Better Red than Dead

It's Throwback Thursday, and today we're throwing two previously-unseen Wing Commander movie set photos into the archive! The first was recently posted to Instagram by one of the extras who played a Confederation Marine in the Wing Commander movie and the second comes to us courtesy of Etienne Braun, the film's set photographer. Both pictures show the Confederation C-524 Space Armor (and C-512 Combat Helmet) which were used for the 'boarding' sequence late in the film.

If you are interested in learning more about the lore background for the space armor (and other boarding equipment) then the Confederation Handbook has you covered! The following six-page spread includes more information than you ever imagined was necessary on the functionality and specifications of this equipment. (Note that the helmet picture is an error; the photograph included is one of the movie's pilot helmets and not the described marine helmet!)

Electronic Games Reviews Wing Commander

Electronic Games was an American gaming magazine with a broad focus that included both PC and console titles. It's run coincided with much of Wing Commander's active development, and quite a few interesting Origin subjects were covered. This is not a complete list of Electronic Games reviews as several issues have not been scanned... we will update you when more become available!

  • October 1992 - Wing Commander Deluxe & Wing Commander I & II: The Ultimate Strategy Guide
  • December 1992 - Wing Commander SNES
  • February 1893 - Wing Commander II / Ultima Underworld CD-ROM
  • October 1993 - Wing Commander Freedom Flight & End Run
  • December 1993 - Wing Commander Academy
  • January 1994 - Wing Commander Privateer

Follow the Arrow Model

Sci-fi model kit builder Alfred Wong is making something every Wing Commander fan is going to want: a 1/48 scale Arrow model kit! Mr. Wong designs and produces his own model kits covering a variety of awesome sci-fi ships... and his decision to add Wing Commander to the mix was a great one. Once the kits are available for purchase, you will be able to order them from his store. We'll update you when that happens! (Thanks to Klavs for the tip!)

Cube 3: Cubanate

As part of my ongoing quest for industrial music tangentially connected to Wing Commander Prophecy, I happened across an interesting description of a CD from a group called Cubanate: "The group has also tried their hand at writing music for video games, the album track "Airport Bar" will appear on the home vid Wing Commander 5 -- Prophecy." Further research indicated that this was part of the album's 'iMuze' description, which has over the years fed it to thousands of eBay auctions, electronic storefronts and other databases.

But what was Cubanate and how was it connected to Wing Commander Prophecy? The story came out with a little digging. Next, I learned that the lead singer of Cubanate, Marc Heal, had toured with Cobalt 60 back in 1997 (as part of a group called Cyber-Tec Project)... exactly when they were working on Wing Commander! Searching for Mr. Heal, I found an interview where he talked about working on Wing Commander. Did Marc Heal work alongside Cobalt 60 on the Prophecy simulator music? Was one of their tracks used in a cutscene, such as when the pilots are celebrating at the bar? The answer was hidden in plain site, in the Wing Commander Prophecy music credits:

“Prophecy,” “Galactic Hives,” “Tones from the Spheres,” “Alien Space Junk,” “Quarm,” “Ashes to Life,” “Colony 328,” “Darwin was Right,” “Cult of Sivar,” All songs composed by Jean-Luc De Meyer, Dominique Lallement and Robert Wicocks, except for “Cult of Sivar,” composed by Jean-Luc De Meyer, Dominique Lallement, Robert Wicocks and Marc Heal. All songs © 1997 Les Edition confidentielle (SABAM) and Electronic Arts Music Publishing Inc. (ASCAP) except for “Cult of Sivar,” © 1997 Les Editions Confidentielle (SABAM), Polygram International Publishing, Inc. (ASCAP) and Electronic Arts Music Publishing Inc. (ASCAP).

