Happy Birthday Wing Commander Arena!

Today we're celebrating the 10th anniversary of Wing Commander Arena's release! We're used to a steady stream of 25th birthdays ticking by as the classics from the early '90s each reach a quarter century, but this one's a little different. The baby of the family has reached double digits, and while it really just seems like yesterday that we were eagerly awaiting its release, a lot of time has passed! If you weren't following us back in 2007, then this recap will help provide a glimpse into what it was like back then, and if you've been with us all along, then read on for a trip down memory lane!


Our story begins in the mid '90s when the CIC Staff cut their teeth on exciting news updates about the pending releases of Wing Commander Kilrathi Saga, Privateer 2, Prophecy, Secret Ops, the Movie, several novels and more. Things changed quite a bit in the early 2000s with the consolidation and eventual closure of Origin, and the community reinvented itself by intensely focusing on two priorities: archiving material related to the creation of Wing Commander games and an explosion of creative fan projects. Things got a nice boost with the release of Prophecy for the Game Boy Advance in 2003, but there was an even bigger surge in excitement for the all-new Arena in 2007.

Nearly ten years had passed since Prophecy/Secret Ops, and it's not lost on us that another ten years have now gone by without another follow-up. The fact that a grand total of nineteen years have gone by with just one new WC game (!!) makes us appreciate it even more today. How and why did this thing come to exist? The stars aligned and we got lucky. There have been at least half a dozen credible attempts to 'bring back' Wing Commander since the fall of Origin, and Arena is the one that succeeded. It came at a vastly different time than the PC games of the 1990s. The franchise already had a long and beautiful history of console ports, but the preferred platforms and genres were evolving rapidly through the 2000s, and the XBox 360 made the most sense in 2006. That's where the growth in the market was at the time, and the nascent market for digital downloads was just about to take off. Of course, Secret Ops was one of the world's first digitally distributed games, but that game was at least half a dozen years ahead of its time. Electronic Arts commissioned several titles to test the waters, including Boom Boom Rocket which arrived first. EA chose producer Sean Penney to lead the product out of Vancouver BC, and Gaia Industries in New York was tapped to do the art and programming. We're eternally grateful for both the man in charge and the small team tasked with bringing his vision to life. They both demonstrated considerable passion for the Wing Commander brand and a strong desire to "get it right" with a shoestring budget and the technological constraints of the format. They crammed in a wide variety of single player modes, competitive multiplayer and even a cool cooperative capship battle within a 50 megabit limit. Just a few short years later, lesser DLC games would balloon to multiple gigabytes in size, so it's amazing how much they jammed into this tiny package. There were also half a dozen iconic fighters that each sported three variants, and they dug especially deep to pull the Rapier from Super Wing Commander. Further, ships like the Longbow bomber and Pelican transport made cameos in the background. Man, what a night the release was! We all went to bed on the night of July 24, 2007 with plans to wake up at midnight and play until morning. But since these were the early days of digital releases, the exact time of release wasn't as predictable. A flurry of messages went out when it was discovered that the game was available a few hours early, and Wingnuts from the around the globe scrambled to get online. These were the days before Xbox Live Parties made grouping up with friends easy, so everyone was organized via message boards and IRC chat to link up, form squadrons and blast away. It was a classic case of being easy to pick up, but difficult to master. Ace pilots started to climb the ranks. Fans dug around to understand how to unlock each of the 18 flyable craft. Groups of 16 banded together to unlock the cap ship battle achievement, and people played the ring game to show off their acrobatic skills. The top-down 2D perspective put off some people, but fans that gave it a try were rewarded with a surprisingly deep space combat sim for an ostensibly simple arcade shooter. Agile players could rock cool 3D evasive maneuvers, and careful energy management was required to keep all systems operating when you needed them. Each ship had different strengths and weaknesses and required different piloting styles to master. LOAF even placed 3rd in an official tournament with other professional gamers in order to win an XBox 360 that we were able to give out to a fan. And we haven't even touched on Star*Soldier yet! We were fortunate enough to help build a huge manual in the spirit of Tiger's Claw or Victory Streak with tons of supplemental fiction that filled in many of the loose ends left open after Secret Ops. This subject alone is worthy of dozens of posts, so check those out for all the details and download the actual manual here (still hosted on EA servers ten years later!). There were plans initially to include a single player component. Had the game been a bigger hit, the work done on the campaign would have been refined and released as an expansion or sequel. Sadly, that did not happen, but we were gifted with a considerable amount of Gaia concept art that shows off the unreleased Centurion and Gothri fighters, Kilrathi and Firekkan pilots and more. And while we never got more than the initial release, Arena is still available to purchase online and play on the XBox 360. Fortunately, Microsoft has demonstrated a greater commitment to its back catalog of games in recent years, and support is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Although it's a long shot, someday it's possible the game could even become compatible with the XBox One, which would give it some nice enhancements such as future compatibility with the One X, improved party support, built in screenshot and recording ability and more. So get some practice rounds in now - we'll see you in the cockpit!

Wing Commander Arena is a fast-paced space combat game where players can team up to attack other teams of ships. The game introduces the classic franchise to an arcade-style experience that allows up to 16 players online in battle at once. Players can propel their customized ship through space, fire torpedoes and unleash deadly gravity bombs as they try to climb the leader board. Online players will compete for Frag count, high score and dueling stats.

"We're really excited to deliver unparalleled multi-player arcade action," said Chip Lange, EA Vice President. "The design for Wing Commander will appeal to both long-time fans of the franchise and immediately engage anyone who wants the melee style action of an arcade shooter."

Wing Commander Arena will feature four styles of play: single player, multi-team, multi-player free for all and multi-player duel. Within the game there are eight game maps that include team maps, free for all maps and dueling maps, so Wing Commander Arena offers a gameplay experience for every Arcade gamer, whether they want a quick ten minutes of action or a longer more immersive game.

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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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