Get ready for Action... Stations! The sixth Wing Commander novel's ebook March 7 premiere is fast approaching and several e-tailers have gone ahead and put up preorder pages for the book. Action Stations will be the fifth Wing Commander ebook released, with False Colors scheduled to follow in April and End Run rumored for later this year. You can go ahead and preorder Action Stations at the links below; at press time, only Barnes and Noble has yet to list the release. Want to get a head start? Those that purchase Baen's March 2017 bundle get access to the first 3/4ths of the book today! The bundle includes DRM-free ebook copies of every novel Baen is releasing this month; it is available only for the next eight days.
Stories set in distant futures have an interesting challenge: what frames of reference should the characters display? For example, Wing Commander takes place roughly seven hundred years in the future. Should characters speak in a 'future dialect' or in a manned immediately comprehensible? The 'middle road' is usually chosen: a contemporary frame of references with a small set of consistent references to build immersion by suggesting that time has moved on; calling movies 'holovids' or guns 'phasers,' for instance. One major casualty of this narrative choice is the development of a future history. Can you imagine referencing events, figures and cultural phenomena from only the 14th century today? But we rarely learn very little about the years between 1990 and 2654 observing casual conversation.
Except when we do! Dr. William Forstchen, author or co-author of a majority of the Wing Commander novels, has an interesting rhetorical trick which he deploys throughout the series: the 'sci-fi list.' Here, Dr. Forstchen has a character recite a list of familiar like events from the history known to the reader... and then adds one or two more similar events that would have to have happened in future years. Through a few small references, we learn a great deal about Wing Commander's future past, teasing references to battles, leaders and enemies that will likely never be expanded upon. It's the best sort of immersion: one that implies there's a bigger world that the characters understand which you do not. What follows is a catalog of these references...
Fleet Action features two lists, each about Admiral Tolwyn's ancestors. Early in the novel, Tolwyn describes his military background: "Tolwyns served at Waterloo, on the Somme, in the Battle of Britain, at Minsk and the siege of London and shed their blood heavily in this latest war." Later, his internal monologue runs through a similar list on the eve of battle: "It had been used by his ancestors when they had stood at Agincourt, Waterloo, the Somme and against Hitler and Zhing." (The overlap here does suggest that Zhing is likely the villain associated with Minsk and/or the siege of London. Note also that at least three Confederation warships have taken their names from battles mentioned here: two TCS Agincourts and a TCS Waterloo.)
In the introduction to Action Stations, the novel's in-lore author, Colonel Schwarzmont, attempts to compare Admiral Tolwyn's life to that of famed traitors throughout history: "One must go far back in history, to Alcibiades during the Peloponnesian Wars, Benedict Arnold in the War of American Independence, or Sun Wan Lu in the Faraday Rebellion, to find a military leader so gifted, and yet so controversial and doomed by his own brilliance to a final, irrevocable downfall."
Later in the novel, Commander Turner likens a list of historical surprise attacks launched on holidays to the impending Confederation Day McAuliffe Ambush. "Washington did it at the Battle of Trenton and turned the tide of the American Revolution. Sure, the British and Hessians screamed foul, but it brought victory. The Arab states did nearly the same thing in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and the Mongols did it in their Chinese New Year strike of 2082."
At the end of the book, Admiral Banbridge writes a memo to the head of fleet intelligence which compares the recent attack on McAuliffe to historical military disasters: "One can look back to the China Sea, Pearl Harbor, Tsushima, Salamis and not find a defeat so lopsided." (This one is presented in reverse.)
False Colors offers a short history lesson as Admiral Tolwyn attempts to convince Jason Bondarevsky of the merits of a dictatorship: "But there aren't many men like Washington or Cincinnatus, Jason. Rome had Caesar and Pompey; America had Harold Jarvis back in the early twenty-first century. I was tempted to play Cincinnatus and defend the Confederation, but I'm damned if I'm going to help some ambitious bastard play Caesar!"
Finally, Peter Telep also uses this trick in Pilgrim Stars, again citing historical dictators in comparison to Admiral Tolwyn's plan to target Pilgrim settlements: "Doing that will earn him a place in history next to Khan, Hitler, and Tralchar."
Early inn Freedom Flight, Hunter opines that "species didn’t seem to matter; wherever there were fliers, there seemed to be a bar..." and Privateer's Gemini Sector seems to be ample proof! Every one of the game's regular bases features a variety of services; some boast ship dealers, others different guild halls... but every single one includes a bar in which the player can stop to hear news and rumors from a friendly bartender.
Privateer initially shipped on six 1.44 mb diskettes, which meant that there was no chance for the game to ever include 59 different sets of facial animations. Like other titles before the advent of the CD-ROM, Privateer had to fight for every bit, reusing and recombining art wherever possible to save space. Just as the game reuses base and ship art for different purposes, it uses just nine 'talking heads' to represent the bartenders at 59 bases!
