What is Wing Commander?
The original trilogy of Wing Commander games tells the story of a generation-spanning galactic war against the cat-like Kilrathi. Ensuing games follow the same characters through other conflicts, ultimately ending shortly after introducing a mysterious new alien threat. A host of spinoff games were also developed, including the multiplayer Armada and the cult-classic Privateer. To fans, the universe is rounded out by a collection of "mass media" tie-ins, including novels, an animated series and a major motion picture. More importantly, Wing Commander was the vanguard of PC gaming for nearly a decade -- setting new standards for both excellence and system requirements with each progressive release.
The original game redefined immersion by combining cinematic storytelling with action-packed gameplay. Though commonplace today, in 1990 these things were a shock to an industry still dominated by text cursors and garage development. Wing Commander's massive success helped move PC gaming from hobbyists into the mainstream. The sequel, Vengeance of the Kilrathi, set out to provide a true 'interactive movie' experience by offering a storyline replete with action, loss, betrayal and love. Creative Labs continues to credit Wing Commander II 's full-speech introduction for making its SoundBlaster card the standard in PC audio.
Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger took the movie concept even more literally, and pioneered what became an era of 'Full Motion Video' game production. The game's film shoot included Star Wars' Mark Hamill as Colonel Christopher Blair and Malcolm McDowell as Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn. The game was literally interactive: cutscenes changed depending on mid-scene choices and how the game was played. Gamers around the world were enthralled, pushing the game past all previous sales records. Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom made another quantum leap in this regard, boasting a $14 million movie production budget. At the time the most expensive game in history, WC4 continues to represent the high water mark of the now largely ignored 'FMV era' of gaming. The game's high production values make it virtually indistinguishable from a big budget Hollywood movie.
The fifth main game in the series, Prophecy, returned to the series' roots: shorter movie scenes combined with jaw-dropping action. Prophecy was one of the first games designed to make use of special 3D accelerator cards, allowing it spaceflight graphics that finally approached its pre-rendered FMV in quality. Prophecy's sequel, Secret Ops, was the first episodic game released on the internet. Electronic Arts continued the game's story with a free set of missions and narrative each week for two months.
In 1999, Wing Commander made it to the big screen. The Wing Commander movie, now available on DVD, differs from many 'game to movie' scenarios -- it was directed by series creator Chris Roberts, who oversaw every game up until Prophecy. Set just before the original game, the film tells the story of Christopher Blair's first combat missions. Other Wing Commander developments include Armada, a modem and network-based multiplayer game released in 1994, well before the success of internet gaming, Academy, a mission builder, and the Privateer series. Privateer and its sequel, The Darkening, use the same setting and gameplay as Wing Commander while adding a 'freeform' element. Instead of a military officer, the character is a mercenary who can make his own decisions as to which missions to select and how to arm his ships.
2007 saw the release of Wing Commander Arena, an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive which brought 16-player online multiplayer to the series. Players can jump in to a number of classic and modernised ships and engage in free-for-all dogfighting, team battles, and duelling across eight unique locations. It was developed by Gaia Industries and published by EA through the Xbox marketplace.
There have also been Wing Commander releases for handheld systems. In 2003 Electronic Arts published Wing Commander Prophecy for the GameBoy Advance. True to tradition, Prophecy pushed the GBA to the edge of its abilities by offering a working 3D engine on a tiny data cartridge. Ports of Wing Commander and its addon, The Secret Missions, were released as part of 'EA Replay' for the PSP -- bringing the classics back to a modern audience.
Wing Commander can be found in other mediums, too. Two series of novels: one from Baen and one from HarperCollins, tell stories which connect to the games and the movie. A thirteen episode animated series based on the events of the original game ran on the USA Network in 1996. The show continues to impress longtime fans with its detail to the continuity of the games. Even a Wing Commander card game was published, following the success of WC3!
What will the future bring? We'll be here and ready to announce any new developments!