We have two more sets of scans from 'Videogames' magazine to close out the week. The first set (October 1995) is the most interesting, a report from the set of Wing Commander IV complete with an interview with Mark Hamill. The second pair of scans (November 1995) explain how to access the debug menu in the 3DO port of Wing Commander III... a cool tool that lets you select your mission, view any texture in the game and even play any movie.
Kickstarter Fails to Launch
George Oldziey has updated the Wing Commander Orchestral Recording Volume 2 with some sad news, the campaign is not going to make it. But he also reports that this is NOT the end: he has a plan for first funding the music and then the orchestra separately. Here's the post:
The next phase. Please hang with me!
Hello everyone. I wanted to follow up on the last post about where we go from here. I think it's obvious that we won't meet the entire goal on this campaign. So I'm going to follow this up immediately with another, more modest campaign in terms of financial goals.
There will first be another Kickstarter campaign that will probably be in the neighborhood of $15K, an amount which we easily surpassed on the this one. Unfortunately, since the goal won't be met on this campaign I can't keep the funds (and of course you WON'T be billed for your pledges).
So, you might ask, what will $15K buy. Well, it will buy covering the costs and time of preparing all the pieces for volume 2 for recording with orchestra (transcribing the originals and creating the PDF scores) AND creating a CD and digital downloads of the MIDI mockups for volume 2. What that means is I will have an initial CD and downloads of the volume 2 music available using my vast orchestral instrument sample library, very similar to the digitally sampled tracks on volume 1. There will also be other rewards much like for this campaign.
THEN, once we have the foundation, we will build on it using other crowdfunding techniques which will be more open ended in terms of time. The secondary campaign will be used to cover the costs of the musicians, choir, recording engineers and facility, and all the other expenses required to make a wonderful orchestral version of the music. We'll also have the luxury of more time to raise those additional funds.
SO, if everyone who has already pledged can come right back and pledge the same amounts, or at least close to it, we'll have phase one already covered! And, since phase one includes the orchestration of the music, the PDF rewards will be available on this first tier!
Of course, as always, I welcome your thoughts and suggestions, and VERY much value your support and dedication. SO, keep a look out early next week for the next launch!
A setback, for sure, but we'll keep fighting! As Admiral Tolwyn says in Fleet Action: "By God, Baron... there'll come a day when we'll come back. If it takes a hundred years, we'll come back and we'll watch Kilrah as it's burned to ashes."
Pak it Up
We recently ran an article running through the history of Electronic Arts' "CD-ROM Classics" line of re-releases. This week, I made a cool discovery on eBay: a bundle containing five of the first wave CD-ROM Classics together in a slipcover. Bundling unsold software in this way has a long tradition; in fact, Origin's own "Ultima Value Pak" (1990) is one of the more sought-after Ultima collectibles! But until today, I'd never seen a Wing Commander (in this case Privateer) re-released in such a manner.
In honor of this discovery, I thought I would put together a quick guide to 'Paks.' What's a Pak? Well, it's a seemingly-intentional misspelling of 'pack' that Origin and later Electronic Arts used to market 'shovelware' budget re-releases. The concept is simple: once a game is no longer selling new copies, it can be re-sold bundled with others in collections (sometimes at a discount.) The sales strategy for 'Paks' really came into its own with the rise of the CD-ROM, which significantly decreased the cost of reproducing older games.
Here we are listing every known 'Pak' that includes a Wing Commander game. Electronic Arts marketed many 'Pak' products beyond those listed, often with themes such as the 'Fantasy Pak' or the 'Sports Pak'... but since they didn't bother to include any Wing Commanders in these, other communities will have to do that research! We've identified eight Paks that include Wing Commander games and there may be more out there... if you know of another, please let us know!
Top Ten Pak (1994)
Notes: The original! The Top Ten Pak is a single CD-ROM with all of the games listed below.
Includes: Chuck Yeager’s Air Combat, Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi Deluxe Edition, PGA Tour Golf, Ultrabots, Kasparov’s Gambit: World Championship Chess, Ultima VII: The Black Gate, SEAL Team, Indianapolis 500: The Simulation, Grand Slam Bridge II, Financial Workshop
Top Ten Pak II (1995)
Notes: Harder to find than the Top Ten Pak. This came in a short 'half box' with multiple CDs rather than a classic 'big box.' Also a rare example of Electronic Arts re-releasing Wing Commander I on CD-ROM (which was problematic from a technical standpoint at this time.)
Includes: Wing Commander Deluxe Edition, Shadowcaster, Michael Jordan in Flight, Grand Slam Bridge II, Seven Cities of Gold Commemorative Edition, Starflight 2, Kasparov’s Gambit: World Championship Chess, Heroes of the 357th, Indianapolis 500: The Simulation, PGA Tour Golf
10 for $10 Pak (1995)
Notes: A spinoff of the original series. Very similar to the original Top Ten Pak, it does notably add Strike Commander to the mix.
Includes: Extreme Pinball, Grand Slam Bridge II, Populous II, Power Poker, Strike Commander, SEAL Team, The Complete Ultima VII, Ultrabots, Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi Deluxe Edition, Chuck Yeager's Air Combat
Top Ten Mac Pak II (1996)
Notes: This Pak contains the Macintosh versions of the games listed AND a copy of the Wing Commander IV demo! It also features an amazing box. Unfortunately, it seems somewhat hard to come by today. We're aiming to track down nice versions of each of these for preservation, and will update the picture when a better copy is found.
Includes: Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, PGA Tour Golf III, Wolfpack, System Shock, Shockwave Assault, Spaceship Warlock, Super Wing Commander, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Peter Pan, Putt-Putt & Fatty Bear’s Activity Pack
Electronic Arts Presents CD-ROM Classics Gift Pak (1995)
Notes: Newly discovered collection of five early CD-ROM Classics in a slipcase. Could there be other CD-ROM Classics Gift Paks?
