What if... - Wing Commander never happened?

criticalmass

Vice Admiral
I like "What if"-threads, and this place is full of them: Story twists, technological development, psychological analysis of character actions... - exploring the hypothetical is so much fun.

But I haven't found this one:


What if... - you didn't get that first Wing Commander game on your shelf?

- How would your life have been?
- What other interests would you have pursued?
- Would the next (or any other) WC title have hooked you?


I know folks, imagining a life without "the games" is hard, but just try.
For me, I've come to the WC universe via the side entrance, Privateer. I was hugely fascinated and frustrated with the Elite series before that, and Privateer gave me everything I was looking for. Psychologically it was an opportunity to escape from a rather unglamorous environment, to have some place to feel free and heroic. I think it did me good, and the rest of the WC games I got after that initiation continued to act as the ideal mix between blowing off steam, and getting to know the feeling of being involved in a bigger story.
Hadn't I gone down this way, a lot of things might not have happened. Sticking to games, I remember I had System Shock at the same time, and certainly Civilization, and I guess Masters of Orion - but they all stayed "just games", a diversion, nothing to inspire. If Wing Commander hadn't happened for me, I'd concentrated a lot more on my studies (oh boy, the sweet wasted hours) and probably gotten deeper into the technical end, becoming some quiet geek with an engineering degree. But with my interest in story and narrative awakened (well, not only by WC - but it definitely played a part), I went along a more people-oriented road, and am rather glad with it.


And yes, my headline's a cheat.
But the much larger question, if WC would not have happened at all, is something I don't dare to imagine ;)
 

Mekt-Hakkikt

Mpanty's bane
Childhood and adolescence would have been much less fun, that's for sure. Well, and adulthood too I guess.

Some friends less and maybe generally less interest in the Science Fiction genre. Maybe I wouldn't have gotten into PC gaming at all.

Well, it's good that WC exists.
 

Shaggy

Vice Admiral
I would probably have more money when I was younger. When WCIV was about to come out I took out a $5,000.00 loan to buy a new computer pretty much just for that, and the family computer wouldn't be able to run it.:)

It would have been a bigger shift than that, though. When I got into WC I thought it would be really cool if they had books and TV shows about it or like it. I was also really into Tom Clancy books at the time and I wanted to write something like him but I didn't have the technical knowledge necessary to do it very well, and my skills as an author were pretty weak at the time. So, anyway, I figured why not make it sci fi and Wing Commander gave me the perfect basis for that. So I've spent the last 17 years developing my own WC inspired book series and learning how to write professionally whilst discovering the WC novels along the way.

So without Wing Commander I would probably be a Star Wars nerd, thanks largely to X-Wing.
 

t.c.cgi

Vice Admiral
Without Wing Commander I wouldn't have my current job. Wouldn't have gone to college. Wouldn't have met a lot of people, one of which absolutely changed my life. Wouldn't be writing this post.
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
So without Wing Commander I would probably be a Star Wars nerd, thanks largely to X-Wing.

I'm not sure--in a universe without Wing Commander, there's definitely no X-Wing. :)
 

Shaggy

Vice Admiral
I'm not sure--in a universe without Wing Commander, there's definitely no X-Wing. :)

Maybe, but the Star Wars games were becoming the main concern for Lucasarts and an X-Wing sim was a natural progression of that. I don't know, maybe it wouldn't have come around until the later nineties but I think it would have happened.
 

ExcalPilot1

1st Lieutenant
What a horrible question! For one thing, I would never have had the dream of becoming a video game designer, which I plan to follow up on in a few years.
 

criticalmass

Vice Admiral
I'm not sure--in a universe without Wing Commander, there's definitely no X-Wing. :)
Trust in LOAF to tackle the big picture.. - WC paved the way for X-Wing, and showed that the formula works. Without is, we'd have the concepts from Starflight, Hyperspeed, Star Control and the likes, and in time, a branching-storyline, mission-based, character-dependent space opera game might have developed, but probably not for Star Wars: Too much work to create a fully immersive parallel storyline, and too much risk to deviate from the main story - all that in too short a time.
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
Maybe, but the Star Wars games were becoming the main concern for Lucasarts and an X-Wing sim was a natural progression of that. I don't know, maybe it wouldn't have come around until the later nineties but I think it would have happened.

It seems insane today, but Lucasarts wasn't even doing Star Wars games until they announced X-Wing as a direct response to Wing Commander at a trade show. Before that time, Lucasfilm believed licensing Star Wars games to other companies was more profitable than building their own.

... and the money the made on that (and Super Star Wars, which IIRC was someone else's project that they picked up when they let the license lapse) was a big part of the Star Wars revitalization that happened in the mid-1990s. I know I sound like a crazy person, but I can imagine a scenario where no Wing Commander changes Lucasfilms licensing strategy, prevents the Star Wars renaissance and dominos across to mean no special editions or prequels.

(It's again hard to imagine now, but Wing Commander I's premiere at the conventions in summer 1990 was *mindblowing*--one of those rare instances where everyone who saw it knew this was the future. For Lucasarts it would have been an especially big shock, as they'd written off the project early on when it was pitched as a Star Wars game.)

