Ad Ben: Sound Runner

Multimedia! The year was 1992 and the buzzword was inescapable. The meteoric rise in home microcomputer power (alongside the massive success of multimedia games like Wing Commander) created an audience hungry for high resolution graphics, ultra-complex game controllers... and though we take it for granted today, realistic sound, music and speech.


As a result, countless hardware manufacturers took to the market to face off, each hoping that their particular product would be crowned industry standard. The results of this battle are felt today: graphics and video standards decided in the marketing realm of the early 1990s remain the de facto standards today, with the ultimate victory in the sound arena going to Creative Labs' Sound Blaster. We remember the victors, but we quickly forget the countless also-rans who once fought for their piece of the multimedia pie.


In modern game development, hardware partnerships are a high-value necessity. Companies like Microsoft, Sony, Intel and others frequently invest millions of dollars supporting game projects that will buoy their platforms. What's the best way to make sure your processor, VR headset or console 'The One'? Make sure it's the one that best or exclusively plays the games the audience wants.


In the early 1990s, the stakes were a little smaller: million dollar budgets were unimaginable, and hardware and software companies instead typically settled for either a quid pro quo 'you advertise us and we'll advertise you' deal or an arrangement to purchase discount copies of older games for bundled releases. In this irregular series, we will examine advertising from a range of hardware partners that featured WING COMMANDER in some way. Some of these, like Intel's Pentium, will be familiar... others will be long forgotten evolutionary dead ends.


To wit: today's advertisements come to us courtesy of Computer Gaming World, via the fantastic Computer Gaming World Museum. The first (blue) advertisement appeared in the February and March issues, while the later yellow version ran from April through August. The SOUND RUNNER from PC Turbo Corp was an 8-bit Ad Lib compatible sound card. (The later ad is a modification of the original's template with color changes; swapping between them will keep the Wing Commander II box in exactly the same place!)


While the ad copy makes it sound like the second coming, the reality is that it's a budget copy of the then-popular Ad Lib sound card. Creating an Ad Lib compatible sound card in 1992 was cheap and easy as such things went, and they were attractive for budget-conscious PC owners. The $89 price tag was the real selling point, compared to $200 for a brand name Ad Lib or $300+ for a Sound Blaster (or much more for a Roland card.) The Sound Runner is by no means alone in this attack of the clones: the July CGW alone includes similar advertisements for the similarly-forgotten "Sound Master II," "Thunder Board," "Sound Galaxy NX," "Sound Commander fx" and "Sound Galaxy." (At least one of which we will revisit!)


Ironically, the Wing Commander game presented here is the one that drove the stake through the heart of all the Ad Lib compatibles. Vengeance of the Kilrathi's support for full speech via the Sound Blaster's digital audio (PCM) helped define Creative Labs' product line as the winner in the sound wars... while simultaneously driving the Ad Lib to an early grave. Very little information on the SOUND RUNNER survives today; Google finds only these advertisements, and a deep dive through Usenet archives suggests that no one was even talking about it in 1992.


Did you own a SOUND RUNNER? Did you use it to play Wing Commander II or Ultima VI? If so, we'd love to hear from you!

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


Homeworld Mod Adds WC1/2 Ships
2017-10-23 -- L.I.F.

Waterloo Prepares For Battle
2017-10-22 -- Klavs has taken a well earned break from designing real space ships to further expand his Wing Commander fleet. Today's addition is the powerful Waterloo cruiser. We don't get to admire this ship as much as we'd like in WC2, so it's nice to see how fans have taken a liking to it.

WC3 Memory Glitch Got A Clever Cover Up
2017-10-21 -- There’s a well known anecdote from the development of WC1 that talks about how an error message when quitting the game was changed to “Thank you for playing Wing Commander.” That story now has a sequel thanks to a tweet by WC3 programmer Robin Todd! In this case, there was a random crash that was changed to resemble a CD-ROM error.

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.

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