Includes: Wolfpack, Wing Commander: Privateer, System Shock, No World Order, Kasparov's Gambit: World Championship Chess & Grand Slam Bridge II
Space Adventure Pak (1996)
Notes: EA put out two 'wide box' paks in 1996, both of which included Wing Commander III (the other was the Origin Pak, listed below.) These included the original documentation for each game.
Includes: Crusader: No Remorse, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, Shockwave Assault
Origin Pak (1996)
Includes: System Shock, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, Bioforge
Extreme Fun Pak (1997)
Notes: Although this uses the 'Pak' name, it was actually produced by Apple Computer rather than Electronic Arts! That's right, Apple released a version of Wing Commander III. The Extreme Fun Pak was sold through direct mail and alongside Apple computers of the era... and boy is the artwork from the 1990s!
Includes: Marathon 2: Durandal, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, Flight Unlimited, Panzer General, Entomorph, Diamonds 3D
Custom Wing Commander Controller Stuns
djfx has an incredible fan project to share: a custom Wing Commander arcade controller! It's designed to seemlessly play Wing Commander I, II and Privateer... and boy does it look cool! Here's his story, and you can learn more details about the build here.
A while back I had the idea to build an arcade cabinet version of Wing Commander.
After some initial work on the project, I realized I had no place to store such a large gadget in my small house, so I downsized the idea to just the control panel--I can upgrade this to a full cabinet later if I want.
Able to play WC, WC2, and Privateer without a keyboard--luckily the control schemes of these games overlap.
All controls should be clearly labeled so people can play without instruction
"Space arcade" look
Here are the results: there are 32 buttons on the panel (most of them backlit), and a display that describes the button assignments on the flight stick--these can be updated by replacing the printed transparency. Flight stick is a CH fighter stick.
Kickstarter Progress Update
George Oldziey has posted an update on the Wing Commander Orchestral Recording Volume 2. The numbers aren't looking good for the current Kickstarter, but it sounds like he's willing to keep fighting! Whatever happens, we'll be there for the ride.
Greetings WC music fans! We had a flurry of activity which took us JUST shy of the $17K mark this weekend. That's really incredible! But with $28K to go in just 6 days I have to admit that the challenge of meeting the goal at this point is pretty steep. That's not to say that something wonderful can't happen, and I'm definitely not giving up!
I did post that there would be a live stream event yesterday. But that ended up being a brainstorming meeting with my team about possible contingencies going forward. We all originally thought that going for the full amount needed in one campaign would work, just as it did for Volume 1. But, should this current campaign end without meeting our goal, we've decided to have a "tier" system of campaigns in which we have milestones instead of the "all or nothing" approach.
Again, we are NOT giving up! I'd be absolutely thrilled if we were able to make it happen right here and right now. I just wanted to let you know that there is indeed a plan in case it doesn't work out this time.
I've received some great advice from contributors about other ways of raising the needed funds to make this project happen. I encourage you all to send me your thoughts about how to make this a successful project!
Again, thank you all for your wonderful support. That's what makes it all worthwhile for me!
Everything Looks Worse in Black and White
Computist magazine was something of an ‘alternative’ gaming publication in the 1980s. Originally conceived to cover Apple ][ gaming, the magazine had a special focus on how users could remove copy protection from their games. As a result, it was treated as something of a black sheep by contemporaries and the nascent gaming industry. By the very end of its run in the early 1990s, Computist expanded beyond the Apple to cover MS-DOS games.
The reviews of Wing Commander are odd, to say the least: the original game (Issue #78) is given one star because the reviewed felt weapons didn’t have enough of an impact. Wing Commander II and Special Operations I (Issue #84) are given rave reviews and both receive a four star rating. There are also articles covering how to remove the copy protection from the original game and one reviewing a joystick that mentions how great Wing Commander I was. Huh! The Internet Archive has published galleys for the unprinted Issue #90, which include a review of Special Operations 2 (three stars) and the Wing Commander II speech pack (two stars.)
RSI Museum Looks Back at Wing Commander III
I was honored to get to spend another hour talking about the history of developing Wing Commander games on this week’s RSI Happy Hour. Wing Commander III marked a major shift in the scale of how games are managed and created… setting the stage for games like Star Citizen. Enjoy!
COMBAT ALERT: George Oldziey Live Q&A Tomorrow
Wing Commander composer George Oldziey will be holding a live Q&A tomorrow in support of his Wing Commander Orchestral Recording Volume 2 Kickstarter. We'll be joining in to help get your questions answered (and some of ours!) Here are the details, straight from the main himself:
Greetings everyone! With a little over a week to go we've passed the $14K mark. Unfortunately this leaves quite a challenge in the remaining week to meet our goal. I'm very grateful to all of you who have supported the project already! I hope you can find some long lost friends whom you could persuade to help us out! :)
With that in mind, my team and I are planning to set up a live stream on Facebook for tomorrow at noon CDT (Central USA). We are trying to work out the tech details to have all four of us from different parts of the country online at the same time to answer questions and talk about all things WC. I'll give you all an update later today to either confirm or deny the live stream!
Wing Commander Prophecy... to the XTREME!
Continuing our theme of including ridiculous images of Tomb Raider, today's magazine article scan comes from a February 1998 issue of Argentina's "XTreme PC." This article features a two-page review of Wing Commander Prophecy, which seems to be very positive (earning a 94% overall rating.) Also included is the back page of the magazine, an advertisement for local retailer 'CD MARKET' that prominently features Wing Commander Prophecy.
