Ten Years of Wing Commander IV

It was exactly one decade ago today that the interactive movie reached its high water mark: on February 12th, 1996 Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom was released.

Wing Commander IV will go down in history for its famous film shoot. With an estimated budget of $12 million, Wing Commander IV was at the time the most expensive video game ever made. Like its predecessor, Heart of the Tiger, Wing Commander 4 featured a cast of professional actors -- including Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell, Tom Wilson and John Rhys Davies. For the first time, though, the movies were shot on actual sets in Los Angeles using 35mm film. Series creator and director Chris Roberts' had finally brought to life the project he had dreamt of for years: a blockbuster Hollywood movie where you were the star.

The Austin-based Maverick Team deserves equal praise for Wing Commander IV's success. In terms of gameplay it was Heart of the Tiger writ large. Wing Commander III's visually stunning but technologically cumbersome flight engine was streamlined beyond all expectations: for the first time in the series' history a new Wing Commander didn't necessitate a major hardware upgrade. At the same time, the team introduced a host of new features that have now become standard in such games: dual wings, projectile and charging guns, in-flight interactive choices, a FMV map, infiltration and capture missions and more.

Equally important were the moments of quiet brilliance. Wing Commander 4's artists visited the USS Lexington museum and applied what they learned about the look and feel of real life naval aviation to the game. For the first time individual capital ships had their own specific artwork - the TCS Lexington was distinct from the Princeton, the BWS Intrepid from the Tango. The game introduced a working background to the Wing Commander universe, featuring missions set against a complex panorama of communications arrays, weapons factories, shipyards, spacelabs starbases, turret mines and the like. Ground missions featured a detailed surface, eschewing the lumpy yellow blobs of the previous game. These little touches made gameplay more immersive than ever before - and have continued to reward a fandom interested in Wing Commander continuity to this day.

Those who waited for Wing Commander IV will forever remember January, 1996 as the longest month of their lives. The game was originally scheduled for release December 8th, 1995... fans awoke that day to find the disappointing news at Origin's early website: Wing Commander IV was delayed until February. Then, it hit. Wing Commander IV inaugurated one of the greatest years of Wing Commander fandom. Bookended by the release of two major titles, WC4 and Privateer 2, 1996 was an amazing year that helped create the community we know today. The WC:CCG was in full swing, the Academy series was on television, Baen kept novels in print and in development. In the news reports of a theatrical movie began to trickle in -- at the message board fans debated Tolwyn's ideology while lusting over the new Bearcat and Lance fighters. It was truly the best of times.

Ten years later Wing Commander fans continue to fervently hope and honestly believe that there will be another 1996 and another Wing Commander IV.

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Update published on . View all news from that day.

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


Gemini Workhorse Gets Upgraded
2017-07-24 -- Here's a pretty sharp ship from DefianceIndustries' massive fleet. This is his impressive Talon model. He originally built the fighter several months back, so give him a poke and see if there's a finished version stashed away in some hidden asteroid base somewhere.

Top Shelf Library Contains Wing Commander Music
2017-07-23 -- On Friday, we shared the Royal Marine Bands playing the Wing Commander movie overture… and then we got to thinking: just how do you license music from Wing Commander, anyway? Investigation revealed that FOX Music handles licensing songs from composer David Arnold. The overture recieves two listings: one for the original soundtrack and one for a 2006 library of production music.

Lost WC3 Object Appears on Radar
2017-07-22 -- Here's another cool lost 'ground target' asset from Wing Commander III: a Kilrathi radar station! It's not clear why this didn't make it into the finished game, but it's possible it was hard to place a wide flat object... or there may have been issues animating the radar dish as intended.

Wing Commander in Concert
2017-07-21 -- Here's a crazy surprise: the United Kingdom's Massed Royal Marine Bands recently opened the annual Mountbatten Festival of Music at Royal Albert Hall with… David Arnold's Overture from the Wing Commander movie! The result is a brilliant live performance of the excellent overture, which is now available on popular music streaming services. Want a physical copy?

Arrow Kit for Sale!
2017-07-20 -- Alfred Wong's Arrow model is here! The promised plastic model kit that allows you to build your own 1/48 scale Terran Confederation Arrow fighter is now shipping. The unfinished kit costs $165 Canadian plus shipping and measures 9.

Countdown To Party Time!
2017-07-19 -- An important date is fast approaching, and as we're just about a month away, it's time to firm up details for the CIC's 19th Birthday Party! The milestone technically arrives on August 10, but this year we'll be observing the event on Saturday, August 19. Everything gets going at 7:00 pm EDT (4:00 pm PDT and 11:00 pm GMT) in #Wingnut on irc.

