At Least We Changed The World

Finally! Today we've got a completely positive piece from the British gaming press looking back the the original Wing Commander. Pix reports this is from a 2005/2006 issue of PC Zone, which also brought us the previous positive review of Righteous Fire. It seems Wingnuts might have had a friend in PC Zone. There are a few anecdotes about the original game and its influence before the piece moves into the later games in the series and a discussion of Roberts' post-Origin/EA career.
I've never made a game before or since where everything came together so smoothly and felt so right. If I had the chance to go back and change my games I would say that the first Wing Commander would be the one game I would leave alone.

Academy Two Months Old, Picked Up By Major Retailer Online

Wing Commander Academy has now been out on DVD for two months - do you have your copy? Check out this video for a sample of the gorgeous image quality, although the final product is even better. All thirteen episodes have been beautifully remastered - and in some cases restored - to ensure Wing Commander fans have a high fidelity archive of the fantastic show. We've been pointing out Deep Discount's low price of $16.86 for some time, but there's a new retailer now carrying Wing Commander Academy! Most impressively, Target now carries WCA on their website for just $16.49! Red Card holders get an additional 5% off, plus free shipping! Local sales tax may apply, but this is still a great deal.

Here's LOAF's first impressions from May:

The good:
  • The show looks AMAZING. You have NEVER seen Wing Commander Academy look this good. It's like watching a modern series, SO clear. I felt like I was seeing for the first time after being blind for a long period. Which has actually happened to me, so I know what I'm talking about!
  • The missing footage from On Both Your Houses WAS CORRECTLY RESTORED thanks to the legwork LeHah and I did. You can tell the (two or three two-second shots) that came from the VHS master because the quality is obviously lower, but it's so much better than the alternative. Interestingly, the scenes that were missing from NBC's master copies were the front-facing in-cockpit shots of Archer from the end of the episode. Someone with a Dana Delaney fetish must have spliced them out and made off with them...
  • The missing audio from Word of Honor (from the original broadcast) is intact here.
  • Ahh SO GREAT to hear the end credits music without an announcer plugging "PACIFIC BLUE" over them!
The bad:
  • Some of the in-flight dialogue in the earlier episodes seems quiet. I went back to the original VHSes and you could tell that the original mix had the same problem, but it's more pronounced here (because the music and sound effects and especially engine noise are MUCH CLEARER, maybe.) It's possible it's just my weird amateur sound setup, I will run some tests this weekend.
  • I can confirm that it is coded for region 1... but at the risk of editorializing, I confirmed that by putting the disc in a region 2 player to see if it'd run. A player which /cost less than I spent on the DVD set in the first place./ So... maybe people should make similar investments. Not just for Wing Commander Academy... there's LOTS of cool region-exclusive discs out there.
Also: VEI has the license to sell this set in the US and Canada only. I've checked with NBC/Universal and Academy has not been licensed anywhere else in the world. What this means is that if you want a real region 2 release what you need to do is find a European DVD publisher and convince them to license the show. This isn't expensive for them and no labor is involved (NBC/U provides the transfers.)

Manufacturing Mishaps Mostly Mitigated

Klavs has been battling some bugs with his scale models, but he's recently gained the upper hand. He's ordered some new prototypes to verify everything looks great, and then they will go back up on his Shapeways store. In the mean time, Klavs has also made excellent progress on his next ships, including the quick and light Ferret. Here it is next to his medium fighters.

Okay, FINALLY got the problems ironed out, and I've ordered a new set of protos to show you guys, and once I'm absolutely certain that they work and exist in real life, I'll make them available to you guys again.

Also have some other ships in the pipe, all scaled to canon sizes, except for the Ferret, which I've scaled up to 14 M. It just looked too too small otherwise.

Take a Trip from T'lan Meth to the Tri-System

ScoobyDoo has some more exotic Wing Commander ships to share with his fellow fans. The first of today's diverse bunch is a 'mechanized' Piranha that sticks a little closer to its roots than previous versions of the design. He's also made a large capship which takes cues from several different modern WC warships. A couple additional fighters are just in the preliminary stages, but they're already quite recognizable. The starter Straith and popular Duress are both coming along nicely. We're looking forward to seeing how they turn out!

The model's tables need lots of tweaking (speed, shields, armour...etc). I've setup weapons and missile slots so they should be ok.

Plus two P2 models for the future... the Straith and Duress.

Two Weeks Until Party Time!

The CIC Birthday Party is just two weeks away! We've picked up the pace of our preparations, and hopefully your excitement meter is rising too. Right now, CIC staff members are busily putting together special features, tweaking aspects of the site and organizing the prize giveaways that will dot the night. Stop by #Wingnut on August 10 at 7:00 PM Eastern US (4:00 pm Pacific US and 11:00 pm GMT) to join the fun! We'll be counting down to our fourteenth birthday, running a trivia contest and enjoying the company of fellow Wingnuts. The event is a great opportunity to meet other enthusiastic fans and even set up multiplayer Wing Commander games. See you there!

No Mercy For Wing Commander IV, Colonel

The British gaming press of the 1990s continues to hammer Wing Commander. It's difficult to call this a "review" so much as an angry rant. The UK edition of PC Gamer "reviewed" Wing Commander IV in March 1996 and didn't have a whole lot of positive things to say. They do mention giving Wing Commander III a high score, its successor does not enjoy a similar fate. They appear to be very upset that they were promised the world and all they got was Wing Commander IV. The reviewer does have a nice word at the end though.

Thanks again to Pix for allowing us to post these scans.

Happy Birthday Wing Commander Arena!

Happy Birthday to Wing Commander Arena! The game was released five years ago today on July 25, 2007. Time sure flies! Arena revolutionized XBox Live Arcade with 16-player games, cooperative play and tons of ships, maps and modes - all for $10! What are your memories of playing the game online with fellow Wingnuts? Hit the Discuss link and share! No mention of Arena would be complete without calling out its incredible manual: Star*Soldier. This 60+ page booklet recaps decades of history of the Nephilim War and masterfully weaves in elements from the games, novels, movie, television show and more. It can't be missed! Download Star*Soldier here (7.7 meg PDF).
Wing Commander Arena is a fast-paced space combat game where players can team up to attack other teams of ships. The game introduces the classic franchise to an arcade-style experience that allows up to 16 players online in battle at once. Players can propel their customized ship through space, fire torpedoes and unleash deadly gravity bombs as they try to climb the leader board. Online players will compete for Frag count, high score and dueling stats.