Now, prepare to impress your friends with your amazing ability to identify these bartenders on sight by learning from our fast guide below. Never again will you accidentally confuse an Agricultural Planet Bartender with a Mining Base one! Leaving only the eternal question: is it the same bartender following you from base to base, or did they name it the Gemini Sector because there truly is a proliferation of twins?
Agricultural Planet: Fifteen appearances at Elysia, Oresville, Burton, Victoria, Heimdel, Edom, Nitir, Surtur, Bodensee and Helen.
Mining Base: Twelve appearances at Romulus, Charon, Lisacc, Macabee, Saratov, Basque, Kronecker, Vishnu, Rygannon, Achilles, Hector and Valkyrie.
Pirate Base: He must be related to the Agricultural Base bartender! Note the sinister green eyes. Five appearances at Drake, Smallville, Oakham, Tuck's and Megiddo.
Pleasure Planet: We know, you remember her. Eight appearances at Matahari, N1912-1, Speke, New Reno, Magdaline, Olympus, Erewhon and Jolson.
Refinery: Fifteen appearances at Beaconsfield, Meadow, Thisbury, Wickerton, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Basra, Anapolis, Remus, Gracchus, Munchen, Rilke, Rodin and Joplin.
Unique: (left to right) New Constantinople, New Detroit, Oxford University Planet and Perry Naval Station
It's 1997 and the future of media storage is here: DVD! With 'interactive movies' like Wing Commander taking three, four and even six CD-ROM discs to store hours of low-resolution video, the immediate benefit of DVD for multimedia games seems clear. With so much space, a game like Wing Commander IV could be stored on a single disc... with plenty of room left over for higher quality video! And that was exactly what Electronic Arts did, outsourcing DVD conversions of existing games to a dedicated studio founded by a Wing Commander veteran, Daylight Productions.
BUt first, the hardware. The first DVD 'upgrade kits' were announced in late 1996 and began shipping in Q1 1997. Much like the CD-ROM drive rollout just a few years earlier, the product arrived before the technology had been standardized. Unable to rely on the Pentium processors of the day for on-the-fly MPEG-2 decoding, each DVD kit shipped with a 'decoder card.' These were PCI cards which processed and output the video separately from the rest of the PC, meaning that the computer itself really just needed to know when to leave the screen blank for a video to be played over it.
What the industry could not agree on, however, was a standard for how these decoder cards should work. Instead, multiple manufacturers including Sigma Designs, Toshiba and SGS Thompson developed their own unique cards. The impact on game development was immediate: instead of creating a budget release to take advantage of the new format, you needed to either divine which of the competitors would last or develop multiple SKUs for multiple platforms.
For many years, it was believed that Origin chose to address this problem with two SKUs: a single-sided 'dump' version of the game for early upgrade kits and then a two-sided 'enhanced' version built specifically to support the Sigma Designs RealMagic decoder board that was being pushed by Creative Labs (a sound decision, given Creative's track record for establishing eventual hardware standards.) Following a surprise discovery and some research, we now know much more about how this played out.
The first generation of DVD upgrade kits began shipping in early 1997. The first units could strongly be said to be for early adopters only. They were slow, had significant problems with compatibility and wouldn't even play CD-Rs at all.
We now know that it was in this some of the first group of kits that the 'dump' version of Wing Commander IV was included. This release was essentially all of the data from the CD-ROM release put on a single DVD-ROM disc that you did not need to switch (the CD version of the game had been designed with this in mind, knowing not to prompt you for a disc change if the files it needed were available.) Two companies included this version of Wing Commander IV: Dynatek in their 'DVD-471TII Upgrade Kit' and Hi-Val, in their 'DVD Entertainment Solution Kit' (available as either a $500 'value' edition or a $700 deluxe version which included a wireless link to play movies on your television. Both of these companies adopted the SGS Thompson decoder, but lacking MPEG movies, Wing Commander IV was not adapted for this specifically.
Technology moved quickly during the 1990s multimedia boom: the SECOND generation of DVD-ROMs hit the shelves in time for Christmas, with Creative shipping their Dxr2 bundle in October. This is the release that includes what we generally remember to be Wing Commander IV DVD: a double-sided flipper disc that features a Win9x port of the game that displays high quality VOB files instead of the original Xanmovies. With a massive visual improvement to the game, finding a copy became objective number one for Wing Commander fans... which meant looking out for the most visible DVD kit known to include the game, Creative's boxed release.
For many, many years that was the entire story of Wing Commander IV DVD. We knew that OEM copies were bundled here and there, but it was generally believed that these were either the decoder-agnostic original release or the RealMagic version created for Criterion. Wing Commander producer Mark Day, owner of Daylight, did note at the time that they had developed versions for multiple decoder cards, but the assumption was always that this referred to the two known releases.
