The wait for the Wing Commander movie is almost over.
Twentieth Century Fox will release Wing Commander on March 12, announced Tom Sherak, chairman of Twentieth Domestic Film Group, in a statement to the press. The movie is based on the popular series of games of the same name. The series was created by Chris Roberts while he was at Origin. Roberts now heads Digital Anvil, but signed a deal with Origin that allowed him to direct the movie, his feature film debut.
Wing Commander will center around Christopher Blair, the "star" of the first four Wing Commander games. Blair is played by Freddie Prinze, Jr. Other roles being reprised from the game include Maniac, played by Mathew Lillard; and Deveraux, played by Saffron Burrows. Other stars in the movie include Tcheky Karyo, David Suchet, David Warner, Ginny Holder, and Jurgen Prochnow.
In an interview today, Roberts discussed the movie with Gamecenter. "The story is loosely based around the events of the first game; Maniac and Blair are fresh out of the Academy," he said. "The Kilrathi capture a vital piece of the jump technology and the TCS Tigerclaw is the only ship in a position to slow them down. It's a 'defend the earth' type of story."
Roberts drew inspiration for the movie and the original game from World War II, specifically the war in the Pacific. "I wanted to make an old-fashioned World War II film and set it in space," Roberts said. "The Kilrathi are like the Japanese in World War II and the Confederation are like the U.S. There are a lot of interior scenes--kind of a submarine feel. I wanted a distinct look and feel for the film."
Roberts and Digital Anvil have film and television rights to the first four Wing Commander games, so if this movie is successful, gamers may see additional movies. "We want this to be our first entry in the film business," Roberts said. "Down the road we hope to be doing a fair amount of film work. If this film is successful we will probably be doing another, but we want to do other films besides Wing Commander."
So what was it like making a feature film as opposed to a game? "The scale was bigger--there's a lot more money involved," said Roberts. "If you want to think about something for 10 minutes you're burning money as you have 150 people waiting for you." He added, "You really have to be prepared because there isn't a lot of budget for reshoots." Roberts also noted the different storytelling pace of a movie compared to the Wing Commander games: "There is an inherent difference between the 20 hours you get in a game to tell the story and the limited time you get in a movie."
Roberts hasn't forgotten his gaming roots, though. He's heading the development of Freelancer for Digital Anvil, a "massively multiplayer" space game set in an entirely new game universe. "It will be space adventuring, trading, and much more, with elements like feudal houses for players to be a part of," Roberts explained.
Freelancer is a game that Roberts has been itching to do ever since he played Elite and designed Privateer. "I was a big fan of Elite," he said. "With Privateer, we never fully realized some of what I wanted to do." So that's one of the reasons why Roberts wants to do Freelancer--to finally make the game he really wanted to create. He added that the game has been in development for two years now, and will be released in 2000. Roberts also mentioned that there's a possibility of doing a film set in the Freelancer universe as well.
Roberts completed Wing Commander more than two months ago, which allows for it to be released before the highly anticipated Star Wars prequel.