Aaron Allston passes

RIP - very sad to go at such a relatively young age.

This reminds me in some ways of when Tony Stockton died, or Paul Steed for that matter; behind the scenes heroes who did more for my childhood than I ever knew. I used to stay up at night as a kid reading Claw Marks, I still like to browse through it to this day and I'm not proud to say I didn't know much about Aaron Allston but he contributed to the lives of all Wingnuts with his work.
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Terrible news to report today: author Aaron Allston passed away yesterday at the age of 53. Aaron Allston was a traditional "pen and paper" game designer, one of many who made the transition to Origin Systems in the late 1980s and helped give the company its distinctive culture during the early years of the Wing Commander and Ultima franchises. Today, Aaron is best known for his incredibly successful (and critically acclaimed) Star Wars novels, but for hundreds of thousands of Wing Commander pilots, he was our first portal into a new universe. He had a monumental impact on shaping the Wing Commander universe and drawing players in to the first game in the series, and the world is poorer for having lost his talents.

Aaron's mark on the Wing Commander franchise was indelible: he was the man behind Claw Marks. The "Onboard Magazine of the TCS Tiger's Claw," Claw Marks was an astonishing piece of in-universe fiction included in the box of the original Wing Commander. The booklet didn't tell you how to play the game, it treated you like you were a 27th century fighter pilot catching up on the news between missions. The ship specifications, pilot-of-the-month bios and in-universe editorials became the standard for the franchise going forward. Chris Roberts has always sought for an immersive game experience, and the inclusion of Claw Marks meant that Wing Commander offered it before the player could even insert the first disk. Aaron went on to serve as designer and writer for The Secret Missions, Wing Commander's first mission disk. The Secret Missions took Wing Commander's existing structure and a collection of cutting-room-floor ship graphics and turned them into the epic story of the Tiger's Claw's trip behind enemy lines to battle a Kilrathi superweapon. The product was an unexpectedly massive success. Wing Commander players clamored for more action in their new favorite universe and in the process set the stage for first years of physical game "add on" disks and then DLC development that continues today.

While The Secret Missions was Aaron's last published involvement in Wing Commander, it was not his last time writing in the universe. In 1995, Chris Roberts brought him back into the fold to create the series bible for a Privateer television series. The television plans were bold to the point of insanity: Origin would simultaneously produce a pair of Privateer games, Privateer 2 and 3. The first season of the television series would begin after the release of Privateer 2 and run for a year. Game and show would have different protagonists, but the two would team up in occasional crossover episodes... and then after the conclusion of the show, would appear together in Privateer 3 to finish the series' year-long story arc together (if that wasn't enough, Aaron also pitched the idea of episodes that would tie in to the then-in-production Wing Commander IV.) Plans for the game and series fell through, and an entirely different Privateer 2 was developed instead. Aaron once remarked that he thought this for the best; his initial pitch had gone on to be "sexed up" by Hollywood (including the addition of a non-ironic planet of Amazon women.) You can read Aaron Allston's original Privateer the Series pitch here.

Aaron was also a major part of the Ultima series, taking writing duties on the first PC spinoff, Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire. Savage Empire took the Ultima VI engine to its fullest, delivering the Avatar and his companions to a world populated by dinosaurs and other prehistoric terrors. True to his roots, Aaron went on to develop his own Savage Empire pen-and-paper RPG, which he made available to friends and family in Austin. Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire is available today as a free download from GOG.

I was lucky enough to know Aaron. Our first interaction was in 1995; he was tickled to discover that an early iteration of our Wing Commander Encyclopedia featured an entry for "Captain Aaron Allston" (as he is credited in Claw Marks) along with a hand-scanned picture of the magazine editor cartoon. Over the years, he was always generous with his time in answering questions about his work on Wing Commander and the early days of Origin Systems. In the early 2000s, Aaron was a regular fixture at Dragon*Con. The CIC staff would always make a point of attending his Star Wars panels and then after presenting him with stacks of Claw Marks to sign. I can't say that he enjoyed the attention, but he was always thoroughly happy to stick around and sign everyone's booklets and share a few words about the old days. It is almost appropriate that he passed away on Thursday during a convention appearance: he was the rare combination of a genuine talent and someone who was always willing to go out of his way to interact with his fans.

If you knew Aaron Allston or if you were influenced by his work, please let us know in the comments.