Fast forward to 2017 and a discovery by Joel McCoy of the Big Box PC Game Collectors group. Mr. McCoy had purchased a lot of Wing Commander games on eBay which claimed to include the DVD. From the auction listing, it seemed to be in a custom 'fan made' case much like those offered for download here in the past (replacing the disc-sized cardboard slip for the Creative version.) But closer inspection revealed that it was not a custom case at all, it was an old-style printed digipak! Some research through old hardware magazines and the Usenet revealed a genuine surprise: this was a third, distinct version of Wing Commander IV DVD developed for Toshiba-brand decoders!
Further study has found that this version of the game was included with several products, including the Diamond Maximum DVD Kit (June 1997) the Gatway 2000 Destination DVD Bundle (May 1998, shipped with select Gateway 'big screen PCs') and the Compaq Presario 4880 computer (June 1998.) It is not known how many of these OEM discs were made or whether any other distinct packaging exists (the Gateway disc seemingly sports a serial number specific to Gateway computers.) It's possible that they are incredibly rare... or just that no one has ever thought to look for them in the first place!
An image of the third type of Wing Commander IV DVD is now stored in the WC:CIC offline archive and we will continue to search for variations. Who knew we could still find new Wing Commander games in 2017?
There's plenty of room for debate about the coolest Wing Commander print advertisement: that first image of a Hornet cockpit, Seether hidden in the shadows behind Blair and Tolwyn, the Nephilim fleet massing in a centerfold, the Dragon-as-a-car-advertisement... the list could go on! Today, however, we would like to introduce you to what is unquestionably the most simple Wing Commander advertisement. This monochromatic affair was printed by Mag Force 7, developers of the Wing Commander CCG, in mid-1996 in specialty magazines (the page in question comes from the May 1996 issue of Inquest, then a leading CCG periodical alongside competitor Scrye.) It is, quite literally, a block of text telling you where and how you can buy the Wing Commander CCG with absolutely no attempt to explain how cool the game is.
Why? Because audiences already knew. Wing Commander III and IV were the hottest games in the galaxy at the time, an animated series was being prepared and the first script for a major motion picture based on the property was making the rounds in Hollywood. So what was wrong with the CCG? The answer there is that it had the misfortune to follow Mag Force 7's previous effort, a similar card game called Star of the Guardians. Star of the Guardians was an excellent game which was mechanically nearly identical to Wing Commander. Guardians was one of the first science fiction-based games to follow in the wake of the 'Magic' craze, with fantastic painted art and unique spaceship cards. Unfortunately, all of that meant that retailers over-ordered. Audiences were unfamiliar with the source material (a trilogy of books by Mag Force 7 founder Margaret Weis) and boosters languished on store shelves.
With unsold cases of Star of the Guardians cards, many retailers decided that audiences were not interested in either science fiction CCGs or these specific mechanics and opted not to make strong orders for Wing Commander (particularly damaging was the fact that software retailer Babbages, who had championed Guardians and seemed a natural place to sell Wing Commander cards, turned down Wing Commander.) The team at Mag Force 7, who were especially active on the early internet, were inundated by requests from desperate gamers eager to find the cards. And so, this very simple advertisement was born!
Spending a rainy LA day diving into orchestrations of more of my #WingCommander music! Stay tuned!
Wing Commander fans were disappointed last year when a crowd funding campaign for a second volume of Mr. Oldziey's Wing Commander Orchestral Recording Project failed. Mr. Oldziey promised he would carry on, and now it looks like that is happening. We'll be standing by to support any future campaign he launches, as the world needs more Wing Commander music!
Mr. Oldziey also posted a piece of Wing Commander sheet music from his work, asking followers if they could identify it (below.)the endgame of Wing Commander III and specifically the destruction of Kilrah (mouse over to reveal!).
Last week, we showed you how the developers behind the 1995 Wing Commander CCG used a single painting to create two different cards. Today, we'd like to share another example by walking you through the incredible art of Alan Gutierrez. Mr. Gutierrez is the extremely talented artist behind much of the game's 'space art,' used for Modifier and Nav Point cards; he also painted several unique Luck cards. In total, he provided fifteen paintings for the game which were used for a whopping twenty four cards!
The first and most visible duplication is in Nav Point cards. Nav Point cards were not part of any deck and were instead part of the playing field. Every game started with players laying out five of these cards (or more, in some variations) between their carriers. These cards featured beautiful environmental space art such as planets, stars and nebulae without Wing Commander-specific ships or characters. There were a total of ten designs, five by Alan Gutierrez and five by Robert Daniels. Each card had a Greek letter, harkening back to the wing assignments of Wing Commander I.