Just A Couple of Pilots Swapping War Stories

Over at Nerdist, Tom Wilson runs a podcast called Big Pop Fun. He interviews writers, artists, actors and others working in the entertainment field. Last month, he interviewed his Wing Commander costar, and fellow 80s pop icon, Mark Hamill. Their conversation runs to almost three hours and covers a wide variety of topics from the Mark's childhood to Lee Marvin and of course, Star Wars. The intro of Part 3 has Wilson explaining the background for the famous "Isn't that the guy from Star Wars?" blooper. I'm not sure if it's a story we've ever heard before. There's a few other mentions of Wing Commander throughout the rest of the podcast, but no major discussion.

Bearcat Factory Reactivated

TonViper is back with a new heavy fighter design for the WC Homeworld 2 Mod. As a sleek & nimble, yet very powerful, design, the Bearcat has always been quite popular. This ship's been a long time coming, but Mr. Viper is planning to get it working in the Homeworld engine when the model is complete. His last attempt produced some odd results, but work continues. My question is if the game can feature an animated assembly line like in WC4. You can also check out TonViper's Excalibur model here!

As you can tell, the texture work is very preliminary with mostly placeholder assets taken from my old Excalibur model, and I still haven't modeled the wingtip guns. It always annoyed me that I'd never been able to find a decent quality Bearcat model, since even the original ingame model didn't properly reflect how the renders show it to look. They'd cropped off the back end of the engines, among others IIRC.

In other news, I may have found out what caused my Excalibur to render wrong ingame in HW2 with the new shaders. Most likely, it was a bug in the tool I used to get it ingame. I'll have to test it using another version of the tool to be sure, but I have to get around to re-installing the tools before I can test that, and they're not easy to get working on a modern system.

RIP Dr. Sally Ride

Astrophysicist and astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, known for her work in the early shuttle program, a lifetime of science advocacy and for being the first American woman in space, has died at age 61 (obituary.) Dr. Ride helped develop early shuttle systems, made two flights on Challenger (STS-7 in 1983 and STS-41-G in 1984) and went on to serve on both shuttle accident investigation boards. More than that, she became a cultural icon and celebrity figure in an era where space traveller was increasingly seen by the public as an everyday job (a 1994 Point of Origin describes the release of Ultima III as happening "back... when Sally Ride was discovering space.") She used that fame to help promote science education throughout her life, ultimately helping found the Challenger Center and Sally Ride Science company. You can access her NASA biography online here. There is little doubt that she was a force for good.

Special Operations 2 - Harder Than Its Predecessors

Another trip down memory lane with the British computer magazine PC Format. The November 1992 issue has three things of interest to Wingnuts. First, there's an article about Origin "selling out" to EA. The one thing I liked about the article is the author thought Wing Commander was the greatest game ever. I'll agree with him there. The second piece is a preview of Strike Commander. They seem hopeful, but not committed. The final piece is a review of Special Operations 2. They gave it a 69% and it's a bit difficult to understand why. The review is positive, it seems the only complaint is "there isn't an awful lot here you haven't seen before." So his review score doesn't really make sense. Thanks to Pix for scanning and uploading the magazines.

Armada - A Game Too Far?

That's what the people over at PC Format seemed to think in their September 1994 review of Wing Commander Armada. They enjoyed the game's detailed graphics, but found the gameplay and strategy level uninteresting. They do have some points about Armada, but their review is more swayed by the fact they recently reviewed TIE Fighter - and nothing can compare. Reading the inset graphic captions you can see they really did like the improved graphics and what that held for Wing Commander III. Thanks to Pix's Origin Adventures for the images.

Simulator Sets Up Saga Sorties

Aginor has expanded on the WC Saga mission editor with his own custom TrainSim. Aginor's Saga Simulator Mission allows players to customize a number of variables and easily play set up their own adventures. Just download (8 k zip) the small file, unzip its contents into the Saga missions folder and run the game.

Hello everybody! There were numerous requests for a simple simulator mission for Saga already, so I decided to create one.

You can choose between different ships, weapons, numbers of wingmen and enemies ingame. The mission briefing tells you everything you need to know about the mission.

You just have to put the extracted mission in the missions folder (normally in your profile, that depends a bit on your OS): Something like "/documents/Volition/Wing Commander Saga/data/missions"
It may happen that the missions folder is not there, in that case simply create it.

If you have any remarks or feature requests feel free to post your ideas here.

Have fun!

Otherwise, Treat With Caution

The November 1993 issue of Nintendo Magazine System contained a review of Wing Commander - The Secret Missions. It's probably one we could do without. The reviewer is snarky, to say the least. He gave the game a 64 overall, complaining the game "is less of a sequel to Wing Commander than a continuation of the original." Which is an interesting thought considering that's exactly what The Secret Missions was, a continuation of the original. The same magazine also contained a Mindscape ad that included the original Wing Commander SNES game.

We Chose To Go To The Moon

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the human race first landing on the Moon. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the lunar surface in the Lunar Excursion Module while Michael Collins remained in orbit in the Command Module.

Wing Commander has a number of important lunar installations. Moonbase Tycho, the Vacuum Breathers bar, an anti-matter/matter production facility and a massive naval base, much of which was destroyed during the Earth Defense Campaign of 2668.

Super Wing Commander...in 3DO!

Chatzone member Decay has posted four videos of Super Wing Commander gameplay. Wingnuts can watch him play through three missions in the middle of the game: Lambda and Epsilon Wings in the Dakota System followed by Theta Wing in the Kurasawa System.

Super Wing Commander is a partial remake of the original Wing Commander for the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer. it was later ported to PowerPC-era Macintosh computers. It features full speech and entirely redone graphics of roughly the same quality and style as Privateer and the Strike series of games. The game is always a fun experience and worth tracking down for anyone who interested in a new Wing Commander experience. It's a bit difficult at first to reprogram your brain to see fighters you know as something else. Watching these videos, remember, that's not a Gladius. It's actually a Raptor.

Be sure to drop by the Chatzone thread and let him know what you think!

...let me know if I should do more videos of earlier missions or keep going with my current save game. I will keep uploading if you guys are enjoying it.