We're interested in seeing Wing Commander articles from around the world, so if you know of any we should be chasing please let us know! Seeing how the games were treated in different areas (and just seeing cool magazine layouts from around the world!) is always exciting.
Bankruptcy, Space and the Great Games
RadioShack, the lion of the American strip mall, is dead. Once a leading electronics retailer, RadioShack fell on hard times in recent years as buyers shifted in favor of larger superstores and then e-tailers and this year declared bankruptcy. Of special interest to classic computing enthusiasts, they are holding an impressive series of auctions that include vintage items from their long history once stored for their historical office.
But what does Wing Commander have to do with RadioShack, a store best known for selling batteries, coaxial cable and colored diodes? Starting in the 1980s, RadioShack championed the Tandy, their own line of (mostly) IBM PC-compatible computers. And to go with those computers they, for a time, became a major force in the world of buying electronic entertainment software.
How does that make them an important player in the Wing Commander story? To explain that, we'll first correct a common misconception: a particular video game's fate is often decided months or even years before it ships based on the interest of software buyers. These buyers are the salesmen and women who represent major companies like Gamestop, Target, Walmart... and, once upon a time, RadioShack. Trade shows like the Electronic Entertainment Expo (happening as this update is posted) are not primarily to showcase new games to the public; instead, they're to convince a small group of buyers to bet on them. These sales to retailers impact budgets, development timelines and more before a project is close to finished.
In 1992, RadioShack (and its Canadian sister ship, InterTAN) were eager to stock games that would make their Tandy PCs look great. In those days, Origin's marketing team, the Bulldogs, would travel the country to meet with buyers, show off demoes and try to convince companies to purchase Origin games for resale. After several years of trying to make a deal, Origin had an impressive success pitching Strike Commander. A 1992 Point of Origin announces the good news:
First and foremost, kudos go out to Tandy Tamer Karl Kabler. After two years of pitching, charming, selling, apologizing, pitching again, selling again, apologizing again, pleading, waiting, worrying, pitching again, schmoozing and pressing, he ﬁnally got to closing. Karl rounded up that ever— elusive Radio Shack order for Strike Commander to the tune of 10,008 units (and they’re non-returnable, too). What’s next? He’s already working on the Tandy buyer for Wing Academy and Silver Seed.
So RadioShack sold Origin games; so what? That's where the story gets interesting... and where we lose track of it. The following three pages of documents are among the most fascinating I've ever uncovered. They are a snapshot in time from 1995 listing every 'SKU' Origin has sold since the 1991 purchase of Origin. Each lists the internal catalog number ('EA number') which you can find printed above the barcode on EA-published books and games.
Notice anything? That's right: the Radio Shack and InterTAN sales have unique SKUs! Which suggests that they likely had unique packaging and may even have had alterations to the games themselves to better support the Tandy. With this data, we can also follow the story a little further:
It appears that Origin had another success with RadioShack shortly after Strike Commander, selling a major order of copies of Shadowcaster for the Tandy. Other than that, the sales are largely Canada-specific and only a few hundred of each game were published. Two Wing Commander games appear on the list and we don't have either in our collection. Did you buy Privateer or Academy at a RadioShack in the 1990s? We want to hear from you!
Did you miss out on Mike Winterbauer's Classic Game Covers book Kickstarter but still want a Wing Commander print? We have good news for you! He has posted the artwork to Fine Art America, a CafePress-style print-on-demand service. Which means that the art isn't only available in print form... there are plenty of interesting options! You can buy prints, phone cases and yes, throw pillows here.
Ad Ben: 3Dfx Technology
This is not an excuse to post Lara Croft's butt! Note the F-108 Panther-class space superiority fighter in the upper left-hand corner. For Wing Commander Prophecy, Origin made an agreement with up-and-coming 3D accelerator group 3Dfx to support their platform. Much as previous games tended to favor one sound card over another, games in the late 1990s would pledge allegiance to different 3D acceleration standards. The specific terms of the deal are unknown, but game developers frequently use these agreements to supplant their budgets or in exchange for other support (such as development hardware.) 3Dfx would have been eager to establish as large a stable of supporting games as possible to build out their platform... and this advertisement is certainly proof of their licensing efforts!
Wing Commander Prophecy: Trumpets Beware!
George Oldziey has updated the Wing Commander Orchestral Recording Volume 2 with a video showing one of the Wing Commander Prophecy tracks from the previous volume being recorded! We're trying to set up a livestream for later in the week, so you can ask Mr Oldziey your questions directly. Watch this space for details!
Here is some rather wild gameplay music I composed for Wing Commander Prophecy. It features a virtuosic 1st trumpet part. Before we hit record I noticed the trumpet players passing the part around because none of them wanted to play it! Whoever ended up with it seemed to pull it off!
Re-Orchestrated Mission Music!
Good news: the Wing Commander Orchestral Recording Volume 2 saw some pledging overnight, crossing the $13,000 level! We're still under the gun, but George Oldziey is hopeful and is continuing to work on the music for the recording. Here's his latest update:
Even though we're about 1/2 way through the campaign with only about 25% of what we need I'm still hopeful. So much so that I'm still orchestrating new (old) music. This is some of the work I did today; some more unrecorded mission music from Wing 4. Please tell your friends! We can do this!!
Orchestral Recording Project - Why We Fight
We’ve posted a lot of interesting articles recently about George Oldziey’s Wing Commander Orchestral Recording Volume 2 Kickstarter. No matter the occasion, it is always a joy to collect the bits and bobs that make up Wing Commander’s history, and doing so in support of this noble project has felt right to me. I hope you’ve enjoyed the old interviews, magazine scans and in-universe references. But tonight, I’d like to do something a little different: I’d like to tell my own story and explain to you why I think this project matters.