As the game needed to be playable using any sealed starter deck, these cards were printed with both Terran Confederation and Kilrathi card backs. To make sure every starter deck included at least five, they were printed with the game's commons (as a side effect, Nav Points would show up in booster packs.) The front card artwork is identical for both factions and there is no impact on gameplay, but each Nav Point appears twice in the card list. Carriers were also printed as commons, and were also reprinted on the starter boxes to make sure every player would have a home base! Here are Alan Gutierrez's five (or ten) cards: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon:
Next, each faction in the CCG had a set of blue-bordered Luck cards. The official rules describe Luck cards as follows: "Luck cards represent the effects of karma, bio-rhythms, bureaucracy, human natue, a cat's nine lives, and fate. They may affect any of the other cards, subject to the text on the card." These cards can be played at any time during the game and are discarded after use. Players are not allowed to have multiple copies of the same Luck card in their deck.
Luck cards were generally unique in terms of art, though in several cases they were duplicated from a mechanics standpoint so that each side could have the same ability. For example, the Confederation and the Kilrathi both have cards that turn pilots into traitors or disable them for a turn for drinking too much. Alan Gutierrez's work includes two of these in the form of four paintings: CAPTURE PILOT and RECOVER PILOT images for each faction. It's interesting to see these grouped together; you can see how all four are thematically connected (note also a great attention to detail in how the space suits match from card to card.)
Mr. Gutierrez painted two additional luck cards, SKILLFUL USE OF MISSILE DECOYS and MAGNUM LAUNCH for the Terran Confederation. These are distinct paintings and each is worth a closer look. In my mind, MAGNUM LAUNCH remains the signature piece of artwork for the game; it's both unique and captures the spirit of Wing Commander perfectly. Then the missile decoy card features an outstanding Thunderbolt VII front-and-canter. There are no directly equivalent Kilrathi Luck cards in either case.
Finally, we come to Nav Point Modifier cards. These were cards that the player could summon during the Mustering Phase and place on any Modifier-free Nav Points. As the official rules explain, "Modifier cards include natural phenomena, such as asteroids and enemy obstacles such as capital ships and mine fields." The roster of Modifier cards included capital ships, which used renders from Origin and varied from faction to faction, and four 'space weather' for each cards painted by Alan Gutierrez. Here, again, four paintings were used to represent eight different cards: two each of NEBULA, MINEFIELD, ASTEROID FIELD and PULSAR SNARLS COMMUNICATIONS. For the Nebula card, you can see that each side's card was identical save for the logo.
The same is true of the Pulsar Snarls Communications card. What makes this card a little more fascinating is the fact that Alan Gutierrez has posted the original painting to his DeviantArt site, giving us a better-than-ever-before look at the work behind these two cards! His comment on the extremely piece:
Commissioned by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman 1996, for the card came "Wing Commander"
I did about 10 small illustrations for the card game, with various celestial effects, that might affect the outcome of the game.
This was the only one I ever scanned from the original art.
It's been many years, but my understanding is that a collapsed star-burnt out and becoming more dense, emits electromagnetic radiation (the blue streaks) and, spins very fast, with the light (the eruption in orange) "pulsing" as it spins.
There may be other more accurate depictions, but this was done just for fun, so I'm not interested in the specifics. Just the wonder of outer space...
Gouache on masonite, 7" x 10"
It turns out Mag Force 7 had one more trick up their books for keeping the art budget down: cropping different parts of an image to represent it differently for both factions. Check out the Asteroid Field modifier card. This is one of those small things that has been looking us in the eye for years but that you rarely have cause to pick up on!
For the final painting of the set, the same trick is used. Here, Mr. Gutierrez has scanned the original artwork so you can see exactly how it was cropped to create two different views of the same Minefield!his DeviantArt here.
From the Wing Commander card game, commissioned and published by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis, 1995
This is the combination of 2 traditionally painted works, "Minefield", and "Skillful Use Of Missile Decoys" from the game. Since I had the original scan from "Minefield", I digitally added the ship (unscanned and had to be digitally restored from the printed card) to present this new variation.
Top half gouache on Masonite.
Still on the fence about this whole Wing Commander thing? Electronic Arts has announced that they are adding a seven day free trial to their Origin Access service (previously reported here.) Origin Access, the PC equivalent of their Xbox-based EA Access program, gives you the ability to play a host of Electronic Arts games free of charge. It also makes new titles (like the upcoming Mass Effect sequel) available early and includes a 10% discount on Origin store purchases. Origin Access includes Wing Commander, Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom and Wing Commander: Privateer. You can learn more and sign up for a seven day trial here.
Based on the best selling video game, Wing Commander is a science fiction-war movie spectacle.
In 1994, Electronic Arts hit on a sales trick that has since become commonplace: re-release your recent back catalog as budget 'classic' titles using simple packaging and digitized manuals to lower printing costs. The original cost of producing these games could be further amortized, ultimately helping further support the ever-growing game development budgets needed for new titles to stand up. You could call it GOG's great, great grandson!
Initially priced between $7.99 and $14.99 each, the first wave of 'Electronic Arts presents CD-ROM Classics' contained a host of mid-1990s Origin titles alongside other EA favorites such as Chuck Yeager's Air Combat. The idea was a hit, and these and other Origin classics would go on to be re-released in several series over the years, with some Wing Commander games still being available at retail today! A simple collector's guide to these releases follows.