On This Date In Wing Commander History - KIS Sivar Destroyed

In the contested Vega Sector, Crown Prince Gilkarg nar Kiranka, Kalralahr of the Kilrathi armada was secretly overseeing the development of the Proton Accelerator Gun, also known as the Graviton Weapon. Developed on Warhammer XII, the Graviton Weapon could destroy an entire planet by increasing the gravitational force of the planet 137 times. This weapon would be used to crush the Terran colonies with ease, and the KIS Sivar would serve as the platform for this weapon.

After the loss of Venice in 2654, the Kilrathi had no choice but to abandon the Vega Sector. Gilkarg ordered the Sivar to fire on Warhammer XII to erase all evidence of the super-weapon's development, and in the test that followed, the Sivar completely destroyed the planet and all life on it. The Sivar and its task fleet then relocated to the Epsilon Sector, where they planned to destroy the Goddard Colony. The Sivar fired on the planet, killing all 250,000 Terran colonists on the planet before fleeing into deep space with its strike fleet. The Confederation sent the TCS Tiger's Claw to investigate. They found the colony world utterly devastated by the Kilrathi weapon. One pilot in particular was deeply affected by this massacre, Zachary "Jazz" Colson. He blamed the Confederation,and the Tiger's Claw in particular, for the loss of Goddard. Colson spent the next decade as a traitor to the Confederation before being killed by Christopher Blair.

In the campaign that followed, known as Operation Thor's Hammer, the Tiger's Claw pursued the Sivar and its large fleet of escorts. In several weeks of fighting, the Tiger's Claw managed to destroy the Sivar's escorts and eventually caught up with the Sivar itself in the Vigrid System. On 2655.199, after a prolonged assault by pilots Christopher Blair and Joseph Khumalo, the Sivar and its super-weapon were completely destroyed, and the Tiger's Claw thereafter retreated back to Confederation space.

The loss of the KIS Sivar and the Proton Accelerator Gun was a severe blow to the Empire's efforts to defeat the Confederation, and the technology was lost to the Kilrathi. The Confederation, however, was able to examine pieces of the wreckage including the Proton Accelerator Gun itself. The technology found its way into Confederation ships as the Phase-Transit Cannon was based in part on that found in the Sivar.

Behind the Scenes of the Wing Commander Movie

Over the weekend we ran an excerpt from a book called Generation XBox: How Video Games Invaded Hollywood dealing with the 'behind the scenes' story of the 1999 Wing Commander film. The story was told in such a way as to imply that it was series creator Chris Roberts' story. In short, it turns out that's not the case. Chris Roberts saw our post and was kind enough to follow up with his own story about what really happened. What follows is truly fascinating background about how Wing Commander happened the way it did:

The Kilrathi sucked because of the choice of vendor, not because I was insisting on animatronics. We were running over budget and I gave in to Todd Moyer on a couple of areas that in hind sight I wished I hadn't – one of them was the Kilrathi.

I had met and really Like Patrick Tatopoulos, who was the creature designer / production designer for ID4, Godzilla etc. He came up with some awesome designs and wanted to handle the Kilrathi like Ridley Scott did on Alien – putting lithe dancers in a body suit (no stilts) and then shooting in such a way they looked 8 feet tall. But his bid was $500K, which we didn't have in the budget. I just had a big knock down drag out with Todd over Peter Lamont (the Oscar winning production designer on the film) as he thought he was too expensive, but I held my ground to have him hired. But we were over budget so I gave in on Patrick (a big regret of mine) and Todd found a small house in the UK with nowhere near the creature experience of Patrick that said they could do the work for $200K. I never got to see the Kilrathi in action until the day before we shot because the creature people had started late and then ran behind probably because they had signed up to do the work for a lot less than it really needed. Todd had promised me that it would be alright when I was asking on the progress and was concerned about not seeing much at all, yet getting closer to our shooting date.

I knew that I was in trouble the moment they were demoed to me. After shooting for one day and looking at the rushes I knew they were a bust but in film you can't just stop and come back to it later, so we finished out the shooting but I knew something had to been done to fix them or else the movie would be hurt.

I, not Todd, wanted to replace them with digital animation. Todd knew nothing about VFX – I was always the driving force on that front – its why Digital Anvil had its own effects arm that did 80% of the work on the Wing Commander movie. We went to Fox after we finished shooting to ask for more money to re-do the Kilrathi digitally and to shoot the original opening that was in the script but we had to drop for budget reasons and they told us no, we're making money on this film even if its sucks due to the video & TV deals we have. If we give you more money that may not be the case anymore, so tough luck.

As for the script quality – it's a better script than the film ended up being and by Hollywood standards (and I know as I've been making films for a while) especially for this genre it didn't suck. It wasn't Oscar material delving into the inner struggles of pilots in a futuristic war, but next to Starship Troopers or other genre work, I think script wise it stands up. I've certainly read worse scripts that have gone on to earn hundreds of millions at the box office with the right stars, over the top action, lots of VFX and a big marketing budget. But I think the producer of "Barbed Wire" really shouldn't be relied on for good script feedback.

The movie wasn't the film I saw in my head for a few reasons –

I was a first timer and I made some mistakes. Directing live action for the games was one thing, but directing a film is a whole other level of subtly and complexity. If I had a second shot at making Wing Commander I'm confident that I would make a far, far better film. I've learned a lot over the past ten years. Too bad I don't have a time machine!

I took the look of the world too far away from the game look. I had my reasons, partly because I was paranoid of being accused of being too much a Star Wars clone. On the game front that was always good that Wing Commander had a bit of a Star Wars vibe, but when you're making a film that is meant to be released before the next installment from the granddaddy of all sci-fi films you get a little worried. In retrospect considering how Star Wars episode I turned out (and looked) it was the wrong decision, but at the time I was picturing the next Star Wars to have the awesomeness of the first three films not the disappointing mess that Episode I was.

We didn't have a big enough budget (it wasn't $30M like Todd claims – it was originally $20M, that crept up to $24M) to make this type of film properly.

