As promised earlier in the month, the first half of Wing Commander End Run is now available for owners of the July 2018 Monthly Baen Bundle! This first release includes the entirety of the novella Milk Run by Christopher Stasheff and the first three chapters of End Run by William Forstchen. You can start reading here. The full eBook is also now available for pre-order via Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Nobles' respective eBook stores; we'll update once it's added to Kobo. The full novel releases July 3, 2018.
These previews also included a text article that differs a little from the audio/visual preview.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .
. . . a guy named Chris Roberts, a game and movie fan, thought to combine his hobbies into a new sort of interactive entertainment experience. Fortunately, he worked for Origin at the time. The culmination of this wish was Wing Commander, which went on to become one of the most successful and highly-recognized PC game products in the history of the industry - and the first of a fruitful series for Origin.
Skip forward a few years, to the third game in the series. Incorporating digitized video of live actors (some of them QUITE well-known already in the film industry), computer-generated sets rendered on Silicon Graphics machines, and a state-of-the art space flight game engine, Wing Commander III set yet another benchmark for the gaming industry.
So what do you do for an encore?
In Roberts' own words, "Polish." You take the tools you've developed and spend more time exercising your craftsmanship than you were permitted while you were inventing the wheel. From a technological standpoint, this means honing the tools you've already built. On the gameplay side, Wing IV should play faster and cleaner than Wing III, with bigger explosions, more detailed texture-mapping, and cleaner background music, thanks to the game's use of digital streaming audio. On the cinematic side Origin's code-wizards have cooked up a new compression scheme which allows for more cinematic techniques, like moving camera and zooming, as well as reproducing more colors and detail, permitting players to better appreciate the actors' performances.
From a storytelling standpoint, the developers were able to invest more time and energy in creating an experience that really gives you the feel of watching a movie. The game uses real sets ("practical," as they say "in the biz") to give the actors a better frame of reference, thereby enhancing the realistic atmosphere. It was shot on film, giving it a much more "movie-like" look and feel (Wing III was shot on Betacam, which doesn't reproduce quite as nicely, but is an order of magnitude cheaper).
Wing IV's script is bigger and more complicated than Wing III's (500 and a bit pages to Wing III's 400), and involves a more mature and emotionally-involving storyline. This time around, you're forced to make some serious ethical choices, which will drastically affect the course of the game.
Once again, you play Col. Christopher Blair. The Terran-Kilrathi war is over, however, and you've settled down on a quiet backwater to live out the rest of your days as a humble farmer. It's not destined to be, though. None other than your old pal Maniac appears on your doorstep one day to inform you that you're being pressed back into active duty. It seems a coalition of Border Worlds, demanding rights the Confederation was not ready to grant, is threatening civil war. Ships on both sides have been attacked. Things are getting hairy. Trouble is, Blair's not certain who's in the right. And then, there's the possibility of a hidden third party being involved . . .
Mark Hamill reprises the role of Col. Christopher Blair. Also returning are Malcolm McDowell as Admiral Tolwyn, Jason Bernard as Captain Eisen, John Rhys-Davies as Paladin, and Tom Wilson as the irrepressible Maniac. Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom should be available around the time you are viewing this episode of IE.
Gotta protect those 'sports
During Wing Commander's heyday, companies like Thrustmaster and Saitek sold higher end programmable controllers that could be configured for a variety of different games. We've been doing some research on this vintage flight hardware, specifically trying to determine which joysticks, throttles and other equipment offered 'official' support for Wing Commander games in the 1990s. In the process, we've also started to recover some of the digital profiles that hardware manufacturers used to have available at their official websites. For today's update, we've recovered a selection of downloads that Saitek provided to add support for Wing Commander Prophecy for their original 1997-98 product lineup.
The Cyborg was Saitek's range of programmable game controllers which began with the Cyborg 3D Digital Pad gamepad and the Cyborg 3D Stick joystick. The updated Cyborg Stick 2000 also supports these configuration files.
