1942.

The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 forced the training of Torpedo 8 to be extremely intense and brief, but also lacking in one essential drill: flying and attacking with a torpedo. That task would not be completed until almost 10 months after the unit's commissioning and under the most realistic of conditions, actual battle. Lack of practice torpedoes and time made the operation difficult for the squadron to accomplish, especially in those tense early months of 1942.

Torpedo 8 rode out with the Hornet on her first trek into the Pacific. However, during that time Torpedo 8 would do no additional flying. The first major operation of the USS Hornet was taking Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and his raiders on their raid to Tokyo, the first End Run. It's a bit hard to land and take off with 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers on the flight deck. When they couldn't fly, Torpedo 8's rookies were getting lectures in the classroom from Lt. Commander Waldron and the other seasoned officers on Japanese tactics and torpedo attacks. The Doolittle Raid prevented the Hornet from taking part in the Battle of the Coral Sea at the beginning of May 1942 and Torpedo 8 still had no time to conduct torpedo practice.

At the end of May USS Hornet, along with USS Enterprise, left Pearl Harbor for "Point Luck," an empty piece of ocean northeast of Midway. A day later USS Yorktown followed with her escorts. The three carriers of Task Forces 16 and 17 were in position to ambush the four carriers of Kido Butai, also known as the First Carrier Striking Force or First Air Fleet, as they moved to attack Midway on June 4.

At 0430 am on June 4, the Japanese carriers of Kido Butai (Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu) launched 110 planes to attack Midway. They would arrive over Midway at 0620 am. However, at 0532 am an American PBY scout plane discovered Kido Butai. The battle was now fully joined.

Midway had begun flight operations at 0350 am with its PBY Catalina scout planes taking off to scout for the Japanese carriers. Its contingent of B-17 Flying Fortresses took off soon after. At 0600 Midway jumped back to life as radar tracked the incoming Japanese strike. Amongst those planes to take off from Midway was a six plane contingent of TBF Avengers, the first to join the fleet. They were part of Torpedo 8, but had not caught up with the Hornet before the battle. They would be among the first to attack Kido Butai. When they attacked at 0710 am they were accompanied by four B-26 Marauders. They were cut into by A6M Zero fighters providing CAP for the Japanese carriers. Only one of the Avengers and two of the Marauders survived and returned to Midway. Already Torpedo 8 had suffered grievous losses with only Ensign Albert K. Earnest and CDR (then Radioman 2/c) Harry Ferrier returning

Throughout the next hour and a half other American aircraft from Midway would keep Kido Butai busy fighting them off as well as taking onboard their Midway strike planes. B-17s, Vought SB2U Vindicators, and Douglas SBD Dauntlesses all attacked to no avail. The only benefit of these raids was that they prevented the Japanese from bringing their strike planes on deck to strike at the American carrier sighting report that reached the bridge of the Akagi at 0745 am.

The certain anatomical similarity shared by the Devastator and Shrike was not lost on either's pilots.

At 0800 am the majority of the pilots of Torpedo 8 did something for the very first time. They took off from a carrier with their planes fully loaded with fuel and a torpedo. Ensign George Gay, the sole survivor of the Hornet detachment illustrates the lack of training prevalent in Torpedo 8: "when we finally got up to the Battle of Midway it was the first time I had ever carried a torpedo on an aircraft and was the first time I had ever had taken a torpedo off of a ship, had never even seen it done. None of the other Ensigns in the squadron had either." To say the 15 planes of Torpedo 8 had the deck stacked against them would be a serious understatement.

The night before the battle, Waldron had handed out a message to his torpedo pilots:

"Just a word to let you know I feel we are all ready. We have had a very short time to train, and we have worked under the most severe difficulties. But we have truly done the best humanly possible. I actually believe that under these conditions, we are the best in the world. My greatest hope is that we encounter a favorable tactical situation, but if we don't and worst comes to worst, I want each of us to do his utmost to destroy our enemies. If there is only one plane left to make a final run-in, I want that man to go in and get a hit. May God be with us all. Good luck, happy landings, and give'em hell."

Waldron was a realist. He knew the chances of his planes even making it in to attack were slim, never mind return to the Hornet with or without a fighter escort. But he was determined to do the best he could. Even if the CAG and Captain disagreed with him.

Prior to take off, Lt. Commander Waldron had heated debate with the Commander, Air Group, Stanhope C. Ring, and the Hornet's Commanding Officer Admiral (then Captain) Marc Mitscher about the location of Kido Butai. Waldron wanted to head towards the confirmed carrier sighting while Ring and Mitscher wanted to head for a thought trailing group of carriers. After being overruled, he headed towards his pilots and remarked to one of them: "Just follow me. I'll take you to 'em." At 0800 am planes launched from USS Hornet and USS Enterprise. Their strikes were not coordinated with each other as American carrier doctrine at this time called for each carrier wing to act as an independent unit. After taking to the air Waldron tried to take control of the Hornet's strike group over the radio but failing that he broke his own squadron off and headed towards the confirmed sighting report at 0825 am. This fateful decision would bring Torpedo 8 into contact with Kido Butai, but it would also lead to the squadron's complete destruction. As for the rest of the Hornet's strike group, they would never see the Japanese fleet on that first strike out. Whether it was Waldron's Sioux heritage or just old fashioned luck, Torpedo 8 flew the 140-odd miles to the Japanese carriers "as if connected by a plumb line."

At 0918 am Torpedo 8 began its attack on Kido Butai heading towards the carrier Soryu. Unfortunately for Torpedo 8 there were 18 Zeroes flying CAP over the fleet, soon to be boosted to 24 as the attack began to unfold. The pilots in those Zeroes were some of the hottest in the fleet. The only thing not stacked against the pilots was the fact that Soryu was in the process of landing a group of Zeroes and was thus forced onto a specific path. This left her vulnerable if the torpedo planes could get into position.

Waldron led his pilots into the attack without fighter escort, although it might not have been that way as high above and behind them cruising at 22,000 feet were 10 Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters from VF-6 under command of Lt. James Gray. He noticed Torpedo 8, but assuming they were Torpedo 6, decided to fly top cover for them. However Gray lost the torpedo planes as they made their approach because he wasn't flying that close of cover. When Torpedo 8 disappeared and failed to reappear Gray had no way of knowing it had been a complete failure as he had not heard their calls for help on his radio. Gray would also miss his own Torpedo 6's calls twenty minutes later when they made their attacks. June 4 was anything but a stunning day for American radio reception.

As Torpedo 8 made their final approach from the northeast Kido Butai turned to the west, furthering the torpedo planes run in to roughly 15 minutes. In that time span all 15 Devastators were shot down. When carrying a torpedo the Devastator could do no better than 100 knots. They were easy prey for the Zeroes. The torpedo planes were picked out of the sky by the Zeroes, Lt. Commander Waldron's being one of the first to be destroyed, with only one plane getting into a rough firing position and dropping their torpedo towards the Soryu. This Devastator then flew directly over the carrier but was quickly shot down by a group of Zeroes. The pilot, Ensign George Gay, was the only survivor of the attack. His torpedo missed by a large margin as it was the first torpedo he had ever dropped in his flying career. As his plane splashed down he climbed out of the cockpit with his life raft and seat cushion. Torpedo 8 had been annihilated.

The Last One Left

Returning to Winston Turner's retelling of the attack to Admiral Banbridge, Turner's story contains one myth that was perpetuated because of falsehoods told by Japanese participants following the battle, most notably Mitsuo Fuchida. Torpedo 8's attack did bring the Japanese Zeroes to sea level, however they did it a full hour before the famous dive bomber attack began, plenty of time for the CAP to resume its normal stacking. The real contribution of Torpedo 8's sacrifice from 0918 to perhaps 0932 was to force Kido Butai to turn out of the wind (which stopped flight operations) and to keep the flight deck occupied with further CAP operations instead of spotting them with the strike planes for an attack on the American carriers. In Turner's case he should have read "Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway" by Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully published more than 700 years earlier in 2005. It helped breakdown many of the most famous myths of the battle.

Chris Blair was never without his copy of Shattered Sword.

Torpedo 8's sacrifice was still extremely important to the Americans that day in delaying the flight operations of Kido Butai. They just simply didn't open the door for the SBD Dauntlesses to appear out of "a glint in the sun that looked like a beautiful silver waterfall. It was the dive-bombers coming in." more than an hour later at 1020 am. There is no debate that Lt. Commander Waldron and the pilots of Torpedo 8 pushed their attacks as best they could before being shot from the sky by superior Japanese fighters. They without question gave the Japanese hell during their assault.

Tomorrow: Some of Wing Commander's famous weapons--and their ancient namesakes that fought at Midway.

(Finally, a nod to Victorinox--who correctly predicted that this update was on the way and went so far as to write his own version at the Chat Zone.)

