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:

5200 ULTIMA VII, PT2-INTERTAN 800
5201 STRIKE COMMANDER-INTERTAN 720
5231 STRIKE COMMANDER 3.5-TANDY 10,008
5234 PRIVATEER, IBM3.5 TANDY 800
5240 WC ACADEMY (INTERTAN) 600
5246 Shadowcaster Tandy 10,684

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!


Wing Commander CIC - Visit the front page

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


Academy Concept Art Shows Off WC3 Roots
2017-10-20 -- Renowned comic and storyboard artist Tim Eldred has posted a couple of neat pictures to his Instagram. They feature concept sketch work that he did for Wing Commander Academy before the show was made. These were done early in his professional life and ended up influencing the rest of his career.

Delve Deeper Into FM Towns Wing Commander
2017-10-19 -- The amazing Pix of Pix's Origin Adventures is back with a second look at Wing Commander for the Japanese FM Towns system. If you missed his first look, it's worth a read so you can get a better understanding of the hardware and software package that goes into this. Now that he's played the game a bit, he's summarized some of the pros and cons inherent in this fairly advanced port.

Origin Heroes Profiled In New Sketches
2017-10-18 -- Denis Loubet has drawn a new pair of images based on some of his early work at Origin. They depict the twin stars of Ultima and Wing Commander reflecting on the struggles they face. Wingnuts at the CIC Forums helped provide reference material and recommendations on Bluehair's look.

High Quality Orca Pods Make A Splash
2017-10-17 -- The Secret Ops Model Upgrade Pack has another fearsome addition. DefianceIndustries has successfully implemented Dark Sentinel's Orca destroyer. It looks great in the Vision Engine with a blend of distinctive details and elements that shimmer into the starry blackness.

WC Solar Empire Game Now Available To Try
2017-10-16 -- The first playable test release of the Wing Commander Mod for Sins of a Solar Empire has been released! Nomada_Firefox cautions that there are likely to be issues that players encounter, but feedback at this stage is quite valuable and it looks like a pretty cool fleet battle game. Obviously the SoaSE base game is required, and fans can download the files after registering here.

Wing Commander Available Via Movies Anywhere
2017-10-15 -- Five of the biggest movie studios have surprisingly banded together to fix an annoying aspect of the digital age. As we accumulate movies across different platforms, our library gets scattered and we have to utilize a wide variety of services to see what we own. But now, movies that that were produced by 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Universal, Disney and Sony Pictures and are owned within iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu or Google Play can now be interlinked under an umbrella called Movies Anywhere.

Homeworld Mod Adds Confed Light Cruiser
2017-10-14 -- The Homeworld Remastered mod has been looking at how to fill a gap in the Confed fleet lineup, and L.I.F.

Games Within Games
2017-10-13 -- Mainstream gaming news site Kotaku has an article that promises a hidden, text-based adventure game hidden inside Wing Commander: Privateer. And it's true! The original Privateer shipped with a small file called TABTNE.

Scim Milk
2017-10-12 -- Here's one that goes back a bit: DefianceIndustries, master of the Vision Engine visual Upgrade Pack, happened across a Wing Commander-inspired ship design he'd worked on some years ago: a 'movie' version of the CF-105 Scimitar! It's a pretty neat concept, mixing the classic Scimitar with the look of the movie's Rapier. Scimitars were mentioned as precursors to the movie's Rapiers in the Confederation Handbook's Joan's Fighting Ships section...

Not News: Space Battleship Yamato
2017-10-11 -- Okay, we're going to level with you on this one: our site's CMS has a section called 'skeleton' where we put ideas for future Wing Commander updates. If we don't have time to write up an article or find screenshots, we'll leave notes for other CIC staff members. We update every day, so we work together to make sure there's something interesting.

Will it Blender?
2017-10-10 -- Here's a surprise treat for anyone interested in learning to make their own 3D spaceships: a two-part, 24-minute tutorial showing how to build a Union of Border Worlds Banshee using Blender! These excellent videos were created by a user named 백선모 and it's unclear where they were intended to be published.

Aren't You a Little Star Wars to Blow Up a Fralthra?
2017-10-09 -- In addition to being an extremely talented artist, Howard Day is a man who knows his explosions! Wing Commander II has two sets of 'ship killed' sprites, one for fighters and one for capital ships. As it turns out, both of them were taken straight from the Endor battle in the third Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi.

Grin and Behr It
2017-10-08 -- Well before Alexa and Siri, before even Merlin there was... Dani! One of the selling points of Privateer 2: The Darkening was that your ship's computer was voiced by British actress and presenter Dani Behr.

Ranks in Wing Commander IV
2017-10-07 -- Welcome to the third part of our practical Wing Commander ranks guide! The ranks in Wing Commander IV are most familiar to fans owing to the fact that the game's credits clearly identify many characters' full ranks and the DVD quality videos have allowed them to be carefully observed. But our review found some interesting notes - including a Navy rank not called out before and the fact that some of these are quite different from those seen in Wing Commander III!

Ranks in Wing Commander III
2017-10-06 -- After learning the rank system for the Wing Commander movie, we decided to take a look back at the full motion video games. We were surprised to find that what we thought we knew wasn't accurate: as it turns out, the ranks used in Wing Commander III are different from those seen in the later games! The ranks in WC3 are harder to track because of the lower quality video, but a careful review can determine them for every character.

Ranks in the Wing Commander Movie
2017-10-05 -- I was disappointed in myself recently when I realized I had never bothered to learn the rank insignias used in the Wing Commander movie. Just like the full motion video games, Chris Roberts' team developed an entire system of rank insignias that was never explained… just shown in action! AD was kind enough to grab some screenshots and as a result we have created this guide to identifying officers and enlisted men in the film.

Wing Commander Academy in Arabic
2017-10-04 -- Some time ago we reported that Wing Commander Academy had been translated and broadcast on TV in Arabic. Now streaming service Star Dima has the episodes available for viewing online! You can access the series here.

Back to the Shack
2017-10-03 -- RadioShackCatalogs is an excellent resource for nostalgia-craving tech fans! The site offers high quality scans of 66 years worth of Radio Shack catalog. We've done the hard work for you, though, and have located the one listing for a Wing Commander game: Wing Commander III in the 1996 catalog!

Happy Hour Museum: Wing Commander IV
2017-10-02 -- I was once again recently lucky enough to spend an hour in the Wing Commander universe at my day job! Last week's RSI Happy Hour Museum segment covered the development of Wing Commander IV. Enjoy!

Playboy on Wing Commander
2017-10-01 -- Playboy Magazine was in the news last week following the death of founder Hugh Hefner. In his honor, we've dug up scans from the magazine referencing Wing Commander. (Sorry, no naked ladies!

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