It's Crusader Day! Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

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 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

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 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 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

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:

  • 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 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

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! Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

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? Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

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 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

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 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

In-jokes, developers, history? Just tell us if Crusader ever shipped in a SKU that included a Wing Commander 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? Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

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 rendered 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!



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."

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