Goodbye, Aaron Allston

Terrible news to report today: author Aaron Allston passed away yesterday at the age of 53. Aaron Allston was a traditional ‘pen and paper’ game designer, one of many who made the transition to Origin Systems in the late 1980s and helped give the company its distinctive culture during the early years of the Wing Commander and Ultima franchises. Today, Aaron is best known for his incredibly successful (and critically acclaimed) Star Wars novels, but for hundreds of thousands of Wing Commander pilots, he was our first portal into a new universe. He had a monumental impact on shaping the Wing Commander universe and drawing players in to the first game in the series, and the world is poorer for having lost his talents.

Aaron’s mark on the Wing Commander franchise was indelible: he was the man behind Claw Marks. The “Onboard Magazine of the TCS Tiger’s Claw,” Claw Marks was an astonishing piece of in-universe fiction included in the box of the original Wing Commander. The booklet didn’t tell you how to play the game, it treated you like you were a 27th century fighter pilot catching up on the news between missions. The ship specifications, pilot-of-the-month bios and in-universe editorials became the standard for the franchise going forward. Chris Roberts has always sought for an immersive game experience, and the inclusion of Claw Marks meant that Wing Commander offered it before the player could even insert the first disk. Aaron went on to serve as designer and writer for The Secret Missions, Wing Commander’s first mission disk. The Secret Missions took Wing Commander’s existing structure and a collection of cutting-room-floor ship graphics and turned them into the epic story of the Tiger’s Claw’s trip behind enemy lines to battle a Kilrathi superweapon. The product was an unexpectedly massive success. Wing Commander players clamored for more action in their new favorite universe and in the process set the stage for first years of physical game “add on” disks and then DLC development that continues today.

While The Secret Missions was Aaron’s last published involvement in Wing Commander, it was not his last time writing in the universe. In 1995, Chris Roberts brought him back into the fold to create the series bible for a Privateer television series. The television plans were bold to the point of insanity: Origin would simultaneously produce a pair of Privateer games, Privateer 2 and 3. The first season of the television series would begin after the release of Privateer 2 and run for a year. Game and show would have different protagonists, but the two would team up in occasional crossover episodes… and then after the conclusion of the show, would appear together in Privateer 3 to finish the series’ year-long story arc together (if that wasn’t enough, Aaron also pitched the idea of episodes that would tie in to the then-in-production Wing Commander IV.) Plans for the game and series fell through, and an entirely different Privateer 2 was developed instead. Aaron once remarked that he thought this for the best; his initial pitch had gone on to be “sexed up” by Hollywood (including the addition of a non-ironic planet of Amazon women.) You can read Aaron Allston’s original Privateer the Series pitch here.

Aaron was also a major part of the Ultima series, taking writing duties on the first PC spinoff, Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire. Savage Empire took the Ultima VI engine to its fullest, delivering the Avatar and his companions to a world populated by dinosaurs and other prehistoric terrors. True to his roots, Aaron went on to develop his own Savage Empire pen-and-paper RPG, which he made available to friends and family in Austin. Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire is available today as a free download from GOG.

I was lucky enough to know Aaron. Our first interaction was in 1995; he was tickled to discover that an early iteration of our Wing Commander Encyclopedia featured an entry for “Captain Aaron Allston” (as he is credited in Claw Marks) along with a hand-scanned picture of the magazine editor cartoon. Over the years, he was always generous with his time in answering questions about his work on Wing Commander and the early days of Origin Systems. In the early 2000s, Aaron was a regular fixture at Dragon*Con. The CIC staff would always make a point of attending his Star Wars panels and then after presenting him with stacks of Claw Marks to sign. I can’t say that he enjoyed the attention, but he was always thoroughly happy to stick around and sign everyone’s booklets and share a few words about the old days. It is almost appropriate that he passed away on Thursday during a convention appearance: he was the rare combination of a genuine talent and someone who was always willing to go out of his way to interact with his fans.

If you knew Aaron Allston or if you were influenced by his work, please let us know in the comments.


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Official news, fan projects and topics of particular interest to Wing Commander fans. Recent updates:


Happy Thanksgiving!
2017-11-23 -- The holiday season is now in full swing, and Wingnuts in the US are celebrating Thanksgiving today! As the story goes, we give thanks for the assistance given the European Pilgrims and the Native Americans who cooperated with them. Although 100% unrelated, this is a fantastic opportunity to remind everyone about the super cool Wing Commander Pilgrim-related item hiding in the CIC archives.

Annual Call For Award Nominations
2017-11-22 -- Another busy year is flying by, and before we know it, 2017 will be coming to a close. To start to get things in order, we're now thinking about nominees for our traditional Web Site & Fan Project of the Year Awards. There are so many fans doing great things out there, so this is our chance to acknowledge some of their fantastic efforts.

Zappenduster Those Kindred!
2017-11-21 -- LOAF found a really cool Privateer 2 article from the German magazine PC Player. It dates back to August 1995 during the early development phases of the game, and the feature includes some cool behind-the-scenes set photos from the game. Check out the nose art on that Kalrechi too!

Get Your WC4 DVD On With Lazy Game Reviews
2017-11-20 -- It's turning out to be a great week for classic game channels on YouTube! Lazy Game Reviews has posted a very in-depth profile of the Creative Labs Encore DXR2 DVD-ROM kit. He does a great job setting the stage for just how cool this was in 1997 and covers every inch of the box and its contents.

