April Fools!

April Fools Day is coming up which means joke articles and gotchas everywhere (including here.) To get ready, we thought we'd look back at a 1996 April Fools' article printed in Computer Gaming World that concerns our favorite series. Fresh off the release of Wing Commander IV, CGW had a laugh at the game's enormous budget and endless ambition with an article claiming that "Wing Commander V" would be shot in space. Today, the article seems obviously fake... but if you can believe it, it caused significant debates in the fan community in 1996!

There were several reasons for this. News traveled much more slowly and incompletely online at the time, meaning that it was days between the first subscribers reported CGW had 'something about Wing Commander' and when the text of the article made it online. The transcribed text omitted the italicized quote crediting the article to 'The Fool' and the photoshopped Hellcat V rocket, leaving many thinking it was possible Origin had something truly crazy in the works (add to that the fact that the dates on magazines mean 'display until'... so all of this went down in March when no one was even thinking about April Fools!

The funniest part of the story is how dated some of the jokes are now. $100 million is now a perfectly ordinary budget for a game project... and Richard Garriott actually HAS flown to space and even filmed a short horror movie there! Who's the fool now?

Card Art You've Never Seen!

There's some more great Wing Commander CCG card art available for study thanks to the DeviantArt page of artist William Hodgson. Even more interesting than the usual closer look at Wing Commander art, Mr. Hodgson actually painted a piece of rarely-seen promo art! The poster, a fantastic detail of which he has made available, was shown only at conventions. It survives in storage, and hopefully we will see the whole thing someday!
This is just a sliver of the promo poster for the Wing Commander III CCG. I really enjoyed the project, in which I got to work with a great group of people at Mag Force 7 (Margaret Weis, Don Perrin, and co.). I'll upload a full image when I can find one!

Mr. Hodgson was responsible for a grand total of twenty-two CCG images, including tHE lOVE aNIMALS which he has posted. This was one of the cards that really surprised hardcore Wing Commander fans, being taken from the deepest possible lore (it's a band mentioned in passing in Victory Streak.)

16 x 20, mixed media on hardboard. Illustration for the Wing Commander III collectible card game, a great game created by an awesome group of people -- but arriving on the CCG scene at the wrong time to be as successful as it could have been. tHE lOVE aNIMALS were a "technotronic, retro-folk band of the 28th century," serving as a morale-booster in the game, when they toured the space fleet, cheering on the pilots and crews. I figured that some futuristic instruments could be offset by granny glasses and bell bottoms to get the effect.

The Weird World of Privater 2 Ship Designations

Civilian ships in Privateer 2 divide into several ranges or families, each of which generally includes a ladder of light, medium and heavy fighters or a group of ships of a similar type (ie, all transports and all shuttles.) Ships in these families are numbered, though there are two apparent missing designations in the ML family (ML04 and ML05.)

In every case, the ships increase in role (but not necessarily sticker price) with each iterative number. We also know from the civilian designations that related/follow-up ship designs use the same number and add a letter: ML3A Faldari MK II, ML6A Freij MKII, PL3A Skecis MK II, CR1A Gea MK II and CR3A Ilia MK II.

Series include:

  • PL - low-end ships
  • PR - lower mid-range ships
  • ML - higher mid-range ships
  • KN - higher end ships
  • CR - all of the larger freighters
  • SH - pirate shuttles
  • PLM - partial series of pirate fighters
  • PRH - partial series of pirate fighters
  • MLA - partial series of pirate fighters

Pirate and military ships, with some exceptions, use the same designations. When ordered with the civilian ships, an implied relationship comes to the surface. They even fill out missing numbers in the ML series! Analysis and very sexy charts follow:

PL Family

The PL family is centered around the 'low end' civilian lineup, ranging from the Straith (the cheapest ship in the game) to the Kalrechi (the cheapest heavy fighter.) The only aggressor which fits into this family is the Kindred PL4B Blade heavy fighter. This suggests that the Blade is a development of the Kalrechi, which is further borne out by the visuals (and the shared heavy fihter classification.)

PL04 Kalrechi vs. PL4B Blade

PLM Family

The PLM family is exclusively pirate fighters. It is possible they are connected in some way to the PL family (the existence of the PR/PRH family, below, seems to support this.)

PR Family

The PR family represents a mid range' set of civilian ships. Shuffling in the pirate fighters suggests that the Testmos and the Ecantona are outgrowths of the civilian Shaman. The visual connection isn't anywhere near as close as the Kalrechi/Blade, but it does seem to be intentional. The ships all have similar prows and engine intakes, with the 'shape' of the central 'hole' changing from model to model. Two of the pirate cruisers add to this list, further suggesting that the families may refer to ships from a specific company (as their roles are completely separate.) There is also not a strong connection between the look of the PR06 Cruiser and the PR6B Cruiser.

PR02 Shaman vs. PR2A Testmos vs. PR2B Ecantona

PR06 Cruiser vs. PR6B Cruiser

PRH Family

The PRH family is exclusively pirate fighters. It is possible they are connected in some way to the PR family (the existence of the PL/PLM family, below, seems to support this.) The roles of these two ships are similar, but they do not seem to be visually connected.

PRHA Tacon vs. PRHB Krell

ML Family

The ML family is the biggest group, It includes higher tier, seemingly military-oriented civilian ships, a variety of pirate ships and all of the military fighters. And they shuffle together in a very interesting way! The designation may indicate that these are ships of a military origin; if the families refer to different shipbuilders, ML must be Ares Systems (established to be the manufacturer of the Freij MK II in a news story.)

The ML01 Duress/ML1B Light and ML02 Heretic/ML2B Medium connections are clearly intentional. It's less clear how the ML3B connects back to the two civilian Faldaris (it looks, if anything, like a pirate Tacon.) The 04 series is a mess, including four seemingly different ships in totally different roles (including a military destroyer!)

Note on the military ship names: the four class names come from somewhat-inconsistent CCN booth entries. These show the military ship pictures with civilian ship names, and in two cases (the light and medium) give two different names in different entries. D'oh! Another one to note: X674 354G displays an ML04 Heron and describes a ML4D Salvia destroyer. Maybe there's a real connection in the ML04-series after all?

ML01 Duress vs. ML1B Light Fighter

ML02 Heretic vs. ML2B Medium Fighter

ML03 Faldari vs. ML3A Faldari MK II vs. ML3B Heavy Fighter

ML04 Heron vs. ML4B Ashearer vs. ML4D Salvia vs. ML4X Extra-Heavy Fighter

MLA Family

This family includes only the Kowan Leighat medium fighter. It may be connected to the ML family. At least it'll be cited properly!

KN Family

The KN family seem to be the 'high end' fighters, including the most expensive design in the game (the Danrik.) The fact that the Kinded operate Drakkars in cutscenes and the fact that this list, when shuffled, includes the Vendetta suggests that the 'KN' may refer to the Kindred (though this wouldn't make too much sense in-lore.) Jury is still out on the connection between the KN01 and KN1B; there are some visual similarities, but the role does change.

KN01 Drakkar vs. KN1B Vendetta

CR Family

The CR family refers primarily to the four (six) types of transports available for rental in the game. Oddly, two pirate cruisers shuffle right into the middle and are implied to be developments of teh CR02 Ogan transport!

CR02 Ogan vs. CR2A Cruiser vs. CR2B Cruiser

SH Family

The SH family includes all four pirate shuttles. When ordered by designation, there is a clear connection between the two sets. We are left wondering whether or not there are civilian 'origin shuttles' somewhere, as the designations would imply...

SH1A Shuttle vs. SH1B Shuttle

SH2A Shuttle vs. SH2B Shuttle

Others

These designations are primarily for the one-off military capital ships. Their class names come from the CCN database entries for individual ships of the same class. The hated Jincilla Skull is an odd (though clearly intentional) outlier! The name Previa for the civilian transport comes from the CCN booth text.

