Wing Commander 3 as Seen From the 21st Century (February 22, 2021)

ChrisReid

Super Soaker Collector / Administrator
Sidequest has posted a thorough retrospective of Wing Commander 3. It comes from an interesting perspective. The author has a lot of experience reviewing games, but was born after WC3's 1994 release. As such, one of the first things he calls out was the game's low resolution and high compression in cutscenes. While there's no doubt that this is an issue, if you lived through it at the time you would recall how the high end graphics (both in flight and for video) brought hardware of the time to its knees as it was. He also struggles a bit through the lack of tutorial help in-game, which was also typical of the era. But it's wonderful to see how people power through these difficulties and nevertheless have a blast with the game!



Thanks to Spacedock for spotting this one!

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Original update published on February 22, 2021
 

Wedge009

Rogue Leader
Maybe I'm really showing my age too, but the whole 'there's no tutorial to hold my hand' gripe didn't make sense to me but at least he was fair about it and admitted that he was spoiled by console-focused games. To me there was something special about opening a box full of in-universe documentation and working what to do before even stepping into the game (Origin's 'we create worlds' motto at work). But as we know, the market moved towards console style ease-of-use and reduced barriers to entry - I suppose it makes sense to encourage newcomers to games so you can potentially sell more copies. And of course, I imagine physical games would be largely a foreign concept to him, with so much distribution done digitally nowadays, there's not even a DVD or CD-ROM case with token paper manual any more.

That aside, regarding the audio pops and crackles he highlighted in the video, I don't recall experiencing that - at least not on the original DOS-based hardware. I suspect the popping may have more to do with DOSbox struggling to keep up with - or smooth out - the game. As Chris pointed out it's a technically demanding game so any kind of emulation is going to struggle with it, I think. I don't even remember it happening in my DOSbox replay last year, but then I'm not playing it for the first time like he was.

I hope he does end up playing WC4 as he said at the end. With a Windows version available hopefully it'll smooth out the game-play 'jankiness' he refers to, and of course the higher-quality DVD videos are sure to satisfy even from a 'spoilt millennial's' perspective. Since WC4 is quite similar to WC3 in terms of game-play, he shouldn't have to go through too much of the learning experience that he did. (Interesting that he used WC2 footage as part of explaining the back-story, despite not playing earlier games.)
 

Darkmage

Vice Admiral
Sadly, thanks to DOSBOX not shipping with an SC-55/SC-88 emulator, this guy will never know what the game should sound like. Bit rich to bag out the music when you've never heard what it's actually meant to sound like. Emulation sucks and is too flawed. We really need a working 486/Pentium 1 FPGA to give people the full WC3 experience as it was meant to be played.
 

YCDTD

Captain
Yeah, the reaction of your potential love interests when they get rejected does seem petty and childish. I felt that way in 1994 and still do now, but in the end that is a very minor gripe.

The audio issues I also experienced on my last playthrough 2 years ago.

I didn't like the longbow much either, until I made a commitment to getting skilled with my rear turret!

I think he exaggerates the episodic nature of the plot, but it is a fair point. Take the introduction of Flash during the Tamayo missions; you have 4 interactions with Flash during them and only 2 more for the rest of the game IIRC. He felt a little bit like last minute DLC!

The ground missions were too ambitious for the games engine, but I applaud the attempt to do something new.

Having to film the losing path missions and using disk space that could have instead included the explanation for Hobbes betrayal was a mistake.
 
I'll get the updates from ODVS when I do my WCIV playthrough. I'm going to take a short break to spend more time with family after WCIII, so probably right after this year's Wrestlemania (a week after Easter). I'll invite him to the stream so he can see the improvements and is then able to advise his viewers on where to go if they have any questions.
 

