WC1 (and 2) - why do they work?

Discussion in 'General Wing Commander Chat' started by iiago, Mar 2, 2017.

  1. iiago

    iiago Spaceman

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    [Apologies for the long post, but I figure if anyone is interested in pontificating about this game's design, it's you guys]

    Well I finally finished WC1, 2 and all the add-ons. Career total: 110 missions, 778 kills. Despite coming to these games about 30 years late, it's safe to say I became obsessed. So I'm wondering, why? I'm particularly thinking of WC1, but a lot of the same things applies to WC2.

    It's not the cinematics, the graphics or nostalgia. I'm playing these games for the first time in 2017, and I don't mind saying that early on I almost demanded my money back because I found it almost unplayable.

    But then...it suddenly worked. And I got hooked. Why?

    This is what I'm thinking:

    * The game feels unfair for the longest time because you can only take a few hits, but it consistently models the entire battlefield and the enemies without making any compromises for cheap deaths. That means that until you learn how the AI works, every now and again multiple ships out of your field of vision will target you at the same time and it's goodnight. But because you don't see where the shots came from you don't learn anything from your mistake - it feels like you died from something beyond your control.

    * When you get better at the game two things happen - First, you get better at shooting. So the battles don't take as long (and so you're less likely to die). Second, you learn what's risky behaviour and when not to take risks (e.g. I learned not to screw around with Jalthi). Third, you learn to use the jets so that you actually have a variety of tools and strategies for the different ships - I felt like a genius when I stumbled across the "jet slide and shoot" technique. The three combine so that you start feeling that (mostly) when you die there WAS something you could have done about it, so it's not as frustrating.

    * Once you realise the game is modelled consistently you can start to use that against the game. Go to the Nav points out of order - kill the "ambush" before you pick up your escort. Suddenly you feel like you've outwitted the game.

    * Having fairly fragile ships, armour that doesn't regenerate and systems that get damaged means that the stakes can become very high very quickly. There were a few times when I had no shields, one gun and limping back to the Tigers Claw while praying that I didn't run into that one opponent that got away or bump into my wingman. My hands were shaking after I finally touched down.

    * Despite the age of the graphics, the games are really good at getting you invested in your wingmen and the world. I replayed a lot of missions in WC1 because I didn't want Spirit to die - that's really clever considering the writers had to make me care about her using only visuals and a handful of lines of dialogue. So because you care about the world, your victories feel like achievements.

    On a throwaway note, it seemed to me that WC1 was going for a "battle of Britain" feel and WC2 for a "life on an aircraft carrier" feel. I think the difference was that you spent all of WC1 in the officer's mess, which felt like being at Bomber Command during the blitz (the scoreboard and the bucket with dripping water helped with this - my brain immediately associated it with rain and a leaky roof). WC2 places you definitely on a larger vessel, which gives it a "Navy" feel.

    Anyway. Hope someone found this interesting, and interested in anyone's thoughts?

    Why do you think this game can be so frustrating and yet be so addictive?
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2017
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  2. Quarto

    Quarto Unknown Enemy

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    Hey there!

    That's certainly one of the most interesting posts I've seen at the forum for a good while. It's always amazing to hear about the first impressions from someone who didn't play the game back when it was state-of-the-art. When I first played WC1, back in 1996, it was already six years out of date, but at the time, its sprite-based graphics were still on par with more modern games, because early 3D games didn't look all that pretty. I find it hard to imagine what it would be like to only see the game now, in 2017.

    You're definitely right that the game doesn't do much hand-holding, and you gain mastery not so much by learning to play (though you've got to do that as well, obviously) but by discovering ways to outplay the game. Both of the things you point out in this regard, the afterburner slide and visiting navpoints in a different order, are things I was amazed to discover myself at the time. And it's actually really interesting how the game works to encourage you to explore these things. In one of the dialogues, Hunter quite literally tells you that it's worth trying to mess with your nav route. And the afterburner thing - the way most battles open, with the enemy fighters charging towards you on afterburners and firing guns, it's almost inevitable that sooner or later, you'll try to afterburn and turn as you fly past them, discovering the slide.

    And the damage thing - yes, I think the damage system in WC1 and WC2 was magnificent, in that it really allowed a lot of things to happen to your ship. One of the underappreciated aspects of the damage system was actually how much relatively "safe" damage you could take, when various cockpit components shorted out. Losing your guns is bad, but is it really worse than losing your radar? Ultimately, I think that later games, which really restricted the possibilities of these sorts of performance-crippling damage were impoverished for it.