BREAKING: Art Kickstarter a Success!

There's great news tonight for fans of fine art: Mike Winterbauer's Kickstarter has met its funding goal! That's thanks in no small part to Wing Commander fans like you. There are still twenty days left to pledge, if you're interested in a copy of the book we encourage you to check it out! There are two tiers intended specifically for Wing Commander fans... and how often do you get new, physical WC merchandise?

In honor of this news, here's another blast from the past. Think you've seen every appearance of the SNES cover art Dralthi? Here's one more for the collection! This "Super Power Club" trading card (#57) was randomly inserted in sheets of 6 into issues of Nintendo Power magazine in 1992. Each card in the series features a different Nintendo game... but this is the only one related to Wing Commander. Think you're up for that challenge?

Computer Gaming World Previews Wing Commander

We recently posted a collection of Computer Gaming World reviews of Wing Commander games and today we're following that with a collection of major PREVIEWS. These three stories, featuring Wing Commander III, IV and Prophecy, would have been arranged during each game's development by Origin Systems' PR team. These are especially interesting because they usually involve pre-release versions of the games, interviews directly with the developers and sometimes paint a different picture than the completed game!

Computer Gaming World - Issue 125

Computer Gaming World - Issue 137

Computer Gaming World - Issue 159

Designing the Confederation Fleet

Need some more Wing Commander movie production artwork in your life? Here are four rarely seen 1998 concepts that were used to create the final Terran Confederation ship designs for the film! Pictured are the TCS Tiger Claw, the TCS Concordia, the Diligent and the emergency probe Admiral Wilson dispatches from Pegasus at the start of the movie. Enjoy!

Privateer 2 Script Available!

Looks like we aren't ready to leave the Tri-System just yet. Today we are proud to present something we've been trying to track down for twenty years: the shooting script to Privateer 2: The Darkening! This should be a great resource for anyone frustrated by the game's lack of subtitles... or anyone interested in learning more about how the game was made. The bad news is that this version is missing five pages, which includes much of the intro. Everything else seems to be included, and we will keep searching for both the original material and the earlier drafts (Diane Duane's original version was supposedly very different and much longer.) You can download the script as a PDF here.

Mysterious Privateer 2 Videos Discovered

Here's a little mystery: we've discovered a YouTube account called DigitalVaultThe which contains nothing but three Privateer 2 videos: a trailer and two cutscenes. Here's the kicker: all three videos are much higher quality than previously available Privateer 2 footage! The most likely explanation is that the videos were put up by someone connected to the game's development... but there's no identifying information, and (unfortunately for us) only these scenes were ever posted. But three Privateer 2 videos are better than none, so here they are archived for history:

Archive

Happy Holy Day of Acclivity!

Would you like a reason to celebrate? March 23 is the Holy Day of the Acclivity, the most important day in the Pilgrim religion! We thought we’d celebrate with a little background on the origin of Pilgrim (or McDanielist) theology. Strap in, it’s going to be a rocket ride through 24th century history!

What is a Pilgrim?

The term Pilgrim has come to refer to several related, but distinct, groups. Most broadly, it can mean anyone associated with the former Pilgrim Alliance, a political entity which existed from 2325 to 2635, or the surviving culture it created. The term can also be applied to anyone (generally descended from early human space settlers) who carries any of a number of specific genotypes which are beneficial to space travellers or to a small group of militant terrorists who identified with the former Pilgrim Alliance and targeted the Terran Confederation in the mid-2650s (and their sympathizers.)

In the case of this article and holiday, it refers to the religious sense: followers of the writings of Ivar Chu McDaniel, also called McDanielites or McDanielists. While there is a great deal of crossover between these groups, they are rarely all one and the same. In the example of Christopher Blair, he is a Pilgrim because he carries the so-called “Navigator” gene and because, being the son of one Devi Soulsong, he is descended from a citizen of the former Pilgrim Alliance. At the same time, he was not raised on Pilgrim culture or theology (his mother died at a young age) and has no other connection to (or practical knowledge of) the McDanielite orthodoxy (similarly, he was actively involved in opposing the 2654 Pilgrim terrorist attacks and held no pro-militant sympathies.) Note also that while the church historically favored those displaying Savant abilities, they were never requirement to be a believer or a member of "the Elect."

The Origin of Pilgrim Theology

Ivar Chu McDaniel, the founder of the McDanelist religion, was born in 2257 in the Outer Planets of the Sol System. McDaniel was an organic chemist and lay-preacher assigned to the Neptune research station, generally regarded by his peers as a shy academic. In 2294, he began experiencing ecstatic visions, which he believed were prophetic revelations being communicated to him by a divine force who had identified him as a spiritually receptive person living at the very edge of human settlement (Neptune being the most distant human outpost at the time.) From these visions, he came to believe that the Abrahamic apocalypse had already occurred, in the form of the Great Pandemics currently isolating Earth. Humans who had already chosen to leave Earth were the “Elect,” destined for spiritual salvation and divine protection. He further claimed that the off-world colonies were a form of Limbo from which the Elect must escape in order to become fully empowered by the divine presence. Paradise, then, was the rest of the universe, whose dominion was promised to the Elect who could escape Sol. The Elect, he said, must travel to the stars in a “Final Exodus” to achieve spiritual and genetic perfection.

McDaniel initially wrote about these experiences and thoughts privately in correspondence with friends on Mars. These friends were taken with his writing and suggested he collect and publish his experiences. He did so enthusiastically, publishing a book about his experience and then shedding his shy persona to begin strongly preaching his vision of mankind’s “Final Exodus.” The socio-political climate in the Outer Planets at the turn of the 24th century was ripe for exactly this kind of thinking. Earth and the Lagrange transit stations had been quarantined for nearly eight years and had become largely reliant on the charity of the outer planets for resources. The long quarantine meant a cultural divide, with the outer planets developing their own distinct culture distinct from that of the disconnected homeworld. By the time McDaniel was experiencing his vision, there was a strong resentment towards the prosperous colonies and a general feeling among the colony worlds that they should not be so responsible for subsidizing Earth’s fuel and resource needs. Support for McDaniel’s writing and preaching was further ensured in 2304, with the development of the first faster-than-light engine, the Morvan Drive. Why expend resources keeping Earth alive, many reasoned, when they could now go towards interstellar expansion?

McDanielist also saw the rapid development of so-called ‘Savant’ phenotypes among those born off-world as evidence supporting their theology, abilities granted by the divine specifically for those destined to settle the stars. By 2300, McDanielists were referring to Savants (and especially Compasses) as "the Graced" and encouraging research into their abilities. Sloship missions went out of their way to recruit humans with these abilities and the church encouraged them to marry and reproduce. By the turn of the 25th century, Compasses had been divided into the three distinct subsets we know today, Navigators, Visionaries and Explorers.

The Final Exodus

By 2309, the governing body of the outer planets, the Outer Planet Policy Council (OPPC) was under the control of McDaniel’s followers and preparations were made to begin launching Morvan Drive “sloships” to settle distant stars. The first, the Exodia under Hella Ti and a crew of devout McDanielists, was launched on February 19, 2311 carrying McDaniel himself and 1,199 other colonists to settle Sirius A-B. On March 23, the Exodia made the final .22 light year hop to Sirius successfully. The slowship had barely launched its single-person scout when McDaniel felt an overpowering force making him look to the portside, where a glittering blue spot had appeared in space. The spot rapidly expanded, seeming to grow thousands of hostly tendrils until it had become a massive cloud five times the size of the Exodia. Captain Ti ordered scans, but they came back with nothing. The cloud quickly enveloped the ship, and McDaniel experienced a sudden happiness, a disappearance of ordinary human discomforts and a sound of music playing. His final recorded words: “Whatever it is, it’s beautiful.”