The film was rushed into production as Fox wanted the film delivered by November 1998 so they could release before Star Wars. Consequently I had only 3 months of pre-production. Anyone can tell you that on a complicated movie that involves a lot of set building and VFX you need more than that. 6 months is a normal preproduction time, but it's not uncommon to have 9 months on especially ambitious VFX projects. Issues like the Kilrathi, improving the script could have all been addressed if we had not been put on an accelerated schedule to fit into a "deal". For an experienced director having almost no preproduction time is bad, for a first time director it can be deadly.

Finally it didn't work because while Todd was good at doing deals, as you can see even from the tone in the interview, he didn't give a damn or even know much about the creative process. As a first time director I really could have used the support of a proper creative producer that understood filmmaking and being on the set, rather than an ex-agent who couldn't tell you the difference between a single or a master shot.

All these were lessons I took to heart when I went full time into film making. I set up my own film making company so I would never have to go through what I went through and I like to think with the films I've produced I was a better creative producer for the various directors.

Wing Commander Armada - Something Of A Halfway House

Another trip down memory lane as today we look at a review of Wing Commander Armada from the November 1994 PC Review. Armada reviews all tended to have a similar trend of mentioning TIE Fighter and what could be if only TIE Fighter had Armada's graphics. In his review, Paul Glancey, says that such an event would "have needed to invent new superlatives to do it justice, and if Wing Commander 3 can manage this level of detail in SVGA resolution, there'll be jaws on the floor throughout the kingdom." Overall, Glancey isn't too thrilled with Armada's gameplay. He makes the common compliant that the combat is repetitive and feels like a stationary turret firing at moving targets. Read his entire review below. Thanks to Pix's Origin Adventures for the scans.

Talking About My Generation

Worf has discovered an interesting chunk of Wing Commander history in a new book called Generation XBox: How Video Games Invaded Hollywood. The book doesn't discuss FMV games at all, but instead talks about how Hollywood's process for adapting video games into films has changed in the past two decades. It includes several pages on the history of the Wing Commander movie's production deal and apparently interviewed both Chris Roberts and Todd Moyer. Here is the Wing Commander section:

A long time ago, in a galaxy not that far away lived a young boy called Chris Roberts. Chris wasn't just a Star Wars fan. He was the kind of Jedi geek who could tell you the difference between a tauntaun and a bantha in torturous detail. Born in California in 1968, he grew up in Manchester, England in the 1970s. When he was eight-years-old, he went to the cinema to see George Lucas's space opera. It changed his life. The moment he got back home he started building X-Wing fighters and Tie-fighters out of his Lego set. "That whole sense of being transported to another world had a big impact on me," he says. "Everything I've done has been about creating worlds that you can escape into."

When he wasn't talking about Tie-Fighters, Roberts was busy tapping away at the red and black keys of his school's BBC Micro computers. He dreamed of making games that could capture the magic of Lucas's universe. If you'd told his younger self that one day he'd be living in California, running his own software company and directing Luke Skywalker - destroyer of the Death Star and the last of the illustrious Jedi Knights, aka actor Mark Hamill - he probably would have shat his pants.

Fast forward to 1990 and Roberts was already achieving all his dreams. He'd been making games since he was 11-years-old but it was only after moving to the US to join Origin Systems that he began work on what would be his magnum opus, the Wing Commander series. A futuristic universe populated by hot stuff fighter pilots, space freighters and feline aliens called the Kilrathi, the Wing Commander games were phenomenally succesful. Each box was emblazoned with the legend "A Chris Roberts game" and the programmer/designer auteur quickly attracted a huge following.

PC gamers were seduced by his space opera franchise and its ambition to tell a story as well as to let you dogfight in outer space. Each new installment raised the narrative stakes, following pilot Christopher Blair as he became a decorated veteran of the Terran-Kilrathi conflict. The universe the games opened up was as intricate as anything Lucas created. It was filled with Arrow fighters, Temblor Bombs, and a weary hero who'd had a bellyful of war.

The Wing Commander world was shaken up in 1994 when Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger made the jump to full motion video. No longer would Blair and his fellow pilots be animated sprites. Now they were live actors whose stories played out in cinematic cut-scenes (the dramatic, non-playable sections between game levels). Hamill starred as Blair. John Rhys-Davies and Malcolm McDowell lent thespian weight as Terran Confederation officers. Shoots against green screen allowed the game designers to flesh out a digital sci-fi world around their characters. Roberts suddenly found himself morphing into a filmmaker. Understandably he was terrified, since he'd never even been to film school. "I'd learned everything I knew from watching movies," he says. "But in terms of knowing how to do a master shot, two shot and singles and all the different things you need to know on a technical bsis about how to shoot something and put it together to make the scenes flow, that was pretty intimidating."

Wing Commander III had a $3 million budget for its video shoot. Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, shot on 35mm, had an $8 million budget. Those were not figures to be sniffed at and nor were the sales figures. Wing Commander marked out its turf as one of the bastions of PC gaming in the '90s. While other FMV titles were largely derided, the Wing Commander series managed to create a balance between its live action narrative scenes and the comparatively lo-fi, animated game sequences that let you fly through space. The franchise's loyal fans didn't seem to mind the jarring shift from passively watching FMV to actively shooting sprites. The tremulous FMV drama, where Hamill deals with romances and fallen comrades, gave a much-needed emotional dimension to waht was essentially a spaceship cockpit simulator.

For Roberts as a creator, though, the game portions were losing their appeal. Wing Commander had grown into a huge pulp sci-fi saga and it was outgrowing its videogame format. After EA bought Origin Systems, he started writing a spec screenplay for a movie and put out feelers in Hollywood, uncertain about what would happen but hoping all the same: "It was my passion project, my baby."

When the movie finally happened it was all about th deal. Of course, all movies are essentially about the deal, but Wing Commander was in a class of its own. Producer Todd Moyer put together a financing package so complex it made Maxwell's partial differential equations look like something a toddler might chalk up on their PlaySkool blackboard during the ad breaks in Bear in the Big Blue House.

To be fair, it was a stunning deal - or rather series of deals - that jigsawed together money from all over. It began with a small domestic minimum guarantee from Fox and was followed by a Luxembourg tax incentive, some French investment, an Australian tax shelter, UK financing and foreign sales. In all, the independent production secured a $30 million budget. "At the time it was a tonne of money," says Moyer.