    Also, my impression of WC1 was actually that it was like a WW1 airfield rather than Battle of Britain. The uniforms in particular somehow reminded me more of WW1 - and then you had the aces who felt more like WW1 figures than WW2 - especially Bakhtosh Redclaw, of course.
     
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  3. Gen_Maestro

    Gen_Maestro Spaceman

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    Hey there
    I´m new to this comunity,( forgive my english, I live in Portugal), I beging to play the WC series, in 1994 when a friend give a cd disc, wich i think was the ultimate collection of the time, this cd include, WC1, SM1 SM2, Wc2, SO1, SO2, Privateer, Privateer ^Rigtheous Fire, WC Armada, and Strike Commander with add on... happy times... I´d remember that my computer was a 486X2... way too fast for this game.. lucky me that the CD includes a tool to dissable the cache of the processor so it runs like a old 386..., ( a secret iám still have that old 486 pc running and working :), just to play this game). Now with the new computers have to install the DosBox program, and works really good. the only handicap, its that you need to constant adjust the speed of the cycles, to run smooth against 4 enemies, sometimes i need to set litle faster, then slow down when had 1 or 2 enemies. Since then I´d buy all the series, WC3 WC4 WC5. I think you are rigth about the game, for me was the challenging, you in a Hornet against 5 Jalthi, oh... men!!! i´d loved it, the Afterbuner.. the sliding,.. set the speed always 20 kps more than your enemy max velocity, 300 for a jalthi, 380 for a Krant, 340 for a Gratha, tricks that you learn on the way... the game itself was constructed in a way that you beging learning who to play in your own way... your first mission?? Hornet with Spirit as Wingman, against a couple of Dalthri and Shalthi, then its becomes more challenging mission after mission, Iam still believe this is the best space simulator ever, way ahead off his time, even now, I wonder, this game with new graphics, but with the same platform, we´ll have a wonderfull game...
     
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  4. Bandit LOAF

    Bandit LOAF Long Live the Confederation!

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    Very interesting subject!

    I agree with all your points, and will add a few of my own:

    * The game drops you in a world instead of building a world around you. This is a very rare thing, and a big part of what made, say, the original Star Wars wonderful: from the moment you open the box and find Claw Marks you feel like you are joining a universe that already exists instead of having a story built around you-as-hero.

    * The game is exactly tough enough to make you feel accomplished just for playing. I can remember exactly what it felt like the first time I saw a Dralthi break apart because I felt like I'd worked for that moment. It is a VERY hard experience to create, but Wing Commander I does it very well. Learning to play the game doesn't feel like you're learning to play the game... it feels like you're becoming a veteran space pilot and are earning every milestone (imagine Mario giving you a sense of accomplishment for learning to jump on your first Goomba!) The only other game I can think of that achieves this so well is Wings of Glory, Warren Spector's Realspace-engine World War I flying game.

    * Just general immersion. Chris gets this feted constantly so I won't dwell on it, but it's the countless tiny details that make the game, from the bucket of water collecting drops in the barracks to the fact that the same cast of unseen redshirts is mentioned repeatedly (sup, Redbird?)

    * The art style is a great mix of the familiar and the new. Taken one piece at a time, I can identify the individual influence for the whole thing, from World War I flying uniforms to the Gunstar from The Last Starfighter... but the way they are put together and the take on all of them ends up being entirely unique (this is another Chris specialty, his ability to point to something and know exactly how it should be made better.)

    I think Wing Commander I does some very interesting things in terms of balancing and progression, too... you learn to fly your ships the way the designers intend because of how they work instead of because of how you're told they work, which is another rare thing. Similarly, with progression... Wing Commander I literally starts you off knowing what every single enemy unit looks like and EXACTLY what it does... but it's still a joy the first time you find a Gratha or a Krant or (oh no!) a capital ship.

    It also gives you all these built in memories. Remember the first time you saw a Ralari? The first time you took down an ace? The first time you won a medal... it's all so very well geared to making the player feel special. (And then there's another tier - remember how crummy the rocks were in Rostov? Remember how heartbreaking it was to lose the Ralari again and agan and again, and then how amazing it was the one time you managed it? There's so much of a 'social' game there, it almost begs you to create a community around it.
     