Further Pilgrim theology teaches that McDaniel and the crew of the Exodia were translated directly to a higher plane of existence and that McDaniel continues to spiritually direct his followers from this new plain. Surviving McDanielists insisted that leaving the Sol System was the responsibility of the Elect and additional slowship journeys were successfully completed. Colonies at Alpha Centauri, Proxima Centauri, Cygnus and Sirius were quickly established, followed by eight more in places like Tamayo, Triune, Luyten, Faith, Beacon, Promise and McDaniel’s World. By the end of the 24th century, all of McDaniel’s followers, who prior to this point had come to make up 75% of the population of the off-world colonies, had successfully left the Sol System for the twelve colony worlds established as the Pilgrim Alliance. It was around this time that the term Pilgrim came into use, initially referring to those who booked passage out of the Sol System and later coming to refer to all of the Elect. With the practical completion of the Exodus, contact with Titan and Earth was cut off save for the occasional semicovert trading mission and the two cultures continued to move in very different paths.

About The Faithful

Pilgrim culture is very family oriented. One of the first things outsiders notice is that Pilgrims have a distinct manner of referring to fellow members of their family: brotur for brother, sostur for sister, grandsontur for grandson, grandfrotur for grandfather and so on. Brotur and sostur are generally used to refer to both family members and members of the faith. Additionally, the Pilgrim calendar uses family roles to identify days of the week: Broturday (for the day of rest), Proturday (for the holy day) and so on.

The ceremonial aspects of the Pilgrim religion are heavily focused on storytelling. Pilgrims conduct “con/crit” sessions where they act out and discuss elements of their history, such as Ivar Chu McDaniel’s ascendance and the self-imposed exile to McDaniel’s World following the war with the Terran Confederation. The stated goal of these sessions is to, through music and conversation, exorcise ol ideas. The initial induction to the faith takes five days of sessions, with more following as a Pilgrim attempts to gain further connection to the divine. As a result, Pilgrim art is highly musical and dance-oriented, with different dances representing different aspects of the faith. The protur has a troupe of chanters and dancers who help perform these ceremonies, and a variety of special instruments adapted from Earth’s history (including the soultom and soultar, from the drum and guitar.)

Ivar Chu McDaniel’s teachings went beyond the broad belief that terrestrial humans were doomed and that the Elect must be saved through travel to the stars. He adapted Abrahamic traditions as he saw necessary, including attempts to alter the human conception of death. (Pilgrims, for instance, teach that what they call gomuth, murder by death, is sometimes unavoidable and should be accepted rather than feared. This element of the faith is sometimes seen as why it would later give rise to militants such as those that took power over the Alliance in 2615 or those that launched a series of terror attacks on the Confederation in 2654.)

March 23rd, the Holy Day of Acclivity, is celebrated by Pilgrims recognizing McDaniel’s ascension to a higher plane of being. The Pilgrim religion is headed by a spiritual leader, the “protur,” who is similar to the Catholic Pope. For the week following the celebration, the protur travels to a secret retreat known only to himself where he fasts and prays in order to seek communion with Ivar Chu McDaniel and others who have ascended.

It’s All True

The strangest aspect of this Pilgrim history is, of course, the fact that McDaniel’s ascension actually happened. Until 2654, most historians assumed that the Exodia had simply been lost in a gravity well, a fate not unheard of for Morvan Drive sloships. Then, at the height of the Olympus crisis that seemed it might end in the mass destruction of surviving Pilgrim worlds, McDaniel and his crew reappeared, apparently ageless, to complete the Final Exodus. Little is known about what actually lead to this point, but we do understand that McDaniel did not so much ascend to a higher form of existence as he came into contact with a supportive alien intelligence far beyond modern understanding. It is not known if McDaniel’s original visions were a lure or if the Exodia simply happened to encounter this intelligence for the first time at Sirius A-B. In either case, this unknown intelligence (experienced mainly as the color blue to humans) carried the initial 1200 to a star system which would take the sentient species of the Milky Way “a hundred billion millennia” to reach.

On his return, McDaniel offered to evacuate all surviving Pilgrims who wished to leave the galaxy and then insisted to the Terran Confederation’s Senate that his people had no interest in warfare or fighting those who remain. Nevertheless, there is some indication that the ascended Pilgrims will return again in our lifetime… and that there will be war.

Richard Garriott Wrote a Book

Lord British has written a book! Origin founder Richard Garriott's Explore/Create: My Life in Pursuit of New Frontiers, Hidden Worlds, and the Creative Spark was released in January and tells, firsthand, his incredible life story. The book covers Garriott's entire life and many adventures (including, of course, his space travel) but does find time to talk about the early days of Origin and the development of Ultima Online. Any juicy stories about Wing Commander? It is referenced only in relation to an explanation of why Electronic Arts wasn't interested in funding Ultima Online:
EA gave us the minimal funding, but no other support. We were last on the list to get any resource. We only got to see the resumes of potential hires after every other project had passed on them. There was a reason for that beyond EA’s MMORPG skepticism: When Ultima VIII was published, it hadn’t reached expectations. Instead, our game Wing Commander had become the most prominent money earner for the Origin division of the company. Because Wing Commander was doing so well, and it needed resources, when resumes came into Human Resources that team had first pick. And second pick. So our team became the ragtag group of rejects. We were like the Bad News Bears of gaming.
Want your own copy? The book is available in hardcover and ebook editions wherever books are sold. The Amazon listing is here.

Variants on a Theme

In honor of Mike Winterbauer's Kickstarter we thought we would take a look back through the history of 'that look.' What look? The classic Wing Commander cover art! The original version premiered in 1990 and has been redone in several different styles over the years. Here's a quick tour:

Wing Commander (1990): The original, enduring classic. The Wing Commander cover was created digitally using game assets by artist Denis Loubet. This artwork has been used countless times since for advertising, re-releases, compilations, the official guide and other ports (including the Amiga, DOS/V and SegaCD versions.) The artwork is very true to the Wing Commander experience, although it does have a number of differences from the completed game.

Wing Commander: Freedom Flight (1991) and Wing Commander: End Run (1992): In late 1991, Baen launched a series of Wing Commander tie-in novels which were heavily supported by Origin. It was only logical that the covers should bring to mind the game series. Artist Paul Alexander was comissioned for four cover paintings, the first two of which were patterned after the Wing Commander I art. It's not clear exactly what we're seeing in either image; Freedom Flight may be the cockpit of the Bonnie Heather as it sneaks behind Kilrathi lines... End Run, on the other hand, suffers from the same problem as the Wing Commander II box: the carrier's registry number doesn't match the one in the book (the TCS Tarawa was CVE-8, not 12!) The Freedom Flight cover was also available as a poster; both paintings were reused for the German translations of their respective novels.

Wing Commander (Super Nintendo) & Wing Commander (Super Famicom) (1992): Mindscape licensed the original Wing Commander to adapt as a Super Nintendo game in 1992 (and followed it the next year with a standalone version of The Secret Missions.) As noted recently, the American and European boxes used a new painting by Michael Winterbauer as the cover. In Japan, an entirely different version was created showing a significantly different Hornet cockpit, an exploding Fralthi and a Gratha. Collectors of odd items should note that this artwork was also used on a Japanese phone card!

Super Wing Commander (1994): The last canonical use of the Wing Commander I cover composition was, appropriately, the 1994 remake for the 3DO and Macintosh. This version is clearly a rendered scene rather than a painting of a stitch of existing game assets... but in many ways, it's actually the closest to the original: unlike many of these contenders, it features a Dralthi exploding through a Hornet cockpit!

