Exciting Revelations Lead to New WC Radar Insight (August 29, 2023)

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
After learning about how Denis Loubet came up with Wing Commander's enduring radar display I've been looking into how the design developed over the series. I found a note in the WC2 manual I never picked up on: "In VGA graphics mode, the shade of the dot indicates its range."

I ran some tests and sure enough, it's true! Each dot has THREE shades reserved in the 256-color palette. Close is within 5,000 meters, medium is 5,000-25,000 and far is over 30,000! NEVER noticed in gameplay. So I made a chart:

Strange case I just remembered: Special Operations 1 has the Gettysburg escorted by Epees that show up as GREEN on your radar... for about a second and a half between cutscenes! What an odd addition that never shows up again.

I went on a little tangent experimenting with this. Trying to fly to the Gettysburg remotely to see them hits a bug, no ships spawn until you get to the exact nav point and suddenly you're inside the cruiser! If you're quick you CAN target an Epee, they're all named "Guard". I also tried using WC Toolbox to change other encounters into 'green' dots. It worked but there's not a full implementation: other distances display no color and so the ships will just vanish outside of 5,000 meters (letting you autopilot even though they're 'really' there!).

Anyway, this version of the system is only used in Wing Commander II and Academy... it doesn't return in III or any of the spinoffs, EXCEPT FOR: Wing Commander ARMADA... with five tiers instead of three! The lock crosshairs also match the distance in this design. And everything happens at much closer range, 13,000 meters is the maximum distance for a lock.

Here are the tables for the FMV games: WC3, WC4, Prophecy/Secret Ops and Privateer 2. They’re so much simpler! Lore heads might like to know that Privateer 2 has an in-universe brand name for this type of radar! It's "Patriarchal" (the Elite style is "Celestial").

I am also a huge fan of how Privateer used color to modify the familiar mechanic and create different tiers of radars that really impact how you play the game.

The evolution of the radar display! Can you identify the games they came from?

This would not have been possible without the tireless assistance of my monitor’s fur lining who spent the project lazily batting at my mouse. Now she has emerged to help catalog old tapes.

Original update published on August 29, 2023