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  5. Jdawg

    Jdawg 2nd Lieutenant

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    wing commander 1 and 2 really do have some of the most perfect gameplay where it is challenging but you always want to try just one more time. there really is only a couple of missions where the game does indeed play unfair to me the biggest one is in wc2 expansion, where the game gives you wingmen but their more interested in shooting you than the enemy lol.
     
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  6. Gen_Maestro

    Gen_Maestro Spaceman

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    You are rigth about that... I just finnish playing the WC1 and WC2 with the add ons under DosBOx... 112 missions 1006 kills.. i think i got a couple the missions more than ussual, something to do with the loadfix problems running WC2 an SO1( I´d save the game, but crash, reload and was in the old mission again weird...), SO2 run smooth without problems with full specch. The AI its litle goofy in WC2, worst in the SO... i get kill more times by my wingmens than by the enemies ( and sometimes my wingmens kill each others.. :( )... and the enemies sometimes get crazy in the afterburner, they dont figth you just running away in a big circle.. or some drhakai make some spin turns in a eternal loop with afterburners, try to catching and when you reallize you ar far far away.. happen to me several times.. to recall 1... defendig the Concordia against some Gotris and a Kamek.. 1 gotri beging to spin in after burmer, when all the others were dead, and with a autopilot ligth enable it cant let me dock, need to kill that little bastard that have about 35k away... but besides that love this game.... now i'll install the WC3... i am in 1 for all.... playing 1 after another.. to recall good memories of my youth... happy hunting laddie´s... :)
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2017
  7. LeHah

    LeHah 212 Squadron - "The Old Man's Eyes And Ears"

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    For me, theres something particular about the first two games - there must be a word for this that I don't know and its likely in German - where you get only *just enough* details about the world and it allows your imagination to fill in the rest. Like it was pointed out earlier, being dumped into the world ala Star Wars enhances the imagination by letting the player fill in the blanks. You don't know whats going on in other theaters of the Kilrathi War but you can gleam the struggle with your own.

    (Whats funny is that this is a thing modern media - especially films - no longer understand. They *tell* you everything and make it all literal, not understanding that leaving things to individual imagination is far more powerful and lasting than any exposition could be. I'm looking at you, Episode VII!)
     
  8. Bandit LOAF

    Bandit LOAF Long Live the Confederation!

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    I don't know if Force Awakens is a great example. It tries pretty hard to emulate the original cosmologically speaking... we have no idea what the First Order is or where it came from, we don't know any of the backstories to the characters, we don't know what the Resistance is or how it relates to the government. The movie drops us into the middle of a situation we don't understand and essentially does keep us there.

    The problem is that it doesn't do the necessary next step, which is to make the characters feel like they're /comfortable/ in that world... and it doesn't use the characters to reflect the universe building. We never see Alderaan, we don't know anyone who dies there... but we sure as heck feel it because we see how it matters to the Princess. TFA gives us a lazy cutaway to 'the Republic' to tell us they've blown up (... something?...) and it doesn't matter because exactly none of our characters really seem to be all that impacted.

    (It's exactly the opposite problem as Logan. Logan does an amazing job making our characters feel like they belong in the world without explaining why or what's going on... but then it beats us over the head with this-is-for-the-audience exposition at inopportune times.)
     
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  9. Gen_Maestro

    Gen_Maestro Spaceman

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    This is a world of worlds... when i get the CD from my friend, 23 years ago (1994) he give it to me without a case, just the CD and the quick guide to play it, but during the game in between the conversations with Shotglass and the others i learn that the war was raging for 20 years, that the cats are a rough "evil" race, that their only goal its to conquer and enslave the human race, that they killed Iceman family, many small details.. that alow me to create my own imaginary universe,... and as a war that last 20 years in so many system, sectors and quadrants... its logical that meanwhile your ar wininig in some you losse in another, we won Vega campaing, just to loose Godart, we revenge it, but we need to withdraw, the same in Firekka, ten years later Enigma Campaing, we won again, but the Kilrathi was allready planning a counterattack in Ghora Kar, just to lure us and enable them to destroy the 6th Fleet and take Deneb... In words of CAG Allcione, "we can´t win all"..