Ah hah! Marc Heal of Cubanate fame had co-written "Cult of Sivar," one of the ten Wing Commander Prophecy industrial tracks from Cobalt 60, and his involvement was important enough that it needed special credits. But what about 'An Airport Bar'? Were they connected? The same song renamed, or resampled? For that answer, I tweeted at Mr. Heal... and he was kind enough to reply immediately! The real story? "Close, but not exactly. I wrote the lyrics while I was in Austin, working on music for WCP." So in the end, An Airport Bar was never intended for Wing Commander Prophecy, but it was written while he was in Texas working on the soundtrack! And with that, here's An Airport Bar from Cubanate... a song ever-so-slightly connected to Wing Commander Prophecy! The song appears on the 1998 Cubanate album, Interference.

Video Games Reviews Wing Commander

Let’s close out the week with two more vintage reviews. These are from the difficult-to-Google VideoGames magazine, which covered console gaming in the 1990s. The November 1993 issue (pictured with cover) gave a positive review to Wing Commander: The Secret Missions for the SNES, while the July 1995 issue praised Wing Commander III for the 3DO.

Lazy Game Reviews Covers Wing Commander

Noted YouTube retrogamer Lazy Game Reviews (LGR) has just tackled our favorite: the original Wing Commander! Lazy Game Reviews produces excellent reviews of classic gaming and tech subjects… and this one is no exception. If you need to explain Wing Commander to someone unfamiliar with the series, this is a great way to start.

Kilrathi Warrior Busts Some Skulls

The April 1994 issue of Electronic Entertainment has a short-but-interesting preview of Wing Commander III! It's fascinating to see an article that isn't especially focused on the addition of live action cutscenes... but this scan is most exciting because it includes two early concept sketches for the game: an Excalibur fighter and an initial, somewhat terrifying sketch of a Kilrathi!

End Run Still Coming

Good news for patient Wing Commander eBook readers: the ebook re-release of Wing Commander: End Run (Book #2) is still in the works. In response to an inquiry, Baen replied via Twitter:

It's in process, but I don't have a date as yet. We have to work it into the schedule, but keep checking the bundles!

Baen has re-released the rest of the series as ebooks over the past year, with End Run conspiciously absent. It turns out the problem was not legal wrangling or anything else of the sort... Baen's current staff simply did not know the book existed! During the End Run shortage of the late 1990s, they gave away every physical copy they had on hand and so when they returned to the archive to begin producing ebook versions it was skipped (the fact that the fourth and fifth books are adaptations, respectively, of Wing Commander 3 and 4 surely confused matters further.)

It's not clear when End Run will be available, as it will be used to fill a future hole in Baen's schedule (the same process that lead to the release of the other books.) Baen announces their schedules several months in advance, which means that the earliest window for finally making End Run available again is September. Once the release date is locked down, we'll let you know!

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

Hakaga to Scale

NinjaLA is BACK... with a herd of cats! Ninja recently tried his hand at drawing a Kilrathi Hakaga-class carrier in the same style as Claw Marks. The results speak for themselves! The Hakaga is the Kilrathi carrier Ninja's Hakaga is just the first part of an ongoing project (also pictured) which aims to have line drawings of the entire Kilrathi fleet, to scale. This is going to be good! For those unfamiliar with the Hakaga-class, they are the Kilrathi heavy carriers introduced in the novel Wing Commander: Fleet Action.

Acronym Party: VG&CE on WC2

Video Games & Computer Entertainment was the first outlet to cover the 'making of' a Wing Commander game, with a cover story on the making of the original game (available here.) Today, we're looking at their articles for the second game in the series, Vengeance of the Kilrathi. The first two pages are from the January 1991 issue which reviewed Wing Commander II. VG&CE's connection to Origin is clear, with the reviewer going into more detail than you would expect about the team building the game. Most interesting, it refers to the upcoming Strike Commander as a Wing Commander prequel. The second article, from March 1991, is focused on strategies for winning the game. One special point of interest: the screenshots in both articles are all pre-release images created by Origin and not actual gameplay captures. The turret layout is different, the young Blair portrait and an unused 'reporters' background are used and even the screenshot of Thrakhath does not match the finished game's script.