WC vs. History: Source Code

"In less than a month the Kilrathi will be above Earth demanding our surrender if we're lucky, though if past practices are any indication they'll flatten us with a full antimatter warhead bombardment and then come down to gloat over the wreckage and tear out the throats of the survivors with their claws when their next Sivar ceremony comes around." - Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn, 2668

The Empire of Kilrah has broken the armistice agreement. A massive fleet of heavy carriers is poised to strike at the heart of the Confederation. Thrakhath's advance should be unstoppable. He has new ships, fresh pilots and believes he has achieved total surprise. What he does not know is that Admiral Sir Geoffrey Tolwyn, supposedly disgraced for sinking a Kilrathi carrier hours after the formal armistice, has actually been working with Confederation intelligence to learn the Empire's plans for months. Now Tolwyn is the newly minted commander of Third Fleet--and he is struggling to piece together an armada capable of stopping the Kilrathi.

"In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success." - Admiral Isoroku Yamamato, January 9, 1942

Admiral Yamamato could not have been more right. For the first six months of the Pacific War, Japan won an unbroken string of victories from Pearl Harbor, to Corregidor, to Wake, and the Dutch East Indies. It appeared that Japan was unstoppable. The Japanese themselves began to believe they were invincible, acquiring what would be penned later as "victory disease." The American carriers that had been missed at Pearl Harbor proved to be a thorn in Yamamato's side for the first few months of the war. The American carriers had struck at Japan itself in April, and then blunted the Japanese invasion of Port Moresby at the beginning of May. Since Pearl Harbor, Yamamato had sought a means of destroying them. An attack on Midway was sure to pull the American carriers out of their Hawaiian lair. What the Japanese weren't counting on was American crypto-intelligence intercepting their invasion plans and Admiral Nimitz preparing an ambush.

Today marks the 69th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942). In honor of the great naval battle that both changed the course of World War II in the Pacific and inspired Wing Commander's stories of dramatic carrier warfare in space, we have several exciting 'Wing Commander in History' updates.

Wing Commander's first major parallel happens in the novel Fleet Action. Admiral Tolwyn, who had been overseeing efforts in the Landreich to prove the Kilrathi were preparing to violate the armistice, returns to Earth with a secret mission. The plan is to have Earth broadcast a false message about a factory accident on the moon. Because Tolwyn is traveling on a fast Sabre, there is no way Kilrathi counter-intelligence can intercept the initial request:

"When Geoff left he went back amongst other reasons, to have ConFleet send out a false message which stated that our primary matter-antimatter assembly plant on the moon had been destroyed due to an accidental detonation. As a result no new weapons would be delivered for several months. The message of course was a complete fabrication. An hour ago we picked up this message from Kilrah to their Hari base and cracked part of it."

Jason leaned over to look at the screen. Most of the message was untranslated but one line highlighted in red leaped out at him... "Remove target 2778A on moon of nak'tara from primary strike list Accident has destroyed target, ..." there were several lines untranslated..." shortage in antimatter weapons produced from 2778A expected, will update."

Jason looked back up at Vance.

"They took the bait. We broadcast the false message on a code we knew they had already cracked. Their listening post, most likely right in their embassy office picked it up and passed it back to Kilrah. Nak'tara means Earth. It means that whatever it is they're preparing out there in Hari is being aimed for an attack straight at Earth. Damn it, the bastards are getting ready to strike."

Later, Admiral Banbridge asks Tolwyn to explain the message--and he immediately recognizes that it is a trick borrowed from World War II:
"First of all, what the hell was this signal you had me send?"

As Geoff explained Banbridge's features lit up.

"Same trick we Americans once used against the Japanese at Midway with the fake report of a water distillery breaking down. The Japanese picked it up and reported to their fleet that Target X was short of water, and by that little trick we knew their next target was Midway. Vance always did know his history."

"Visitors were never welcome. To see anyone in the Navy's Combat Intelligence Unit at Pearl Harbor, it was first necessary to buzz a locked door at the top of some cellar steps. Eventually a man would appear and, if credentials were in order, the door would open, and the same procedure would be repeated. When this second door opened, the visitor was finally in." - Walter Lord, Incredible Victory

The "history" part of today's update occurs inside the Combat Intelligence Unit at Pearl Harbor. Captain Joseph Rochefort, who was part of the team that cracked the Imperial Japanese Navy's top "JN-25" code in fall of 1940, set up the station there in May 1941. HYPO would be pivotal in the early battles of 1942, but will be most famous for its role the Battle of Midway in June 1942.

Captain Rochefort has multiple parallels in the Wing Commaner universe, including Ches Penney who breaks the Kilrathi code at McAuliffe and spymaster Vance Richards who plans the 'antimatter shortage' trap.

American cryptologists had worked hard to "crack" JN-25. Cracking the code did not mean that they could read every message in its entirety; quite the contrary, code-breaking provided little more than 15% of any message. The useful intelligence was derived from analysis of this data along with the stockpile of previous decrypts kept within the CIU for review. One of the fascinating aspects of radio intelligence is that the way in which a person transmits messages, a called a "fist," is a unique signature like a person's voice. Those in Station HYPO became familiar with each Japanese operator's "fist" and used it in their analysis of incoming traffic. Code breaking requires a unique type of person to take all the disconnected hints and paint them into a meaningful picture.

The Japanese offensive that led to the Battle of Midway might not have happened if it was not for a submariner working on the staff of Commander-in-Chief US Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest King. King's Assistant Chief of Anti-submarine warfare Captain Francis Low was the officer who proposed in January 1942 that an Army twin-engine bomber could take off from an aircraft carrier after seeing Army bombers at a nearby airfield where the outline of a carrier was painted on the runway for naval training.

On the other side of the Pacific, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamato had been planning since Pearl Harbor for an operation to destroy the American carriers his strike force had missed. His plan was to invade Midway Atoll, 1,500 miles from Pearl Harbor, in order to provoke a sortie by the US Fleet.

In one of the most convoluted military plans ever devised, Admiral Yamamato and the Imperial Navy planned to simultaneously take Midway and, in a separate and independent operation, two islands in the Aleutian chain. The operations would use almost every ship in the Combined Fleet. His plan was met with considerable resistance by the High Command--until US Army B-25 "Mitchell" bombers arrived over Tokyo and other Japanese cities on April 18, 1942. After the Doolittle Raid, resistance disappeared and Yamamato was given a free hand to plan the assault.

As the Japanese prepared for the attack on Midway, Station HYPO continued its work of monitoring radio traffic. Nothing was conclusive, but something called "AF" kept appearing as either a destination or as a location calling for certain equipment (Admiral Banbridge incorrectly refers to this as "Target X" in Fleet Action). As the cryptologists desperately sought the meaning of "AF", one of the team remembered the call sign from messages the previous March. That month, the Japanese had launched a failed reconnaissance on Pearl Harbor using Kawanishi Type 2 flying boats (Codename "Emily") refueled by submarine tankers at French Frigate Shoals, a coral atoll that lies 560 miles northwest of Hawaii and 760 miles southeast of Midway. The failed raid had produced an intercept that spoke of passing near "AF." Reviewing the map, the only place besides Hawaii worth anything was Midway and Rochefort was the first to see the connection.

The stakes were never higher, in either war.

Captain Rochefort and Station HYPO needed to prove their worth to command before they would be taken seriously and valued as the asset they were. The idea of radio intelligence was unfamiliar and worrisome to some commanders. It took a visit from Admiral Chester Nimitz's War Plans Officer, Captain L.D. McCormick. McCormick's planned two hour visit became a three and a half hour eye opening journey after he became engrossed in HYPO's work. Once McCormick was convinced, Nimitz had complete faith in HYPO station. This trust allowed for one of the greatest naval battles to unfold decidedly for the United States Navy. Without this trust the ingenious plan to discover what "AF" was would not have ever happened.

After the Battle of the Coral Sea at the beginning of May, Rochefort went to see Lt. Commander Edwin Layton, the intelligence officer for Admiral Nimitz, with an idea. Rochefort wanted to have Midway broadcast in the clear that its salt water condenser had broken down. The Japanese would have no way to intercept the order to broadcast this as the message would be relayed to Midway through an underwater cable that connected Pearl Harbor with the outpost. Several days after the Midway broadcast Station HYPO intercepted a Japanese message stating that "AF" was low on fresh water and requesting that a water ship accompany the fleet. On May 14, Admiral Nimitz declared a state of "Fleet Opposed Invasion." He began recalling his meager forces to oppose the Japanese onslaught that consisted of most of the Imperial Navy (although only the 21 ships of Kido Butai would take part in the actual battle as the rest of the Imperial Navy was too far away to influence the outcome) versus the 28 ships of Task Forces 16 and 17.