ChrisReid

Super Soaker Collector / Administrator
Maybe I'm really showing my age too, but the whole 'there's no tutorial to hold my hand' gripe didn't make sense to me but at least he was fair about it and admitted that he was spoiled by console-focused games. To me there was something special about opening a box full of in-universe documentation and working what to do before even stepping into the game (Origin's 'we create worlds' motto at work). But as we know, the market moved towards console style ease-of-use and reduced barriers to entry - I suppose it makes sense to encourage newcomers to games so you can potentially sell more copies.

It wasn't console focus that resulted in tutorials today. In the '90s, console games were also frequently bitter and unforgiving difficulty wise. As the whole games industry matured, as you note, there was a push to reduce barriers to entry and improve the user experience. And that applies very much to both console and PC games today. With subscriptions to things like Gamepass, I have access to literally hundreds of free quality games. And given my current time to invest in playing anything, if the game isn't willing to meet me half way to come down the learning curve smoothly, I usually can't be bothered to keep going, because some other game will.

Having to film the losing path missions and using disk space that could have instead included the explanation for Hobbes betrayal was a mistake.

WC3 reuses a lot of its video for the losing path, and once you've invested in filming the video, designing the missions, creating the assets for them (systems like Delius have the Kilrathi asteroid base), you're not going to cut that. And it would be overkill if you did. There are any number of random filler scenes that would be easy to cut to free up space for Hobbes. They made a decision to cut that particular high impact scene, for whatever reason (the technical reason, of course, was for compatibility with the old 60 minute CD size standard versus modern 72 minute discs).
 

Pedro

Admiral
It wasn't console focus that resulted in tutorials today. In the '90s, console games were also frequently bitter and unforgiving difficulty wise. As the whole games industry matured, as you note, there was a push to reduce barriers to entry and improve the user experience. And that applies very much to both console and PC games today. With subscriptions to things like Gamepass, I have access to literally hundreds of free quality games. And given my current time to invest in playing anything, if the game isn't willing to meet me half way to come down the learning curve smoothly, I usually can't be bothered to keep going, because some other game will.

I feel like these are two separate issues; you'll still find absolutely punishing games, far more so than Wing Commander. I too no longer have the time to invest too much time into a single game; but that difficulty hasn't been the issue, games just keep getting longer to the point where I've usually lost all interest by the end. If you're a big game you can even apparently get away with 4 hours passing before showing the titles!
I think the guy called it out correctly; you used to have the manuals, and whilst GoG provides them it's less likely you'll find time to read them.

I remember reading the WCIV manual coming back from purchasing it at PC World, doing so helped increase anticipation. Then there's installing the game, another great opportunity to dig in; and having a physical booklet means you can glance at it easily whilst playing.

Now you'd install on steam, which honestly takes seconds, but even if it didn't you'd just run something else whilst waiting. Games now have to be self explanatory.

On the plus side that's often done through better design rather than too much heavy handed tutorialization; even Wing Commander started to realise this towards the end (Alt-O, Alt-X? Why?!)
 
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AD

Finder of things, Doer of stuff
Oddly I've not gotten into subscription services for games. With netflix I'll just watch what they have, but with games I know what I want to play and I don't have any time for filler. I like the model in principle but there isn't a service yet which covers the games I want at launch.

I wasn't originally interested but after a year of free gamepass ultimate I've been able to try a ton of games I wouldn't have bothered with otherwise. Some are fairly basic indie games that are great for 10 - 15 minute gaming sessions. Others are ones I didn't want to pay full price for but find myself coming back to periodically between other games. Also, it includes gamepass for PC so I've been able to play a few games that way too for the same price. In the end it fills the place that the all-but-disappeared-game-demos used to have for me. Also, because i didn't have to shell out for the crap, I feel like I'm more forgiving of some of the quirks and I don't feel bad about uninstalling things immediately that I know aren't for me once I give them a shot.

... given my current time to invest in playing anything, if the game isn't willing to meet me half way to come down the learning curve smoothly, I usually can't be bothered to keep going, because some other game will.