Unofficial Versions: Sybex's Secrets of the Wing Commander Universe adapted the pose with Drakrhi instead of Dralthi... and even Chris Roberts' latest game, Star Citizen, gave a nod to it in an issue of Jump Point magazine. Know of any other games or products that use the same design? Let us know on the forums and we'll include them in a future post!

We have also collected 'unboxed' versions of several of these pieces over the years, versions that aren't covered by the frame or advertising present in the finished versions. Enjoy!

Laser Gun for Hire

Yesterday, we reported that Wing Commander SNES cover artist Mike Winterbauer has re-launched his Kickstarter project to create a printed art book of his work. The project is going great, already nearing the 50% funding mark in less than 24 hours... and today we can reveal that it turns out Mr. Winterbauer has been proud of his Wing Commander artwork for quite a while! The scan below is from the August 1993 issue of Computer Gaming World. It's a self-published advertisement from the same artist offering his services... and showing the then-recent Wing Commander cover painting as an example. This was not a common tactic at the time at all, and was a pretty clever way to drum up interest for a freelance artist in the era before services like DeviantArt and ArtStation. Pretty neat that the same painting is still loved and sought-after today! (And let's be real here: the cowboy lasso'ing a planet while flying a rocket shark on the surface of the sun is also pretty rad.)

BREAKING NEWS: Game Cover Kickstarter Re-Launches

How do you save the Ralari? You just keep trying! In exactly that spirit, SNES Wing Commander cover artist Mike Winterbauer has re-launched his Kickstarter project. Mr. Winterbauer aims to publish a print version of his ebook Classic Game Covers, Confessions of An Art Junkie, which he released as a free download in 2014. Of interest to Wing Commander fanatics, the book includes several pages on the creation and history of the cover painting (and features a Dralthi on the cover!) He says:

This is the second campaign for Classic Game Covers as the first one came up short of the funding goal. I have lowered the goal and all offerings, including my painting offers substantially! Be sure to check out all the cool new offerings which include a special package for my awesome Wing Commander fans. I have also included many super nice signed prints and printed material as part of the new offers. Scroll down to check out more info and pictures of the new offers! We will succeed in getting this cool book printed with your help!

As he explained, for this second attempt the Kickstarter has been modified significantly, with a much lower $4,800 ask (almost 25% funded in the first few hours.) Most exciting, however, is that in addition to the $35 book pledge there are two tiers with special extras for Wing Commander fans! The $65 pledge includes a signed 14"x20" print of the game's cover painting and the $85 pledge comes with both the large print and a set of six smaller ~7"x10" prints which follow the piece from initial sketch to final box cover. Totally cool!

The campaign launched today and ends on April 18th at 1:03 PM Pacific. Given the level of interest from his previous attempt, this one is almost certain to fund--so let's show the Wing Commander community's support and take advantage of this rare opportunity to buy Wing Commander art directly from the artist! You can read more about the project and pledge here. We will update on the campaign's progress and with some historical background on Wing Commander SNES over the course of the next month.

Pre-Christory

Ever wonder what came before Wing Commander? Chris Roberts sold his first game at age 13, and had released seven games before Wing Commander in 1990! I recently took some time at my day job to run through some of the basiscs of that early history on our weekly livecast... and I'll bet Wing Commander fans would like to see how our favorite games were shaped by Chris' early years, too! Here is RSI Museum presents Pre-Christory, an Origin Story:

False Alarm: Book 7 Pre-Orders

The ebook release of Wing Commander: False Colors is less than three weeks away and the first pre-order options have just launched! Amazon and Apple are now listing the book, with Barnes and Noble and Kobo still in a holding pattern. We will update the chart below when the other options come online... but for now, get your Kindles and iPads ready to read a great Wing Commander novel!

You can also pre-order directly from Baen as part of their 'April 2017 Monthly Baen Bundle.' The monthly bundles are a special deal Baen runs that include all the books the company publishes in a given month. They're only available as pre-orders, so if you're interested pick up a copy before the book's April 4th release date. The bundle release will also give you access to the first three quarters of the book immediately, DRM-free. Grab it here!

    End Run
  • Baen Ebook
  • Amazon Kindle
  • Apple iBooks
  • B&N Nook
  • Kobo

Leading Different Boxes

Hey, that's not how I remember it! Did you know that four Wing Commander games had significantly different box covers in Europe? While the original boxes were designed by Origin, Electronic Arts had regional marketing departments which would then adapt and change designs when they believed it would better suit a different audience. Many wingnuts don't know that multiple boxes exist... so here's a quick visual guide!

For Wing Commander IV, Origin went with a very distinctive box intended to catch eyes at retail. It is larger than usual, red and features markings that suggest it may be an in-lore artifact. When the slipcover is removed, the small key art is replaced by a simple Black Lance symbol. In Europe, Electronic Arts' local publishing arm opted to be much more conservative, developing a traditional black game box that is very much patterned after what was used for Wing Commander III.

The Darkening, released the next year, is the reverse: "Origin UK" (later Warthog) developed a surreal advertising campaign with a distinctive 'eye' box. That was apparently considered a little too 'weird' for American audiences, and a more traditional space painting was commissioned for the US release.

The Privateer speech pack had a makeover for its European release. The reason for the change is clear, as the changed screenshots are much more diverse and exciting in the second version... the only problem is that most of them are parts of the game that do NOT have speech added (remember, full speech didn't happen until the CD-ROM release... the speech pack adds only in-flight dialog. Interestingly, to meet the challenge of how to 'picture' speech, both versions of the expansion exclusively use screenshots where the pack is NOT installed!)

Finally, Righteous Fire had a cool, distinct piece of artwork for the original release that displays the surplus Salthi that figure heavily into the plot. Europe ended up with a far less interesting version: the original Privateer art with a new set of titles. Is this laziness? No, it's branding: EA thought it very important to keep the 'Wing Commander' of the original game in the UK, France and Germany.

Did your region have an 'uncommon' Wing Commander box? Let us know on the forums and we'll feature it in a future article!

Happy First Contact Day!... Maybe

It's March 15th and as everyone knows that means it is the pre-anniversary of the 2629 destruction of the TCS Iason, mankind's official first contact with the Kilrathi! Or was that March 16th? Or was it April 15th? Or was it in August and ten years later? There's no one answer... so it's time to run through everything we know about the event!

The Iason story originates in Claw Marks, the initial Wing Commander manual written by Aaron Allston. Mr. Allston would later go on to fame as an author of Star Wars novels and also wrote a series bible during the development of an aborted Privateer television series in 1995. Claw Marks introduces the history of the war in a series of sidebars, with the first ('25 Years Ago') covering the discovery of the Kilrathi. Here's the text:

25 Years Ago

Exploration and colonization ships of the Terran Confederation increase their penetration into Vega Sector.

On 2629.105 (3/15/2629 Terran reckoning), the exploration ship Iason encounters a spacecraft of unknown origin. Iason commander Jedora Andropolos beams the standard wideband non-verbal greeting designed by the Committee for Interaction with Alien Intelligences. Captain Andropolos keeps Iason motionless for twenty-two minutes standard while the alien vessel waits. Finally, the alien vessel opens up with all guns, utterly destroying Iason and all hands.

The first problem with this is potentially Wing Commander's earliest continuity error: it clearly states March 15th, 2629 'Terran reckoning'... but 2629.105 is a month off: the 105th day of the year is APRIL 15th. As we will see, both numbers will be repeated several times in the future, compounding what was surely a small math error.