Armada II Mod Returns

It's not uncommon for mods to disappear... so it's also a nice surprise when they come back! Back in 2012, Janos Miklos worked to convert the Star Trek Armada Wing Commander TC to the newer Star Trek Armada II platform. He released an initial version and promised he'd be working on new ships... and now he's back to keep his promise! Check out these screenshots.

PC Format on Wing Commander II

PC Format, a UK-based gaming magazine that would go on to have a close relationship with Origin Systems, published their first issue in 1991. Of interest to us, however, is issue 2: the November, 1991 edition of the magazine was absolutely chock full of Wing Commander II. As you can see, Wing Commander II gets a four page review, a picture on the cover and even a letter in their 'Q&A' section. The highlight, however, is the 'cartoon' version of the WC2 intro where the story is punched up with word balloons and new graphics. That 'BOOM' really makes losing the Tiger's Claw sting all the more. Rounding out the collection are two ads, one for a regional retailer stocking the game and the other published by Wing Commander II's European retailer Mindscape.

Here Come the Books!

Surprise: the printed Classic Game Cover Art books the Wing Commander community helped Mike Winterbauer create through his Kickstarter are already printed! Mr. Winterbauer has received the print run and is beginning to ship them out to supporters now. The books are of special interest to Wing Commander fans because they include a history of his Wing Commander SNES cover art painting's development. We can't wait!

GOG Weekend Sale Runs the Series

Still holding out on picking up digital copies of the greatest games ever made? It seems unlikely, as you're visiting the Wing Commander community hub in 2017 AD... but just in case, GOG are having another weekly sale that covers the entire Wing Commander series! Buy one for yourself! Buy one for a friend! Buy one for a stranger! Buy one for a pet! Everyone needs a little Wing Commander in their life (followed, ideally, by significantly more Wing Commander.) Here's the promo link, with the individual SKUs below. Every game is 75% off, or $1.49 each (a crazy bargain, especially for Wing Commander I and II which come together in a single pack!)

Back to The Awakening

Last month, we reported about the history of one of the 'inspired by' tracks on the Wing Commander Prophecy Original Soundtrack. Specifically, that the song 'The Awakening' by German electronic group Das Ich was an English-language 'Wing Commander' adaptation of one of their earlier songs. At the time, we noted the English version had only ever been available on the Prophecy soundtrack. Now, we've discovered that isn't true!

In fact, The Awakening was released on two different limited edition CDs... and it had not been discovered because the song was re-titled 'Warrior' for these! But if you absolutely want to complete a physical Wing Commander music collection, be on the lookout for the 2003 limited edition 2-disc version of "Relikt" and the 2011 2 CD re-release of "Egodram." In both cases, the song is not included on the original album but appears on a special bonus disc (much like the Wing Commander Prophecy tracks on the limited edition of the Cobalt 60 album Twelve.)

Stay tuned for a complete guide to the very confusing world of Wing Commander Prophecy-inspired album releases.

Chasing Saturn

The year is 1995 and it is the height of a pitched battle between console manufacturers. These are Thunderdome rules: five systems enter, one system leaves. The stakes are much greater than just the current generation of console hardware; what happens here will set a course for decades of game development. Five contenders vie for the crown: the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, Atari Jaguar, Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation and Nintendo 64. The winner, of course, was the upstart PlayStation. The unexpected magnitude of its success would make Sony a gaming powerhouse that continues to succeed today.

In the midst of this fight, Origin Systems was setting the PC gaming world on fire with what they called the first true interactive movie, Wing Commander III. Porting the game, then the most successful PC title of all time, to as many of these consoles as possible was a natural choice. Two options were impossible for technical reasons: the cartridge-based Jaguar and N64 did not have the storage capacity needed for Wing Commander III’s then-massive video sequences. That left three viable candidates: the Interactive Multiplayer, PlayStation... and the Saturn.