Station HYPO continued to intercept, decrypt and analyze Japanese messages in the next two weeks leading up to the battle. When Task Forces 16 and 17 sailed at the end of May for their fight against the Imperial Navy, CINCPAC Operational Plan No. 29-42 contained a fairly detailed picture of the Japanese Order of Battle. They knew from which direction the Japanese invasion force would come and from which the carriers of Kido Butai would as well. They knew roughly how many ships: "For this purpose it is believed that the enemy will employ approximately the following: 2-4 fast battleships; 4-5 carriers, 8-9 heavy cruisers; 16-24 destroyers; 8-12 submarines; a landing force with seaplane tenders." ; and they knew roughly when. It's no wonder then that Vance Richards thought to use the same trick on the Kilrathi 726 years later.

Fleet Action also borrows Vance Richards' team of intelligence specialist directly from Station HYPO. The book goes into extreme detail about the Confederation's signal intelligence process, and it would all be equally at home in Pearl Harbor as it was at a deep space listening post. There is too much material to quote in its entirity here (see Chaper 6), but here is an excellent summary of the special breed of men required for the job:

"The analyst's job is the toughest. It takes someone with a sixth sense to decipher what appear to be unrelated facts but actually are part of a pattern.

"We do the same thing for the media channels, the public communication lines, and of course the military and government lines," and he pointed to the flashing red and yellow lights back on the holo display of Kilrah.

"Those are the tough buggers, a lot of it is burst signalled and highly encoded."

"Damn, there's hundreds of them," Jason said. "Something must be up." Vance laughed softly.

"Over ninety percent are dummy channels, broadcasting complete gibberish, total nonsense words that actually tie up most of our decoding equipment since we're not sure if its garbage or the real thing. Sometimes you might have a burst signal with a million words in it, all encoded, and the real message is twenty words in the middle, each word separated from the next by say six thousand four hundred words.

"Why that number?"

"Remember they have eight fingers and we have ten, so their numerical system is base eight. We tend to look a bit more intensely at base eight numerical lines as a result. What gets frustrating is that they are using at least a dozen different codes at any given time, with the highest level material going on what we call Fleet Code A, which tends to change every twenty-four to forty days. The real messages are hidden in a lot of garbage and we have to wade through each message and might spend weeks tracking down promising stuff only to discover it's a decoy."

"Some of their people even have a sense of humor about it. One message, when finally translated, was a simple 'Hey, stupid, we fooled you,' and another was a long excerpt from what I guess was a Kilrathi dirty book. Decoding and translating each of those things took up time and equipment. We can't ignore a single message because we never know if we might hit paydirt or not. So we wade through all of this, figure out the real signals from the fake, then spend a hell of a lot of time cracking the code, and just when we think we've got it, they go and change the code and we're back to square one. Then to top it off they might have a station that's quiet for weeks or months, and it pops off a lone burst signal then shuts down. Trying to even figure out where it came from out of a billion cubic light years of space was nuts until the D4 model, which could do a Doppler analysis and at least do a probable trace."

"I'd go mad," Tolwyn said.

"Some of us do," Vance replied. "It takes a special kind of person to do this. You fighter jockeys, your battle is one of skill and wits, but it gets played out in seconds. Some of our battles last years.

Tomorrow: the carrier battle begins!

Very special thanks to this update (and series)'s history author, Dundradal.

Privateer Drifting Away?

If you dowloaded your copy of Privateer from GOG in the first hour or so it was available and you're having trouble with a driftig mouse cursor then you should redownload the game. GOG's expert technical staff identified the issue and patched the game to version 1.0.0.5 almost immediatey--but it's possible a few hardcore fans managed to get the game earlier.

GOG EA Trailer Available Online

GOG's trailer announcing the arrival of EA classics is certainly a little bit odd... but I'll be damned if my heart didn't skip a beat when Privateer was the first thing to appear on the screen. Now, it's available for rewatching. You can stream the trailer online here or download a copy here (44mb).

BREAKING NEWS: EA Store is Now Origin

... nothing else changes? Users attempting to access the EA Store are finding that it is gone, replaced with a message saying that it will be relaunched as ORIGIN at 9 AM PST. It also looks like EA has finally purchased Origin.com for the service! We will keep you updated as this develops. EA's E3 presentation will begin at 12:30 AM PST and more information should be revealed then.
Welcome to the EA Store, now called Origin! Our site is in the middle of an upgrade. Please come back at 9am PST to experience our new storefront.

Happy Privateer Day!

In honor of Privateer's release on GOG, we're going to be running updates all day talking about some of the game's history and also collect some fascinating odds and ends. Keep stopping by--new posts will appear under this one as they are ready.

Privateer Day: Read All About It

Origin published their first in-house Wing Commander book for Privateer, the Privateer Playtester's Guide. The guide includes detailed maps of every system in the Gemini Sector and introduces you to the whole Privateer playtesting team! There was also an unofficial guide in Germany, Das Privateer Piloten Handbuch by Peter Schmitz and Christian Schmidt. It has a cool space battle with a Gladius on the cover!

Privateer Day: How it Got Made

If you are interested in knowing more about Privateer's development process, from how an Origin game went from the spark of an idea to a box on the shelf, it is used as a case study in The Magic of Interactive Entertainment:
The main goals in the design of Privateer were to create a commerce trading system within the Wing Commander universe. Another goal was to provide a game with random missions that players could play over and over again. That freshness ensures the game never ends.

Some initial ideas never quite made it into the final game. One such idea involved player finances. The game initially enabled players to get loans from banks or other (less reputable) characters. In this scenario, you might run into debt, and be pursued by creditors or bounty hunters which were after the price on your head. Privateer took about a year and a half to make, and so during this period, many such ideas were dropped while others were developed and added to the game.

(Read the full chapter.)

Privateer Day: A Novel Idea

There's one other great literary connection to Privateer. Famed author Jerry Pournelle, who was once scheduled to co-author a Wing Commander novel, loved the game and frequently mentioned it in his BYTE column. As late as December, 1998, he still had stories to tell in the Privateer setting:
Early on there was a spinoff game called Privateer which used the original Wing Commander engine and some of the original ships, but had a free form universe you could explore until you stumbled across the story line. That was followed by an ad-on scenario called "Righteous Fire" that was the single most enjoyable action game I have ever played. I loved Privateer and Righteous Fire... I still wish they’d simply publish the specs for writing ad on scenarios to the original Privateer, though. If they want to improve the graphics levels, fine, but in fact that was about good enough; and it sure was fun. I can think of a number of stories I could write in that universe.

Privateer Day: How it Started

The game we know as Wing Commander: Privateer began life as Trade Commander, a game planned in 1992 to take advantage of the RealSpace technology being developed for Chris Roberts' opus, Strike Commander. The plan was to offset the tremendous cost of Strike Commander by quickly releasing other games built on the same engine--something that could be accomplished by beginning their development before Strike was ready. As Strike Commander ran into delays and overruns, it became clear the new 3D engine would not be available in time. Plans for Trade Commander were adapted to use the existing, less technically impressive Wing Commander engine. Trade Commander's sister project, Phoenix Force, was less lucky: it was unceremoniously cancelled and is rarely remembered today.

Trade Commander was formally announced, in typical Origin fashion, in 1992:

In 1990 ORIGIN revolutionized the industry when it introduced interactive cinema with the first Wing Commander game. In 1991 Wing Commander II carried this vision to new heights of game action, and with it new depth and sophistication. Now this year (we hope) will see the release of Trade Commander (now Privateer), a game that brings interactive entertainment software to a higher pinnacle of excitement than ever before.
(Read the full announcement.)

Privateer Day: WANTED!

Wing Commander Arena was full of Privateer references... but the coolest was this, the back page of the game's manual. It's a wanted poster for Privateer's lead character and it's full of Privateer jokes (the picture of an older, angrier Burrows was an earlier version created by Origin.)

Privateer Day: Yo Quiero Privateer

You don't need to speak Spanish to appreciate this awesome Privateer feature article from a 1993 issue of MicroMania! It's amazing to remember that there was a time when gaming magazines were both this comprehensive and just plain attractive:

Privateer Day: Don't Answer the Phone

Lead Erin Roberts tells a story about the talkie CD-ROM version of Privateer being cancelled and restarted so many times that he decided to stop listening to EA and have his team finish the game whether they were supposed to or not. Thanks to deals with companies like Dell and Gateway 2000, it would go on to be one of the most bundled CD-ROM games ever made. Here's a great magazine review from 1994:

Privateer Day: Number Five with a Bullet

Privateer's four ship options are loved by fans everywhere, even the cheaper choices (internally, the game calls the Tarsus the 'clunker' and the Orion 'tug'--so they knew what they were doing)... but did you know there was originally going to be a fifth "speeder" ship? Here's a design sketch:

Privateer Day: Shirt off their Backs

Per tradition, design teams at Origin would create a team shirt for each product being developed. Working on Privateer's team would have earned you an especially cool t-shirt! Check out this awesome Centurion:

Privateer Day: Get the Point!