The other huge impact is that without Wing Commander I you don't have the blockbuster game. We forget in light of the insane budgets on 3 and 4, but Wing Commander was the game that proved you could spend a *million dollars* on development and create an audience that would still let you make an amazing return on your investment. The whole face of game development changes because of that. Would someone else have figured this out? Maybe, maybe not--Wing Commander is special because it spent so much money and was good enough to be a massive hit... another game could have a similar budget and then flop and blow it for the future instead.
 

Mace

Vice Admiral
That statement above makes you wonder what wing commander I would look like if it had received a many engine upgrades as X-wing had with all of its re-releases.

Without wing commander, I can think of only one game that had something similar(spaceflight with something of a story), and that was EPIC, the game that came before "inferno", but this was about some superfighter that singlehanded blows entire fleets to scrap without re-arming, in time it gets boring. Really big difference, in X-wing, M.A.N.T.I.S. and EPIC, and Renegade: Battle for jacob's star you have to win every mission.

Origin put that WC1 feel back into one other simulator, pacific strike, the duels were much more fun then with Strike Commander's jets.
 

Dondragmer

Rear Admiral
Epic

I imagine LucasArts would eventually have made X-Wing, even in a world without Wing Commander. On the other hand, without the perceived need to compete with WC1, they'd probably have reused the bitmap engine from Battlehawks 1942 and Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe. As previously noted, the whole notion of narrative in a flight simulator would be missing too.

Mace mentioned Epic, but Wing Commander 1 was released in 1990 and Epic in 1992. (The manual for Epic is copyright 1991, but I can't find any evidence that the game was released in that year). Quite possibly they started work on Epic before WC1, but it 'borrows' heavily from Wing Commander... not to mention Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek and Gustav Holst's 'The Planets'.

Epic did make an early attempt at having truly massive battles rage around the player (probably made easier by its 2.5D geometry), but mostly ships seem to fly around and explode for no reason. The loss of a single wingman in WC1 is more moving than finding out the capital ship 'Redstorm' has been destroyed in Epic. The planetary surfaces include some neat features like vehicles zipping along elevated roads, but the mission objectives never make use of these.

On the other hand, Epic deserves some credit for the cutscenes, which use the in-game 3D models on static backgrounds. I can only think of three prior examples of a game using its 3D engine for cutscenes: David Wolf: Secret Agent, Wings... and Wing Commander itself. Curiously, Epic also has different introductions between the DOS, Atari ST and Amiga versions. Note that while the Atari ST and Amiga share most of the scenes and script, the Atari ST uses the Holst music from the DOS version (adding superior wavetable synthesis), while the Amiga music is an original composition. The DOS version also grants more ammunition for the heavier weapons - one of the problems Mace observes.

Getting back to the original question, without Wing Commander, Epic would also not exist, or at best be inferior... along with any influence it had on in-engine cutscenes.
 

t.c.cgi

Vice Admiral
Wing Commander wasn't just a cinematic experience. Not by a long shot.

It was a trendsetter for the "must upgrade" multimedia video game. You wanted VGA. You wanted a Sound Blaster. You wanted a solid joystick. This is standard fare today, where any game you buy from one of the big publishers wants you to upgrade your system. That wasn't the norm back then. There were still games that used the PC speaker. You know, that archaic little appendage inside your machine that you probably don't have anymore?

I recall LOAF's anecdote about how the X-Wing team showed up, saw Wing Commander blasting killer effects and dynamic music on a hot rig that could barely keep up and shat their pants. They went back and for three years worked very hard to shoehorn in all that awesome.

Yes, we still would have had X-Wing, but it would have sucked. It wouldn't have been a multimedia game. And it wouldn't have lead to the far superior, memorable, and classic Tie Fighter.
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
The story I have heard is that folks from Lucasarts saw the first Wing Commander demo (at... Comdex?) and that afternoon were working out a deal with Larry Holland to do a Star Wars game. In return for agreeing to do a Star Wars licensed game they promised to let him do the project he really wanted, Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe (the aborted X-Wing relaunch from a few years back had similar terms; that's where Secret Weapons Over Normandy came from...).

To X-Wing's credit, Holland didn't turn out a Wing Commander clone when he really had every right to. Wing Commander got its fast action and cinematic qualities and envelope pushing effects from the Star Wars films... and the X-Wing game (either consciously or just because they were building on their World War II game framework) was instead a much slower and more thinky 'simulator' of a game (and really not at all what Lucasarts *wanted* from a Wing Commander clone--from that realization we spawn the Rebel Assault series...).
 

-danr-

Vice Admiral
This reminds me of an article in an old edition of PC Gamer (I wish for the life of me I still had it) which discussed how X-wing had borrowed heavily from Wing Commander 1.