I will never forget the first time I heard George Oldziey’s Wing Commander score. It was 1994, I was thirteen years old and already a Wing Commander fanatic. Like most suburban teenagers at the time, I was already an ardent mallrat. Regular trips to shopping Meccas provided that first thrilling whiff of adulthood, safe places within which my brothers and I could leave our parents, chart our own courses and spend our own money. There, I would make a regular rotation to my favorite stores: Suncoast to look at movie posters, Sam Goody to flip through movie scores, Kaybee Toys to search for elusive Playmates Star Trek Figures, Beyond Comics for the latest geek news. And in all this there was no stop more essential Babbages.
Babbages! There, I could drool over the latest Sierra Quests and Spectrum Holobyte simulations, gaze up at the rows of consoles my parents would never let me have… and there, most importantly, I could ask when the next Wing Commander was coming out. I will break from the story at this juncture to tell you something very important which you may have already surmised: I was a very, very annoying child. In fact, some months prior one Electronics Boutique clerk had become so used to my constant asking about whether Armada was out that he had begun simply shouting “no, go away” the moment I would enter the store. So, if you, gentle reader, are one of the poor employees who had to deal with me at the time, I will conclude this break by humbly asking your forgiveness.
On this particular day, however, I did not make it in the door. I arrived the Babbages at Lakeforest Mall (lower level, just off the central hub) to find a sparse but noticeable crowd outside the store watching something intently. I approached to find that out front of the store had been placed a television on a pedestal. And at that very moment, the screen read: WING COMMANDER III: HEART OF THE TIGER. Now, I will never forget my first thought, because it may have been the most embarrassingly stupid thought that anyone, before or since, has ever had. And that thought was: oh my God, they’ve really done it… they have a new font.
When I had recovered from my truly idiotic (but I would stress also truly genuine) initial reaction, I settled in for the most exciting two minutes and forty-four seconds of my life. I say two minutes and forty-four seconds because that is the duration of the trailer. In reality, however, it was being played on a loop. And so I watched it again and again and again… and again. I watched it until the tape rewound itself, and then I counted how many plays it had so I’d know how many times I could watch it. Ultimately, I watched that looping trailer so many times that I missed my scheduled rendezvous with my parents. Eventually a concerned sibling was dispatched and found me standing there in the mall staring at the TV outside Babbages to tell me to come to the car this minute. “Okay, okay,” I begged, “but check this out first.”
The Wing Commander III trailer may have been primitive compared to anything like it cut today, but at the time I could not believe what I was seeing. Live actors? Ships that looked better than the models on Star Trek? Dialogue delivered by real actors, quotable from the first. REAL Kilrathi? And then there was that music. I remember concentrating so hard that I constricted the muscles in my head, as though this would help the write head in my brain better record what I was hearing for future playback. This was not video game music, it was art! Chris Roberts had found his John Williams and, my vindication, they were giving the game universe I loved so dearly exactly what I had always known it deserved. It was epic, it was stunning, it was beautiful.. And from that moment on, it was mine.
## insert WC3 trailer here
Here’s one of the the great thing about communities: what’s mine is ours. The scores to Wing Commander III, IV and Prophecy our ours. They are our shared experience, they are our call to arms and they are a great object of our affection. Can anyone deny that these notes are etched on our souls? I can describe an action in the game--enemy destroyed, missile hit, nav point cleared--and that interactive music starts playing, doesn’t it?
That moment you first saw Wing Commander III and you understood, innately, that the thing you loved had been lavished with the attention you thought it deserved… we can do that again. We can have this incredible music, reorchestrated and recorded with a real orchestra. It’s music that DESERVES to stand alongside Zelda, Halo, Pokemon and anything else that so easily received that treatment today. And if the cynical market will not give us this thing we so richly deserve then we must come together and make it happen!
Why do I think that this project, specifically so special compared to so many other crowdfunding efforts? At the end of the day, it’s altruistic. It’s seeking to make something better, to create an enhance art with no expectation or even possibility of a reward. George Oldziey is not making a CD to sell; he’s not even making a CD he can ever sell… he’s making an album to preserve this music the way it deserves to be heard. There’s no fortune or glory in this, just the creation of something that we more than anyone will be able to appreciate.
"War is not simple numbers, it is blood," Vak snorted.
"Four more carriers at Vukar is a simple number, Vak and that number is the difference between your first born still floating in space, his body unclaimed, versus his living and breathing this day."
I will be honest with you: as it stands tonight, the numbers aren’t looking good. Unless the rate of pledges picks up significantly, the funding will fail. Now, you will tell me that numbers aren’t everything and that we can beat the trend. We have passion and a cause and we will keep fighting. And I agree. The Wing Commander community doesn’t give up, we don’t surrender and we will do what we can to the bitter end. We’re not here to make money for Electronic Arts (as much as we’d dearly like to!) we’re here to preserve the franchise we love and I’ll quote Mr. Smith to my dying breath; lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.
Here’s the second part, though: you don’t need to pledge more money. This is not a battle that can be won by two hundred people giving more than they can… it’s a victory we can only achieve if we can spread the word beyond our small community.
The single most important thing you can do today is to share the link with your other communities. Post it on Facebook, tweet it, Instagram a photo of your copy of Wing Commander III with the link. Call up your old friends who loved Wing Commander, tell your kids what it meant to you, play the music for anyone you know who appreciates a great score. This is your starbase attack, this is your dogfight with the Prince, this is your trench run. And I know that no matter how unlikely it seems today, we CAN make this happen. Now pilots… SCRAMBLE!
Finally, I’d like to share some of your memories about George Oldziey’s Wing Commander scores in this space. Please share your experiences in the comments, on our Facebook or send them directly via e-mail.