The X36 was Saitek's HOTAS setup, comprised of the X36F stick and the X35T throttle (sold separately or together.) The X36F was fully programmable and Saitek offered a profile for Wing Commander Prophecy through their website.
The PCDash was a special keyboard billed as a "graphical command pad." The PCDash could be configured for different games by using printed 'Command Sheets' which would arrange different keystrokes and combinations in a manner specific to the chosen title. Command Sheets were available in a number of different ways: some shipped with the PCDash itself, others were included with games and still more were available for download through Saitek (players were also able to create and share their own.) Saitek's page offered both a simple 'text only' and a graphical version for Wing Commander Prophecy.
Note that these files are only compatible with the gameport versions of the listed products; Saitek did not include support for any Wing Commander games with their USB releases (which began in 1998.)
I think we can all relate
Don't worry, you found your way to the right place Mr. Bear...
With all the work for the WCToolbox, I have observed and learned quite a few things about the inner workings of Wing Commander. I thought I would do a series of post highlighting this information. I suspect some of this information will be old news to WC veterans; and some will have no practical application as they are just curiosities.
Letâs begin with starting the game itself: executing WC.EXE.
There are many posts online detailing the command line options and cheat codes available, but I donât think I have ever seen a post highlighting some of the following options:
- e|t|v selects the video mode: EGA | TGA | VGA; the appropriate files must be installed (you can have all *.EGA, *.TGA, and *.VGA files in the same GAMEDAT directory since they have unique names)â
- a#|p|r selects the audio mode: AdLib | PC Speaker | Roland (for AdLib look into your CFG file for the number)â
"WC e p" - starts the game in the EGA video mode and using the PC Speaker for audio
"WC v a904" - starts the game in the VGA video mode and using AdLib for audioâ
The following options are probably familiar to most and only activated if the Origin switch is specified:
- s# select specific series (e.g. s8)
- m# select specific mission (e.g. m0)
- as# select specific action sphere (e.g. as1)
- w# preview cinematic scenes (e.g. w3), scene numbers range from 1 to 22 (to 25 with SM1 installed). Mission specific scenes require that s# m# also be specified
- l launch single mission, no copy-protection question
- -k unlimited shieldsâ
"WC Origin s1 m1 as1 l" - launches series 1, mission 1 (S01M1) from sphere 1 (Nav 1)
"WC Origin s2 m0 w8" - views series 2, mission 0 (S02M0) from the barâ
Note: From the command line, series starts at 1 (S1) instead of 0, skipping the training simulator series.
These are the cinematic scenes which can be previewed from the command line:
- w0 cockpit death
- w1 takeoff
- w2 briefing
- w3 running sequence
- w4 cockpit canopy closing
- w5 landing, no ship
- w6 cockpit canopy opening, with full damage
- w7 intro
- w8 bar
- w9 [none]
- w10 debriefing, colonel angry
- w11 funeral, our hero
- w12 hangar deck, bronze star
- w13 barracks
- w14 cockpit canopy opening, no damage
- w15 office
- w16 closing animation, success
- w17 closing animation, failure
- w18 midgame.v00, both success and failure
- w19 midgame.v01, both success and failure
- w20 midgame.v02, both success and failure
- w21 midgame.v03, both success and failure
- w22 funeral, all wingmen
- w23 midgame.v04, failure only (if SM1 installed)
- w24 midgame.v05, both success and failure (if SM1 installed)
- w25 midgame.v06, success only (using SM2)â
In the mid nineties, Interactive Entertainment was taking the idea of gaming magazine cover CDs to the next level by having their 'articles' on disc in audio format that would play synchronized with a slideshow of game art. The end result was something more akin to a radio interview. Designed to run in Windows 3.1 and Win 95, the concept was certainly a novelty as most people's internet connections meant that they didn't immediately have access to these sorts of photos or even audio interviews with developers.