Electronic Arts was most eager to support the 3DO, the system being helmed by their founder and former CEO Trip Hawkins. Work on the 3DO port of Wing Commander III began at Origin proper in Austin in late 1994, before the PC version had even shipped. The game was released on June 12, 1995 to excellent reviews (it remains one of the greatest PC conversions of all time)… and a looming recognition that they had backed the wrong horse. In early 1995, EA made the decision to contract out additional versions for the Sony and Sega consoles.

The PlayStation version would be released on March 28, 1996. It was a much more literal port of the PC version, boasting better 3D graphics than the 3DO release while still including some of the extra cutscenes. Unlike Wing Commander 3 3DO, Wing Commander 3 PSX was not developed by Origin or in Texas. A dedicated EA Playstation team in California ported and tested the game (with some QA support from the Wing Commander veterans at Origin late in development.)

At the first-ever Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in 1995, Sony announced the “price heard around the world,” sweeping the legs of the competition with the $299 price point for the PlayStation. The 3DO and Saturn, already launched at $700 and $400, could not compete. Origin would go on to port Wing Commander IV to the system, insisting on an internal team to preserve the quality. But in 1995, that outcome was not yet clear. Instead, the Sega Saturn seemed like an extremely promising option. Sega had disrupted the console hardware industry just a few years earlier with the Sega Genesis, slicing up Nintendo’s dominant market share to a degree thought to be impossible. Supporting their first ‘grown up’ release seemed like a no-brainer. Electronic Arts assigned a team to port Wing Commander III to the system… and that’s where the trail goes cold.

Wing Commander III Saturn is part of a fairly exclusive group. While ‘cancelled’ Wing Commander games (which can range from pitches, tech demos, proposals and just napkin scribblings) were common, cancelled Wing Commander games that were formally announced and advertised are not. Wing Commander III Saturn appeared in magazine ads in late 1995/early 1996, it was announced and shown at E3, it was followed by magazines… so what do we know about it? The answer, sadly, is: not much.

Because the Saturn port was developed by Electronic Arts proper or a contractor, there is very little information available from ex-Origin developers familiar with the series. We do not even know what studio was responsible for the title or how much work was really done (the slightest clue is that the Saturn port of Origin’s Crusader: No Remorse was done by Realtime Associates; whether they were involved with Wing Commander is anyone’s guess.)

Here’s what we do know. First, Electronic Arts announced the game in May 1995, with a press release touting that it would be shown at the first-ever Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3):

LOS ANGELES, Calif., May 10, 1995 Electronic Arts (Nasdaq:ERTS), the leading publisher of interactive entertainment CD-ROM software, today announced three titles designed for the Sega Saturn, the advanced entertainment CD-ROM based system from Sega of America. The products are expected to ship in the fall.

Unveiled at the industry trade show, Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, the first Sega Saturn titles from Electronic Arts are Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, the industry's first interactive movie; Viewpoint, a space combat simulation; and FIFA Soccer '96 , a totally redesigned sequel to last year's award-winning FIFA Soccer.

The Sega Saturn provides an exciting platform for bringing Origin Systems' groundbreaking Wing Commander III to the advanced entertainment system market. The Sega Saturn's built-in texture mapping and impressive 640 x 480 high-resolution graphics provide exceptional video quality and realistic gameplay. In true interactive style, the player controls the intriguing twists and turns of the plot by engaging face-to-face with such legendary actors as Mark Hamill (Star Wars trilogy), Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Star Trek) and John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark).

While the press release suggests that the Saturn version will be demoed, a contemporary Usenet post from an attendee suggests that only the 3DO release was playable and that the Saturn version was only the intro cinematic. That fits with what we know about the timeline; development of the port would have only just started at this point.

The trail then gets much colder. A number of magazines covered the E3 announcement over the next several months, culminating in a late-1996 GamePro feature that discussed upcoming games. All of these articles are small capsules rather than full previews, and none are especially clear about what will make the Saturn version special (there are references to improved framerate, textures and sound quality.)