Metal Jesus Rocks The Whole Wing Commander Series!
2017-11-19 -- Metal Jesus of MetalJesusRocks is back with another Wing Commander video, and this time he's here to do a rather comprehensive overview of the entire series. Anyone can cover WC1-4 and Prophecy on YouTube, but MJR goes further with coverage of expansion packs, Academy & Armada, the Privateers, Super Wing Commander and Kilrathi Saga. He even has both the regular and Premiere Edition of WC3, SNES & Sega CD ports of WC1, and both standard and Gold Prophecies.

We've Got This Sector Bottled Tight, Friend...
2017-11-18 -- We've got a new poll out today that asks which of the the galactic sectors in Wing Commander is your favorite. This obviously isn't an exhaustive list, and there are some omissions like the Landreich or Hari Sectors that have quite a mystique about them, but we went with eight mainline areas that are particularly noteworthy. Sometimes sectors are short-hand named after the stars and quadrants within them, so if you're looking for Antares or Deneb, you can find them within the larger Epsilon cluster.

I Like This A Hole Lot
2017-11-17 -- LOAF was poking around in Wing Commander 2's background files and discovered a hilarious easter egg that would ordinarily never be seen by the player. The game frequently uses a red and green communications interface for dialogue sequences between a fighter and larger carrier or base. A small rectangle on the right features a graph intended to depict signal strength or something like that.

Taste That Synthi Meat
2017-11-16 -- The Wing Commander series has had quite a few large and elaborate print advertisements over the years, but even by the franchise's often lofty standards, this one's a whopper. This ad is spread across six full pages and follows a "five senses" theme with a late '90s vibe. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch are all emphasized along with a smattering of FMV screenshots, gameplay scenes and a handful of commodities.

A Localization Interrogation
2017-11-15 -- Most Wingnuts are familiar with all of the cool contents of a basic Wing Commander Prophecy box... but this one's a little different. Can you spot everything that makes this setup unique?

Upgraded Corvette Ready For Vision Engine
2017-11-14 -- Version 0.32B of the Secret Ops Model Upgrade Pack was just released, but work continues at a rapid pace. The Kilrathi are the next focus, and they're led by the fearsome Corvette.

Catch Up On Strike Commander's History
2017-11-13 -- The DOS Game Club is a really cool place dedicated to gaming highlights of the '80s and '90s. Their community selects a game each month, and then they jointly play it together and discuss in their regular podcast. A recently selection was Origin's Strike Commander, and our own Bandit (LOAF) was able to participate in their episode on it.

Wing Commander Composer David Arnold Interviewed
2017-11-12 -- Modern Vinyl has posted an interesting interview with David Arnold, the composer behind the Wing Commander Movie's famous Overture theme. Much of the article focuses on the recent vinyl release of his work on Hot Fuzz, but it also notes his wide ranging involvement with films from James Bond to Stargate. Check out the full article here.

Homeworld Mod Removes Bugs & Fixes AI
2017-11-11 -- There's another new update to the Homeworld Remastered mod, Flag Commander. L.I.

OldiesGames Does Vengeance Of The Kilrathi
2017-11-10 -- We've been following the OldiesGamesTV series of Wing Commander reviews for a number of years, and now they've completed their three-part profile of Wing Commander 2. The videos are in French, but even if you can't speak the language, seeing all of the minor differences in the game are really cool if you originally played in another language. And where you understand their words or not, it's clear that they're big Wing Commander fans that we're happy to support!

Wing Commander Album Track List Complete!
2017-11-09 -- George Oldziey is back with another update on the progress of the second Wing Commander album. He's been quiet for a little bit, but there has been tons of progress on the orchestration front. The basic track list is complete and PDF scores will even be sent out soon.

Secret Ops Is All About Squashing Bugs!
2017-11-08 -- Fans have been running the new Secret Ops Model Upgrade Pack through its paces hard since the latest version was released last week. As intended, the test managed to tease out a few bugs, and the team quickly responded. DefianceIndustries and PopsiclePete have already managed to put out a new version that resolves the issues identified so far.

Three Cheers For WC2 Manuals
2017-11-07 -- Wing Commander games can come in all shapes and sizes, and today we have a look at the different colored manuals of Wing Commander 2. WC2 was one of the most ubiquitous titles of the early '90s thanks to several factors: the popularity of WC1 was key, but it also was a major showcase for in-game speech and eventually mass-produced for inclusion in a large number of different OEM and budget CD-ROM releases. The red manual below was quite common and the black lesser so.

Shapely New Wing Commander 3D Prints Available
2017-11-06 -- Carter3D is a cool Shapeways outfit with a whole bunch of neat ships. There are quite a few Star Wars designs, but there are also about a dozen detailed Wing Commander models available to 3D print. Carter seems to be a Prophecy fan, but there are also a handful of ships from WC3&4 mixed in as well.

Wing Commander 3 Play-Through Remade At Nightmare Difficulty!
2017-11-05 -- It's been more than ten years since the legendary Queeg released his consolidated Wing Commander 3 movie. The original film set download records at the CIC and garnered hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. Now he's back with a brand new take on The Heart of the Tiger - this time he's completed the entire game on Nightmare difficulty!

GalCiv 3 Mod Continues To Expand
2017-11-04 -- Hellakazoo has posted some additional screenshots of his Galactic Civilizations 3 WC mod that highlight some of his latest additions, such as the Tarsus and Clarkson jammer. There's also a neat screenshot of one of the game's menus that feature the character portraits. Some of the recent CIC Forums discussion has been about what to add next.

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