Wing Commander Explosions Digitally Dissected Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

Last week danr put together a nifty video that showed off the differences a pilot would see playing the original Wing Commander games with and without expanded memory enabled. By all accounts, EMS definitely kicks the graphics and effects up a notch. But Owyn_Merrilin asked, "Is it weird that I actually like that explosion better than the ones you see on a system with enough EMS? They kind of remind me of the explosions in WC2, but smaller." And Dondragmer came to the rescue with a thorough technical explanation describing exactly why someone might have such a preference:

No, it's not weird, and it may be because you're noting a limitation in the regular WC1 explosion. The WC1 explosion (on the left or top) only has 6 cels. The game stretches this by displaying each cel for multiple frames - 1, 2, 3, 3, 4 and 6 frames respectively, for a total of 19. The cels are scaled up between frames to make some movement happen. This is clever programming to overcome limited memory and art resources, but still feels a little odd to watch.

In comparison, the low-memory flak burst (on the right or bottom) has 10 cels, each displayed for 1 frame. It may be smaller and shorter, but it is smoother.

Let's watch them in slow motion, the way our 286-using ancestors did.

For completeness, let's look at WC2.

The WC2 fighter explosion (below left or top) has 17 cels, and the WC2 capital ship explosion (below right or bottom) has 12 (ending with the whole screen flashing yellow, then white, then fading back.)

I extracted the WC2 sequences with the Wing Commander Bitmap Navigator. While WC1 and WC2 store their explosions in GAMEDAT\OBJECTS.VGA, the programmatic enhancements to each (the scaling in WC1 and the fading in WC2) mean you probably can't just use editing tools to swap explosion sequences between the two games.

With all that said, I still have a soft spot for the 6-cel WC1 explosion and its scaling tricks. However, there's no question that every other explosion used in WC1 and WC2 animates more smoothly.


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