Here are three magazine references which have been discovered. The first two are from Sega-specific magazines and were written based on the E3 appearance (the first is from issue 25 of Sega Visions, the US official Sega magazine and the second is from issue 34 of Mean Machines Sega, a UK publication.) The third comes later, and as such is probably the most valuable for knowing how long the game continued: it’s from a late-1995 special edition of GamePro which previews games scheduled for Spring 1996.

This French article, unfortunately unsourced, shares the same screenshot as one of the above, which suggests it was part of a press kit provided to magazines. These may be shots taken from the already-completed 3DO port (the PlayStation port has full color comms but no cockpits.)

Finally, we have the advertisement. Origin ran these ‘universe expanding’ magazine ads in video game outlets starting in late 1995 up until the release of the Playstation version in early 1996.

When was the game cancelled and how far along was it? That’s the biggest question and at this point we don’t know. An unsourced February 1996 Usenet post claims the game has been axed at this point, which seems likely… and seems to indicate that the game may have had almost a full year of development put into it. Sega-specific magazines even suggest that it may have survived much longer, with release dates that range from January 1996 to January 1997 (this last date may be wishful thinking, as it would suggest the game was in development for 18 months!) Sega Retro has kept a running tally of future releases are an interesting source:

How much of Wing Commander III Saturn was finished? Is there an early build out there somewhere, or documentation or other material? With a year--or more?--of development there is likely something interesting somewhere. The quest continues!

(Note for the sake of historical accuracy that the fifth generation of game consoles includes several also-rans beyond these five that never made it to worldwide launches. Two of these--the FM Towns Marty and the Amiga CD32--had Wing Commander ports. Additionally, as you will note from the advertisement, Origin also developed a Macintosh port of Wing Commander III which released in September 1995.)

EGM: Previews & Cheats

Several weeks ago, we posted a collection of Wing Commander reviews from the heydey of Electronic Games Monthly. Today, we're following that with another two selections of Wing Commander articles. The first is an assortment of previews, which cover Wing Commander and The Secret Missions for the SNES and then Wing Commander 3 for the 3DO and Playstation. Issues included are: October & November 1992 (Wing Commander SNES), September 1993 (The Secret Missions SNES), May 1995 (Wing Commander 3 3DO) and April 1996 (Wing Commander 3 PSX.)

Then, it's time... to cheat! Before internet access was common, the place to go for 'game cheats' was magazines and hint books. EGM covered each of the SNES Wing Commander titles several times, posting both the real 'debug screen' cheat AND selections of 'passwords' to play other levels. Interestingly, you continue to see these same passwords (SPACEACE, ASSASSIN) in cheat indexes today... even though they're really just one specific player with that callsign's saved games. Whoever you are, Spaceace, we appreciate it! These cheats originally appeared in February and May 1993 (Wing Commander SNES) and January and February 1994 (The Secret Missions SNES.)

Wing Commander Prophecy Demo Updated

PopsiclePete has a slightly crazy update for us today: he has released a new version of the 1997 Wing Commander Prophecy Demo which fixes a small graphical error. The original demo displayed a small line next to each ship VDU... and with this update, that has been fixed! The Wing Commander Prophecy Demo is actually a series of new missions which form a 'midquel' that takes place during the finished game. Well worth exploring for any hardcore WingNut! You can download the new installer here. Can you spot the difference? Here's the before and after:

RSI Museum Brings the A Games

I was recently honored to appear on another episode of RSI Museum, the Cloud Imperium Games’ livestream that talks about the history of games that influenced Star Citizen. This time, we talked about (and took a look at) Wing Comander’s Academy, Armada and Arena. Enjoy!

A Whisper of Games That Weren't

Here's a sad reminder of two games that weren't, straight from the pages of issue 12 of the United Kingdom's official 3DO Magazine. This issue follows a disappointing 1996 E3 presentation in which the 3DO company did not show any progress on their long-promised M2 console... the writing on the wall already being clear to everyone (except possibly the editors of the official 3DO magazine) that Sony's PlayStation had vanquished all competitors.