Black Series: Also known as the original or black series, these classics came in a one-piece cardboard package similar to Origin's add-on disks. Each box included a printed install guide booklet and a CD-ROM containing the game and digital copies of the original manuals. The black series were released in several waves over multiple years. Wing Commander games represented are Wing Commander II Deluxe, Privateer, Academy and Armada. Other Origin games in the black line included Strike Commander, Shadowcaster, System Shock, Ultima Underworld I & II and the Complete Ultima VII. The Wing Commander Academy release is among the harder classics to find.
Gold Series: In 1996, Electronic Arts began issuing the CD-ROM Classics in gold bordered boxes. These versions came in more traditional two-piece boxes made of a heavier cardboard. In some cases, these versions of the games were updated with scripts to assist in running older titles using Windows 95. Wing Commander II Deluxe, Wing Commander Privateer and Wing Commander III were released in this series. Other Origin titles included the Crusader: No Regret, CyberMage, Bioforge, Complete Ultima VII, Ultima Underworld I & II and Ultima VIII: Pagan. Completists take note: the gold series version of Privateer's cover promoted a $10 rebate for the newly-released Privateer 2: The Darkening in some printings!
Gold II Series: The second gold series of EA classics began in 1997 and ran for several years. These releases included slightly larger two-piece boxes distinguished from the earlier gold series by having only a single band at the bottom of the game box art rather than a full border. The only Wing Commander games released in this series were Privateer and Wing Commander III. Other Origin titles included the Ultima Collection, Ultima VIII: Pagan, Crusader: No Remorse and Jane's AH-64 Longbow. Other release continued into the 21st century in a similar box design dropping the 'CD-ROM' from the label; no Origin games were reissued this way.
Silver Series: The Silver Series of EA classics launched in 1997 and is, improbably, the one you are most likely to discover in stores today. These minimalist releases included only a single, silver-bordered jewel case, designed for sale in the walls of budget video game options at places like Office Depot. Three Wing Commander games appear in this format: Wing Commander II Deluxe, Academy and Armada. Keep an eye out!
Orange Series: Meanwhile, in Europe Electronic released two equivalent lines of CD-ROM classics. The first was the orange' series, a which were released in individual jewel cases. These were traditional 'English/French/German' releases with all three languages represented on the back of the box. Three Wing Commander games were included: Wing Commander II Deluxe, Armada and Privateer. Other Origin games represented include System Shock, Crusader: No Remorse, Strike Commander, Ultima Underworld I & II and the Complete Ultima VII. Depending on the country, a different install guide was included (making a total of nine total versions for anyone interested in catching them all.)
Blue Series: While the later, multi-disc Wing Commander games were generally not released as classics in the United States, they were re-released in Europe. 'Blue' packaging includes a smaller generic two-part box with a slip cover for the relevant game. Like the orange jewel cases, these are English/French/German boxes with region-specific manuals in each country. Most impressively, these versions included printed manuals rather than PDFs! FOUR later Wing Commander titles were included: Wing Commander III, IV, Prophecy and Privateer 2! Other Origin games include System Shock, Bioforge and Ultima VIII: Pagain.
Did we miss any EA classics? Have you collected them all? Let us know on the forums!
We have the happiest possible news to report today: congratulations to Chris and Lacey Reid on the birth of their daughter, Julianna Ella Reid! Julianna was born on February 9th, a brand new baby girl. Chris, Lacey and daughter are home and recuperating well. As Rollins would reply: "sitting pretty, sir!"
I have been honored to call Chris friend since we were teenagers posting on alt.games.wing-commander together. As dedicated Wing Commander fans and co-founders of this site, we've had many amazing adventures together... and now I am so excited to see him embarking on his greatest mission yet. Chris and Lacey are both highly intelligent, kind-hearted human beings who routinely bend the universe to support their gentle passions; they will make the best possible parents I can imagine.
Please join me in saluting Chris and Lacey and in welcoming the newest future Wing Commander fan to our ranks. I'm confident they'll have her checked out in Rapiers before she can walk... and, of course, that they know to keep her away from Flash-Paks!
Here are some pictures of the happy family:
We all know Blair and Angel, Maniac and Rosie, Catscratch and Sosa... but the conventional wisdom says that Wing Commander is, by its very nature, not the platform for stories about complex romantic relationships. In honor of Valentine's Day 2017, I would like to respong by remembering two relationships from the Wing Commander canon that are a little more nuanced.
Warning: the first is a downer, a great 'could have been.' The first Wing Commander novel, Freedom Flight, introduces us to Lord Ralgha nar Hhallas (the kil who would become Hobbes) and Lady Hassa, the Sivar cult priestess to whom he is oathsworn. We learn that the pair are old friends who grew up together on Hhallas and that they are now prominent citizens: an honored Khantahr (Rear Admiral) commanding a cruiser and a leader of the rebellion fomenting on Ghorah Khar respectively.