Additionally, many have compared this short history to Larry Niven's 1966 short story The Warriors which details humanities first enounter with another feline species: the Kzinti. At the time Claw Marks was written, The Warriors had recently been republished as part of the first 'Man-Kzin Wars' short story collection (from Baen, of all places, who would go on to print the first line of Wing Commander novels less than two years later.) The two stories have a similar setup, but the endings are vastly different: in Niven's story, clever humans turn their comm laser into a weapon and defeat the Kzinti, whereas Claw Marks destroys the human explorer ship with all hands. For his part, Chris Roberts has noted that the look of the Kilrathi was a placeholder carried through development of the game rather than a concerted effort to create a race of cat aliens. If there's a connection, it's most likely an intentional nod (such as the 'Niven Sector' in Wing Commander II.) Sadly, Mr. Allston passed away several years ago, so we will never know for sure.

The Iason story immediately became a touchstone for Wing Commander fans, with plenty of fanfic and speculation arising out of 'first contact' scenario. In 1993, Mark Minasi's unofficial Secrets of the Wing Commander Universe included an extended version with more details. The account was non-canon and several details have been changed by later official sources (for example, he has Captain Jedora Andropolos' as a woman)... but that expanded telling still lives in the hearts of Wing Commander fans.

The Iason story was not officially updated until 1994, when versions appeared in the timelines for Wing Commander Armada and Wing Commander III. Each adds unique information. VOices of War, the Armada manual, tells the story from the perspective of both sides:

Orbit 151, Sun Year 5105
While establishing footholds in the recently explored Krat’na Sector, the destroyer K’rath’kan detects an intruder. Leader Brath’kar nar Caxki reports that the unidentified ship is attempting to neutralize his shields with wide-band radiation. When the enemy fails to leave the area of trespass after three-eighths of an hour, the destroyer opens its guns to eliminate the threatening vessel.

2629.105
The Terran Confederation expands exploration and colonization efforts and penetrates Vega Sector. On 2629.105 (March 16, 2629 Terran time) the Iason encounters a spacecraft of unknown origin. Commander Jedora Andropolos transmits an international wideband, non-verbal greeting designed by the Committee for Interaction with Alien Intelligences.

Andropolos keeps Iason’s guns off-line for the TCN-recommended 20 minutes and awaits a response from the alien vessel. Finally, without warning, the unidentified ship opens fire with full lasers, utterly destroying Iason and all hands.

The rewrite of the Claw Marks story introduces one more problem: it lists 2629.105 as March 16 rather than March 15 (as previous) or April 15 (as correct.) That aside, it's an interesting expansion of the story, with unique details especially from the Kilrathi telling.

Victory Streak, the Wing Commander III manual, does not introduce any continuity errors. It removes the 'Terran reckoning' reference and now lists only 2629.105 (April 15.) It expands the story in an interesting way, though: by revealing that the classic Wing Commander timeline was written by 'TCN military analyst' Guthrig Andropolos, the son of Commander Jedora Andropolos of the Iason. He talks a little about his father in the intro:

Updated 2669.098 by Guthrig Andropolos, TCN military analyst

This month, the war between Terran and Kilrathi forces turns four decades old. It’s no cause for celebration – millions of lives on both sides have been lost, and deep space is filling with debris faster than our recovery crews can tractor it up.
Most of you on board TCN fleet ships aren’t old enough to remember 2629.105, when the first Kilrathi scout ship attacked the patrol vessel Iason. In fact, most of you probably only know half the story this war has to tell. You’re about to be exposed to some sobering facts. While all of us have personal reasons for this war – including revenge, glory and honor – many of us know little about its history. As dismal as this may seem, we all need to remember.

My father, Commander Jedora Andropolos, became one of the first casualties of the war. He can’t be brought back and I can’t spend my career trying to avenge his death. Yet we still have much to learn in our ongoing pursuit of victory. Perhaps, in some small way, this history can help you do your part.

2629.105

Iason encounters a spacecraft of unknown origin. Commander Jedora Andropolos on board Iason transmits a wide-band, nonverbal grgeting and waits for a response. Less than twenty minutes later, the stillunidentified ship opens fire with full lasers, completely destroying Iason and its crew. Although the identity of the attacking ship is never definitively established, Confederation deep space tracking computers point to a possible point of origin from a previously unexplored planet, soon to be known by its native name, Kilrah.

Who is Guthrig Andropolos? If you aren't familiar, the answer will surprise you! In addition to being a "TCN military analyst" he's also a doctor of psychology who served on the Tiger's Claw! Wing Commander Academy introduces a character referred to only as Guthrig on-screen (mockingly called the 'doctor who needs a doctor')... but the series' press kit confirms he's the same man:

Guthrig Andropolos -- A civilian analyst employed by the fleet, Guthrig is the much-despised medic in charge of the psychological evaluation of the cadets. And although cold and unemotional, he is ironically subject to a variety of phobias.

Guthrig has a happy ending, though: Wing Commander Arena's Star*Soldier manual references that the expanded 27th century timeline is excerpted from his "seminal Official Terran Confederation Navy History." (The manual re-uses the Victory Streak version of the story word-for-word.)

Then, there was the movie! The Wing Commander movie has two connections to the Iason. First, the finished film includes a voiceover segment in the introduction that's intended to serve as a reference to the first contact with the Kilrathi. On screen, a model Snakeir superdreadnaught is shown over a map of the Vega Sector and the following conversation is played:

PILOT: Coming up on the far side... Looks like maybe three or four kilometers long.

CONTROL: Copy that, Sparrow. Proceed.

PILOT: It's like nothing I've ever seen before. Wait. Something's going on here. [Radio static]

There are no real specifics, but the implication seems to be that the "destroyer K’rath’kan" looks like a larger Snakeir (the version in the movie is said to be 915 meters long, not 3-4 km) and that the Iason had a smaller craft flown by 'Sparrow' who was the first casualty. No date or other background is given.

There's a much more confusing story about the Iason, though! In the version of the movie initially shot, the Iason is mentioned by name... with the claim that Paladin was a survivor of the ship. Early in the movie, Blair is supposed to notice that Paladin has an unusual tattoo. As they arrive on the Tiger's Claw, Paladin explains he was a member of the Iason's crew and that it marks him as a prisoner of war:

BLAIR
So what about the tattoo?

PALADIN
You know what it is?

BLAIR
It's a Kilrathi marker. You were a prisoner of war.

PALADIN
That's right. I was on the Iason when they took her.

BLAIR
The Iason. That was the first ship to have contact with the Kilrathi. There weren't any survivors.

PALADIN
I guess not.

Elevator doors open. PALADIN steps in.

BLAIR
Why don't you have it removed?

PALADIN
Let's just say, it helps me not forget.

BLAIR
Not forget what?

PALADIN
Why I fight.

Doors start to close.

MANIAC
So what exactly do the Kilrathi look like?

PALADIN
...They're ugly.
(directly to Blair)
Good luck.

The scene was ultimately removed from the movie, but it's impact is still felt. Making it 'canon,' it also appears in the novelization by Peter Telep. Since Mr. Telep was familiar with Wing Commander I, he addresses the continuity error head on, noting there were not supposed to be any survivors of the Iason:

Blair hurried after the captain. "Marshall? I'll meet you back here." He didn't wait for the expected reply and finally caught up with Taggart.

"Before you go, tell me about your tattoo."

"You know what it is?" Taggart asked, lifting his voice over the collective whine of power tools.

"I think I got it figured out. It's a Kilrathi marker. You were a prisoner of war."

"I was on the lason when they took her."

That caught Blair off guard. "The lason? She was the first ship to have contact with the Kilrathi. You served under Commander Andropolos?"

Taggart nodded. "We encountered a spacecraft of unknown origin, transmitted a wideband, nonverbal greeting, and waited. Four hours later

she fired upon us with all batteries. But you know the story."

"Yeah. And I know there weren't supposed to be any survivors from the lason."