Moyer knew all about exploiting intellectual proeprty across mediums. He'd been an executive vice president at Dark Horse Comics and had arranged a lot of the big movie licensing agreements - comic books like Aliens, Predator and their eventual crossover Aliens Vs. Predator, which would become both a movie and a videogame. He'd headed up Steven Seagal's production company. Plus he'd worked with Van Damme on Time Cop, Pamela Anderson on Barbed Wire and Jamie Lee Curtis on Virus. Like Larry Kasanoff, Moyer had an eye for a potential franchise. Games, he believed, were much like the comic book properties he'd dealt with: they were the foundations on which you could build a movie, using the original intellectual property to show potential investors that there was both a market and a vision capable of sustaining a feature film. Much as with Mortal Kombat, the deal was the bottom line: how much leverage could you get from a property to spin it off into profitable properties in other mediums?

This was the McDonaldization of entertainment at its most naked and it said a lot about the movie industry's approach to adapting games for the big screen. While novels and plays could claim cultural legitimacy, videogames were largely seen as toy-like systems rather than art. In the eyes of Svengali producers like Moyer they were simply brands waiting to be exploited. "I'm not very reverential towards videogame creators," he admits. "Games just don't get me excited." Instead, their value was as intellectual property. "Once you own IP you can carve out very different deals for the creators with that and for a lot of people."

When Moyer heard about Roberts and the Wing Commander series' dominance in the PC market from an agent friend of his, he set up a meeting. "Chris had a pretty bad script, that unfortunately only got a little bit better," the producer remembers. "Basically it was a C-rate Star Wars rip off." Things might have ended there if it weren't for two plusses. It helped, naturally, that the Wing Commander franchise had made millions of dollars. More importantly, Roberts was putting a chunk of equity on the table. He was essentially buying himself a shot at feature film directing. Nothing wrong with that in the movie biz, of course; yet this was the first time a videogame creator had made the leap into making studio distributed movies.

You might think Fox was taking a huge gamble. Here was a young, novice filmmaker stepping up to direct his first movie, an epic space opera with a $30 million price tag. The studio suits must have been worried, right? Wrong. Well then, they must have been swayed by the videogame designer's showreel with all the FMV footage he'd shot on video and 35mm film for the games? Wrong again. Surely when they saw him directing Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell they felt reassured? Not at all. In fact, they barely glanced at it.

"No one gave a shit about Chris Roberts as a director or not a director," says Moyer. "All they cared about was that the videogame had huge sales, there was a built-in audience, and they could crunch the numbers. Like many of these movies, at the right price, nobody cars who directs them." With a minimum domestic guarantee from Fox, the filmmakers could basically go off and make whatever movie they wanted. Fox's exposure was so low, they had no interest in keeping tabs. It was a disinterest that would both make and break the Wing Commander movie's fortunes.

For Roberts, stepping into the director’s chair was something of a poisoned chalice. The young Brit, on the usp of his 30th birthday, was about to get a firsthand lesson in how the moviemaking machinery could chew you up and spit you out. At Origin Systems, Roberts had become used to flexing his creative muscles: "In videogame terms I was like a very big film director. I got what I wanted and didn't have to compromise. Then I stepped into the film business and, all of a sudden, I wasn't." On the set of the Wing Commander movie, which was shot in Luxembourg, the big fish from a small pond suddenly found himself in the deep blue sea surrounded my sharks. Unlike Mortal Kombat's John Tobias - who recalled being lauded by cast and crew during a brief visit to the production - Roberts wasn't just passing through. He was now part of the food chain.

It was a tough gig, not the least of all because the game designer's creative instincts as a director were constantly overruled by the economic necessities of the deal. Like Super Mario Bros., Wing Commander was being made as an indie movie. "In my opinion, independent movies that are being produced from franchises like this tend not to be very good. The reason why is because you have to satisfy too many different cooks," says Moyer. "There were all kinds of concessions made in that movie that you wouldn't do if you were making it as a studio movie."

As a part of the deal, Fox wanted Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard, who were hot, in the cast. Sales to the UK, Germany and France were threatened because those markets had never heard of either actor. Moyer added Saffron Burrows and David Suchet for the UK, Jürgen Prochnow for Germany and Tchéky Karyo for France. "You would never do that on a big studio movie. It was all about trying to get a bigger number from those territories," he says.

Wing Commander had one advantage over previous videogame movies: it had a detailed, rich mythology which its directory knew intimately, since he'd designed it himself. Serving as a prequel to the games, the movie follows a young Christopher Blair (played by pretty vacant Prinze Jr.) on his first combat mission against the Kilrathi. It's like a war movie in space: the pilots are like World War I aerial aces, deadly in the cockpit but struggling with human dramas on the ground; the hulking space vessels are like aircraft carriers or the submarine from Das Boot, metal canisters its troops are locked inside while the war wages around them. It's no surprise to lean that Roberts referred his crew to Tora! Tora! Tora! and The Battle of Midway for inspiration.

Visually, the film did a little with a lot. Its CGI team beta-tested Maya, a 3D animation and modeling tool now used extensively in both the movie and game industries, and used it to create quite spectacular space battles. Less convincing were the Kilrathi, cat-like aliens whose design resulted in a blazing row between Roberts and his producer over whether or not they should be CGI. "When you're working with a creator, you can try to be as persuasive as you want," Moyer explains. "Try telling Frank Miller what should be in or out of a property, good fucking luck. It's hard to tell Chris Roberts, who made a tonne of money off Wing Commander, what he has to do with certain characters. You're always going to lose because he can say, 'This is important tot eh core audience, we have to do this to satisfy them'. I was like: 'Dude, people barely remember the videogame it was [so long] ago.'"

Roberts, who'd used animatronics while shooting the cat-like Kilrathi on the Wing Commander games' FMV sequences, was adamant that he wanted the same old school approach. When Moyer refused on the basis that it was "a complete waste of time and would look like shit." Roberts used his own money to pay for the extra work. But the problem was that the Kilrathi - puppeteers in eight-foot suits too tall for the sets that had by now been built - looked ridiculous. "It was laughable and it sucked," says Moyer. "You had a villain that was funny." In the end, the Kilrathi all but vanished from the finished cut of the movie. Roberts asked Fox for more time and money to fix the problem but the studio refused.