This preview of Privateer 2 - which features an interview with Erin Roberts - appeared on episode 19 of "Interactive Entertainment" and dates from when the game was not yet known under the Wing Commander label and was simply "The Darkening," although the interviewer notes clear similarities to the Privateer franchise. You can download the ISOs for these disks from archive.org.
A particularly interesting element of this preview is the pre-release art that features placeholder names for ships and possibly even a few hulls that don't appear in the game itself. These previews were also accompanied by a text article that covered more or less the same ground ans the audio/visual presentation but that still had some significant differences:
Can an interactive movie really be a game or vice versa? Player control seems incompatible with the kind of pacing and suspense that make the best films worth watching again and again. But many computer game companies stand firm on the idea that the industry must look to Hollywood for redemption. Perhaps the most successful of these determined companies is Origin Systems in Austin, Texas, who have, arguably, come up with the best Interactive Movie to date, Wing Commander III. But the self-proclaimed "world creators" are never content to rest on their past merits. The Darkening is currently in deep production, and it promises to provide a thoroughly unique play experience, as well as a level of film quality rarely seen outside of art-house theaters.
The mind behind The Darkening is Erin Roberts, brother of Chris "Wing" Roberts. Does this mean that Origin practices nepotism? Well, it's not quite as bad as it might look. Erin's worked for Origin for the past five years. He put his hand in on all the Wing Commanders as well as Strike Commander and Privateer before being given a chance to head up his own project.
The player takes the part of an amnesiac, the victim of too much time spent in a cryogenic capsule. When he is finally awakened, he has spent over ten years in sub-zero slumber, and has no idea who he is or how he arrived. On one level, the game is a story of self-discovery, as the player goes off in search of his true identity. But the game is considerably more flexible than you might guess. Rather than following the linear motif of the Wing series, The Darkening is more in the free-form exploration and trade mode of Privateer and the Elite series. While traveling around the universe, you may encounter people who can give you clues to your true identity, but you don't have to follow them if you don't want to. And if you do follow them to the answer, that doesn't mean the game is over.
You start the game with a very basic ship (kind of the galactic equivalent of a Yugo) and limited resources, but you can hire yourself out to accomplish missions for whoever you choose, and thus increase your funds. With more money, you can buy a better ship or upgrade the one you have, which gives you more resources for accomplishing more missions. And there's lots of opportunities for diplomacy and trade.
But, as mentioned before, this galactic game is also very film-intensive and stylish. Instead of imitating Hollywood at its most overbearing and obnoxious, The Darkening takes many of its cues from world cinema. It's funny how long it has taken for the international scope of the game industry to make its presence felt in the style of the games. The most prominent American in the cast is Christopher Walken. Now that's no small thing, but the rest of the cast includes John Hurt (Alien, Elephant Man), David McCallum (The Man From UNCLE), Brian Blessed (Flash Gordon, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), David Warner (Time Bandits, Wild Palms), Amanda Pays (Max Headroom, The Flash) and Jurgen Prochnow (Das Boot, Judge Dredd). Less well known to American audiences are French actress Mathilda Mae and Clive Owen, the British actor who plays the lead. The video sequences were recorded in England's Pinewood Studios, a venerable facility that has provided space for many top-notch films including Raiders of the Lost Ark.
While this is not entirely the first game of its type, it is the first time that digital video has been used so prominently in the genre. With so many different planets and cultures to visit, a lot of attention has been given to the issue of making each world feel really, well,...otherworldly, as well as different from each other. Each planet has a different terrain, a different architectural basis and a different musical style. And let's not forget, this is from the company that brought the Kilrathi to life. Expect each world to have it's own theology and morality system, as well. And you've got to negotiate with these people!
Erin Roberts and the design team have particularly kept new players in mind in creating the interface. The design is very instinctive and user-friendly, with the hope that The Darkening will be picked up by film fans eager to see the latest thing Christopher Walken & company are in, as well as die-hard Origin fans. Expect The Darkening to hit the shelves this February.
Iceman's such a prankster...