Chris Roberts, Director / Executive Producer
Q: How is Wing IV different from Wing III?
CR: With Wing IV I guess we tried to have better story and gameplay than Wing III. We haven't changed the technology that much. Sure, we made the 3-D engine better, put digital sound in, 16-bit Dolby stereo and have a new movie compression technique with 16-bit color. Still, it's all sort of incremental changes. With Wing III we made such a big technological leap that we had an entire system that we never really got to exploit because we had to get it in and get it out. Afterwards we said, "Hey, wouldn't it be really cool if we did this and that?" So with Wing IV we set out to use the tools better — tell a better story and create a better game.
On the production side, the production is far more ambitious and detailed. The story concept is richer. The script is improved. The interactivity between the story and the actual gameplay is far higher. There is more going on out in space. We've got a lot more options ... more strategy and tactics. The missions have more variety. The sum of it all should be a much more involving, engrossing game than Wing III.
Q: How about the Hollywood side? Are you doing anything differently there?
CR: To make a production film with a much higher standard, we had to go to real sets and shoot with 35mm film.
The thing with real sets is that it's easier for the actors to use. Usually on green screen, even if the scene is of a huge room, you just have two guys surrounded by green — it's not the same for them. A real set allows you to fill it with extras, give it some sort of depth, light it, give it a texture. You can move the camera around, which helps tell the story better, plus that allows the actors to have an environment which enables them to slip into their roles more easily. In general I think it helps tell the story far better. 35mm film gives you a better look than video does. In the future, as the platforms get higher resolution, we'll have a source we can go back to that will have a resolution to match it.
Q: Has it turned out the way you envisioned?
CR: Actually, it turned out better than I was hoping it would be. I think the story works very well with the game. We tried a lot stuff, and it all works very well. The quality of the movie playback is very high. I wasn't sure that was going to happen when we started out, because I wasn't sure how good the compression was going to be.
Q: Is there anything you would have done differently, if you knew then what you know now?
CR: Only a couple of things. More time would have been nice. That was really kind of out of our control. The other thing is, Wing IV is a very ambitious story, we had a very short time to do it, so we ended up running so fast that we didn't have time to sit back and say, "Maybe we don't want 37 sets. Maybe we need to rewrite the story so we only have 20 sets." It would have been easy to do. Generally I would prefer to have less sets that are bigger and more detailed.
Our in-flight comm stuff came out really well — I would have liked to have stretched that out and done more with that.
Q: What was the most interesting part for you?
CR: I like the spontaneity of directing live action. I appreciate the fact that you can come in and get a seat and shoot two or three scenes in one day and get it done. Doing the same thing in computer graphics takes a month or so. I had fun just shooting a lot of film. We had a camera, and real sets, and I could stop and do things that I couldn't in Wing III because the camera were locked down for the green screen. It was a learning process for me. Towards the end of Wing IV I felt more confident of how I was shooting and blocking stuff than I had been on Wing III. I wish I had more time on the pre-production side to get the look of Wing IV the way I wanted it. It was so short that I had to delegate a lot of responsibility. I would have rather been far more involved. Of course, the game side is always kind of fun. It's kind of cool when you see it all coming together.
Q: Were there any difficulties in spending half your time in California and half in Austin?
CR: It's more of the same trouble we encountered last time. Essentially you have two productions going on at the same time. A lot of time we'd have computer graphics artists doing work for the stuff we filmed and also for the computer stuff we do here. When we are shooting out in California the communication between the artists is very important. It wasn't as good as it should have been, but it was better than it was on Wing III. Still, it wasn't enough. It would be nice if everyone was in the same place so they could all see what was happening and everyone was up to date. The project was so big, things moved so fast, and there were so many people involved that no one knew what was going on with the rest of the project. Besides me, and I can only be in one place at a time.
Q: Where do you see the game industry going next?
CR: It depends. I think the game industry is going to go towards two types of games. On one hand, I think it's going to go towards a multi-player game; the ultimate evolution will probably be something where you go to the Internet. It'll be anything where you just get inside an environment, and you and a whole bunch of other real people fight against each other or work alongside each other. That is always going to be a lot better than computer interactive. It's a lot of fun. That's one of the major components for the future.
The other major component will be solo games which will evolve around stories; that's something that you won't be able to get with the group. Those will probably involve high production value. I view Wing Commander as the "story" kind of gamer. Those kind of games will have the look and feel of a major motion picture. They'll require a higher production budget than we currently use.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
CR: Right now we're working on Silverheart, a story/adventure kind of game. I'm also trying to get a Wing Commander movie/game put together so that we can film the movie and the game together.
Originally published in Origin's Official Guide to Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, 210-212.