Origin's internal newsletter, Point of Origin, is a great way to trace development history... and Point of Origin was published very frequently during Privateer's development cycle! Here are links to every issue which mentions the game:

Privateer Day: A New Paradigm

In 1993, Origin released an amazing Windows 3.1 screensaver package called Origin FX. It was filled with modes from all the top of the line Origin games... including two from Privateer! In one, Privateer ships fly around your windows... and in the other the TCS Paradigm moves back and forth in space.

Privateer Day: That's-A-Polling

Here's a funny bit of data--numbers from a poll that Gamespot ran on August 10th, 1998... the day the CIC opened for business! At the time, it's clear that Privateer was the favorite Wing Commader game, with almost twice as many votes as the nearest competitor. Good choice, GOG!
Which is your favorite Wing Commander game?
Privateer: 37%
Prophecy: 21%
Wing Commander IV: 15%
Wing Commander III: 11%
Wing Commander II: 7%
Wing Commander: 6%
(8,505 respondents)

Privateer Day: Another Screensaver

Don't have Windows 3.1 running? Want a comparatively modern Privateer screensaver? Former Origin designer Captain Johnny created one! 3D Wing Commander ships fly around the screen... all while Privateer music plays! Grab a copy here (300k). It is eleven years old, so all bets are off as to whether or not it will run in modern Windows.

Privateer Day: Word to your Father

Ever want to have a closer look at the 'holo posters' that appear in various offices in the Gemini Sector? Thanks to the discovery of the original textures, you can--there are some truly bizarre jokes in there that no one could ever have seen.

Privateer Day: Early Light

WingCenter recently posted scans of a great Privateer preview from PowerPlay magazine. The most interesting thing, though, is that it's using early mockup images--check out the fully 3D ships in the cockpit image... and a cinematic scene with Demons!

Privateer Day: Raiders of the Lost Manual

Does the Privateer manual seem a little plain to you? There's an interesting story behind that--they actually produced a full set of Claw Marks-style line art for the booklet which somehow went unused! You can download the whole thing here (17 meg). A collection of faxes relating to this project is also available here (43 mb).

Privateer Day: Meet Mark Thornton

In 2007, we were contacted by someone named Mark Thornton about a technical issue with our web forums. I noticed a funny coincidence--the name appears as a fighter pilot in Privateer's manual. Was he a former Origin employee or somehow connected to the company? He was kind enough to share his very cool story:
I wrote Origin a letter a long time ago regarding opening my own custom software store, and asked them for any assistance about purchasing software, business licensing, etc... and they sent a HUGE mailer back to me with a bunch of stickers, promotion pages of upcoming games, and a nice letter wishing me good luck. Over the years though they were all thrown away, grrrrrrr. But I do still have all of their games! :) (thank you DosBox! :))

Anyway, Wing Commander Privateer came out soon afterwards and when I saw my name in the Flight Training portion of the manual, I FREAKED! It's great to be a permanent part of Origin's history!

You can learn more here.

Privateer Day: Now You See It

Privateer features four Kilrathi ships, all of which are versions of ships created for other games: the Gothri, Drathi, Kamekh and Salthi (in Righteous Fire). But what if there were a fifth ship? It almost happened! The art team also created a Privateer version of the Strakha stealth fighter--but cloaking devices were removed from the game, rendering its inclusion impossible. Here is what it would have looked like?

Privateer Day: Around the World!

Privateer was't just an American success story--the game was well reviewed around the world! Here you can see a Korean advertisement (left) and a blue Japanese DOS/V release of the game!

Privateer Day: A Tarsus Visits Babylon 5?

Privateer's famous Tarsus scout may have made a cameo appearance on Babylon 5--check out the ship below, which appeared in the episode "War Without End". After the episode aired, B5 creator J. Michael Straczynski admitted to being Wing Commander fan but not borrowing the Tarsus:
No, actually, I've never gotten into the Privateer stuff...I have the new Wing Commander, but my joystick is screwed up (others have made that observation before), so it's waiting until I can yank the computer out of its niche and install the Fancy New Joystick I bought that has fifteen thousand different plug-in points.

jms

Privateer Day: What Sharp Talons You Have

If you're heading to the Gemini Sector this weekend, you can expect to encounter a LOT of Talons--they're flown by the militia, the pirates and the Church of Man ("Retros"). But did you know that each type of Talon actually has a different paint scheme in the game? Look carefully and you'll see it! Here's a handy chart to help you pick them out (also pictured are the SWC Gratha and the Privateer 2 Talon).

Privateer Day: Haven't I Seen You Here Before?

You can be forgiven if a few of the ships in Privateer seem familiar--that's because Origin borrowed several from Wing Commander II... and then re-used several others in later games! Wing Commander II's Broadsword, Kamekh and Dralthi make return appearances in Privateer. The Dralthi, Salthi and Raptor models created for Privateer return in Super Wing Commander (the Gladius as a Raptor) and then again in Wing Commander Armada (as the Shok'lar and Gladius, respectively). Privateer's Demon also seems to have evolved into SWC's Raptor and then Armada's Banshee and Phantom. Strangest of all is the Talon model, though, which reappears as a Kilrathi Gratha in SWC and then again as a Talon for one mission in Privater 2!

But that's not all: Privateer's distict "comet jump" sequence would later be used in the introduction to Origin's Metal Morph, an obscure SNES sidescroller. You can find a video of the sequence online here.

Privateer Day: Remembering Brian Smith

In this day of celebration for Wing Commander fans, we should take a moment to remember one of Privateer's developers who is no longer with us. Artist Brian Smith passed way in 2007 and is greatly missed by his colleagues and fans. Brian was part of a small art team and did a great deal of the graphics in the finished game--including the Mercenary's Guild fixer who he modeled on his sister! Hopefully it is of some comfort to those who knew him that his work is still bringing joy and excitement to Wing Commander fans almost twenty years after the game was first released. You can find our online memorial here.

Privateer Day: Centurions Enter the Arena

Eagle-eyed fans may have noticed Privateer's signature Centurion heavy fighter in the logo art to Wing Commander Arena! It's true: the Centurion (and Gothri) were originally to be playable ships in Arena, but were cut during development. You can actually find the Centurion model hiding in the game itself--floating listlessly forever near a derelict Pelican.

Privateer Day: Know Your Foe

Learn your Privateer ships with this handy chart--and simply click on the target for more information!
Fighters

Tarsus

Demon

Orion

Galaxy

Centurion

F-38 Talon

Dralthi VII

Gothri

Salthi

F-71 Stiletto

A-15 Gladius

A-17 Broadsword

Drone

Scout
Capital Ships

Paradigm

Carrier

Drayman

Kamekh
Installations

Halsey

Pirate Base

Gaea

Agricultural Planet

Pleasure Planet

Oxford

Mining Base

Refinery

New Detroit

New Constantinople
Others

Weapons

Ejected Pilot

Food

Raw Materials

Fuel

Luxury Goods

Processed Goods

???

???

???

Slaves

Privateer Day: Sketchy Bonus

I don't know art, but I know what I like--and I like this! We've scanned and collected a large number of Privateer concept sketches--these are the drawings of all the ships and locations made by the team at start of the development process. Major bonus: the artists drew the Millennium Falcon in the area art where the finished ships would go! Download the ships here (26 megs) and the gameflow screens here (14 megs).

Privateer Day: Nice Spread

Here's a two-page Privateer advertising spread which ran in many magazines in 1993! Note the wrong date--2670 instead of 2669. Also exciting: this quick shot was the first experimental image taken by a new camera purchased today for an upcoming CIC secret mission.

Privateer Day: Trailer Parked

Did you know they had trailers for video games in 1993, a decade before streaming video became a reality? It's true! You can download a copy of the extremely short Privateer video here. Here's the narration:
Origin presents Privateer, a next generation space combat simulator for the IBM platform. You'll move through an intensely cinematic universe experiencing the two very different thrills of reaching a hard bargain and real time 3D space combat. Make your own alliances and choose the life of a pirate, a mercenary or a merchant. Customize your ship, modify your weapons, armament and systems. Explore a complete universe with more than fifty bases and planets in almost seventy systems!

Privateer Day: Rumor Control

Privateer's bartenders are a great source for conversation--and they always have the latest rumor or tip. Some are just for flavor, some are red herrings and others refer to the game's ongoing plot. One in particular, though, shows up in online discussion time and time again:
Hey, I heard a good one the other day. Seems that there’s this hollow asteroid along the Kilrathi border... The thing of it is, the Kilrathi use it as a munitions dump! The guy who finds that dump can help himself to as much ordnance as he can haul!
So, to clarify once and for all: is there a hollow asteroid full of Kilrathi weapons hidden somewhere in Privateer?

NO

The rumor is meant to refer to the Steltek derelict! Stop searching the Kilrathi star systems--you will not find this asteroid!