Hassa has ordered Ralgha to support her rebellion by defecting, surrendering his Fralthi to the Terrans at Firekka. Ralgha, an abolitionist deeply loyal to Hassa, has agreed though it will mean his explusion from Kilrathi society. In an open air temple in a peaceful, tree-lined Ghorah Kharran city, the two steal a moment to say their goodbyes, each knowing they will never see the other again. Ralgha beautifully summarizes the moment with a profoundly wistful line:
"Sometimes I wonder if we should ever have left our planet, Hassa. We were so happy there as children, we could have stayed there... perhaps I should have claimed you as my mate and bearer of my children when I had the chance. Years ago, before politics and soldiering claimed my life, and the Lord Sivar claimed yours."
But it was never to be: by the time the day is out, Hassa is most likely dead at the hands of Imperial Security and Ralgha is on his way to Firekka, never to return to that childhood home on Hhallas. You can read their entire goodbye in the Freedom Flight preview chapter (originally included with Wing Commander II) here.
Now the good news: our second relationship is a great deal more fun! The year is 2790, and the name of the place is the Tri-System. Lev Arris is on a quest to learn his true identity and make a quick credit... and he's always happy to rescue a damsel in disgress. Melissa Banks, a similarly skilled privateer who is not above a little gun running, has run afoul of the Papogod at Nav 51. Lev flies to the rescue of her Faldari and the result is a romance, a second mission and a series of cutscenes as the two encounter one another through the course of the game.
In a game with a wide range of cutscenes, these personal moments stick out; Clive Owen and Mathilda May have an excellent chemistry and they give the Arris/Banks relationship a wonderful edge. Seeing the two flirting-ly snipe at one another as they seemingly try and completely fail to keep their connection 'casual.' What's more, they seem to be true equals, each an expert pilot and each capable of a great riposte. It feels incredibly genuine... and more realistic than anything else in gaming from that era. Here's the final cutscene in the sequence:
BANKS: Just look at you. I bet you've forgotten.
ARRIS: Forgotten what?
BANKS: Our anniversary.
ARRIS: Our what?
BANKS: It's the anniversary of the very first time we met. When I came out of nowhere and saved your life.
ARRIS: That's not quite how I remember it.
BANKS: Typical man.
ARRIS: Sorry, do I know you?
BANKS: In every conceivable sense.
ARRIS: I mean, your face is familiar, but...
BANKS: Oh, that's a pity, seeing as I just booked a hotel suite with a freefall jacuzzi.
ARRIS: Melissa! Happy anniversary, darling.
BANKS: Do I know you, mister?
ARRIS: Well don't you remember, you saved my life?
BANKS: Somehow, I just can't recall.
ARRIS: We, ah, we met at the Rampant Robot bar, you gave me a cure for dry lips.
BANKS: I did?
ARRIS: Listen, has the suite really got a free-fall Jacuzzi?
BANKS: You bet.
So cute--LEV+MEL 4EVER! You can start the Melissa Banks side-quest by playing with SOS missions on with Disc 2 of the game in the drive. Of course, we couldn't let a Valentine's Day pass without the famous Love Arrow animated GIF!
Here's a nickel's worth of free marketing advice: if it's 1991 and you are trying to sell a PC game it does not hurt to make sure it has the word 'Commander' in the name. The degree to which Wing Commander was a success means that an incomplete list from those years includes Air Commander, Flight Commander, Tank Commander, Air Force Commander, Robot Commander and many more. And the tie-ins didn't stop there: there were even a host of hardware peripherals that tried to ride Wing Commander's coattails. For example: today's sound card, the SOUND COMMANDER.
Developed by the Singapore-based MediaSonic, Inc. the Sound Commander premiered at COMDEX in 1991 to no particular acclaim. Like the Sound Runner, featured in our previous installment, the Sound Commander was an 8-bit 'generic' card promoted as a be-all, end-all solution that was actually an attempt to undercut the price of the quickly-establishing Creative Labs Sound Blaster. Unlike the Sound Runner, the Sound Commander at least had a chance: it included FM synthesis, meaning that it could play speech similar to the Sound Blaster (though the first models did not promise full Sound Blaster compatibility.) The Sound Commander actually lasted for several iterations, with the Sound Commander FX and the Sound Commander Gold following in 1992 (though their advertisement had no Wing Commander connection, for reasons we will see in a future installment of this series!)
Aside from the similar name, why does the Sound Commander appear in this space? Eagle-eyed viewers will note that there are two Wing Commander screenshots in the advertisement: a shot from the Hornet cockpit and one of the Tiger's Claw lounge from before Enyo 1. MediaSonic would have requested these stills from Origin (and the other developers represented) and then used them to promote the card. These advertisements (in two versions, with and without reference to Comdex) appeared in three issues of Computer Gaming World running from November 1991 through January 1992. You can find the entire issues in the Computer Gaming World Museum.