We have a good news/bad news update tonight. First, the bad news: the amazing 1:48 Arrow fighter model kit developed by Alfred Wong has run into a small delay. Mr. Wong posts that he is still waiting on the canopies and needs to re-pattern one of the parts, pushing it back several weeks. The good news--no, let's call it great news--are these three images of the kit he posted. Stunning! You can find earlier images of the kit here.
Kickstarter Adds PDF Extra
The Wing Commander Orchestral Recording Volume 2 has crossed the $10,000 threshold! It still needs a lot more support to happen... so please keep pledging and sharing the link! Getting the word out beyond our small community is essential to making this happen, so please pass it to anyone interested in classic games, interactive history... or just great music!
George Oldziey updated the campaign today with another desired addon item: the PDF score to the original campaign! He even included the first page of the 'Behemoth' piece to show you just how cool this is. Here's his post:
Greetings all! I'm celebrating that we all crossed the $10K threshold today! Yahoo! And to celebrate I'm offering the entire Volume 1 score in PDF format for anyone who pledges only an additional $40! What's great about that award is I can send it out to you right when the campaign ends (if it's successful of course). Here is a free sample from page one of the score to the Behemoth mission. Enjoy!
Outstanding! I've already upped my pledge, and I sincerely hope the project goes through just so I can 'see' the music. Show your support here.
GOG Summer Sale Launches
The GOG Summer Sale is here! From today through June 20th, you can pick up any of their Wing Commander releases for just $1.49 each! The games offered on GOG cover the entire PC series and each one comes with a cool collection of extras. If you haven't broken down and picked them up yet... now is the time!
Kickstarter Adds Volume One
Composer George Oldziey has added a requested option to the Wing Commander Orchestral Recording Project Volume 2 Kickstarter campaign: the ability to purchase a copy of the first album as an add-on! For $50, you can add the original, finished CD for Volume One of the project... and at the risk of editorializing, that is a steal.
If you missed out on pledging for the Volume 1 campaign and would like a physical copy of the CD, there is a new, limited pledge level of $50 that you can add on to ANY current pledge to receive a copy! There is no additional shipping charge for US residents, and only a small additional shipping charge for anywhere else in the world. There are only 50 left so spread the word! They are surely to become collectors items!
The first album, pictured here, was funded in 2014 and includes ten tracks recorded by a live orchestra... plus seven more reorchestrated and recorded with digital samples. You can find the complete track listing below:
Today, we've restored a 2004 interview with George Oldziey from the depths of the Internet Archive. This text interview was originally conducted by a Wing Commander fan running a site called E-Boredome. It's a great, in-depth warts-and-all look at George's work on Wing Commander and Ultima (in short, working on Wing Commander Prophecy was more difficult than working with a singular creative vision from Chris Roberts or Richard Garriott.) Here's the text:
This article is by Mat
Back in 1994, an action-packed space-sim was released that featured four CD's worth of Full-Motion Video sequences, Hollywood actors such as Mark Hamill and Tom Wilson, and an orchestral score worthy of a feature film: Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger. George Oldziey composed the music for that game as well as its sequels, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom and Wing Commander: Prophecy. He also composed music for Ultima Online and has worked as a Lead Orchestrator & Arranger for Robert Rodriguez's music on Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and Once Upon a Time in Mexico.
In this interview, Oldziey describes the experience of working in different established game franchises, collaborating with Robert Rodriguez, and the difference of composing music for FMV sequences and gameplay. You can visit his website to listen to samples of his latest work, read his biography, and learn about all the different games and films he has composed music for in the past.
E-BOREDOM: Does music in movies serve a different purpose than music in games?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: I think it serves the same purpose but in different ways. I've always felt that the main function of music in movies and games is to provide an emotional element that helps tell the story. It shouldn't necessarily be emotional, but in combination with all the other elements it should help provide something intangible that visuals, dialogue and sound can not do by themselves.
I know that sounds a little cryptic, but whenever I compose for film or games, I always go by how I feel when listening to the music with all the other elements combined. It's usually not an intellectual process, it's an emotional one.
E-BOREDOM: The first instrument you learned to play was accordion, but later decided to switch over to trumpet. Why the switch?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: I didn't really appreciate the sound of the accordion when I was 7 years old. I was very good at it, but not that inspired by it. I took to the sound of the trumpet as soon as I blew into one for the first time (I was about 9). Having studied the accordion did help me in the fact that I already knew how to read rather complicated musical figures when I first took up trumpet. It also gave me rudimentary keyboard skills which was the foundation for my taking up piano later in life.
E-BOREDOM: Did studying the improvisational aspects of jazz help you with learning music composition?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: I firmly believe that the part of your brain that one uses for musical improvisation is the same for musical composition. In many ways it's the same process. I tell my students that the composer has the advantage over the improviser in the fact that you can edit your ideas before you commit to them. But the creative process is very similar.
I'm not sure if studying jazz improvisation helped with classical composition per se, but it definitely helps to establish the mindset where you encourage the flow of new ideas. It also helps me to come up with ideas quickly, like when I'm under a strict deadline.
E-BOREDOM: Before starting work for Origin Systems, did you have any preconceived notions of what video game music sounded like?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: No, not really. As a matter of fact, I was completely computer illiterate until I got the job at Origin (not sure if I should be telling you that :) ). Thus, my "gaming" experience was pretty much limited to watching others play them. But to me, composing music for Origin (or any other games for that matter) had less to do with composing good game music as it was composing good music period, within the limitations of the technology.
Those limitations in a way were very inspiring, because a) they provided a framework in which to work, which is very helpful when trying to compose, and b) made it more challenging and thus much more fun.