Privateer Day: 3D, No Glasses Needed

Want to get a REALLY close look at the world of Privateer? You can, if you have a 3D rendering tool! Click here to download a massive archive of 3D models used in the production of the game--ships, weapons, environments, it's all there... and incredibly detailed. Every 3D model was created with high resolution graphics and then reduced to a small bitmap for the game itself.

Privateer Day: More Lost Arena

Here is another set of unseen Wing Commander Arena screenshots, showing the unused Centurion model in great detail. Also included are very early 'top down' shots of the game in action, which include both the Centurion and Gothri in action!

Privateer Day: As Seen on TV?

In 1995, Origin developed plans for a TV show spun off of Privateer! The idea was that there would be two further Privateer games and a weekly TV series which would all tell a combined story over the course of a year. You can find a copy of the series' bible online here. It was written by Claw Marks' Aaron Allston, who went on to fame and fortune writing in the Star Wars universe. We caught up with him at a convention some years later where he explained that the pitch actually made it to Hollywood--but that he was glad the project had died, as it was a shadow of its former self by that time (he specifically mentioned an episode about visiting a planet of half-naked Amazon space women).

Privateer Day: HCl's Privateer Tinkering

Wing Commander's certified genius, HCl, is no stranger to Privateer--although his tweaks are frequently overlooked! Here's what he has been hiding all these years in the archive area of his web site:
Privateer 1 Ship Viewer - Old program that allows viewing the Bitmaps of P1 ships.

Dralthi Patch - Allows you to fly a Dralthi, works with Floppy and CD versions of Privateer. Replaces the Tarsus.

Stiletto Patch - Allows you to fly a Stiletto, works with Floppy and CD versions of Privateer. Replaces the Tarsus.

Privateer 1 - TRE Format - This information file will explain the format of the TRE files Privateer uses. This is the same format WC Armada and Strike Commander use.

Test mission for P1/RF - A new mission for Privateer, Righteous Fire, where you have to search and destroy a Paradigm stolen by the Kilrathi. Pays 300k credits. Many thanks to RFBurns for the dedicated beta testing of this new mission and discovering a few bugs i didn't see in the first version!:) To install this mission, edit your rf.cfg file and add to the beginning of the file the line "=test.tre". Then start Righteous Fire and load the test savegame.

Privateer Day: Keep Me Companies

You may not put too much thought into who is offering you the auto-generated computer missions in Privateer... but Origin did! The extracted list below names all the possible options, which really helps to build a living, breathing universe without using up too much disk space. There are some classic Origin in-jokes in there as well, including Beto's Foodcorp (from the muffin-loving Strike Commander fixer), Ultima Resorts and even companies named Origin and EA!
  • The Merchants' Guild
  • The Militia
  • The Confederation
  • Anonymous Employer
  • Lynch Enterprises
  • Lynch Shipping
  • Lynch Mining
  • Lynch Security
  • The Exploratory Service
  • Private Citizen
  • Omni, Inc.
  • Cerberus Shipping
  • Blankenstaff Ltd.
  • Tsunami/Azuma, Inc.
  • Trebor Corp.
  • Tactical Micro Devices
  • Izanami Corp.
  • Omniscan, Inc.
  • Galaxy Resources, Inc.
  • Tetsuo Distribution, Ltd.
  • Cerebus Shipping
  • Tsumami
  • Azuma Weapons
  • Gemini Export
  • The Cardann Group
  • Beto's Foodcorp Unltd.
  • Tanya/Sepree, Inc.
  • Frontier Enterprises
  • United Distribution
  • TransComm
  • Confederated Mining
  • MegaCrunch Credit
  • Austin Entertainment Group
  • Russo Disposal Systems
  • Manners Arms and Shielding
  • Johnson and Cafrelli, Ltd.
  • Apex
  • Terraform Corp.
  • Hydroshock Manufacturing
  • Universal Imports
  • Transector Plus
  • Fellowship Systems
  • Skybird Scanners
  • Rolling Hills, Unltd.
  • Valle Brothers
  • Frake Packaging
  • Capri Mining
  • Nexus Mining
  • Taurus Mining
  • Saturn Mining
  • Deep Space Asteroid Mining
  • Dell Refineries
  • Nicholson Refineries
  • Hendershot Mining
  • Starfield Cruises
  • Maximum Pleasure
  • Ultima Resorts
  • Infrared Detection Systems
  • Total Eclipse
  • Merry Rover
  • Mycroft Mining
  • Middleton Securities
  • First Bank of Gemini
  • Gemini Savings and Loan
  • Jefferson Confederal
  • AllSafe Retrograde
  • Bridesmaid Enterprises
  • TDR Symposium
  • Borderline, Inc.
  • Averson Dynamics
  • Citation
  • Hawkeye Security
  • Renegade Weapon Systems
  • TipTop Systems
  • AntiStealth, Ltd.
  • MicroDeath Delivery
  • AutoNav
  • Second Star
  • QuarterMast Nav and Chart
  • Parsec Mining
  • First Strike, Inc.
  • Heistand Forecasting
  • Abyss Minerals
  • EnvironMental, Unltd.
  • Tarsus
  • MetroScan
  • The McLaughlin Company
  • Delta Resorts
  • Gamma-Way
  • Thermal Optics
  • Scorpio Consulting
  • Obsession, Inc.
  • The Outskirt Consortium
  • Big Bang Pharmaceuticals
  • Cannon Research Group
  • Capital Investments
  • Universal Charter
  • Martin Swig Distillery
  • FiberLink
  • Origin Systems, Inc.
  • Electronic Arts, Inc.
  • Lehman Carbonshares
  • Black Hole Retrievals
  • Triple Play Enterprises
  • Oxford Research Foundation
  • Castro Memorial Foundation
  • Grim Reaper Systems
  • Voight, Inc.
  • CyberSoft
  • Brainwave Instruments
  • Privateer Day: What is a Privateer, Anyway?

    Consider this a miniature "WC vs. History"! Earlier today you learned that Privateer was originally called "Trade Commander". The change was likely because, well, Trade Commander sounds dreadfully dull (there was actually another pitch at the time called Alien Commander--more on that in coming months)... but having changed the name, what is a Privateer?

    A Privateer was, during the age of sailing ships, essentially a pirate sponsored by a government. Nations could create Privateers by issuing a "Letter of Marque and Reprisal" (Wikipedia) to a private ship. The 'privateer' would then have government-sanctioned permission to fight and capture ships belonging to an enemy nation. For their part, they would profit from the sale of captured ships and material. Creating privateers was an especially important tactic in situations where a country might have a disadvantage in terms of sea power, such as the United States during the Revolutionary War.

    The background is largely left unsaid in Wing Commander Privateer (although letters of marque were later referenced in Star*Soldier)--but the assumption is clear: because of the desperate war situation, the Confederation has given your character special permission to fight the Kilrathi and pirates. Now let's see one of our talented fans come up with a 27th century letter to hang in our Tarsuses!

    Privateer Day: The Canonical Editors

    Lets step back into pre-history for a moment. From the very first moments that man stared up at the stars, he dreamed of editing Privateer in various ways. And even without high powered computers, access to developer informtion or a world wide web to share information across, early man managed to fashion these tools in a near-vacuum. Three Privateer editing tools were created and spread across the pre-internet landscape of BBSes and services like Prodigy and Compuserv. And today, these simple tools are just as useful as they were way back then.
    • PREASY - A Privateer 'trainer' for adding money to your savegames.
    • PREDIT - A detailed save game editor which allows you to change money, ship, location and more.
    • PRSHIP - A deceptively simple ship editor that's difficult to use but essential once you master it.

    Privateer Day: The Documentation

    Here's one we should have done 20 hours ago: PDFs of Privateer's documentation! The Playguide Manual is Privateer's deceptively cool manual, with its strange but fascinating bit of short fiction! And note that Privateer is the rare game where you do want to read the reference card--it has all the prices for ship upgrades on it!

