A Brief History of Privateer Online - Written by Ben Lesnick

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After the completion of Wing Commander Secret Ops in the fall of 1998, Origin's Maverick team toyed with several ideas to continue the franchise -- Wing Commander: Strike Team - the next game in the series, an unnamed multiplayer game where players could play as a team, Privateer 3 and others. After several false starts, they began Wing Commander Online. When I visited Origin in late 1998, work had just begun on this project: proposals had been written and concept art was being done.

Then came the [premiere.shtml Wing Commander Movie] in March 1999. Whether or not the fact that the movie's release coincide's with changes at Origin is a coincidence or not, we'll never know. We do know that Origin layed off the remaining members of the Maverick team and Electronic Arts transferred Wing Commander's patron, OSI President Neil Young, off to another post in March, 1999. Hope was lost. EA's fiscal year also ends in March, and each year current projects are reevaluated.

But it didn't end there. In the months following the movie, Origin shocked us all by rehiring much of its former talent to work on Privateer Online. Several variations were considered -- including a game that had no space combat whatsoever, essentially Ultima Online in the future (or Star Wars Galaxies in its current incarnation).

But again, things fell apart. Origin re-evaluated their business plan in early 2000, and decided to focus only on online titles. Origin had a set budget made for the year and westwood's Earth & Beyond was now in development as a "competing" massively multiplayer space sim. Resources were scarce and they needed to fund the fledgling Ultima Online 2.0. They fired or reassigned the artists and programmers working on Privateer Online, and cancelled the project once again. No 'good' reason was ever given for the sudden animosity towards their former money-making line, but speculation would indicate that the problems follow the failure of the Wing Commander Movie at the box office and Electronic Arts' lack of faith in a Chris Roberts-less WC product.

I got a chance to see some of the work that had been done on Privateer Online several days after Origin cancelled the project. The ground elements were similar to the 3D engine of Ultima Ascension. Some promotional artwork had been done, featuring various Prophecy era ships. The various Privateer ships were 'modular' 3D models -- upgrading your guns or your engines would change the look of your ship in space. No one seemed to have much hope that the project would be continued -- I disagree... to borrow an option from Wing Commander IV, there's always hope.

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