E-BOREDOM: Before starting work on composing music for Wing Commander III, did you listen to any of the music from the previous Wing Commander games?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: The only music from prior WC games that I listened to was the few select themes that the producer, Chris Roberts, wanted me to quote or emulate in Wing Commander 3. You may remember that there is a reference to the old Wing theme in a fanfare before the opening credits music for WC3. Also, there was some music from the old games that was used for "running to your ship" that Chris wanted to emulate. Other than that, I was pretty much on my own. I'd have to say that the great Star Wars and Star Trek scores that were out at the time were inspirational for me and for Chris as well.
E-BOREDOM: Wing Commander IV is a much darker game than its predecessors... How did you work on the score to reflect this?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: Chris Roberts likes scores that are on the darker side in general. It was pretty obvious from studying early demos of the game and early cuts of the movies that this was going to be a dark story, so naturally the inspiration for the musical timbres came from that. Since I come from a Polish family I think I was born with one of those dark Polish musical souls to begin with.
Outside of the obvious choices of orchestrations which emphasize darker timbres, such as low strings, winds and various percussion effects, and the use of harmonies such as minor chords and dissonant clusters and such, it's difficult to put a finger on it, except to say that I was just trying to paint the musical picture that came into my head when reading the script or watching the film. BTW, this was my favorite Wing Commander game, at least in terms of how the music and all the other elements came together.
E-BOREDOM: Wing Commander: Prophecy featured a new nemesis, an organic alien race bent on destruction. Was it challenging composing music to represent this new alien race that wasn't present in the previous two games?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: The big difference compositionally between Prophecy and the others is in the use of assigning musical elements to characters, moods, or situations. WC 3 and 4, much like Star Wars, was very thematic. In other words, each main character, as well as certain locations and psychological conditions, had its own theme. In Prophecy, I instead assigned various harmonies and orchestrational combinations (choices of instruments) to reflect the same ideas. For instance, whenever you see the aliens in Prophecy, you would hear the same (or very similar) dissonant chord with certain instruments as opposed to a melody that you could immediately say, "Oh, that's what's his name's theme."
One reason for doing this was the new producer's wish to try to have Prophecy look and sound different that the others. At first I resisted, wanting more continuity and connection to the music from my previous work. But then I accepted it as another challenge which, in hindsight, turned out pretty well. There are moments however, like in the scene when Blair reflects on his life after being interrogated by the aliens, where I snuck in themes from the other games.
E-BOREDOM: What were the differences in working with Chris Roberts and the WC: Prophecy Team?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: I thoroughly enjoyed working with Chris Roberts on Wing 3 and 4. I was very fortunate that we seemed to be on the same musical page most of the time. Once I established a sound that he liked at the beginning of my work on Wing 3 there was very little in the form of musical rewrites. He would occasionally refer me to various musical examples from films to help convey his ideas to me. This was always helpful.
we would sometimes meet to discuss ideas. But for the most part, once we all got into the flow of things with those deadlines looming I was mostly on my own. I would be assigned a gameflow piece, or a film cue, and would only need to demo it for him before it was sent off to final. Occasionally there was some inevitable tweaking, but I almost never had to start over from scratch on any cue.
Prophecy, on the other hand, was very frustrating at first. I really felt that the producer so wanted to separate his work from Chris Roberts, and thus look for totally new ideas, that he got off track on what Wing Commander was all about. I really believe that Wing Commander fans almost expect a certain look, feel and sound that is unique to those games. The improvement comes from coming up with new ideas on what's already worked, and making the most of the new technology. For that reason my musical concept did not change much from Wing 3 to Wing 4, but the technology did, so I was able to use much more sophisticated instrumentation for Wing 4.
With WC Prophecy, the working relationship with the producer was so bad at first that any time I composed anything that even sounded remotely like earlier Wing Commanders they threw it out. Eventually we came to a better understanding. But I still feel that the score for that game, as well as the game in general, lacks a lot of the cohesiveness of the earlier games.
E-BOREDOM: What differences were there in composing music for FMV's and for gameplay sequences?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: It's similar to the difference to what they call "underscore" and "wild" in film music. Underscore is synchronized closely with the action and dialogue in a film, reacting to the action with timings down to the frame. Wild refers to music that has no specific reference to events in the film, but is basically a self contained piece of a specific duration and mood. In that regard, underscore in film and game music is pretty much the same thing.
The big difference comes in gameplay, where it is similar to "wild" music in film but needs allowances for the interactivity of a particular game. In other words, a mission piece from Wing 3 or 4 would be of a set duration and mood, but would need to flow into another piece, say like when you are under attack, that would interrupt the mission piece when you come under fire. Both pieces would have to be similar enough to flow together, but have a definite difference in mood and intensity. I found this aspect of composing for those games very interesting, challenging, and lots of fun to figure out.
E-BOREDOM: How was it to work with Richard Garriot when composing music for Ultima: Online and Ultima IX: Ascension?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: I loved working with Richard. He is very musically intuitive as well as very clear about what he wants from the music in his games. The most interesting and fulfilling aspect of composing for a game like Ultima Ascension was Richard's use of "virtues." Ultima Ascension had several different opposing virtues that were to be portrayed by various characters and locations (courage/cowardice, love/hate, etc.) and each one needed a musical idea. Each musical idea not only needed to have enough musical integrity to stand on their own, but also needed to be blended in various combinations with the others depending on what was happening in the game.