Yeah, If the controls are terrible or it's just not doing it for me I don't feel bad about dropping things I've downloaded on gamepass and trying something else. WC games always had a keyboard layout that kind of makes sense for me so it's easy to go back to, but I can see how someone just picking it up today might find that challening to get used to.
 

Mace

Vice Admiral
Maybe I'm really showing my age too, but the whole 'there's no tutorial to hold my hand' gripe didn't make sense to me but at least he was fair about it and admitted that he was spoiled by console-focused games. To me there was something special about opening a box full of in-universe documentation and working what to do before even stepping into the game (Origin's 'we create worlds' motto at work). But as we know, the market moved towards console style ease-of-use and reduced barriers to entry - I suppose it makes sense to encourage newcomers to games so you can potentially sell more copies. And of course, I imagine physical games would be largely a foreign concept to him, with so much distribution done digitally nowadays, there's not even a DVD or CD-ROM case with token paper manual any more.

That aside, regarding the audio pops and crackles he highlighted in the video, I don't recall experiencing that - at least not on the original DOS-based hardware. I suspect the popping may have more to do with DOSbox struggling to keep up with - or smooth out - the game. As Chris pointed out it's a technically demanding game so any kind of emulation is going to struggle with it, I think. I don't even remember it happening in my DOSbox replay last year, but then I'm not playing it for the first time like he was.

I hope he does end up playing WC4 as he said at the end. With a Windows version available hopefully it'll smooth out the game-play 'jankiness' he refers to, and of course the higher-quality DVD videos are sure to satisfy even from a 'spoilt millennial's' perspective. Since WC4 is quite similar to WC3 in terms of game-play, he shouldn't have to go through too much of the learning experience that he did. (Interesting that he used WC2 footage as part of explaining the back-story, despite not playing earlier games.)
Well, probably both of us had experince in the first two wing commanders, x-wing, and other space/flight combat games. At that day the moment i got my hand on "the precious", and an upgrade set(8MB of ram, new motherboard and IBM 80Mhz 486DX2) from thesame computer resellers fair, I had to withold myself to not install the game on my first test boot, but first properly close the case back together again. installed the game, Grabbed my always hooked up joystick and just fly into battle with manual takeoff like it was second nature.

But as sign of the times, all we now have to play for new games is Squadrons, and one thing it is losing players with is that somebody without proper space combat experience(and think it is fortnite, so they go straight into multiplayer and skip the tutorial-soaked campaign) and the right gear(HOTAS is the go-to, even controller is playable, but mouse+keyboard just makes the controls to complex), that often leads to 30-0 slaughters and rage-quiting first time players.
 

Wedge009

Rogue Leader
Yeah, the reaction of your potential love interests when they get rejected does seem petty and childish. I felt that way in 1994 and still do now, but in the end that is a very minor gripe.
Oh, I forgot about that - yes, completely agreed with the assessment of the behaviour of the spurned party but I suppose it was all part of the choices and consequences direction they took with WC3.
I didn't like the longbow much either, until I made a commitment to getting skilled with my rear turret!
I'm the opposite play-style, I tend to favour the heavier fighters though I'll admit the Longbow is a slug. IIRC, the Arrow benefits from a little bit of the Excalibur's auto-aim, though perhaps not as extensively, and 'sliding' is also a benefit. The nice thing is that because of these different characteristics every fighter is memorable and distinct.
I think he exaggerates the episodic nature of the plot, but it is a fair point. Take the introduction of Flash during the Tamayo missions; you have 4 interactions with Flash during them and only 2 more for the rest of the game IIRC. He felt a little bit like last minute DLC!
I think the relative lack of interaction is more to do with the fact that he's an optional character. Regarding the episodic nature, IIRC, the way the script was written was just as he described - each system basically being its own little 'episode'. I suppose it's easier to keep track of things with respect to branching missions even though WC3 branches far less than the previous two games.
The ground missions were too ambitious for the games engine, but I applaud the attempt to do something new.
I wonder if that was more to do with the game being focused on space combat. WC3 was derived from the same engine as Strike Commander so we know it could have handled textured ground missions, but they didn't invest in it. Perhaps to save on time, perhaps to save on CD space too. As you mentioned, Hobbes' farewell message being dropped was a big omission - but I suppose they had to account for lower-capacity CDs too, try to lower the already high barrier to entry.
It wasn't console focus that resulted in tutorials today. In the '90s, console games were also frequently bitter and unforgiving difficulty wise... if the game isn't willing to meet me half way to come down the learning curve smoothly, I usually can't be bothered to keep going, because some other game will.
Fair point, I remember games like Battletoads being notoriously hard (or if you prefer 'challenging')... but I suppose that's more to do with the challenge of the game itself, the basic mechanics of at least that particular game weren't hard to grasp. I suppose Star Citizen being difficult to master (at least from the few times I've tried it, it always seems to crash after a few minutes for me) is part of the throw-back to old-school in-depth mechanics style of older games.