"I guess not."

They reached the lift doors, which slid apart. Taggart stepped inside and turned around.

"Why don't you have it removed?" Blair asked, staring at the captain's neck, the tattoo partially exposed.

"Let's just say it helps me remember."

"Remember what?"

"Why I fight."

The doors began to close.

Blair stepped forward. "Wait. I've seen photos and holos, but what do the Kilrathi look like? I mean, in the flesh?"

"They're ugly. Good luck."

The doors sealed.

The Wing Commander Confederation Handbook, by Chris McCubbin, is essentially the 'manual' for the movie. It expands everything mentioned in the shooting script (it was written before the final cut that removed the traitor and scenes like the one quoted above) and it goes into a LOT of detail about the Iason. Unfortunately, it's a new version of the story moved forward in time to 'allow' for a Pilgrim War to take place and for Paladin's character to be younger. The new Iason story and the explanation of Paladin's connection is given several pages (since the movie's intro was not done or scripted when this was written, it does not include "Sparrow.")

Is it possible for both stories to co-exist? Yes, but it's a stretch. The story printed above notes that the Iason was refitted in 2633 for a different role... you could claim that the ship was scrapped by the Kilrathi, recovered and repaired and that the incident mentioned by Paladin in the novel and detailed in the book is simply it's ultimate destruction at the hands of a then-known enemy years later. Easy, right?

All of that said: did we really first encounter the Kilrathi in 2629? The answer is... no. Wing Commander: Action Stations (now available as an ebook) details a series of 'unofficial' contacts between border worlds and the Kilrathi. This isn't a continuity error, though: the book has Landreich President Blucher note that "... we knew about the Cats a full year before any of your official histories will ever acknowledge it." That would be 2628... but there's an even earlier connection!

The copy protection for the Secret Missions disk was simple: a series of 'facts' about the background of the expansion that you would look up to unlock the game. One of those facts, for Secret Missions 2, is that a man named Dr. Kohl was executed by the Kilrathi in 2621 after being captured observing the Sivar-Eshrad ceremony on Ghorah Khar. Presumably, Dr. Kohl's fate did not make it back to the Confederation... perhaps the notes were not recovered until Ghorah Khar rebelled in the mid 2650s!

All information in this article was compiled from the notes of anthropologist Dr. C.L. Kohl who was captured and executed by the Kilrathi priestesses in 2621 while secretly observing the Sivar-Eshrad ceremony on Ghorah Khar.
With that, happy First Contact Day... whenever you choose to celebrate!

The Fight for Books Continues

We have some additional news to share about two projects: the Mike Winterbauer art book and the ebook releases of the Wing Commander series! (There is, perhaps, some irony in the fact that we are fighting for physical releases of an ebook AND ebook releases of a physical book!) Mr. Winterbauer was kind enough to reply to my offer of support for a second campaign with some great news for Wing Commander fans:

I am going to re-launch this campaign with a lower goal and some added offers. One of the things I am adding to the offers is a beautiful Wing Commander print. The Wing Commander community has been wonderful, next time we will have more than three days notice.

Meanwhile, Baen has confirmed that the ebook release of Wing Commander: End Run (Book 2) is still in the works. In response to a request for a release date, their representative Tweeted: "Not as yet, thank you for your patience. We are working on it, rest assured." Baen has released their June schedule, which does not include End Run... so cross your fingers for July!

The lack of End Run is especially frustrating because it has long been the rarest of the physical books and because it introduces the 'book characters' who star in Fleet Action, Action Stations and False Colors. Meanwhile, False Colors is set for an April 4th release as an ebook. Preorders are not available yet, but until release it can be purchased as part of the April Baen Bundle. We will update once listings go up for the Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBook stores.

Computer Gaming World Reviews Wing Commander

Computer Gaming World was, in the United States, the 'journal of record' for PC gaming throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The magazine, which was shuttered in 2006, closely covered Wing Commander. Today, we've collected all 12 of the reviews, starting with the original game in 1990 and ending with Wing Commander Prophecy Gold in 1999. Reviews were generally positive, with the exception of Privateer 2, and they're very interesting to look back on today. You can find all the scanned pages below! Update: We have added a missing review for Wing Commander Armada.

Why are we posting so many magazines? We're working on archiving as many Wing Commander articles as we can! They help tell the story of Wing Commander and they're fascinating time capsules. In many cases, major publishers worked with Origin and Electronic Arts to include canonical data for sidebars and they often include references to projects since abandoned (such as Maniac Missions.)

What's the difference between a review and a preview? There are two main types of articles to archive: reviews and previews. Previews are published before a game launches and are usually arranged by the developer. Reporters would travel to Austin or Los Angeles to interview developers, try early builds and ultimately hype an upcoming game to the audience. Reviews are published after a game is released and a journalist has played through it themselves. Major previews generally get 'cover stories,' while reviews are not so frequently remembered. There are several less significant article types that we will work to archive in the future, including capsule news and trade show coverage stories.

Why are there sometimes index pages and covers included, but not always? We've decided to operate under these rules: if a cover features text referencing Wing Commander (or a Wing Commander image) then we include the scan in the set. The rule for index pages is slightly more strict: they are included if they include an image or if they include text beyond listing the name of the game (usually a short description.)

Do you know of a Wing Commander article you'd like to see included in our collection? Let us know! We're happy to track down magazines for scanning purposes, or to accept scans from the community.

Computer Gaming World #77 - Wing Commander

Computer Gaming World #84 - The Secret Missions 1 & 2

Computer Gaming World #88 - Wing Commander II

Computer Gaming World #112 - Wing Commander Academy

Computer Gaming World #113 - Wing Commander Privateer

Computer Gaming World #118 - Righteous Fire

Computer Gaming World #125 - Wing Commander Armada

Computer Gaming World #127 - Wing Commander III

Computer Gaming World #141 - Wing Commander IV

Computer Gaming World #153 - Privateer 2

Computer Gaming World #165 - Wing Commander Prophecy

Computer Gaming World #175 - Wing Commander Prophecy Gold

Mission 5 is Alive!

It sounds (pun intended) like Wing Commander composed George Oldziey is making great progress on a second album. On Wednesday, he announced that he was starting to orchestrate another piece from Wing Commander IV:

Just starting orchestrating another mission piece from #WingCommander 4! It's a mysterioso work! Can't wait to hear it with orchestra!

Then on Saturday, he tweeted that orchestration was for Mission 5 was done:

Another #WingCommander orchestration in the can for the next orchestra recording! Mission 5 from WC4. Will launch the campaign very soon!

Mr. Oldziey composed the music for Wing Commander III, IV and Prophecy. In 2014, he launched a successful crowd funding campaign to record some of his Wing Commander compositions with a live orchestra for the first time. A second campaign sought to orchestrate and record additional music, but it sadly failed to fund. It sounds like that was only a temporary setback, though, and we will follow and support any future attempt!

You can listen to the original game version of the track here.

Spinning!

Pixelengineer has hit on a cool new trick sure to appeal to retrogamers and wingnuts alike: rendering 3D versions of the game boxes we so fondly remember! He has been posting 3D spinning boxes each day to his Twitter account representing classic games like Secrets of the Luftwaffe, TIE Fighter... and, of course, Wing Commander! You can activate the animation by clicking on any of the thumbnails below. You can follow future additions to the virtual shelf using #3DBigBoxArt

Curious about that last box? It's the DOS/V port of Secret Missions 1 and 2, which were sold together as a standalone release in Japan. The front cover of this release is nearly identical to that of the Wing Commander I DOS/V release, making it difficult to find. DOS/V is not the same thing as MS-DOS 5; instead, it is a specific offshoot of DOS which adds Japanese-language support. There are also DOS/V ports of Wing Commander III, Privateer and Armada.