Destroyer Updated
2017-07-18 -- Murphy's law! Wing Commander Prophecy Model Upgrade Pack... and it's very handsome indeed!

Greetings, Starfighter
2017-07-17 -- Did you know that Lockheed Martin build a real starfighter to play Wing Commander? Well, kind of. Today we have an interesting oddity in Wing Commander history: the packaging for a Real3D Starfighter AGP graphics card.

Lost Tank Found
2017-07-16 -- What secret lurk in the heart of Wing Commander III's TRE files? Well, this Kilrathi missile tank, for one! The general design of this tank should be familiar to WC veterans… but you haven't seen it with a missile turret before!

Super Wing Commander Trailer Hints at Lost Ship
2017-07-15 -- Yesterday, we reported on footage of an early build of Wing Commander II digitized by the University of Texas. Today, we have a second treasure from a VHS provided by Origin producer Warren Spector: early footage of Super Wing Commander in action! The video clearly shows an early, unfinished build that has a more elaborate 'loading' screen for the VDUs (and is still using some Wing Commander I art as placeholders!

Early Wing Commander II Footage
2017-07-14 -- The University of Texas at Austin's Briscoe Center for American History has digitized several VHS tapes donated by famed Origin producer Warren Spector including a VERY interesting tape previewing Origin's 1991 lineup. The tape, likely created for a trade show or as a preview for distributors, walks through all of Origin's current releases. It includes a lengthy trailer of the already-released Wing Commander I, The Secret Missions and The Secret Missions 2: Crusade… and then a VERY exciting preview of Wing Commander II.

Cheat Sheet: WC4 Turrets
2017-07-13 -- This is a followup to our article on Wing Commander III capship turrets. Wing Commander IV did not include a printed manual with detailed ship specifications, so this is not so much a correction as it is an addition! These counts are most interesting where they differ from those in Wing Commander III; in several cases, the same ship model is used with a different turret setup.

Cheat Sheet: WC3 Turrets
2017-07-12 -- It's easy to find 'mistakes' in the ship stats published in Wing Commander manuals. The biggest reason for this is that physical manuals needed to be locked down for print before the final testing and balancing of the games would have been finished. Changes to ship stats to better balance gameplay are common, meaning that a booklet like Victory Streak gives a better look at how the team thought the game would work rather than how it actually does.

Fusion Visits Wing Commander IV
2017-07-11 -- Fusion was a short-lived magazine which ran for seven issues from 1995 to 1996. The publication billed itself as the "magazine of interactive entertainment," which is about as 1990s as a gaming magazine can make itself sound! The November 1995 issue included a wonderful set visit report from the Wing Commander IV film shoot.

Cerberus and Friends
2017-07-10 -- Set desktop backgrounds to stunning! DefianceIndustries has created an extremely cool 'Cerberus Fleet' image using only assets from his Wing Commander Prophecy Model Upgrade Pack.

More French Advertisements
2017-07-09 -- Here are three fascinating Wing Commander advertisements! The first is a 1992 ad produced by Electronic Arts for the European market, which does not have a US equivalent. In 1992, EA was particularly interested in establishing that they were now the sole distributor of Origin games (which had previously been put out by companies like Mindscape and Ubisoft on a case-by-case basis.

WC4 Remaster Reaches the Razor's Edge
2017-07-08 -- Pedro Is working on a pretty exciting project: a fan-made remaster of Wing Commander IV's gameplay! Today, he posted the first test images, showing one of the game's Razor pirate fighters… and you can certainly already see the possibilities! You can learn more about the project (including how you can help!

Arrow Scout
2017-07-07 -- For want of a bubble... Alfred Wong has updated on his upcoming Arrow model kit. The good news is that we're almost there; he's just waiting for the bubble canopies to arrive.

PCPLAY Reviews Wing Commander Prophecy
2017-07-06 -- TheOneZytel was kind enough to share a Wing Commander article from his country! This issue of the Croatian magazine PCPLAY reviews Wing Commander Prophecy positively (giving it a 90%.) And of course, the cover also has Lara Croft!

This is Rank
2017-07-05 -- Ever wonder how much thought goes into something as simple as the rank insignias characters wear? Today, you can examine the original 'pitch' for ranks in Wing Commander III made as the plan for the game's full motion video was being established. Many of these are familiar from the game itself, such as Captain Eisen's solid gold Captain's bar.

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