    Privateer Day: Wall of Honor

    Here's a very important update we often forget--the credits for Privateer and its related games. These are the people responsible for giving us thousands of hours of entertainment--we don't want to forget who they are. (Note that we have been completey unable to find the creits for the original Privateer speech pack--if you have a copy, please pass them along!)
    Privateer Credits
    Original Concept - Joel Manners, Chris Roberts
    Lead Design - Joel Manners
    Design - Tom Kassebaum, Anthony Nichols, Phil Wattenbarger
    Lead Programming - Ed Maurer
    Programming - Charles Cafrelli, Reinaldo Castro, Richard Dean Johnson, Arthur DiBianca, Edwin Herrell, Alex Jen, Jeff Wilson
    Graphics / Artwork - Chris Douglas, Robert Frye, Beverly Garland, Danny Garrett, Craig Halverson, Jake Rodgers, Brian Smith
    Music - Laura Barratt, Marc Schaefgen, Nenad Vugrinec
    Sound - Randy Buck, John Tipton
    Executive Producer - Chris Roberts
    Producer - R. Scott Russo
    Associate Producer - Erin Roberts
    Writing / Dialogue / Story - G P Austin
    Playtesting - Bill LaCoste, Starr Long, Dan Orzulak, Tobin Shelton, Dee R. Starns, Perry Stokes, Todd Wachhaus
    Special Thanks To - Whitney Ayres, Bill Baldwin, Paul Isaac, David Lawell, Aaron Martin, John Miles, Alan Perez, Kevin Potter, Zachary Booth Simpson, Suzanne Taylor, Jeff Wand, Jason Yenawine

    Righteous Fire Credits
    Project Leader - Arthur DiBianca
    Game Concept - Phil Wattenbarger
    Programming - Arthur DiBianca
    Design - Tom Kassebaum, Phil Wattenbarger
    Conversations - Arthur DiBianca, Phil Wattenbarger
    Art - Melinda Bordelon, Alan Perez, Brian Smith
    Music - Barry Leitch
    Quality Assurance Leader - Dan Orzulak
    Quality Assurance Team - Charles Angel, Jerrold Harrington, Kevin Kushner
    Graphic Design - Trey Hermann
    Documentation - Arthur DiBianca, Tuesday Frase, Melissa Mead
    Producer - Warren Spector
    Special Thanks - Ed Maurer

    Privateer CD Credits
    Project Leader - Arthur DiBianca
    Programming - Arthur DiBianca
    Voice Direction & Recording - Randy Buck, Arthur DiBianca, Scott Hazle, Phil Wattenbarger
    Voice Processing - Randy Buck, Britt Daniel, Stretch Williams
    Additional Voice Processing - Arthur DiBianca, Scott Hazle, Phil Wattenbarger
    Voice Talent - Kerry Awn, Marten Davies, Arthur DiBianca, Annie Greenwood, Lucinda Hinton, Bill Johnson, Colum Keating, Ev Lunning, John Meadows, Diane Perella, Marco Perella, Toni Perensky, Don Phillips, Shannon Sedgewick, Michael Stewart, Ron Tatar, Kirk Winterrowd
    Quality Assurance Leader - Jeremy Mappus
    Quality Assurance Team - Evan Brandt, Don Derouen, Mark Franz, Bill LaCoste, Dan Orzulak, Harvey Smith, Brian Wachhaus
    Graphic Design - Jennifer Davis
    Documentation - Melissa Mead
    Producer - Warren Spector

    Privateer Day: Standoff and Run Away

    We've already seem some interest in the 'Speeder' ship shown earlier in the day--the fast, nimble fighter cut from the finished version of Privateer. Well, a while back the Standoff team created a special patch that lets you fly the ship in their game's simulator!
    You can head on to the downloads section to check out this new ship, which we've dubbed Artemis-class, and which will be present in Standoff's next episode among the many civilian ships that fell to the Kilrathi offensive in orbit around Mars. This patch will replace the Raptor in Standoff's simulator with the Artemis, and will temporarily disable sending your scores to the online scoreboards (for all ships), but it can be uninstalled through the Windows Add/Remove program control panel.
    You can download the patch here (300kb).

    Privateer Day: Music to my Ears

    We had a request on Facebook for a little Privateer music. Instead, how about about all of it? The Privateer soundtrack really is spectacular. I can't hear the Perry theme without feeling a little pride in the Terran Confederation Navy...

    High Quality MIDI Recordings

    Various tracks These three MIDIs came from Righteous Fire--and were sent by the composer, Barry Leitch, directly! Finally, these Privateer tracks were actually released on commercial CD soundtracks! How cool is that?

    Origin Audio CD Vol. III

    Electronic Arts Music Sampler

    Privateer Day: The What Didn't Happen?

    Privateer did eventually get a sequel. Privateer 2: The Darkening is one of my favorite games of all time (and GOG willing, a subject for PRIVATEER 2 DAY)... but why wasn't there ever a direct sequel? The sad truth is that while many other Privateer followups were attempted, all met sad ends. Here's a quick rundown:

    Privateer 2 was a Chris Roberts project that would have been developed after Wing Commander IV. Chris left Origin instead and the project was replaced by The Darkening, already in development in the UK. Privateer 2 (and a sequel) were also part of the plan for the 1995 Privateer television series project.

    Privateer 3 was one of the saddest chapters in our history. Privateer 3 was deep in development by the Crusader team and ready to shoot its film segments when it was unceremoniously cancelled. Adding insult to injury, the cancellation came just days after a beautiful multi-page magazine preview had formally announced the game in the first place.

    Privateer Online seemed like a natural followup to Ultima Online, and all the more so after EA dictated that Origin go 'online only'. Sadly, after some development the game was cancelled and the team fired mere days before the release of the Wing Commander movie in 1999. Most of the POL group went on to do Star Wars Galaxies for Sony. The proposal actually talks about four games--Privateer Online, POL Gold, Privateer Online 2 and POL 2 Gold.

    Privateer Online (again!) was a second attempt at Privateer Online developed in 2000-2001. The game got far enough to have a very rough interface where players could walk around in an environment... but in the end, the budget axe killed it. This version would have reused elements from both Ultima Online 2 and Wing Commander Prophecy!

    Wing Commander Mercenaries was a Privateer pitch developed in 2005 by Origin veterans who moved to California with the UXO group. It was described as 'Battlefield meets Grand Theft Auto' and would have involved a multimedia franchise relaunch similar to that developed for Dead Space.

    Privateer Browser Game was a project explored by Electronic Arts in 2008, similar to what became 'Lord of Ultima'. It would have been a very simple click-to-play RPG, but absolutely thick with Wing Commander lore. Critical Mass did early concept work for the title but had a falling out with EA over rights.

    BREAKING NEWS: EA Launches "Origin"

    It turns out the GOG announcement was just the tip of the iceberg--or maybe just a distraction. It has just come out that Electronic Arts will formally launch their own "iTunes" style download service tomorrow. The system is called, wait for it, Origin, and will launch with more than 150 available games. If we don't see a Wing Commander, I'll eat my hat.

    The news first broke in the Wall Street Journal:

    Electronic Arts Inc. is starting an online service to sell downloadable games directly to consumers, as one of the world's biggest makers of videogames steps up a push to offer more of its wares over the Internet, rather than through discs at stores.

    The Redwood City, Calif., software maker plans to unveil the service, called Origin, on Friday.

    It will include an application, akin to Apple Inc.'s iTunes, that is designed to let consumers purchase, download and keep track of games for PCs, such as the company's "Battlefield" combat and "Need for Speed" racing games.

    EA's service, which will open with more than 150 titles for sale, will also try to attract users with a range of Facebook-like social-networking features that let gamers on a variety of devices broadcast messages to online friends when they defeat online opponents or accomplish other gaming goals.

    Origin initially won't sell games designed for consoles like Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360, which have online-game stores controlled by their respective makers.

    The EA service will have a handful of rivals, the biggest of which is Steam, a PC download service run by Valve Corp., a Bellevue, Wash., company that also makes some hit games, such as the recent "Portal 2." GameStop Corp., the biggest videogame chain, recently acquired a service called Impulse to help create its own game-downloading service for PCs.

    In an interview, EA Chief Executive John Ricitiello called Origin one of the "cornerstones" of the company's multiyear effort to shift more of its business toward games that are played and distributed over the Internet. The category includes everything from games for Apple's iPhone and iPad to social games that are played on Facebook Inc.'s social network.

    In recent years, EA's financial performance has suffered as growth in the company's core business of selling copies of its games in stores has slowed and its investments on the Internet, including a string of acquisitions, have been slow to pay off.

    But investors appear to be growing more confident lately that Mr. Riccitiello's strategy is yielding results. Since the beginning of the year, EA's shares have risen 48%, though they slipped 19 cents to $24.24 in 4 p.m. trading Thursday on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

    EA further buoyed investor sentiment last month when it reported $833 million in revenue from "digital" sources for the fiscal year ended March 31, equivalent to more than 20% of the company's total revenue, adjusted to exclude an accounting treatment related to online games and other items.

    John Taylor, an analyst at Arcadia Investment Corp., said investors increasingly believe that "a lot of the heavy lifting has been done at EA," and that the company is coming out of a "period of playing defense and re-evaluation and is trying to go back out and play offense."

    Another much-anticipated online project from EA is "Star Wars: The Old Republic," an online multiplayer game for PCs based on the George Lucas outer-space epic. EA will preview the product at next week's E3 games conference in Los Angeles. The game, the company's biggest development effort in years, is expected to go on sale sometime during the current fiscal year. EA hopes to give its new online store a boost by making Origin the only Internet-based service offering the "Star Wars" game, which will also be available in stores.

    Even if consumers don't purchase games through Origin, they will be able to use it to create profile pages that record all of their scores and other progress on EA games and to establish Origin friend lists based on their friend lists on Facebook and other social networks.

    The service will allow users to brag to their friends about their gaming accomplishments, a feature of Facebook games like FarmVille that has helped those games spread to other users.