What finally killed Wing Commander's box office chances, however, was its chief inspiration: Star Wars. Arriving in cinemas in March 1999 just a couple of months before the long-awaited prequel Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, Wing Commander inevitably suffered. The movie's core demographic were eager for Lucas, not Roberts. No sci-fi outing could compete against such fevered expectations not even, it turned out, The Phantom Menace itself. "Everyone had this belief that The Phantom Menace was going to be like the Second Coming of Jesus Christ," says Roberts philosophically. "Then after it came out they said, 'It's got Jar-Jar Binks in it, it isn't that good'."

Yet the real damage to Wing Commander was actually done in the meeting rooms at the studio that distributed it. Again, it was all down to the deal. Fox, who were releasing The Phantom Menace and Wing Commander, were obviously going to put all their bets on just one of those two horses. "Fox was not very supportive of the movie," recalls Moyer. "We talked about P&A [prints and advertising] and the screen commitment and they basically wouldn't come up with a satisfactory plan."

Convinced Wing Commander could make money if handled properly, Moyer made a deal where he could sell the movie to another studio as long as Fox got a $2 million profit on their initial investment. Much to Fox's surprise, the producer secured an agreement from Sony who were willing to put the film out on 2,500 screens with a big P&A commitment. They were also willing to invest in the movie and push back its release date, giving Roberts the chance to fix the Kilrathi. Everybody, even Fox with a guaranteed $2 million profit, would be happy. But then all hell broke loos. While Moyer was in the middle of finishing off negotiations with Sony, his cell-phone rang. It was Tom Sherack, then head of distribution for Fox. He had bad news.

"Todd, I'm not giving you the picture."

"But we had a deal. I'm here closing the sale."

"Good fucking luck, I'll never sign the papers. I don't give a shit, I'm not doing it. If you want to have a huge lawsuit, go ahead."

"Tom, I've got to tell you..."

"No, it's coming out in six weeks and it's going to have Star Wars: The Phantom Menace trailer on it.

He hung up.

Six weeks was barely enough time to market Wing Commander properly even if Fox had wanted to. But apparently they didn't. There was no theatrical trailer, no press build up, no TV campaign. The movie was dumped in cinemas in mid-March, an expensive hook to hang the second trailer for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace on.

Moyer, convinced that Wing Commander could easily have done $10 to $15 million on its opening weekend, was furious. The film took around $5 million, putting it fourth out of five movies that opened that weekend. It was also a critical flop. "Star Bores," joked Entertainment Weekly. In retrospect, Moyer is sanguine about the movie's release. "That's the way the business works," he reflects. "Really it's pretty funny: the fact that it was a C-rate Star Wars was actually our undoing." Although Wing Commander's release was far from triumphant, the deal was strong enough to bear it. "I don't think anyone lost money on that movie," he says. "When you run it through the cycles [theatrical, DVD, TV] Wing Commander did just fine. The only people who didn't make money on it were Chris Roberts and me."

For Roberts, who'd been attracting a lot of industry heat as a young director before the film’s release (Fox offered him a mooted Silver Surfer project), the movie was a mixed blessing. Despite the compromises, he'd directed a feature before turning 30 and taken his baby onto the big screen. "It was like a very expensive film school for me," he says. After a brief return to videogames he started out as a Hollywood producer, making films like Lord of War (2005) starring Nicholas Cage and Lucky Number Slevin (2006) with Josh Hartnett and Bruce WIllis. No videogame designer had ever made such a jump into producing Hollywood movies before.

Wing Commander's genesis, production and release say a lot about the state of things in 1999. Here were the realities behind the videogame movies laid bare: the original videogame properties guaranteed brand recognition with a built-in audience; the funding was drummed up in piecemeal fashion; but studios were willing to distribute without committing themselves to developing the projects in-house. These projects were, in short, a way of milking a franchise from another medium. Hardly surprising, then, that videogame movies would be plagued by mediocrity.

Wing Commander Rules Ok

It's always fun to look back and remember that there were times when Wing Commander had to stave off challenges from other space sims. It's even better to read a review written by someone who is clearly a wingnut. Chris Anderson of PC Zone wrote a defense of the supremacy of Wing Commander and what's new and great in Righteous Fire.

Check out the full review below.

Portalarium Flush with Cash

There's good news for Richard Garriott fans: his company, Portalarium, has been awarded $7 million in financing by m8 Capital. This money will finish the company's promising Ultimate Collector, due out this summer, and allow work to begin in earnest on the spiritual successor to Garriott's famed Ultima series. Here's the press release:

Portalarium Closes $7 Million Series A Round

m8 Capital Leads Round for Austin-Based Mobile and Social Game Company led by Legendary Designer Richard Garriott de Cayeux

AUSTIN, Texas, July 10, 2012—Portalarium™, an Austin-based publisher and developer of premium quality games for mobile platforms and social networks announces the closing of its Series A financing. The $7 million round is led by m8 Capital, a London-based venture capital firm focusing on mobile technology investments. FF Angel of San Francisco, BHV Venture Capital of New York, and Portalarium co-founder Richard Garriott de Cayeux are also participating in the round, among others.

Portalarium will invest the proceeds from the Series A financing in the final development stages of its first feature product, Ultimate Collector®, scheduled for release this summer on Facebook, browser and mobile platforms. Funding from the Series A round will also be used to launch production of Garriott’s much anticipated role-playing game, Ultimate RPG / New Britannia (working title), scheduled for release primarily on mobile platforms.

“Following our early stage investment in Portalarium, announced in June 2011, we’re pleased to further our commitment to Richard Garriott and to Portalarium,” said m8 Capital General Partner, Joseph Kim. “Richard is one of the legendary developers in the gaming industry and his vision for this next era of mobile and social gaming will firmly position Portalarium as an industry leader. We are looking forward to a successful launch of the company’s next game, Ultimate Collector, and to see how Richard will redefine the role-playing genre for the mobile-era.”

“This is an important step for the growth of our company,” said Garriott. “We are grateful for the confidence m8 Capital and Founders Fund have placed in our team and we believe gamers will ultimately reap the benefits from this partnership when they get a chance to play Ultimate Collector and see the unique mobile and social games that we are creating at Portalarium.”

Portalarium's Series A funding shortly follows the June 26th announcement by Zynga, the world's largest mobile/social gaming platform, that Portalarium will be joining the new Zynga Platform Partners publishing program with products to be announced later.

