April 5th, 1996: Wing Commander IV is out and Wing Commander Prophecy is 18 months away... what do we have to look forward to? The Darkening, Kilrathi Saga, Wing Commander Academy, a variety of ports... 1996-97 was actually a golden age for Wing Commander!
This is actually a very important issue of The Point of Origin. Be sure to read the 'Maverick' article, which sets the stage for Chris Roberts' exit from Origin, as well as the 'real spacecraft' joke which is why we continue to celebrate April Fools Day here each year.
A very special thanks to Joe Garrity of the Origin Museum for making this resource available and to Electronic Arts for sending them to him in the first place!
- What the Hell is up with... Maverick?! sets up the end of Chris Roberts at Origin... and reveals some amazing lost projects:
Have you seen a strangely familiar long-haired man with shades wandering around the 4th floor lately? It could have been Billy Cain during his infamous Rich Hilleman impersonation.
More likely, however, it's actually been Rich Hilleman in the flesh, because he's been here in Austin.
Formerly general manager of what was known as EA's Entertainment divison, which included ORIGIN, Rich has been in town just about every other week for the last couple of months. His mission: To find someone to run Maverick Productions on an ongoing basis. After recent talks between Chris Roberts and EA, the question of the team's leadership has been in a state of limbo.
"Maverick needs a morale boost and ORIGIN needs staff to carry out the day-to-day management of the team." says Rich. "Since Chris' capacity with ORIGIN has changed, I've been called in on a temporary basis. I don't know how long it will take, but it's been hard to fill Chris' shoes. What I want to do is replace myself as soon as possible."
Company sources reveal--and you know who you are--that contract negotiations with Chris Roberts continue, things are expected to be settled very soon, and his future role will be new properties.
Rich said he'd like there to be some middle management in the Maverick team and/or a director of development. "I also feel like Maverick's members should feel like they have the ability to work on other ORIGIN projects if they want to. Most of all, I want ORIGIN and Maverick to be happy with whatever decisions are made."
No stranger to the Wing Commander universe, Rich is a zealous interactive movie supporter, and was instrumental in getting funding for Wing Commanders III and IV. He is looking forward to leaving Austin with confidence that Maverick and ORIGIN will be happy and Wing Commander V will reach new technological heights.
"Right now, there are seven story ideas being considered for Wing 5," he said. "Once we have that settled, we'll seek a writer who we think can work it all together. Rather than design Wing 5 based on the storyline, we're basing it on the gameplay technology, which is being completely rebuilt. The Ace Engineering Group, which consists of Maverick's tools group, has recently been renamed to build a new central technology and tool base."
Other future titles for the team include Maniac Missions, Wing Commander V for PlayStation, which will have custom designed gameplay but will share linear content with its PC counterpart, and Wing Commander Universe. "Wing Commander I and II are unplayable on current systems," says Rich. "We want to fix them--not recode them-- so they can launch out of Windows 95 and will release them as part of the Wing Commander Universe package. When we really get back to redoing Wing Commanders I and II, we may redo them with live action footage."
In other Wing Commander-related news, Rich said The Darkening is in the process of being reworked to be Privateer: The Darkening and the title which has tentatively been called Darklight may become another Wing Commander Academy title in conjunction with the release of the Wing Commander Academy cartoon on the USA Network this fall. The cartoon, being produced by Universal/MCA, will star the voices of Malcolm McDowell, Mark Hamill, and Tom Wilson, who already have begun doing some of the work. Although it will appear on Saturday mornings, the cartoon won't be the typical low-tech Saturday morning animation, but instead will have high end production values similar to the FOX Network's "Batman" series. Stay tuned to future POINTs for the latest information on this and other juicy topics.
- In Ink has better reviews of Wing Commander IV:
If the early reviews are any indication, Wing Commander IV is well on its way to megahit status. Here is what the scribes are writing about the latest success story in the WC line.
Scott May with Computer Gaming World gave WCIV a score of 4.5 out of 5 in the April issue. "A ground-breaking cinematic experience," he wrote. "Curious about so-called interactive movies? This is one of the few that works, and it works well."
Some of the major national consumer magazines are also getting on the WCIV bandwagon. In Newsweek magazine, N'Gai Croal wrote, "The game skillfully integrates live-action video with computer-generated graphics and sophisticated gameplay. Has saving the universe ever been this much fun?" And from Entertainment Weekly, Bob Strauss wrote about WCIV, "A movie game that takes CD-ROM warfare into the next generation. EW's report card for WCIV was an A-.