    If you take for example Halo (TM) you wake up, in the midle of a gunfire, dont have any clou what is going on, just follow the orders... get out of the ship with Cortana, about the story line... none, just keep in figthing all the way, why are you figthing? when the war begings?
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2017
  10. Jdawg

    Jdawg 2nd Lieutenant

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    for me wc3 was the only one to this day that I cant get to work properly some ships just refuse to turn right in that game for me, but good luck.
     
  11. Quarto

    Quarto Unknown Enemy

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    The word you are looking for is "gestalt" - and it is indeed in German. It's actually a term from psychology originally, and refers to the mind's ability to collect a few disparate facts about parts of something, fill in the blanks based on past experiences, and thus develop a concept of the whole something. If you don't mind occasionally being bored by an academic's obsession with detail, look for a Mark J. P. Wolf book called Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory & History of Subcreation. Wolf actually uses Star Wars a lot as an example of effective world-building, and he's the one who introduces the idea of a gestalt into world-building.

    And yes, I think Wing Commander does this very well - and most of it is done before you even start playing the game, in the manual. Whenever a WC fan tells me that they never bother to read the manuals, I have the urge to beat them over the head with Claw Marks - don't they know they're missing half the game?

    As for modern media, the trouble is that you've got a very delicate balance, and it's easy to go wrong in either one direction or the other. On the one hand, provide too much detail, and you leave too little to the imagination. But on the other hand, provide too little detail, and you leave the imagination grasping at straws. And these problems are not mutually exclusive - I actually think Star Wars manages to do both of these at once. On the one hand, it does occasionally provide far too much detail, which bogs down the plot and answers questions better left to the audience, but on the other hand, Star Wars also constantly falls flat when it comes to geography. Because of the way travel occurs, they never had any need to bother trying to establish geographic relations between different places in the universe. Every once in a while, somebody says something about the galactic rim, and you kinda get the idea that some worlds are more distant from the centre of the Republic/Empire and thus more isolated from its politics... but then a spaceship arrives in an instant from a place like Coruscant to, say, Tattooine, and you realise that there's just no way to make sense of these things. Similarly, while many universes suffer from that "small universe" syndrome where you're constantly revisiting old places, Star Wars has you constantly revisiting Tattooine... but also keeps throwing new worlds at you as though they were candy (and making each of them singularly boring, as well - here's a desert planet, here's a swamp planet, here's a jungle planet...). The old movies almost managed to keep these issues under control, but the new ones seem to have just given up on trying. Especially in Rogue One.

    The other problem modern media have is that they are geared more than ever towards boosting revenues via transmedia storytelling. I don't think that The Force Awakens really did provide us with too much detail as you suggest. I think it more or less managed to restrain that impulse. But it was accompanied by a slew of other products that sought to satisfy the fans by filling in everything, and it occasionally left certain really important things undescribed to encourage you to look up those additional materials. Consequently, TFA is not quite fully satisfying if you look at it by itself, but if you look up the other stuff in order to scratch those itches TFA left, you end up getting too much.
     
  12. Gen_Maestro

    Gen_Maestro Spaceman

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    I install the WC3 from the Saga, its working just fine, ill try the WC# in the DOS version and let you know how its works
     
  13. iiago

    iiago Spaceman

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    There's some interesting stuff here.

    You're right, it's WW1. The dripping bucket and consistent location of WC1 (i.e. you're always in the ship) made me think of a bunker behind safe lines fending off enemy attacks - hence Battle of Britain. But the Aces and uniforms do feel more WW1. I'm surprised they didn't drop a "Red Barron" reference...better than "Specialist MacGuffin" anyway

    I agree, Star Wars does this well and badly.

    Before VII came out I re-watched IV, V, VI then I, II and III. I was struck by how much is left un-fleshed out in IV - which was written without sequels in mind.

    How does the Force work? What were the Jedi like? How did the Empire get in charge? It all seems so grand and intriguing because that stuff isn't filled out. Lest we forget midiclorians.

    Highlander made the same mistake. Mysterious immortals compelled to fight for no known reason was far more interesting than "they are aliens".

    EDIT: Actually you've got me thinking about this now. I think there's a lot of franchises that start out with the right amount of ambiguity, then as the inevitable sequels come out they start groaning under the weight of their established cannon. Which (a) doesn't make good storytelling; and (b) scares off newcomers. The franchise that seemed best at avoiding it is probably Discworld, because while they fleshed the world out Pratchett managed to keep each individual book sufficiently vague to be interesting to newcomers.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2017

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