About Portalarium

Portalarium is revolutionizing role-playing games for mobile and social media platforms. Formed in September of 2009 in Austin, Texas, Portalarium is developing and publishing premium online games and virtual worlds for mobile platforms and popular social networks. Portalarium games maximize the fun and social play experience between friends, making it is easy to find each other and play together regardless of where you are or what you are playing. For more information about Portalarium, go to www.portalarium.com.

About m8 Capital

m8 Capital is a London-based VC fund that invests exclusively in mobile technology. m8 Capital looks to support entrepreneurs and companies that are positioning themselves at the forefront of all things mobile. Other investments in m8 Capital’s portfolio include mobile ticketing company Masabi, next generation mobile publishing company 955 Dreams and Aylus Networks™, the leading enabler of video communication services over mobile networks

BREAKING NEWS: EA Announces Ultima Forever

Bioware Mythic's Ultima forever website has been updated with the first details about the expected Ultima Forever game. Further information is expected later today.
  • The first great Western RPG has been lovingly restored in Ultima Forever - return to the Ultima series in BioWare's new cross-platform action RPG. Accept the challenge from Lady British and save the land of Britannia. Play as the Fighter or the Mage and travel alone or with friends, restore virtue and become the Avatar!
  • Fighters are one-man armies, trained to engage multiple opponents with a wide variety of attacks. Protect your allies and rain down a barrage of deadly attacks on enemies.
  • With a staff in hand and a spell on their lips, Mages are ready to engage in battle from afar. Use your magical know how to vanquish enemies and assist your allies.
Lady British, huh?

Our Glasses Are Always Half Full

One Wing Commander prop I always craved were the glasses we see being used in the TCS Victory and TCS Lexington's Rec Rooms. After Wing Commander IV, I remember being in 8th grade and writing a letter to the Origin offices asking about getting one of these glasses. I never did hear back from them, but today I can take the word of Pix that they are nice glasses.
I always thought these looked like blue plastic in the game but it is real glass and a lot better looking in real life than I was expecting. I vaguely recall there being plenty of them on the bar set but I’ve no idea if any have survived outside of those 3.

Check out the full story over at Pix's Origin Adventures.

The CIC produced their own glasses a few years back as well. So I wasn't the only one who desired to raise a glass for the Confederation!

The Big Party's One Month Away!

We're now more than half way through the year, which means the CIC's Birthday is near! In just one month, we'll be celebrating our fourteenth birthday. This year the party will take place on a Friday night / Saturday morning, so hopefully you can join us. Stop by #Wingnut on August 10 at 7:00 PM Eastern US (4:00 pm Pacific US and 11:00 pm GMT). It's always tons of fun! As usual, the night will be full of enthusiastic Wing Commander chat, trivia contests, prize giveaways and special features. Stay tuned for more details as the date approaches. You can also RSVP on our Facebook Page!


Overpriced Privateers Make PC Format Mad

The reviewers at PC Format seemed to have had something against Wing Commander. This time up it's classic and Wingnut favorite, Privateer. At times praising the game, overall the reviewer is not impressed and sees it as a collection of rehashed ideas. We could also say the same thing of the reviewer's odd writing.

Yes, the enemy ships look incredible, the explosions are spectacular and the planets and bases are sumptuously drawn, but gorgeous graphics doth not a brilliant game make.

At £49.99 you expect to receive something special, something new. OK, so there's loads of scope to upgrade your ship, fit new weapons, buy new ships, indulge in a spot of trading or smuggling, but didn't we find all these features in Elite (PCF 10, 29%)?

By introducing rogue bandits, smugglers and military conflicts, Privateer attempts to add colour to the Gemini Sector, but it's not enough to make you feel as though you're getting a new gaming experience. Even though there is ostensibly a wide variety of missions, they all boil down to: fly, shoot, deliver stuff, shoot and fly.

Overall, the reviewer gave Privateer a 79%, mainly it seems because of price. The same thing appears to be true of the "Another perspective" review. He also lays out a thought that has never crossed my mind as a reason not to like Privateer.

It really is simply Wing Commander 2 again, with a few high-res intermediate screens. The gameplay hasn't changed (it's shoot, avoid, shoot), the graphics are precisely the same technology and those jerky scaled bitmaps are looking very ropey these days. Any why is there only a tiny viewing window? And why is Origin recommending a DX2 to play it on, to move a couple of sprites around? I could go on for ages, but all you need to know is £50? 52%? (Hear, hear - Paul).

- Ed

Ugh.

Names are the Name of the Game

There's a new poll up today that asks which Kilrathi name is your favorite among a select few. Virtually all Wingnuts should be familiar with some of these warriors, although there are a couple lesser known (but cool sounding!) characters mixed in as well. Can you place every Kil? Is there someone you think has an even better name? Hit the Discuss link to let us know! The last poll asked about the most disruptive traitor in the Wing Commander series. Admiral Tolwyn took a commanding lead with Jazz Colson and Ralgha nar Hhallas in a close fight for second. In fourth place was Foreign Minister Rhonda Jamison, who cooperated with the Kilrathi during the False Peace Armistice in exchange for her captive son. Also, here's an honorable mention to Governor Menesch who received just 1% of the vote, but was responsible for selling thousands upon thousands of Talons on the black market in Gemini!

Every Wingnut Needs Star*Soldier

Do the poll options above look more like gibberish than fearsome kats? In addition to the novels and card game, Star*Soldier mentions many of the Empire's greats. The amazing game manual for Wing Commander Arena is a trove of information on the current state of the WC universe. From the perspective of the frontier in the year 2701, it tells the story of the Nephilim War and much more. The book is a free download and absolutely everyone should have it. Grab it right here (7.7 meg PDF)! Our Star*Soldier Gloss feature also has commentary from the writers and designers for all 60+ pages. The Art of Wing Commander Arena provides a further glimpse at the game with dozens of cool concept art images.

Confed Crew Ready to Supply Stuff

Deathsnake has a couple more Enigma 2666 screenshots to share, and they show very different things. The first is the recently completed Confed Supply Depot, and the second is the amassed Kilrathi fleet to be featured in the mod. It'd sure be terrifying to be the Terran crew on that base if they looked out the window to see the latter shot!
Confed Supply Depot done. Model by Cybot, textures and finish by Kevin. Now only the Bengal, Tolmacs, Ralari, Pelileu and K'Tithrak Mang are missing. We have all models already done by Cybot and Kevin except K'Tithrak Mang. This will be done by Zohrath, who make already the Kilrathi Supply Depot and the Starpost.