Why does it look so dark? That's because in 1991, advertisements were laid out by hand (along with anything else printed: game boxes, hint books, magazine articles) and there was no such thing as a readily compatible screen grabber. Instead, screenshots were captured with traditional film cameras that literally took a picture of the screen. In this case, the Hornet cockpit and the Tiger's Claw lounge are a publicity stills provided by Origin and then set up in the advertisement by MediaSonic or their ad agency. You may well recognize these same screenshot in other advertisements or in magazine reviews. Origin would create slides duplicates from a small selection of film negatives which they would provide to advertisers, reviewers and other interests (Joe Garrity has many of these source slides archived at the Origin Museum.)
Want a Sound Commander of your own? They are not especially sought after, but do regularly appear on eBay (a 'Sound Commander Pro' model is listed as of this writing.) Just remember, it doesn't actually do anything special in Wing Commander I... the only connection is that the game supports Ad Lib sound and the Game Commander is Ad Lib compatible.
Don't drink and fly! The 1995 Wing Commander Customizable Card Game (CCG) includes a pair of 'LUCK!' cards which discuss this exact scenario: the Confederation "TOO MUCH VAK'QU" and the Kilrathi "TOO MUCH FIRE LIQUOR" cards allow the player to return an individual opposing pilot to the Ready Area, effectively disabling them for the turn.
The cards actually simulate a mechanic from Wing Commander III in which the player who chooses to drink before a mission is punished with incorrectly-responsive flight controls. Both names are representative of the CCG's dedication to deeper Wing Commander lore. "TOO MUCH FIRE LIQUOR" references Wing Commander: Freedom Flight, which introduces a Firekkan alcohol-and-seed brew which is alternatively called Firekka's Finest, kika'li, Fire Liquor (Voices of War) and Firekka Firewater (Fleet Action.) "TOO MUCH VAK'QU" references a Kilrathi beverage introduced in Wing Commander: Fleet Action that Hunter claims will "burn a hole right through durasteel."
None of this is new information, of course. The real surprise discovery is that the human and kil pilots pictured on their respective cards are actually tying one on together! Artist Bob Eggleton, the man responsible for the card art, posted a picture of the original painting to his blog. You can clearly see that a single wide image was cut in two to create two separate card! Mr. Eggleton notes that the painting was named "Drinking with Aliens" and was a 6"x15" acrylic. The piece has already been sold, and I can't help but be jealous of the owner!
Could there have been new Wing Commander music in 2015? The answer may surprise you: a strong 'sorta!'
Back in 1997, Wing Commander Prophecy's abortive flirtation with a Cobalt 60-supplied industrial music soundtrack resulted in one of the stranger additions to Wing Commander’s musical canon: a "Wing Commander Prophecy Original Soundtrack” that seems to be more industrial variety sampler than anything connected to the Terran Confederation.
Nevertheless, the soundtrack purported to contain some music 'inspired by Wing Commander Prophecy.' What did that really mean? It turns out that in addition to the two Cobalt 60 game tracks, three of the other groups' additions were inspired by the game: Gravitation Zero by Project Pitchfork, The Awakening by Das Ich and The Vampire Strikes Back by Die Krupps.
Jump ahead to 2015: one of these bands, Die Krupps, has just re-formed and is releasing their first album since 1998. And front and center on the album, V - Metal Machine Music? It's a newly-recorded, reworked version of "The Vampire Strikes Back!" It's anyone's guess whether or not anyone involved in the process remembers that the song was actually about the Confederation's mighty F-109 Vampire battling space bugs… but we know the truth!
V - Metal Machine music was released August 28, 2015 in the United States and Germany as a two-CD set (the second disc includes a demo of the Vampire Strikes Back.) It is also available via digital services like iTunes and in a deluxe edition box set that includes a sticker and a pair of fingerless gloves (really.)
The gang from the Big Box PC Game Collectors group have a great new video of interest to Wing Commander fans: an hour-long hangout with Origin artist Denis Loubet! Denis is the man responsible for the original Wing Commander box art (and countless other pieces of early WC art) and hearing him talk about his storied career if fascinating. Wing Commander fans should pay special attention around the 50 minute mark, where talks about creating the first game's explosions and debris in Deluxe Paint and even designing the game's radar screen!
Want more Denis Loubet in your life? You can follow his Patreon here, which provides both new and classic art of interest to WingNuts and Ultimaniacs. Want to join a group of kind, like-minded enthusiasts? Check out the BBPCGC Facebook page here!
Multimedia! The year was 1992 and the buzzword was inescapable. The meteoric rise in home microcomputer power (alongside the massive success of multimedia games like Wing Commander) created an audience hungry for high resolution graphics, ultra-complex game controllers... and though we take it for granted today, realistic sound, music and speech.