I seem to recall that Larry Holland had been famous here in Britain for programming Commodore games in the early 80s. Titles released at that time were graphically, pretty limited (as you can imagine, on your 8-bit VIC-20) but Holland's titles --such as Super Zaxxon (1982) always used ingenious ways of twisting the 4-colour pallet to create pretty good looking and fun games.

s2.jpg


It was no surprise when he resurfaced with Lucasarts and X-wing, that the game was designed to be like Wing Commander - but look better.

Somehow, despite the big budget and high-profile names, I still say Wing Commander won, and despite Lucasarts' best efforts, looks considerably sexier than X-Wing.

PC-Gamer were pretty loyal to Wing Commander at least.
 

Farlander

Rear Admiral
It is conceivable that X-Wing would not have happened when it did if Wing Commander did not exist, though I think it would have eventually - the concept is just too perfect. But that probably would mean it would be a different game than what it was, perhaps significantly so. Nevertheless, I think the Star Wars renaissance would have proceeded more or less just as it did, whether or not X-Wing ever existed. The books would still have existed, which was really the first test of the viability of the brand. The Shadows of the Empire project could have been different, however. But in the end, I think the special editions and prequels would have happened just as they did. People were hungry for more Star Wars, and one way or another, they would have figured it out and proceeded.

The interesting thing is what would the golden age of flight sims have been like if there were no Wing Commander. That type of game existed before Wing Commander, in games like Holland's Battlehawks 1942 and Their Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain. But Wing Commander had an undeniable influence on the games that came after it. If it hadn't come along when it did, we might have had more sim-oriented and less story-oriented games, at least for a while. Either someone would have had to come along and do what Wing Commander did, or we would have had a very different set of games in the genre. It's possible the genre would never have progressed to the point it did before changing trends in the industry killed it.
 

NinjaLA

Alex Von T.
with no wing commander.. I would have stayed a boring, stuffy hardcore simulator nerd and never taken up my hobby of cool wing commander fan arts.

<ego>the entire world would be poorer for it. </ego>
 

-danr-

Vice Admiral
with no wing commander.. I would have stayed a boring, stuffy hardcore simulator nerd and never taken up my hobby of cool wing commander fan arts.

<ego>the entire world would be poorer for it. </ego>

I'm still a sim-nerd, I joined the air force when I was 18 but they found out I was colour blind :( offered me another position and I still haven't got back to them about that...only got two years left to do so.

Anyway, point is Wing Commander hasn't skewed my technical curiosity toward aircraft, but definitely when I'm in the "lets play high adrenaline" mood, I'll load up WC3 or Standoff and have a much more entertaining and stimulating time than when I climb into an F-16 in FreeFalcon, fly for 45 boring and eventless minutes, deliver my payload, return home and land. Lucky if I get to shoot down a MiG 19, let alone five Strakha and a Vaktoth whilst singlehandedly saving humanity.
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
It was no surprise when he resurfaced with Lucasarts and X-wing, that the game was designed to be like Wing Commander - but look better.

I think that's actually a real life retcon! You're thinking of Wing Commander I/II's bitmapped ships as being the kind of a muddy-looking dead-end technology we treat them as today... but they weren't seen that way in 1990. When Wing Commander came out it was seen as an amazing new 'trick' for making a game *look* much better than the polygons used in air/space combat games of the time. With time and faster computers those polygons became the way to go (with shading, textures, more vertices, etc. added)... but at the time of X-Wing they were thought of as the inferior 'uglier' look.

In fact, go look at some *original* X-Wing screenshots. The game was remastered half a dozen times to take advantage of later technology, but the original version's ships are flat and ugly. The big advantage over Wing Commander was that it was much faster (X-Wing ran okay on a 286!) and you could have a lot more ships on screen at a time. (For my money, the prettiest version is the 1995 CD release where they upgraded to the 'shaded' graphics from TIE Fighter... they went back and glommed on textures later, but that never sat right with me.)

Lucky if I get to shoot down a MiG 19, let alone five Strakha and a Vaktoth whilst singlehandedly saving humanity.

Origin put that WC1 feel back into one other simulator, pacific strike, the duels were much more fun then with Strike Commander's jets.

Even better, the third one, Wings of Glory! WoG is basically the perfect Origin flight game--it had combat that was fun and rewarding (someone needs to study how that game made you feel accomplished scoring one kill) and it managed to have a fun and interesting movie-style story.

Pacific Strike is honestly a *weird* game. They were absolutely right that the dogfights in Strike Commanded needed to be slowed down... but the team went in some odd directions. The historically accurate storyline where all your talking heads were young white guys in the same khaki uniform and there wasn't *really* any drama on the carrier itself just ended up unfortunately dull... and then they put an absolutely insane amount of effort into the dynamic campaign that they kind of forgot to advertise or integrate into later games (all the mission layouts changed based on what Japanese ships were sunk at what point in the game--so if you sink a bunch of carriers early on you run into less air cover later and so on...).

There's actually a talkie version out there somewhere that was never released. They recorded the audio and had it ready but never shipped the CD. It's a shame no one is digging for that sort of game (similarly, I can find almost no references to the canned Aces of the Pacific 'RAF in the Pacific' addon online...).
 
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