I remember that there was a climactic battle piece where all the virtues came together, so I had as many as 6 themes going on at the same time! The average person could probably make out 1 or 2 at a time so it was quite a challenge to make that work without sounding jumbled. There are musical "tricks" to accomplish that that I would describe in a musical theory class, but I'll spare you right now :)
E-BOREDOM: The WC games have a very epic sci-fi feel to their score while the Ultima games you worked on have more of a fantasy feel with a Celtic influence. What is the difference in working on a fantasy score as opposed to a science-fiction score?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: You already did a pretty good job of describing it yourself! Generally speaking, epic sci-fi calls for grand orchestral colors for the most part, with variations depending on the action, dialogue, etc. That's not to say that you wouldn't throw in non-traditional instruments into the mix, which I actually think is great. The big variation comes from how you orchestrate the cues, choice of harmonies, use of themes (or not). An orchestra gives you an infinite set of possibilities with which to work.
Fantasy games/films can still call for orchestra (and very often do) but I think you are very observant when you noticed the Celtic feel of a game like Ultima. I think the use of those sounds gives the score an earthier, more organic quality, and thus more of a primal connection. A lot of the making of these kinds of decisions for a score comes from researching what's been done before in similar circumstances and then coming up with your own ideas.
E-BOREDOM: What were some of the challenges involved when working on the score for Spongebob Squarepants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: That was the most fun I've ever had in the music business. It helps to have had a 10 year old son who was really into it at the time (he's 13 now and more into Lord of the Rings). Talk about reliving your childhood. I felt like anything was at my disposal, and didn't throw away any idea, no matter how wacky I thought it was. I kind of took the cue of the old Warner Bros. cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Road Runner in terms of how they shift styles so suddenly and in completely opposite directions. That was the way I approached the feel for the game as a whole.
The producers gave me good directions in terms of cartoon and film music they saw as working in various situations, and I used that as a reference, then just had fun with it. Most of the stuff I write I don't listen to much after it's done, but I just don't get tired of hearing those Spongebob tunes. Maybe I've lost my mind a little from that one!
E-BOREDOM: How did you meet Robert Rodriguez, director of the Spy Kids and El Mariachi movies?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: I think Robert's philosophy, or at least his experience on many of his projects, is that many times he'd rather not spend time and effort explaining what he wants to a composer, editor, or whoever if he can do it himself. Plus, he likes to be where the action is at any given time during the production and post-production of his films. In order to be able to assume so many roles in his film productions, Robert surrounds himself with good people whom he can trust to help realize his vision.
Composing his own music stems from this. I think he'd rather try to get the tunes that are in his head down and produced than to depend on another composer to create something brand new. I met Robert through a sound engineer friend whom I knew at Origin Systems who later went on to work for Chris Roberts at Digital Anvil, the company that Chris started when he left Origin in '96. Robert had been using some visual effects guys on the first Spy Kids film that also worked for Chris. If I remember the story correctly, Robert was visiting Digital Anvil one day to meet with the fx guys, and afterward wandered into the audio dept. just to look around. I think at the time he was already thinking about scoring his own music because he asked my buddy if he knew anyone in town (Austin) who could do orchestration. My friend mentioned me and gave Robert a copy of my demo CD. The rest is history. Needless to say, I bought my friend and his date a very expensive dinner after Spy Kids 2 was finished.
E-BOREDOM: How does your collaboration with Robert Rodriguez work?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: It's a lot of fun working with Robert. He's very talented and intuitive in many areas, including music. Robert began composing music (officially) for his films with Spy Kids 2. Since Robert is not a formally trained musician, my job is to take the musical sketches he makes and see them through to the scoring stage.
The first step is to create what are called MIDI mockups for a cue. That's when one creates a synthesizer/sampler based arrangement of what the final orchestral version will sound like. For that we use Digital Performer and sample libraries loaded into a software based sampler called Gigastudio. With many cues I get to contribute a lot of my own musical ideas, and there are others that Robert fleshes out mostly on his own. A lot of that depends on the deadlines because Robert usually has other things going on while the music is being composed (he IS the director after all).
When the cue is sounding the way Robert wants then it's my job to make sure it gets orchestrated accurately and thoroughly. I try to do that myself, but if we are facing tough deadlines I'll hire other orchestrators and check their work before it all goes off to the copyist/music prep people. This gets done for each cue in the film. Next, I work with the music contractor who hires the right combination of musicians to cover all the parts in the scores. Finally, when we arrive at the scoring stage, I serve as booth captain, which means I check the scores while the orchestra is recording to make sure the cues are getting performed properly. My job is pretty much done when we wrap up the last scoring session. Then I sit back and enjoy listening to the mix.
E-BOREDOM: Any differences between composing music for films and for games?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: They are actually two very similar processes. I've already mentioned the difference regarding the interactive aspect of some game music. At least from the projects I've done, the main difference has been deadlines. With games, many times the ship date of the game gets delayed because some part of the game isn't up to spec. Since game music is often being composed during the middle of the development cycle, this means that a composer's milestones will also be moved later.
This does not happen in film. Many times, film release dates are set in stone before the shooting starts. So, if the shooting schedule slips that means there is less time to compose and produce the music since the release date stays the same. The other main difference is budget (again, at least with the projects with which I've worked). With the exception of Ultima Ascension, I rarely get to work with more than a handful of musicians on most game projects. Sometimes it's just me, like with the WC music, which was all electronic.
I've worked with Robert Rodriguez on four films now, and each time (except for Spy Kids 3 which was mostly sample based) we've enjoyed working with a full orchestra whose rosters included some of the finest musicians in the world while recording in spaces like 20th Century Fox or Skywalker Sound. Makes me drool thinking of ever having that opportunity with the Wing Commander music!
E-BOREDOM: What current projects are you working on?
GEORGE OLDZIEY: I'm currently working on a documentary by a director named Andy Cockrum entitled Team Everest '03. It's about a group of peopled with disabilities that climb to base camp at Mount Everest. It's very inspiring.