Game Cover Art Book Fails to Fund

Some bad news to report today: Michael Winterbauer's Kickstarter failed to fund, meaning that a printed copy. The project ended just over $2k short, meaning that there's clearly a lot of interest in the project. Mr. Winterbauer has already posted that he intends to pursue a small print run of the book anyway, and we will follow carefully to let the community know when it happens!

I am sad to say my project did not get funded.

But I am very happy the project did get 76% funded and there is a lot of interest in seeing the book get printed.

So stay tuned, I am planning on doing a smaller print run and getting the book available on my website!

Thanks again backers, it has been a lot of fun!

For those who missed the earlier story, this project would have created a print edition of the wonderful art book he released freely online. It was of special interest to Wing Commander fans because it included pages about the creation and use of the cover he painted for the Super Nintendo port of Wing Commander I. Plus, the proposed book features a Dralthi right on the cover!

Compute! Reviews Wing Commander

As promised on Monday, here are scans of Compute! magazine's three reviews of Wing Commander games. The original Wing Commander was reviewed in the February 1991 issue. The article is glowing and even spends its first third on an in-person narrative about the experience of fighter combat in the 27th century! The November 1993 issue reviewed Wing Commander Academy, giving it a positive verdict. Finally, the February 1994 issue reviews Privateer.

Action Stations' Cover: Mysteries Revealed

If you purchased the recent eBook release of Action Stations, you may have noticed that the cover is wrong. Exactly how wrong, though, is a matter of opinion! There is one obvious problem: the eBook uses an incorrect, pre-release version of the cover. It has one clear problem: a tagline that reads “From Wing Commander V: The New Release!” Action Stations is an original story and not an adaptation of a Wing Commander game… especially one that does not exist, as Wing Commander V was renamed Wing Commander Prophecy. It’s not clear how this error happened in the first place, but it was fixed between the original solicitation (that used the mockup) and the final publication.

The more general issue with the cover has existed since the book was published: it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the book. There are no familiar characters or ships and it features two female figures… an odd choice for a book that features almost no women in major roles! For years, fans theorized that it was a case of slush art being touched up (a stroke here, a Kilrathi head here!) and used for a Wing Commander novel.

There were apparent holes in that story: the cover is credited to Paul Alexander, the storied science fiction artist who painted the first three Wing Commander novel covers and it did seem to be roughly based on the Wing Commander III poster art, the same way Freedom Flight and End Run were adapted from the Wing Commander I box. All of those were clearly representative of the text, though, so what was happening here? The true story has come out in recent years, thanks to the early “color study” version of the cover’s painting which went up for sale last year.

A close look at the study reveals that it is labeled “Wing Commander IV” and dated August 1994. That’s a full four years before Action Stations, the SIXTH Wing Commander book, was published. So here’s what happened: the painting was originally commissioned to be used as the art for the FOURTH Wing Commander novel, the adaptation of Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger. That’s why it looks like the WC3 box and why it features a Kilrathi (Thrakhath) and two women (Rachel and Flint): it’s intended as a stylized take on WC3. Baen opted to use the existing game art for that book and then went back to it four years later when the next original novel needed a cover!

That explained, would you believe that Action Stations’ cover won a Hugo Award? Well, okay, it didn’t… there’s just the slightest possible technicality that connects the book with the most prestigious award in science fiction. Here’s the skinny: in a not-uncommon practice the German-language version of the novel uses a different cover from the one discussed above. That cover, which shows a stern-looking woman running to… one supposes action stations, just happens to be a painting by Don Maitz which was originally created for the 1989 C.J. Cherryh novel Rimrunners. In 1990, it won Mr. Maitz the Hugo for Best Professional Artist!

Action Stations eBook Now Available!

Confederation Day came early this year: the sixth Wing Commander novel, Action Stations, is officially available as an eBook today! Action Stations is both a prequel, telling the story of the war's first battles, and an in-lore artifact, a historical novel which exists in the Wing Commander universe. It's a great read, very much in the tradition of Dr. William Forstchen's earlier standalone books, End Run and Fleet Action. Here's the official description:

THEY PLANNED ON A NICE WAR

There had been a century of peace, and the politicians of Earth and its colonies were running on platforms of cutting “wasteful” military spending—all while Earth’s military tried to keep aging and obsolete ships flying and battle-ready. And while the swords rusted, war clouds gathered on the horizon…

Contact had been made with the Kilrathi—a warrior race feline in appearance and deadly in combat. Yet, even though they had annihilated or enslaved scores of other races throughout the galaxy, and had attacked human colonies on the border worlds, the government was not taking them seriously, thinking that the Fleet could handle them with ease. Commander Winston Turner knew that the government was moving toward a declaration of war against the Kilrathi in response to demands from the border worlds. He also knew that the Fleet would be forced to operate under Plan Orange Five: limited action and punitive responses only. He only hoped that mankind would recognize its mistake before it was too late.

Action Stations is available on a variety of formats; we've updated our Wing Commander eBooks matrix below with links! You can find several sample chapters at publisher Baen's website. The next book published will be False Colors, due April 4. The remaining book, End Run, has not yet been scheduled. At press time, Barnes and Noble still had not listed the eBook on the Nook store. We will update when it becomes available.

UPDATE: Action Stations is now available on the Nook store.

    End Run
  • Baen Ebook
  • Amazon Kindle
  • Apple iBooks
  • B&N Nook
  • Kobo
    False Colors
  • Baen eBook
  • Amazon Kindle
  • Apple iBooks
  • B&N Nook
  • Kobo

Spring has Spring for GOG

The good people at GOG have kicked off their annual Spring Sale, which discounts over 500 games and collections up to 90% off. All eight Wing Commander packages are 75% off, with no need to stack multiple games for the discount... making this a great time to fill in the holes in your collection, or to share your favorite Wing Commander game with a friend. The sale runs through Sunday, March 12 and you can find each of the individual games below.

Want even more Origin excitement? A variety of other classic games are included at the same discount!

Wing Commander Does Compute!

Started in 1979, Compute! was a major home computing periodical which covered the rise of the microcomputer. Later issues included an increased focus on electronic gaming, and though publication ceased in 1994 the magazine covered several of the original Wing Commander games. While examining back issues for a collection of archived review scans, we discovered something even more interesting: advertisements!

As it turns out, Origin Systems regularly bought ad space in Compute!, promoting everything from The Savage Empire to Ultima VIII... with several Wing Commander games appearing in the process. While some of these advertisements have been seen before, several have never been archived. Of special interest is the two-page advertisement for the Special Edition of Wing Commander, which was not strongly promoted elsewhere.

But print ad buys were not the only connection between Compute! and Origin. The companies had a business relationship that went deeper. Compute! published the 'Official Book of Ultima'... and they also partnered with Origin for several Wing Commander-related cross-promotions.

Look closely at the Wing Commander I ads above. One has a slight difference: a breakout encouraging you to check out the "Ad Lib Sound Challenge" in the February issue of Compute!. What was the sound challenge? The second scan explains that it's a phone-in contest you enter by identifying music from a collection of games (including Wing Commander.) These appeared in the December 1990, January 1991 and February 1991 issues.

Next, Compute! had an interesting idea to promote upcoming games in the era before readily downloaded software demos: they sold a VHS tape of game trailers! For $12.95 you were sent a 40-minute tape of commercials prepared by individual publishers. Wing Commander takes center stage in Origin's promotion (complete with dramatic narration) and the footage of a pre-release build is fascinating. You can watch below (the full tape is available here.)