Original update published on February 28, 2014
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I remember reading the Claw Marks until my eyes hurt after I got Wing Commander for the Amiga in 1992.
He passed way too young for comfort..
Dang, I had no idea he was involved with Origin or Wing Commander. I knew him from his Wraith Squadron books, which I really loved -- exciting, funny, touching, some of the best Star Wars books there were. Claw Marks was one of the best game manuals ever, and I read it many times over the years. It really drew you into the world of the game. RIP.
I used to re-read Claw Marks so much I used to imagine myself walking in the halls of the Tiger's Claw reading the monthly mag. Never had a game manual immerse me so well into its universe till I picked up Wing Commander Deluxe Edition for the PC.

Aaron would later go on to write my favorite books of the Star Wars EU, Wraith Squadron, Iron Fist, and Solo Command. Never was a book series such a thrill to read, while writing the most awesome group of misfits to wear an orange flightsuit.

What a shock this is, I feel a piece of me has gone with him.
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I too was a fan of Wraith Squadron, Iron Fist and Solo Command - they still rank among my favorite Star Wars novels. I had no idea he was also involved with Claw Marks; when I think back on my life, and how much my own work throughout the years was influenced by Wing Commander and how much of that stems originally from just how awesome Claw Marks was......well, I didn't know until today who wrote Claw Marks, and who I had to thank for all of that.

I've been looking for a dedication for Elegy; it'd be quite appropriate to dedicate it to Mr. Allston's memory.
Godspeed, Aaron
Missing Man Hornets.jpg
I know I've been pretty absent from the forum lately, but I absolutely had to come back to honor this man's memory, and not even for the wing commander reasons you might be expecting. Aaron Allston wrote the first Role Playing Game that I ever played.. it introduced me to an entire world of geekery that I never even knew existed. That book was the Dungeon and Dragons Rules Cyclopedia. A volume I still proudly keep in my collection :D I owe this man my entire Role Playing history. I can't really thank him enough, and his presence will be thoroughly missed! I've been playing pen and paper RPGs for a little over two decades.. I can't really thing of anything that was or will be more influential. Heck.. I have pretty much based my art style on the art that appeared in books such as the Cyclopedia and also claw marks. I feel a little bit poorer today.

The Rules Cyclopedia will be taking a central place of honor on my bookshelf today.

Claw marks is pretty excellent too ;)
I didn't realise till after reading the Wraith Squadron books that he wrote Claw Marks. I just happened to be glancing through my copy when I spotted his name in the credits to it. It's kinda strange that the last few days I've actually been listening to the audio books of his two contributions to the New Jedi Order series as well. I had hoped to one day get to one of the conventions he was at and getting him to sign my books.
Claw Marks was genius...just reread it recently on my Wing Commander 1 replay. The story in Secret Missions was amazing as well and really set the tone going forward. I unfortunately don't have experience with some of his other work, but he was an amazing guy, and I was very sorry to hear this news.
We have grown up with Claw Marks, both of us. If it wasn't him we would never, ever, had the idea of creating Destiny's Way. I have also read his Star Wars work and I realy liked his writing a lot.
Open your wings and fly away...away from Sol...away from Vega... find a place with a nice view and watch the world that you have created.
We gotta be somewhere there,

Claw Marks certainly is the manual I read the most often...more often than even any other book, fiction or non-fiction, I own, I guess. I only new Mr Allston through this manual (never read anything from him from SW) but I want to express how much countless hours of fun and entertainment his work brought to me. Without such an icredible manual liks Claw Marks, who knows if I ever would have gotten as deeply into WC as I did. My thoughts are with his relatives and friends.
To echo what a few others have said, Claw Marks was without any doubt the single best manual for any WC game, and it played a huge role in getting me into the universe. I actually only got into Wing Commander in the mid-90s, my first experience being Armada. I enjoyed many dogfights in Armada, but it was a pretty specific game, which did not really encourage you to look at the universe in a greater context. The manual was great, but at the time, it did not occur to me even to read it (to be fair, I only played Armada at a friend's house - had I owned it myself back then, I assume I would've been more interested). Then, a year or so later, another friend visited me, having just bought the U6/WC1 CD compilation (a somewhat odd product, published, IIRC, by Software Toolworks - the company known for... Touch Typing Tutor). I was utterly blown away by Claw Marks long before I could actually see the game. And it was literally from page one - the editorial, talking about Tooner and Skinner getting shot down by making a stupid mistake just really, really grabs you.

I've never read any of Aaron Allston's Star Wars books, and I probably never will - I've always felt that time's simply too short to waste on all that expanded universe stuff in Star Wars. But it doesn't matter. Had Aaron Allston only ever done that one thing, the WC1 manual, I would still be in awe of what he had been capable of as a writer. His death is a great pity - made all the more unfortunate by the fact that he himself had admitted he simply did not take care of his body well enough, ignoring his health conditions until they got bad enough to cause more problems... I find myself thinking: this literally didn't have to happen.