Like most people, I can't walk down the street without someone stopping me and demanding to know: is System Shock set in the Wing Commander universe? Buddy, I tell them, no it isn't. But there's a lot of fun backstory getting there...
(System) Shocking but true: the game DID begin development as a game set in the Wing Commander universe! Here's a pitch by Warren Spector for 'Alien Commander' that might seem pretty familiar (and in other ways... pretty... alien).
That's right, System Shock could've taken place in the wreckage of the Tiger's Claw! This was a popular idea at Origin at the time. When the Baen package was first announced the third book was also scheduled to be about the end of the 'Claw! With an outline by Jerry Pournelle.
It was even the focus of the Wing Commander II team's shirt... which artist Paul Steed famously decided was so ugly that he volunteered to design the following shirts starting with an awesome school seal he drew for Academy.
Here are some very early brainstorming pages from Warren Spector's archive (available to researchers at the University of Texas!). You've all been in this meeting. You can see they'd already moved past 'Alien Commander' and are getting closer to what System Shock became...
So it's not about the Tiger's Claw... but is it still in the Wing Commander universe? No, but there's a Wing Commander game in System Shock and a System Shock game in Wing Commander! And some other even more confusing stuff. Let's take a look at some lore...
You probably know that the CD version of System Shock adds an amazing minigame: "Wing 0", a hilarious parody of WC that even uses voice clips from WC2 for the wingmen. It was designed by Sean Barrett and has all the hallmarks of WC: briefings, traitors, pirates, aliens, etc.
You can find it in Cyberspace on the Reactor level. It has 13 missions, 4 bitmapped ships and 12 wingmen (one of whom is a literal clown). Mission layouts and a saved game are available here:
Meanwhile, Wing Commander III's manual includes a review of a holovid (movie) called Hail SHODAN which it says is based on a game! So people are playing some future System Shock redux in 2669, too. (Is the hacker named James Finn anywhere else? SS fans help me out here.)
The 3DO version of the manual even adds a screenshot from System Shock! It's one of the batch created for marketing the game. (And for some reason it's blue in the EA digital catalog. What's that about?)
So it's a game in both worlds (and popular enough to be a movie). Cute! But now to add to the confusion according to the Topline newsletter that came with Crusader, SHODAN is real and under construction in that world!
... and then Wing Commander Secret Ops has several nods to Crusader by mentioning the WEC (Crusader's evil government) as part of the WC universe's distant pasts. Which would then seemingly imply that SHODAN (and System Shock) must have also existed!
But Secret Ops designer John Guentzel pointed out at the time that it doesn't quite work: Crusader and System Shock's worlds both have teleporters and Wing Commander does not. So it's just a nod and not to indicate that the other Origin games happened in the same timeline.
(Of course, you know who wrote extensively about the impact of teleporters on their future setting... Larry Niven! And we all know Wing Commander would NEVER steal from Larry Niven...)
Teleporters aside, someone unspeakably handsome got to dot the last i in Wing Commander Arena, though, by introducing NO MERCY, a movie based on Crusader in Wing Commander. And huh, it's based on a true story...
Of course, fictional movies based on Crusader aren't unique to Wing Commander... both of the Crusader newsletters reference ones that already exist in Crusader!
But yes, no teleporters in Wing Commander so System Shock can't be part of its history. Whew, this is a long post, let me just grab a soda...
That's it for me, folks! The System Shock remake is out today from NightdiveStudio and everyone says it's GREAT! Will it have something along the lines of Wing 0? I hope to find out soon! Until them, keep Wing Commandering, Crusadering and System Shocking.
(The teleporting soda is from the first episode of Wing Commander Academy, Red and Blue. It made nerds VERY angry at the time.)