Lastly, Origin provided a prize package (and one of the clues!) for this December 1992 contest:

This is Bullshot!: The Wing Commander Box Art

The box to Wing Commander I promised that "what you see is what you play!"... but the truth was a little bit different. One of the reasons games at the time didn't have screenshots on the cover was because artwork was needed months before the games themselves were polished enough to ship. The box itself would need to be physically printed earlier, of course, and well before that the marketing team would need key artwork to promote the game to buyers (in the early years, Origin's sales director would barnstorm the country meeting with representatives from stores like Walmart, Sears, Egghead and the like to try and guarantee large stock orders.)

Before Wing Commander, this was easily accomplished. Origin boxes would usually sport beautiful paintings or (editorial: ugh) models in costumes. For Wing Commander, there was a strong desire to establish that the game was totally different from Origin's traditional RPGs... and so it was decided that the cover should show the gameplay. With the game only half finished, it wasn't possible to boot up and grab a presentable screenshot... instead, artist Denis Loubet constructed one showing how the game would eventually work using art assets that were still being created.

The result is one of the most stunning box designs in gaming history... but to the eagle-eyed wingnut, there are quite a few things that differ from the finished version of the game! In this first installment of a new series, we're going to catalog everything we find. Want to play along at home? Look at the images in this post and make your own list to compare to ours! You might even pick up on one we've missed.

IMAGES: The first is an earlier version of the box art displayed at COMDEX. The second is the 'master' which includes the portions of the artwork that ended up hidden under the frame. The third is the finished box itself. Read on for the differences we found! (Then tune in next week for part two: the screenshots on the back of the box are similarly fascinating!)

  • The laser bolts are purple streaks instead of orange spheres.
  • The crosshairs are rectangular instead of circular.
  • The 'SET' indicator reads 'CRUISE.'
  • The 'KPS' indicator reads 2400, which is significantly faster than the Hornet (or any other ship in the game) flies.
  • Rear shield strength is set to 82; the maximum in the game is 40.
  • The 'Weapon:' selection reads 'FF Pike'; the Friend-or-Foe missile in the game is the Pilum.
  • The Weapon Display indicates two Friend-or-Foe missiles; the game has two Dumb Fire missiles instead.
  • The 'Gun:' selection reads 'Laser.' In the finished game, it reads 'Laser Cannon.' (This is not visible on the final framed cover, though the missing 'Cannon' should be.)
  • The Laser Cannon icon is different from the finished version. The mount is larger and it features a red indicator at the end of the muzzle; the game features a bright green indicator just above the muzzle.
  • The Laser Cannon icon is closer to the fuselage than the version in the game, which places the weapon closer to the wingtip.
  • The 'TAPE' indicator is active; in the game, it serves no function and does not turn on.
  • The 'AUTO' indicator is active; in the game it would be inactive because there are enemy planes present.
  • The Right VDU reads 'TARGET DATA' instead of 'AUTO TARGETTING' or 'LOCKED TARGET' as it would in the released game.
  • The 'Target: ' reads Spiculum instead of Dralthi. Spiculum was later used as the name for the IR missile.
  • The finished Dralthi sprites do not have the 'running lights' at the front (and are, in general, much lower resolution than seen here.)

The following notes apply to the full artwork but are not visible on the finished box because of how it is tilted and framed:

  • The 'roof' of the Hornet (featuring the eject indicators) is entirely missing.
  • The player's sleeve is blue instead of brown.
  • The Heat Seeking missile icon is different from the finished version. It is more solid, has a distinct warhead and has four visible fins.
  • The Weapon Display also indicates that one of the Hornet's engines is damaged. In the final game, this was a separate VDU (additionally, the damage graphic is different.)
  • The bottom of the Target Display has two values ("TT: 126 P: 1457") which do not appear in the finished game; their intended purpose is unclear (though the P is very close to the displayed range of 1455 meters.)
  • The Dralthi VDU image has different indicators, including longer guns, larger engines, a differently shaped cockpit and a completely different set of six 'callouts.' It is also lacking any kind of shield strength indicator (the shields could be down, although the space normally reserved for the indicators is taken up by the callouts.)

These changes apply only to the first version of the cover, which was later changed to replace the right VDU's comm screen with a Dralthi target:

  • The Comm Screen shows a greenscale picture of Spirit which reads "Lt. SAKARA." This uses her 'aboard ship' art instead of her
  • The final game does not display character names while communications messages are playing.
  • Spirit's name in the finished game is TANAKA rather than SAKARA.

BREAKING NEWS: Kickstarter Project Covers Wing Commander Painting

Last year, we reported that Wing Commander veteran Michael Winterbauer had published a free ebook chock full of his fantastic game artwork and packed with details about his process and history in the industry. Now, he's aiming to release a print copy by running a Kickstarter to cover a full color print run of the book. He says:

The goal of this campaign is to raise $9,000 for a print run of my super cool, unique book "Classic Game Covers, Confessions of An Art Junkie" and get it to people who will enjoy it!

My name name is Mike Winterbauer and I have been a working artist for thirty years. I am most notably known for my work in illustration having done a string of classic computer game covers in the 1980's and 90's. You may have seen some of the covers I painted which included Might and Magic Clouds of Xeen and Darkside of Xeen and interior maps, Wing Commander, Solstice, WolfChild and Power Blade to name a few.

The book is very nice and beautifully printed by Blurb. It is a softcover book, 8 by 10 inches and is 122 pages printed on 80 lb semi-matte paper.

... but be quick, there's still just under $4k to raise in the next four days! Mr. Winterbauer is the talented artist who painted the cover of Mindscape's 1992 Super Nintendo port of Wing Commander (not to be confused with Denis Loubet, who created the cover of the original PC version.) The cover was used for advertising and for the US NTSC and PAL releases of the game (the Japanese version featured a different painting.) His book follows the creation of the painting and its use in the game's marketing. The physical version will even feature Wing Commander on the cover, making it a great keepsake for Wing Commander fans!

Reserve your copy for $40 USD here and please help get the word out to your gaming circles. $3,800 in four days seems like a big ask, but it means finding fewer than 100 people who will want a coffee table book loaded with beautiful game box artwork!

The Grateful Eight: Meet Privateer's Ship Dealers

Last week, we provided a spotter's guide to the nine types of bartenders in the Gemini Sector. But that was only half the story: each base type also has a unique ship dealer! The ship dealers are even more similar variations on a theme than the bartenders, and they technically are not as numerous because not every individual base has a dealership. There are only eight types instead of nine, as none operate on pirate bases. One thing is for certain: that blue shirt over a black-or-white sweater look is popular in 2669!

Generic:

Agricultural Planet: Seven appearances at Burton, Heimdel, Nitir, Palan, Surtur, Bodensee and Helen. He is especially similar to the Perry dealer, save for a difference in eye shape.

Mining Base: Six appearances at Lisacc, Basque, Rygannon, Vishnu, Achilles and Hector.

Pleasure Planet: Four appearances at N1912-1, Magdaline, Olympus and Jolson. The least common of these four, he is identical to the Refinery dealer with brown eyes instead of green and a black sweater.

Refinery: Eight appearances at Beaconsfield, Meadow, Thisbury, Edinburgh, Basra, Anapolis, Gracchus and Rodin.

Unique: (left to right) New Constantinople, New Detroit, Oxford University Planet and Perry Naval Station

For the record, the Mercenary's Guild (34 appearances) and Merchant's Guild (46 appearances) representatives are identical at every base.

PC Magazine Reviews Wing Commander

The 'After Hours' column of PC Magazine has been covering PC gaming for a mainstream audience for many years and reviewed the majority of the Wing Commander series when it was released. Below are reviews for Wing Commander (March 28, 1991), Wing Commander II (January 28, 1992), Wing Commander Armada (March 14, 1995), Wing Commander IV (May 14, 1996), Privateer 2 (April 8, 1997) and Wing Commander Prophecy (May 5, 1998).

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