    "When I see you achieving and doing great things in your game, I'm more inclined to be more interested in that product because I have social proof that you're having a great time," said David DeMartini, EA's senior vice president of global online.

    In coming months, EA plans to use Origin to allow players to spread their game playing across devices in novel ways, said Mr. DeMartini. One hypothetical example might involve an EA shooting game called "Battlefield," in which a player could earn "experience points" by practicing their sharp-shooting skills on a mobile version of the game. Those points could then be used to unlock privileges, like more accurate weapons, within an Xbox 360 version of the game, he said.

    Don't Miss an Infoburst!

    These are exciting times for Wingnuts everywhere! In addition to reloading wcnews.com, there's another way to stay tuned in to breaking Wing Commander news. The CIC Facebook Page is another resource to keep you linked with the WC community and on top of the latest headlines. Follow us here!

    What's in a Name?

    We're very excited about Electronic Arts' impending "Origin" announcement (especially if it offers access to classic Wing Commander games)... but we can't let the crazy name go without a friendly ribbing. Without further ado, Combat Information Center Comedy Classics presents THE TOP TEN REASONS ELECTRONIC ARTS NAMED THEIR NEW SERVICE ORIGIN:
    10. Somewhat hard of hearing. OSI's slogan was 'Re-Create Words', right?

    9. The Bullfrog Social Digital Distribution Service just sounds dumb.

    8. Just good business sense to have your new branding initiative also serve as a constant reminder of your most terrible mistake.

    7. Saved $20 by not having to buy a new domain name.

    6. Thousands of pre-printed OSI travel mugs and Christmas ornaments have just been taking up space since 2003.

    5. Actually stands for Online Reactive Interactive Gaming Information Network, had no idea they ever owned a company by the same name.

    4. Millions of dollars spent on 'Ultima Worlds Online: Origin' were really to test max tolerance level for stupid places to use the name.

    3. Because up yours, Lord British, that's why.

    2. Always loved Origin name but was never happy about funding truly innovative, beloved game development.

    1. Wanted to honor the grand legacy and tradition behind--haha, no, it's money.

    BREAKING NEWS: Privateer on GOG

    Here are important highlights from today's amazing GOG announcement.
    • You can buy Privateer for $5.99 here.
    • Ultima Underworld 1 & 2 and Dungeon Keeper are also available at the same price.
    • More games from Electronic Arts' back catalog will be available soon, starting with another set of three at the end of June. These games will be Crusader: No remorse, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri and Magic Carpet.
    • GOG does not have the rights to every Origin game--there are licensing issues preventing the release of System Shock.
    • Privateer is the CD ("talkie") version but does not include Righteous Fire at this time. That may change in the near future.
    • Privateer includes the game's manual and reference card as downloadable PDFs.

    BREAKING NEWS: Praise GOG

    Good Old Games has just announced that they have reached a licensing agreement with publisher Electronic Arts that will allow them to begin releasing Origin Systems' catalog of classic games. And the very first game availble--RIGHT NOW!--is Wing Commander Privateer! The first wave of games also includes the two Ultima Underworld titles, the criminally unappreciated primogenitors of the modern FPS/RPG combination game. It is expected that this announcement will mean that the rest of the Wing Commander series will be available for digital distribution, but details are not yet available as to release specifics. We will update with the press release and further information as the situation develops. In the mean time, enjoy some interesting history about connections between Wing Commander and the Underworld games!

    Ultima Underworld II: Trilkhai Do Not Co-Exist

    From a movie based on System Shock to a reference to the Crusader's WEC in Earth's history, Wing Commander has aways been happy to nod at Origin's other great franchises. The Ultima series, on the other hand, went even further--with several elaborate tributes to Wing Commander... and Ultima Underworld was no exception!

    Ultima Underworld II introduces the "Trilkhai" (an anagram for Kilrathi), a race of telepathic cheetahs, to the Ultima world. While visiting Killorn Keep you may discover any number of these creatures wandering the castle. Clicking on any of them asks you to visit the stables for more information. When you do you can meet their leader, Blackie, who explains that his people are now slaves but that they once flew among the stars! This even starts a minor quest where you are asked to find more information about Trilkhai history.

    Blackie: ...(Player Name)? I... see... in your mind that you can be trusted. That you are not from this world. That you are an... Avatar.

    Avatar: Yes, that is correct.

    Blackie: We have need of a... helper. But I see thou dost know nothing of our situation. The humans named us "Trilkhai." They do not know that we able to communicate in this way.

    Avatar: Why don't you tell them?

    Blackie: They might become afraid of us, and destroy us. It is safer that they think of us as animals.

    Avatar: Then why entrust thy secret to me?

    Blackie: I see that thou hast virtues that will prevent thee from betraying us. We must risk this, as many of us have need of a human agent in the keep.

    Avatar: I will help thee where I can.

    Blackie: Human, I am the oldest, and I have heard many stories of our race's past, wild tales of Trilkhai who flew among the stars, and hurled fire at the humans. I would learn if thou hast met any being who has knowledge of this.

    Avatar: I have heard of none, but I shall look.

    Blackie: If thou couldst learn the truth, it would be of great service to our race!

    Towards the end of the game, while exploring the Ethereal Void, you encounter 'Wisp'. Trading information gives you the history of the Trilkhai and conclude's Blackie's quest: "Trilkhai were once a powerful group of anhropomorphic 'felines.' Since their catstrophic 'loss' to a group of humanoids, they have since devolved 'past' the point of 'tool-using'." Guess Tolwyn was wrong! (Or was he? Origin's guide to Ultima Underworld II explains that The Guardian is breeding Trilkhai for an uncertain purpose...)

    If you're trying to make sense of the whole situation, you probably can't--it even directly contradicts Ultima VII's Wing Commander reference, which has a Bloodfang with a live 'Kill Wrathy' discovered in a farmer's field a year earlier (having crashed within living memory). The Trilkhai telepathy is also sort of funny, as it's the only trait the Kilrathi hadn't already borrowed from Larry Niven's Kzin!

    The WC:CCG's Apeshredder looks like he could be Blackie's distant ancestor... or maybe he just looks like he may have eaten Blackie.

    Ultima Underworld: Better Together!

    You got The Stygian Abyss in my Vengeance of the Kilrathi! No, you got Vengeance of the Kilrathi in my The Stygian Abyss! No, wait, you're both right!

    An apparent sad end to the Sons of Kilrah isn't the first Ultima Underworld/Wing Commander, connection! The advent of the CD-ROM in the early 1990s made re-releasing formerly diskette-based games far more affordable. As a result, Origin developed a number of succesful promotions involving existing titles: offering older games to retailers at a discount, collecting mission disks and speech packs in 'Deluxe Editions'... and pairing seemingly-unrelated games to get players hooked on multiple franchises.

    The first of these releases was a CD-ROM containing the original Wing Commander and Ultima VI... and it was later followed by a disc with Wing Commander II and Ultima Underworld! The hope was that the packs would appeal to bargain hunters (as you can see, the fact that this package is a "$159.90 value" is highlighted on the box cover) who may have been familiar with only one of the games. Then Ultima fans would try Wing Commander and get hooked and vice versa! We can only hope that GOG will over the same pack someday.

    One of the cool things about these re-releases is that they included all the paper manuals and maps--the idea of just sticking a PDF on the CD was years away!

    Memento Mori

    In this time of celebration we should take a moment to remember Electronic Arts' tragic first attempt to make Origin's catalog available online. In early 2006, GameTap announced that it had worked out an agreement with Electronic Arts to offer classic Origin games. They produced beautiful mailers announcing that classics such as Privateer and (oddly) Ultima I-XIII would soon be available through the service. And some were, briefly. For roughly nine months, GameTap made a number of Origin games available, including the first six Ultimas and Wing Commander I, II and IV. The games played beautifully in GameTap's special browser and we eagerly awaited each new release. Life was wonderful.

    Until it wasn't. GameTap decided that new games would be a better use of their money and restructured their company. In the process they opted not to continue paying EA for the Origin rights. Coincidence or not, GameTap has been a disasterous, money-bleeding failure since that decision. GOG will be different--once you have a game through the service, it's yours forever... but we would all be wise to remember the lesson of GameTap, that good things can go bad fast, and buy those classic games as soon as they're available. View our GameTap memorial online here.

    BREAKING NEWS: Ultima Forever Launches

    LeHah reports that the Ultima Forever website has gone live! The finished site is very similar to the version leaked two days ago, with the addition of an advertisement for Ultima Online--it sounds like Electronic Arts is finally getting serious about preserving Origin's legacy! Fans can download a free copy of Ultima IV and learn more about Ultima history--it's a 27 meg download and includes copies of the manuals and cloth map.

    It's possible, even likely, that we will know more this push in roughly an hour, when GOG announces their new licensing agreement. Here's to hoping we see wingcommanderlegacy.com in the near future. And if they want someone to run it, we're available! Stay tuned to the Combat Information Center for updates as the situation develops.