I've also recently completed working on another documentary called In the Shadow of the Blade, which chronicles the reunions and subsequent stories inspired when Viet Nam War veterans visit the landing sites of a Huey helicopter, which flew to dozens of cities around the US a few years ago. That one will be featured on the Discover Channel some time this Fall. You can check out some music from both these films (and all my other projects) at my website. I am slated to work with Robert on Sin City. I believe that the release date is some time in January '05, so that means we will be very busy with the music this Fall. I'm looking forward to it.
Today, we'll take another step back in time to revisit the history of George Oldziey's scores with a January 1999 article from an issue of Film Score Monthly. This 'Wing Commander diary' article was written by Mr. Oldziey about his experiences scoring Wing Commander III shortly after Wing Commander Prophecy was released (and just as everyone was excited for the upcoming Wing Commander film!) Unlike most of the sources for retro articles we feature, Film Score Monthly is a going concern today.
The Fake George Oldzieys
Continuing our focus on the Wing Commander Orchestral Recording Project Volume 2 Kickstarter, we're going to take another look at George Oldziey. But we've already told you a lot about the talented composer... so what about George Oldziey in the Wing Commander universe? That's right, like many other developers, Mr. Oldziey is tuckerized at least twice in the Wing Commander canon. His first appearance (pictured) comes as 'Blade' from Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, one of the game's host of redshirt wingmen. Blade is a Border Worlds pilot you can fly with once you defect, and you can find his name when selecting options for a mission. Origin's Official Guide to Wing Commander IV adds a short bio about Blade:
Blade has been flying with the Border Worlds for a relatively short time. Before he became a combat pilot, he was a skimmer pilot for reconnaissance groups. He gets the job done, but is more used to seeing combat only at a distance. He’s not used to worrying about comrades, or hearing them die. The idea of potential “friendly fire” situations somewhat unnerves him, and sometimes he gets confused in combat.
One more odd piece of trivia: in the Playstation port of Wing Commander IV, the name George Oldziey is changed to "Lon Meineke" (as are many of the other redshirts.)
But I know what you're saying: Oldziey isn't a person, he's a place! On Wing Commander Prophecy, team members (and well-wishers) were given their own star systems on the included Wing Commander Universe Map. George's star is located in the Ladyman Quadrant of the Hawking Sector (far left of the map, spinward.)
Vintage George Oldziey Interview
Continuing our covarage of the Wing Commander Orchestral Recording Project Volume 2 Kickstarter, we thought it would be fun to present a retro interview on the subject. The following article and Q&A appeared in Origin's Official Guide to Wing Commander III. It discusses how music works in the game and then talks to composer George Oldziey about his story! Scans of the original pages are included below, which include images of some of the music generated by Cakewalk and a vintage photo of a younger George Oldziey!
In Wing Commander III, interactive music is the background music that plays while you are actually flying the game. As the mood changes, the music seamlessly changes along with it. There are close to fifty different musical "themes," ranging in length from just a few seconds to a couple of minutes. Each one relates to a particular type of situation that the player may encounter during combat.
The programmers incorporated a code into the program that signals whether a situation is good or bad. The program also keeps track of how many hits you’ve taken, what weapons you have, how many enemies are in the area, where they are in relation to you, etc. When the situation changes, the code detects the difference and signals a switch. The music continues to the end of the measure, then adjusts to match the current scenario.
In music, a "measure" is a unit of music that is only one or two seconds long. The system waits until the end of the measure before it switches to a new music theme. The music is designed in such a way that if the feel of the two types of music is similar—such as "I’m not doing too well in combat" and "I’m hit and the enemy is on my tail"—there is no discernible break between the different musical messages. The end of one measure flows naturally into the beginning of the next measure. When the game situation changes suddenly and drastically, though, a one-measure bridge is inserted between the two different sounds. This might happen if you had been hit several times and had an enemy gunning after you, but then fired the shot that took out a Kilrathi capital ship.
George Oldziey was the composer for Wing III.
GEORGE OLDZIEY, COMPOSER
Q: Did you know how big the project was when you started?
GO: My first day at work, I came in and was shown to my office ... and then every half hour someone would come down and ask if I had anything.
Eventually I was told what the project was. To tell the truth, I had never really played a computer game before so I didn’t know what Wing Commander or the scope of this project was. I was composing merrily along for weeks, and little by little I was being told "You’re working on Wing Commander III? Boy, that’s really great!" It really wasn’t until all the media attention that I realized that I was working on a groundbreaking project. That made it more exciting, but it’s not really changing my approach to it.
The first time I met Chris Roberts, he told me what he wanted— orchestral music; it had to be something grand. My bachelor’s degree is in trumpet and I’ve done a lot of per forming in orchestras in New York City, so I was pretty clear about how to get that kind of sound. I’ve also played keyboard and I’ve composed in lots of styles. The only fear that I have—and I love what I do here—is that I might get pigeonholed as someone who can only do an orchestral kind of music.
Q: What tools do you use to compose for the game?
GO: I have a very simple setup in my office. I have a PC with a sequencing setup in my office. I have a PC with a sequencing program called Cakewalk, a MIDI keyboard controller— Kurzweil K 2000, which is a sampler— where I house all the orchestral sounds, and a VHS and a TV monitor that can display time code, which I use to synch the music to the video.
Q: What is General MIDI sound?
GO: General MIDI, basically, is several different companies’ attempts to standardize MIDI instrumentation. If you’re composing for our game (and we do support several General MIDI cards), "patch" or "sound #1" or "zero" is always going to be the same sound. In other words, zero and one are two different kinds of piano, etc. It’s freeing in that you know that the music is going to sound similar on different cards.