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:


Videogames: On Set with Mark Hamill
2017-06-23 -- 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...

Kickstarter Fails to Launch
2017-06-22 -- 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.

Pak it Up
2017-06-21 -- 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!

Custom Wing Commander Controller Stuns
2017-06-20 -- 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!

Kickstarter Progress Update
2017-06-19 -- 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.

Everything Looks Worse in Black and White
2017-06-18 -- 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.

RSI Museum Looks Back at Wing Commander III
2017-06-17 -- 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
2017-06-16 -- 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!

Wing Commander Prophecy... to the XTREME!
2017-06-15 -- 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.

Bankruptcy, Space and the Great Games
2017-06-14 -- 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.

Pillowrathi Inbound!
2017-06-13 -- 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.

Ad Ben: 3Dfx Technology
2017-06-12 -- 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.

Wing Commander Prophecy: Trumpets Beware!
2017-06-11 -- 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!

Re-Orchestrated Mission Music!
2017-06-10 -- 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.

Orchestral Recording Project - Why We Fight
2017-06-09 -- Hello everyone! 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.

Arrows Inbound
2017-06-08 -- 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.

Kickstarter Adds PDF Extra
2017-06-07 -- 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!

GOG Summer Sale Launches
2017-06-06 -- 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!

Kickstarter Adds Volume One
2017-06-05 -- 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.

George Oldziey Interview Restored
2017-06-04 -- The Wing Commander Orchestral Recording Project Volume 2 has crossed $9,000. If it's going to succeed, we're going to need a big push this next week... so please keep sharing the campaign!

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