    THIS JUST IN: Wing Commander IV PSN is Back!

    Some happy, but less exciting, digital distribution news to start off the morning: Sony's PSN Store is back online... which means that the PSN version of Wing Commander IV is once again available! If you haven't put down the $5.99 to buy this great port then let the month-long service outage be a lesson to you: buy Wing Commander IV for the PS3 and/or PSP now!

    Has the GOG of Man Abandoned Us?

    No! Good Old Games will be announcing their big licensing deal at 3:00 PM EDT today--keep watching WCNews.com for updates as they become available... and cross your fingers!

    The Case for GOG

    Longtime reader Banjo is angry with us. He writes: "Cut the [harakh], guys. We all know something's up. I'm so [kass'richak] tired of WCNews and the Ultima sites playing cute and coy about this. Do right by your community instead of sucking up to a corporation that doesn't care what you do and tell us what's going on with Origin and GOG."

    Strong words. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that we do not know what is going to happen. There have been times in the past where we were prevented from talking about this or that Wing Commander project because we were under NDA or because Electronic Arts asked us to. I promise you: this is not one of those times. No one on the Combat Information Center staff is under NDA about this project. We have no more information than any of you. But--this is a great opportunity to collect what we do know.

    What do we know about Ultima?

    1. EA is willing to revisit Ultima. This seems like it should be a given, but it's really not: for all the love that Ultima engenders in classic gamers, one cold fact is that Electronic Arts already has a very similar active AAA franchise: Bioware's Dragon Age. Is EA willing to put money into both an experimental Ultima game in addition to the franchise they are currently building out? That's where last year's Lord of Ultima release is important. Decried by fans as an Ultima in Name Only and a cash grab, Lord of Ultima still proves something very important--just by not being Lord of Dragon Age.

    2. EA Louse Revealed an Ultima Facebook Game. In October, a furious former Bioware Mythic employee posted an angry rant under the name "EA Louse". It's a terrible argument in and of itself, mostly furious at his former bosses and desperate to create more drama. But contained in all that anger was a reveal that no one denied: Mythic's Paul Barnett is developing a Facebook game inspired by the classic Ultima games:

    Oh yeah, and he needed Paul Barnett. You know him as the crazy British dude that appears in random videos at EA to promote his latest bullshittery. We know him as the crazy British dude who we have no idea of how he still has a job. This man was supposed to be the savior of Warhammer’s vision and design. Now all he can do is promote his strange ideas about his little secret project web Ultima game that’s been almost universally criticized by all of us and focus groups. What’s that? You didn”t know Paul loves one of those old Ultima games sooooo much he’s making a literal copy of it for Facebook? Well, the cats outta the bag. Too bad it sucks ass.
    Interesting stuff--but I would immediately write off Louse's criticisms that the game is terrible as simply being part of his angry-young-man-looking-for-attention schtick. We all know that guy.

    3. Paul Barnett has made no secret of his "secret project". Mythic Creative Director Paul Barnett has been twittering about an Ultima-seeming project for some time now, sometimes even mentioning the franchise. The wonderful Ultima Aiera site has done a great job of tracking these updates over the past several months (example).

    4. Ultima 4Ever is a game with a familiar map. In March, the ever-vigilant Ultima Aiera posted a leaked photograph of Paul Barnett giving a presentation in front of a large map of Britannia, the setting of most classic Ultimas. Most interestingly, the image was labeled 'Ultima4Ever Dungeon Design'. Is Ultima 4Ever the Facebook game? Is it the same as Ultima Forever? Time will tell. Barnett, apparently relishing the hint, went on to Twitter that he had: "Put up a 7 foot by 7 foot map at work, it looks awesome! It's half the size it is in game scale! Great to see the whole world as one image."

    5. Ultima Forever has a Twitter. In April, someone registered an UltimaForever Twitter account and labeled it "Official Tweets for UltimaForever!". The account was discovered yesterday, after Paul Barnett started following it... which caused Twitter to suggest it to anyone who follows Barnett.

    6. Ultima fans toured Mythic last week. Barnett's twitter and that of another EA employee indicated that Ultima fans and bloggers (not us) were invited to Mythic last week to see the new game. In all likelyhood, webmasters are under NDA right now--but that won't last long.

    7. Ultima Forever involves classic Ultima games in some way. Yesterday's leaked website for 'Ultima Forever'--which surely must be related to 'Ultima4Ever'--indicates it will offer a history of the Ultima series and even free downloads of Ultima 4 (something EA has busy been working to remove from "abandonware" sites).

    8. Lord British isn't going to take this sitting down. In April, Richard Garriott answered a question on Twitter revealing a harsh stance against modern EA-developed Ultimas: "I can't control EA plans for the word Ultima. But we all know that only my team can create the true heir to my previous work." Since returning to Earth, Garriott has founded his own social gaming called Portalarium with other xOrigin notables and has spoken of plans to develop a spiritual successor to Ultima ostensibly called New Britannia. Making matters more interesting, Garriott retains exclusive ownership of the 'Lord British' character, meaning he can theoretically deposit one of Ultima's most beloved inhabitants in his own new world.

    9. E3 is Coming. The E3 Expo, where companies traditionally announce new games and other initiatives, runs from June 6 to 9 next week. If EA plans to announce a new Ultima title any time soon then it's very likely that it will be next week.

    All indications are that there's a concerted effort to relaunch the Ultima IP that isn't like something we've seen before. Electronic Arts seems willing to celebrate the classic Ultimas and almost certainly has a new Ultima game (likely for Facebook) in the works. But other than the historical connection, what does this have to do with Wing Commander... and why do we think it has anything to do with GOG?

    What do we know about Wing Commander?

    In short, Paul Barnett said it was in the works. Back in September, during Wing Commander's 20th anniversary, Paul Barnett posted a series of tweets about his plans to release Wing Commander I in DOSBox:

    Talking to the dosbox people, so far they have been awesome, gives me hope for releasing old old origin product to the faithful!

    Wing commander Turns 20, I am hard at work seeing if we can dosbox and release it! Come on ea legal... Now is the time to shine!

    Wing commander in dos box and re~released , retweet it for the win!

    now have a dosbox'ed version of Wing Commander plus secret missions.

    Tech guys removed the copy protection question from the Wing commander build!

    Now having the Wing commander game data compared to our original source code, we need a clean bill of health at this stage!

    My plan is wing commander one , drm free and security bypassed. For FREE ( fingers crossed)

    Today we get data compare sign off for wing commander, dr Ray will be hearing the pitch, from there only legal can stop us!

    These tweets briefly set the gaming press on fire and made it as far as earning the project a short article in the print version of PC Gamer (which certainly hasn't said much about Wing Commander in recent years). Then, he went silent.

    Now, at the time we were actually the ones who actually put together the Wing Commander I DOSBox mockup. Some of these tweets actually seem a little strange from that perspective--Mythic doesn't have the Wing Commander I source code, for instance... and the 'tech guys' who removed the copy protection from the game were us, looking up ancient hex editing tricks on a prehistoric Usenet archive. We did Wing Commander I and II with all their addons, with a neat menu system and had elaborate plans for 'extras' that could be included from material we have archived in the future... but communication stopped. I have tried to contact Paul Barnett several times since that first rush of work and haven't heard a thing.

    But I know he's a good guy who is absolutely dedicated to this stuff. If there's a way to get Wing Commander out there, I'm absolutely sure he's doing his best. Which is where we get to GOG...

    What do we know about GOG?

    GOG is announcing something tomorrow, maybe. Good Old Games, a digital-distribution site originally created to license and sell classic PC games, is counting down to a 'major announcement' scheduled for tomorrow at 3 PM EDT. Is this a coincidence?

    Here's where it gets interesting: EA employee Jeff Skalski's Twitter feed, previously assosciated with Ultima Forever leaks, posted this seemingly knowing message last night: "Wonder what's up with this countdown on GOG.com? #soexcited" When asked about the announcement he replied with only an emoticon wink.

    GOG develops their own DOSBox bundles (which does seem incongruous with the Ultima 4 package mentioned at the EA site demo). Their announcement tomorrow is said to cover 25 games from a major publisher which at this point is known to be either Electronic Arts or Lucasarts. The smart money had been on LA-- they have been willing to digitally distribute classic games in the past (through Steam) while EA hasn't (with limited exceptions, such as their disasterous brief deal with the GameTap service). But the indications are that this may be EA, and Origin's back-catalog specifically. Interestingly, Mythic's own Origin page lists Origin's games as 25 titles (it's an odd list, which counts Cybermage as the same number of games as Wing Commander... but it's an interesting match to what GOG has promised).

    So... what do we know? Nothing for sure--but at the very least Ultima games offered through GOG seems increasingly likely... and, we truly hope, Wing Commander with them. We'll find out tomorrow!

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