Memories of 1992 (August 11, 2012)

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
1992 was the first "down" year for Wing Commander. It's something of a surprise, after Wing Commander in 1990 and Wing Commander II in 1991, that there was no major game project. Privateer ("Trade Commander" at the time) was initially planned for a holiday release, but delays to the Strike Commander technology pushed it back to 1993. Instead, we now celebrate the twentieth anniversary of four smaller projects, all now considered true classics.

Special Operations 2, the final mission disk for Wing Commander II, pitted the player against the oft-discussed Society of Mandarins and allowed for a final showdown with "Jazz" Colson. Along the way, you encounter your old friend Maniac and test some hot new hardware.

Freedom Flight inagurated the Wing Commander novel series in a grand fashion. An adaptation and extension of The Secret Missions 2: Crusade, Freedom Flight put Hunter in the main character's shoes and followed his adventures trying to free a group of Firekkan prisoners. While lacking the military tone of the later books, Freedom Flight is perhaps the most accurate to the games at the time, written as it was by Ellen Guon.

The original Wing Commander was ported to two popular platforms by Mindscape: the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Amiga. With the long-delayed Amiga port, Wing Commander finally gained widespread acknowledgement in the UK... and the SNES version introduced the series to a generation of more casual console gamers. Both were technological marvels, doing an enormous amount of work with very limited technical resources.

We've asked WCNews staff members to chime in with their memories of these projects. You should do the same in the forums!