I'm also something of an opposite to you - subscriptions don't mean much to me, I only pay for the games I care to play. Admittedly I'm very late, but I gave the original Deus Ex a go last year - from the perspective of a generation that expects 'tutorial' introductions it was a rough start but once I got the hang of it, I started to enjoy it more and appreciate all the game-play details they implemented. Things got a lot easier with the sequels, again, probably due to the shift in game culture that you described.
...all we now have to play for new games is Squadrons...
I know there's been some discussion about Squadrons elsewhere. Initially I was interested but then I heard the focus (of course) is on multi-player. The alternating perspectives of flying for the New Republic and Empire sounds interesting but it sounds like the single-player story is (Edit!) not on the same level as what we're accustomed to in Wing Commander. The other thing discouraging me is the poor performance in Proton (it must have improved recently, however, as it's now showing Bronze whereas before it was red for 'doesn't work').

As for my personal experience - started with WC2. Launch the first mission. Point the fighter in the right direction and shoot. Kill enemies, return to base. Not too hard. (Plus it was fun and pretty.) Didn't remember having a problem referring to (paper) manuals for keys - I recall not knowing how to use auto-pilot at first! I suppose it really is a case of being from a different generation.
 
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Mekt-Hakkikt

Mpanty's bane
Maybe I'm really showing my age too, but the whole 'there's no tutorial to hold my hand' gripe didn't make sense to me but at least he was fair about it and admitted that he was spoiled by console-focused games. To me there was something special about opening a box full of in-universe documentation and working what to do before even stepping into the game (Origin's 'we create worlds' motto at work). But as we know, the market moved towards console style ease-of-use and reduced barriers to entry - I suppose it makes sense to encourage newcomers to games so you can potentially sell more copies. And of course, I imagine physical games would be largely a foreign concept to him, with so much distribution done digitally nowadays, there's not even a DVD or CD-ROM case with token paper manual any more.

That aside, regarding the audio pops and crackles he highlighted in the video, I don't recall experiencing that - at least not on the original DOS-based hardware. I suspect the popping may have more to do with DOSbox struggling to keep up with - or smooth out - the game. As Chris pointed out it's a technically demanding game so any kind of emulation is going to struggle with it, I think. I don't even remember it happening in my DOSbox replay last year, but then I'm not playing it for the first time like he was.

I hope he does end up playing WC4 as he said at the end. With a Windows version available hopefully it'll smooth out the game-play 'jankiness' he refers to, and of course the higher-quality DVD videos are sure to satisfy even from a 'spoilt millennial's' perspective. Since WC4 is quite similar to WC3 in terms of game-play, he shouldn't have to go through too much of the learning experience that he did. (Interesting that he used WC2 footage as part of explaining the back-story, despite not playing earlier games.)
I'm showing my age probably too but I really dislike these tutorials. I wan't a manual in which I can look up what I need whenever the situation arises - and not have it explained to me via textboxes in the game at certain times.
 
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