And the good press doesn't stop there. The major newspaper dailies are starting to sing WCIV's praises. Kim McDaniel writes for The Salt Lake City Tribune. She gave it 4 out of 4 stars in her review. "A cast that would make any TV-movie director jealous--and more than a few feature-film directors as well. While many games tout themselves as interactive movies, Wing Commander IV is truly deserving of the title--a pure joy to watch and to play."
Vox Day writes for The Pioneer Press in St. Paul Minnesota. His final score for WCIV was 4.5 out of 5. Day said, "With the Dolby surround sound on, it really is like watching a movie. It's nice to know that in a fast-changing world, you can still count on good games from ORIGIN."
Also weighing in was Mike Floyd, who writes for The Detroit Free Press. "At times, it was like watching an episode of a science fiction show."
And it goes on and on. Here are even more comments from writers who are impressed with what they've seen of WCIV:
"The best outer-space shooting game I've ever seen."--3.5 out of 4, Mike Langberg, San Jose Mercury News.
"Graphics and sound have always been ORIGIN's forte, but Wing Commander IV goes above and beyond the company's standard.--Peter Bartholow, Dallas Morning News.
"ORIGIN's simulator remains the best on the shelves."--Andy Grieser, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"Wing Commander IV delivers an arcade-style experience--razzle-dazzle space-flight graphics on a color monitor and gratifyingly percussive explosions on stereo speakers."--Joseph Gelmis, New York Newsday.
The game's also getting tons of coverage from the electronic press. A press tour in New York City last month saw Mark Hamill interviewed on CNBC, FX Breakfast Time and more than 10 morning drive programs at many of the top radio markets in the country.
Meanwhile, WCIV isn't the only ORIGIN game getting hyped in the press these days...
- ORIGIN To Use Real Spacecraft in Wing Commander V went over a lot of people's heads:
(Editor's note: With the spirit of April Fool's day in the air, Computer Gaming World recently ran the following article describing ORIGIN's plans for Wing Commander V. Reaction has been mixed, ranging from light chuckles to frantic fans wondering how long it'll be before they can blast Mark Hamill into orbit....)
With Wing Commander IV barely a month old, ORIGIN has already announced incredible plans for the next game in the highly successful series. In another first for a computer game company, ORIGIN says it will design small working models of highly maneuverable drones which can be launched into space, piloted remotely and filmed. The craft will enable Wing V to have "unprecedented space flight realism and true star appeal" says a company spokesperson.
Although the next game in the SF series sounds more like fiction than science, ORIGIN's Chris Roberts says it's the next logical step for his six-year-old creation. "If you think about it," he says, "Wing Commander was the game where we learned the mechanics of space fighting. We made lots of changes and improvements to the overall design in Wing II. With Wing III, we raised the bar considerably with better graphics, more realistic action, full motion video and big name stars in video segments. In Wing IV, we upped the ante again with real sets, more video, and, in my opinion, a much better story. We've reached the point of using real stars and real sets--now it's time to take our act on location: real space."
Analysts say it's nearly impossible to estimate the cost of such an undertaking. Some put figures between $100 million and $10 billion, just to deploy a small number of remotely pilotable vehicles beyond Earth's atmosphere. Despite this, ORIGIN's Lord British (Richard Garriott) claims that he has much of the necessary financial support from investors. Says Garriott, "When we told (investors) what we wanted to do for Wing Commander V, they were amazed. We're talking about one of man's deepest desires--to break free of the bonds of Earth.... We know it seems costly in comparison with other games, but this is unlike anything that's ever been done. I don't see any problem getting the financial backing for this project, and we expect to recoup the investment in the first week. You're going to see a worldwide release on eight platforms in 36 countries--it's going to be a huge event. It'll dwarf even Windows '95."
For those who still remain planted on terra firma, Garriot counters that ORIGIN doesn't have to create everything from scratch. "There are now six separate countries which can launch satellites into space, and we're talking with all of them. We're also engaged in ongoing discussion with NASA, whose aeronautical engineers have been sharing a great deal of technical information with us in exchange for our latest releases."
Both Roberts and Garriott declined further questions, but they did say that most gamers don't have the necessary hardware for such a game. Leaving the press conference, Garriott flashed a quick aside. "If you haven't already," he said with a smile, "now's the time to start thinking about that upgrade to a super-cooled mainframe."
Reprinted by permission from "The Fool," (April, 1996).
Point of Origin
Vol. VI, No. 3 - April 5, 1996
Spotlight: Ultima Online is a Hit with Pre-Alpha Testers!
What the hell is up with... Maverick?!
Origin To Use real Spacecraft in Wing Commander V
Bites & Bytes
Industry Party a Success!