1992 was probably when I got serious about Wing Commander. I remember I had some graph paper that I used to sketch out intricate reproductions of the various ship VDUs from the original two games (screenshots, who knew?) and I had pretty much committed the original Claw Marks to memory. There wasn't a big release, but it was a good year!
Special Operations 2, in retrospect, is a bit too much wish fulfillment. Special Operations 1 was sort of a subdued story: it continued the Ghorah Khar arc from Wing Commander II, the new fighter it gave us to play with was actually pretty dull (though pretty!) and the characters it introduced were actually just stopping by on their way to a novel. Special Operations 2, on the other hand: it's your old enemy Maniac... and now he's being disgraced! And the Morningstar with its best guns and super missile and light fighter speed and maneuverability. And of course now you actually get to KILL Jazz! It's all over the top, compared to Ellen Guon's much more nuanced Wing Commander II script. But I loved the hell out of all of that as a twelve year old boy. It's also important for what it represents from the creative side: the artists and writers who fashioned the first games were on their way out and others were taking over. Nothing signifies the difference between the 'anime styled' Wing Commander I and II artwork and the modern military look found in the later games like the Morningstar, essentially an F-15 in space.
Freedom Flight, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. As a kid I found it too juvenile. Where were the great military campaigns and the space battles and so on? As an adult I recognize it was the most true-to-the-game of all the Wing Commander novels and the only one lacking Dr. Forstchen's unnecessary politics. As I say in another update today, my favorite scene in all of Wing Commander now is Hobbes' wistful goodbye to Hassa on Ghorah Khar (of course, who knows how real any of that was? I choose to think it is, anyway.) Today I wish we'd had an alternate slate of novels with Ellen Guon and Mercedes Lackey's more humanistic take on the characters and their world.
The ports, on the other hand, I didn't play at the time. My mother would NOT allow me to have a game console and I don't think any American knew what an Amiga was. I do remember salivating over the box art to Wing Commander SNES in the video rental store (it's a different painting, look closely!) I once convinced a friend with an SNES to rent a copy so I could try it, but when we got to the store it was out. And so it was quite a few years until I got to play the game! What was really impressive about it, in addition to all those tiny details only Wing Commander fans will notice, is how much Mindscape managed to put into a tiny cartridge. It really is the Wing Commander I experience, through and through.
The Amiga version I had no idea even existed at the time, but over the years as we came together online it was clear that there was an 'Amiga faction' of players who insisted that their version was better. Especially, they would repeat, it had amazing music. So of course that's why I won a troublesome Amiga 4000 today, to play that game alone. Now I'm sorry to say that it is NOT better. The music is spectacular, the game is a technical marvel... but the 32 color graphics just cut it down too much compared to the PC release. But it's still an amazing game with an amazing story (it was delayed a year because the SOLE programmed became deathly ill!) and I'm sorry we never saw further Amiga Wing Commanders.
1992 was a big year for me! I didn't have a computer good enough for Wing Commander in 1990 & 1991, but I did shortly thereafter, and I got into Wing Commander 2 big time! Every single day I'd come home and fire it up. Like many Wingnuts, I installed a Soundblaster just to hear the Emperor's voice, and it was just thrilling to have such a variety of ships to fly. It didn't matter if I resumed the previous mission or loaded a random savegame, I'd just play and love to fly around. Slightly off topic, but this same enjoyment is what made Wing Commander Academy (the game) so great. There was a huge demand for a flexible mission simulator in the gorgeous immersive Wing Commander spaceflight engine.
1992 was also the year that Wing Commander was released for ther Super Nintendo, and I also played that whenever I wasn't playing WC2 on the computer. It's a slightly trimmed down version compared to WC1 on the PC (green Salthis instead of Jalthis!), but it's pretty amazing what they were able to do both in graphical fidelity and gamepad controller input. To this day, I can still pick up this version of WC1 (once again popularized by EA Replay and its rerelease on the Playstation Network) and feel right at home.
1992 was the start of a golden era of Wing Commander *playing* for me. With relatively few distractions, I played the hell out of WC1, WC2, WC3, Academy, Privateer and Armada from 1992 through 1995. After 1995, much of my time has been devoted to a mix of Wing Commander experiences (novels, collecting the CCG, watching Academy, etc) and spending a huge amount of time discussing the series online with fellow fans. Sure, I can play Wing Commander games whenever I want now, thanks to the modern rereleases, but I have extremely fond memories of those early years when the series was new.
I didn't become a wingnut until several years after these products originally came out. My recollections are based on my first encounters with them.
I have an odd history with Wing Commander 2 and its addons. My dad brought WC2 Deluxe home from a yard sale not long after we got our first DOS box. After playing through WC2, for some reason, I was unable to beat the second mission you fly with Hobbes, Ghorah Khar B. So the game sat idle for longer than I care to admit while I played other WC games, before the Kilrathi Saga was released. That was the first time I played the early games in their entirety. It's hard not to love the story of WC2 and its expansions. Chasing down Jazz, blasting Kilrathi and traitors, then destroying an asteroid base, with a nuke no less, tell me where to sign! It's everything for a teenage boy to love. Trusting your front line pilots with what the Confederation considers "tactical" weapons is always an excellent idea. Others tried to replicate, but nothing beats the original Mace. The experience was amplified by being able to quickly swap stories with other wingnuts in #wing-commander. For me, it was a more of a social experience with the early games because of the ability to talk to so many others. It's definitely what I remember most about SO2.
I got Freedom Flight, End Run, Fleet Action, and The Heart of the Tiger novels all at once at some point in 1996. It might have been my birthday or Christmas. I read them in order and like most young boys immediately thought End Run and Fleet Action were the best of the bunch. They had everything you'd want. At first I thought Freedom Flight was good, but not great. Nothing special, if you will. Overtime though, you realize how great of a story it is. I didn't grow to love Kirha hrai Hunter nar Aussie from the brief reunion in Fleet Action. It was Freedom Flight that did that. I'm still partial to End Run because of the pure destruction wrought by the Confederation on the Kilrathi. Freedom Flight is a close second.
When I was in my teens a lot of my PC gaming was done over at a friend’s house. He had a fantastic 486dx66 and one day I went over to his house and he was playing something entirely new. I was used to playing flight sims and submarine sims at his house because that was all we ever bought. but this was a space sim. And the sim was Wing Commander II on the 1994 EA 'Top 10 Pack' which also had Chuck Yeager's Air Combat and Seal Team.
I was immediately struck by how gorgeous this hand-drawn game was and how different the combat was from a traditional flight sim. It was a mixture of arcade action and top gun style flying and it had a story told through cut-scenes! I was astounded. We took turns beating the Kilrathi in sortie after sortie and were glued to the screen trying to figure out who the traitor really was, I went over to their house every day for 2 weeks until we played it through with a trackball mouse controller.
My purchases after that were a bit out of order. The next game I got was privateer, then Wing Commander III, then Privateer 2, WCIV, prophecy, and finally the original. My lifelong addiction to Wing Commander was birthed by Wing Commander 2.
In 1992, my mom had uprooted me from our home and moved us several
towns over. When you're 11 years old, that means you might as well be
leaving to go live on the moon. You have to leave behind all your
friends, your yard, all those hard fought trails in the woods near
your house. All those little childhood victories meant nothing now.
You had to start somewhere new. It was, in no small sense, traumatic.
As a bookish child, I tended to turn further inward and increasingly
isolated in my new environment. I was going through books like nothing
else, finishing Tolkien and Le Guin, Malory and Coleridge, Bradbury
and Cooper all within one spring and one summer. Unfortunately,
despite my passionate love for these writers the two things I really
wanted at that age were banned from the house: video games and comic
books. My mom did relent and let me have a Game Boy (whoop-de-do, mom)
but everything else had to be kept at my grandparents - my NES only
got played on weekends and my stacks of Spectacular Spider-Man were
left only for Saturday afternoon reading.
Needless to say, feeling I had nothing to lose in this new environment
and feeling a swell of teenage angst, I started sneaking comics into
my house. It wasn't enough to be reading high fantasy every day, I
also had a thirst for X-Men and Star Wars and (god help me, looking
back on it) Savage Dragon. But sneaking them past my warden wasn't
easy and I was frequently caught in the process. I'm not sure why she
disliked them so much - I'm assuming because my mother thought I was
dumbing myself down with them somehow? - but I eventually figured out
that the one place she never looked was inside my bean bag chair.
So I kept my favorite ones hidden in that dumb, red bean bag chair,
only taking them out when everyone else was asleep or when they went
out to do errands. I read those issues over and over and over until
the spines wrinkled like crows feet and I knew every line of art,
every sound effect, every dot of printer's ink. I knew every issue
backwards and forwards. I had to, you can only hide so many in a bean
One of the things I remembered being especially interested in was the
old Super Nintendo Wing Commander ad on the back of Marvel comic

So long before I actually had a computer (or a console!) to play a
Wing Commander game on, the best I could do was stare at that ad and
wonder what the heck the game was about. My only point of reference
was Star Wars movies and I wondered how a computer could possibly do
the same thing. I'd played plenty of other games but... looking out of
a cockpit, shooting at an enemy? The idea was absurd at that time.
Everything was a side-scroller or top-down. This was something
entirely new and it wouldn't be for a week or two before I saw the
original tech demo for X-Wing at a Software Etc with a religious awe.
Going home and looking at that ad again fired my imagination but it
would be another couple of years before I had my own computer that
could run a Wing Commander game. Those were weird, wild, innocent
times and I still have no idea how I got here from there.
Original update published on August 11, 2012