As a result, countless hardware manufacturers took to the market to face off, each hoping that their particular product would be crowned industry standard. The results of this battle are felt today: graphics and video standards decided in the marketing realm of the early 1990s remain the de facto standards today, with the ultimate victory in the sound arena going to Creative Labs' Sound Blaster. We remember the victors, but we quickly forget the countless also-rans who once fought for their piece of the multimedia pie.
In modern game development, hardware partnerships are a high-value necessity. Companies like Microsoft, Sony, Intel and others frequently invest millions of dollars supporting game projects that will buoy their platforms. What's the best way to make sure your processor, VR headset or console 'The One'? Make sure it's the one that best or exclusively plays the games the audience wants.
In the early 1990s, the stakes were a little smaller: million dollar budgets were unimaginable, and hardware and software companies instead typically settled for either a quid pro quo 'you advertise us and we'll advertise you' deal or an arrangement to purchase discount copies of older games for bundled releases. In this irregular series, we will examine advertising from a range of hardware partners that featured WING COMMANDER in some way. Some of these, like Intel's Pentium, will be familiar... others will be long forgotten evolutionary dead ends.
To wit: today's advertisements come to us courtesy of Computer Gaming World, via the fantastic Computer Gaming World Museum. The first (blue) advertisement appeared in the February and March issues, while the later yellow version ran from April through August. The SOUND RUNNER from PC Turbo Corp was an 8-bit Ad Lib compatible sound card. (The later ad is a modification of the original's template with color changes; swapping between them will keep the Wing Commander II box in exactly the same place!)
While the ad copy makes it sound like the second coming, the reality is that it's a budget copy of the then-popular Ad Lib sound card. Creating an Ad Lib compatible sound card in 1992 was cheap and easy as such things went, and they were attractive for budget-conscious PC owners. The $89 price tag was the real selling point, compared to $200 for a brand name Ad Lib or $300+ for a Sound Blaster (or much more for a Roland card.) The Sound Runner is by no means alone in this attack of the clones: the July CGW alone includes similar advertisements for the similarly-forgotten "Sound Master II," "Thunder Board," "Sound Galaxy NX," "Sound Commander fx" and "Sound Galaxy." (At least one of which we will revisit!)
Ironically, the Wing Commander game presented here is the one that drove the stake through the heart of all the Ad Lib compatibles. Vengeance of the Kilrathi's support for full speech via the Sound Blaster's digital audio (PCM) helped define Creative Labs' product line as the winner in the sound wars... while simultaneously driving the Ad Lib to an early grave. Very little information on the SOUND RUNNER survives today; Google finds only these advertisements, and a deep dive through Usenet archives suggests that no one was even talking about it in 1992.
Did you own a SOUND RUNNER? Did you use it to play Wing Commander II or Ultima VI? If so, we'd love to hear from you!
Yes, it’s time for Rich, Abi and Ant to have a not too hate-filled chat about the movie, for Rich to try and talk about ‘Star Trek’ similarities despite not knowing anything about the show, for everyone to speculate about the games without having played them, and for some discussion on why the story really doesn’t make much sense at all. Overall, it’s not quite as bad a movie as its reputation, but the word ‘generic’ does pop up frequently and the Crew do seem to want to execute the Lillard character ruthlessly.
Thanks guys! You know I love you, but you're all blind! Ken ye no see yon whumping great barrel? :D
I was unhappy with my last iteration of "Caught Napping" so I revised it. This is more what I had in mind...
Hi there, in order to improve my skills in After Effects and Premiere, I've decided to produce this short video based on Wing Commander II. The video includes the original sprites, the music and sound effects from the Kilrathi Saga re-release as well as a WC2-like starfield built from scratch by yours truly.
What do you think?
The content is mild in impact.
The impact of PG (Parental Guidance) classified films and computer games should be no higher than mild, but they may contain content that children find confusing or upsetting and may require the guidance of parents and guardians. They may, for example, contain classifiable elements such as language and themes that are mild in impact.
It is not recommended for viewing or playing by persons under 15 without guidance from parents or guardians.
Action Stations! We have located a particularly dangerous threat to the fleet attacking Vukar Tag, a Kilrathi heavy carrier. Thanks to Klavs81 for his awesome textured model and to DefianceIndustries for his help on getting the textures ingame. :)
Its defensive armament will be 22 Flak Turrets that differentiate themselves from later weapon systems by having a more limited firing arc (they can turn 90 ° on each side from their default orientation, not more, so a starboard-pointing turret will not be able to track and fire at port targets, thus choosing alternate targets).
- Removes most helical-scan tape head noise while retaining detail (without ringing)
- Converts the original 30i interlaced material to 60p progressive material, enhanced using motion-directed analysis of each field
This process is very CPU-intensive and converts footage at roughly 3 frames per second on a 3GHz 8-core system.
While no conversion process can add detail where none exists, I am very confident in saying that my process is excellent at retaining the detail present in the original, and that this version is (as of 2015) the very best version available on YouTube. A good place to compare quality is during interview footage sections, such as at the 10-minute mark.