Several Swanky Ships Swoop In

ScoobyDoo is back with another trio of fancy fighters based on popular Wing Commander designs. The inspiration for these vessels are WC4's Bearcat, the Armada Phantom and Prophecy's Piranha, but each has been updated with his characteristic flair. Check out the impressive hull detail and exquisite weaponry!
Kris [named after the type of dager]: A combination of the Piranha and the SEPECAT Jaguar. Right now I'm working on something special, after that I'll be upgrading the Piranha.

Marvelous Mini Mediums Manufactured

Klavs has finalized his four-pack of medium fighters, and they are now available to pick up at Shapeways. The Rapier II, SWC Rapier II, Scimitar and Dralthi are available unpainted in either 1/300 or 1/600 scale. You can see how they compare to a penny below. The detail that shows through on these miniatures is very impressive!
Hope you guys enjoy and post painted pics! If I ever win the lottery I'm making a 1/72 scale F-44. :)

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Independence Day to our American wingnuts! Today is the 236th anniversary of the founding of the American Republic. Enjoy a safe holiday and a night filled with fireworks! To our non-American vistors, enjoy a great day wherever you are!

Ship Showcase: Hornet, Come On Down!

Recently, the WCPedia team has focused on improving the Ship pages on the project. We've been working hard on compiling and organizing all the information for each ship. The first area we've started to tackle is Confederation fighters. We thought it only prudent to show that information off to the whole community. As we continue to work on the various ship articles, we'll continue to highlight them as they get close to completion. Today we look at the F-36 Hornet, the first ship wingnuts fly in the original Wing Commander. Over the last few months, we've worked hard to gather all the known information about the Hornet. We plan on giving every single reference in the Wing Commander universe the same treatment. To start off we've included the History text from the Hornet article. Enjoy!

Designed by Origin Aerospace, the F-36 Hornet served as a light fighter for the Terran Confederation during the Terran-Kilrathi War. Many of graduates of the Terran Confederation Space Forces Academy spent time flying a Hornet trainer variant during their rookie year. It was included in Joan's Fighting Spacecraft Vega Sector Supplement for 2654.092. Typically, Hornets engaged in reconnaissance, escort, patrol and light anti-shipping duties. Mounting two MK. 25 Laser Cannons and three missiles, two Dart DumbFires and a Javelin Heatseeker, and a maximum speed of 420 KPS, the Hornet was capable of either fighting or fleeing its way out of most combat situations. The Confederation used the Hornet extensively during the Vega Campaign of the 2650s. Noted Hornet squadrons included the Yellowjackets and Killer Bees assigned to the TCS Tiger's Claw during the campaign. Future Commodore Christopher Blair and leader of Lancelot Flight began his Tiger’s Claw career in the Killer Bees squadron. The Hornet squadrons of the Tiger’s Claw performed combat operations in the Enyo, Gateway and Cheng Du systems during the Vega Campaign. Later, they served in the Goddard system during Operation Thor’s Hammer and the Firekka system during Operation Crusade.

The Confederation officially replaced the Hornet in favor of the F-54 Epee in 2661, although Hornet squadrons served in Confederation colors through the Battle of Earth in 2668. Following the war, the Free Republic of the Landreich and the Union of Border Worlds purchased a significant number of the spaceframes the Confederation was removing from the Fleet and used them in combat squadrons into the mid-2670s.

Commander Darlene "Babe" Babcock, squadron commander of VF-12, the Flying Eyes off the FRLS Independence, former TCS Tarawa, were the first members of Operation Goliath to provide images of KIS Karga prior to the survey in 2670. The squadron was modified specifically for fleet reconnaissance utilizing the Mark VI APSP. It was a specially mounted sensor pod containing a battery of cameras, imaging systems, and other survey gear that was normally used to conduct long-range scans ahead of a fleet or target identification runs in a planetary atmosphere. Later, it was the Hornets of the Flying Eyes to first engage Zachary Banfield’s Guild attack. Broadswords were launched from a modified ore transport turned carrier named Bonadventure. Their goal was to destroy the tender FRLS Sindri. In the ensuing battle a number of Hornets were lost before additional fighters were launched to aid them. Eleven Hornets were subsequently transferred from the Independence to the renamed Karga, now FRLS Mjollnir in honor of the crew of the Sindri and Eric “Viking” Jensson, a Hornet pilot killed during the attack. During the transit from the Vaku System to the Hellhole System, the Mjollnir added the Hornet squadron VF-16, the Stingers, commanded by William "Willie Pete" Peterson. The Flying Eyes later served with distinction during the Battle of Baka Kar acting as a blocking force in low planetary orbit of Baka Kar itself.

Hornets continued to see use into the 28th century. The January 2701 issue of Star*Soldier listed a classified ad selling an F-36 Hornet . The seller was crazyjoe@shipsmustgo.corporation.

This Suits Me Fine

Here's another great treasure from Pix's Origin Adventures. Pix discovered this advertisement in the March 1995 issue of PC Gamer (the UK version.) It's a simple trivia contest to win Mark Hamill's Wing Commander III flight suit! The most exciting thing is the detailed photographs of the prop, including the best ever shot I've seen of the rare 'combined forces' logo patch. Could we use this image to have a run of these patches commissioned for fans?

Wing Commander Korean Style

I always enjoy coming across cool Wing Commander bits I've never seen before. Call it illness, or obsession, or just plain geekiness... call it whatever you want, but what it means is that for all of your sakes I periodically do Google searches to see what turns up... and this latest one kind of blew my mind, and maybe it will yours too!

I really don't know what to make of this. It's pretty darn cool though. Was it an official release? I think that's unlikely. It's likely a bootleg, but it's sure one heck of a bootleg if it is. This is a 5 1/4" floppy disk set of both Wing Commander 1 and 2 in Korean. You can see in the photos that the box has separate manuals for each game and what is more, there's even Korean versions of the WC1 ship blueprints!

If you happen to come across strange and wonderful Wing Commander gear you don't think we've seen before (especially if it's in a language other than English) feel free to email us at news@wcnews.com or let us know in our forums here.

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