But there was still hope for more Wing Commander. As of 1996, two 3DO ports were still in development and mentioned here: Wing Commander IV for both the original 3DO Multiplayer and the never-released M2 system. As the first page indicates, Wing Commander IV was intended as a launch (or near-launch) title for the doomed platform. It's unknown how much progress was made on either console, as no development work has ever surfaced.

But Wait, There's More Ribbons!

Yesterday's great Claw Marks coloring project reminded us that the Wing Commander I ribbons have actually been colorized twice before: in Japanese manuals for console ports of the game! First, the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo) version offers a pretty but ultimately bizarre colorized chart in which none of the ribbons even match the designs in the game. Later, the Mega CD (Sega CD) version included a proper chart that identifies the medals correctly! Here's a comparison:

Ribbons Get Color Correction

Here's a cool surprise: marcomads has updated Claw Marks to feature the correct 'ribbon' colors! Wing Commander I awarded 'ribbons' for various achievements which were displayed on your character's uniform in the locker (and during medal ceremonies.) Ribbons were issued each time you flew a new fighter or when you completed a certain number of missions or kills. The Claw Marks manual included greyscale diagrams of the different ribbons... unfortunately, they didn't really match the ribbons in the game! Macromads has gone through and found the proper coloring for each:

You can learn more AND download the complete manual in his thread.

Johnny Get Your Gun Platform

Think you've seen every ship in Wing Commander III? The 3DO version of the game actually includes two models not present in the PC release! The first of these, shared in this post, is the Kilrathi Gun Platform. The 3DO port cuts the famous 'ground missions' and instead has the player attack bases orbiting targets on each planet's surface. Once they're destroyed, a cutscene showing the elements of the ground attack necessary to the story is played (the destruction of Kilrah, for instance.) These gun platforms are heavily armored and something of a tough nut to crack... and they're also very simple, essentially just a square with a pair of turrets.

From Wingleader to Wing Commander Published

The Digital Antiquarian has completed their history of the original Wing Commander's development. Their second article is titled From Wingleader to Wing Commander and aims to cover naturally the development from the original announcement of 'Wingleader' to its release as Wing Commander. The piece starts strong with a discussion of the behind-the-screens difficulties producing such a massive project:
At the beginning of August, Snell unceremoniously booted Chris Roberts, the project's founder, from his role as co-producer, leaving him with only the title of director. Manifesting a tendency anyone familiar with his more recent projects will immediately recognize, Roberts had been causing chaos on the team by approving seemingly every suggested addition or enhancement that crossed his desk. Snell, the brutal pragmatist in this company full of dreamers, appointed himself as Warren Spector's new co-producer. His first action was to place a freeze on new features in favor of getting the game that currently existed finished and out the door.
... and then it segues into a somewhat directionless critique of the game itself. There's a great warts-and-all history to be written about the making of Wing Commander... despite a promising first half, this isn't it (though, in fairness, the purpose of the site is discussing narrative.) The first half of the article is available here.

Wing Commander Really is Everywhere

Here's an update you weren't expecting today... and it's not exactly safe for work: the newly-released documentary After Porn Ends 2 includes a Wing Commander mention! Ginger Lynn Allen, who played Rachel Coriolis in Wing Commanders III and Prophecy, is the subject of one of the film's segments. The movie is about what adult film stars do after their movie careers have ended. During her sequence, a 1997 clip of Ginger listing her upcoming projects is featured... including her mention of "Wing Commander Prophecy with Mark Hamill." In addition to getting points for not calling it Wing Commander 5, Ginger comes off as an extremely cool human being throughout her interviews. After Porn Ends 2 is available on DVD and Blu-Ray, or digitally through iTunes, Amazon and other digital storefronts.

Follow or Contact Us

Forums: Recent Posts

Current Poll

Where to Buy

WCPedia: Recent Contributions

Site Staff