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Wing Commander II

02 Mar

If there was ever any doubt inside Origin Systems that Chris Roberts’s Wing Commander was destined to join Ultima as the company’s second great franchise, it was banished the moment the first game in the new series was released on September 26, 1990, and promptly sold by some accounts 100,000 copies in its first month on the market. Previously known as a maker of highly demanding CRPGs that were devoured by an exclusive audience of loyalists, Origin was suddenly the proud publisher of the game that absolutely everybody was talking about, regardless of what genre they usually favored. It was a strange turn of events, one that surprised Origin almost as much as it did the rest of their industry. Nevertheless, the company wouldn’t be shy about exploiting the buzz.

The first dribble in what would become a flood of additional Wing Commander product was born out of a planned “special edition” of the original game, to be sold only via direct mail order. Each numbered copy of the special edition was to be signed by Roberts and would include a baseball cap sporting the Wing Commander logo. To sweeten the deal, Roberts proposed that they also pull together some of the missions and spaceships lying around the office that hadn’t made the cut for the original game, string some story bits between them using existing tools and graphic assets, and throw that into the special-edition box as well.

But the commercial potential for the “mission disk” just kept growing as customers bought the original game, churned through the forty or so missions included therein, and came clamoring for more. Roberts, for one, was certain that mission disks should be cranked out in quantity and made available as widely as possible, likening them to all of the “adventure modules” he had purchased for tabletop Dungeons & Dragons as a kid. And so the profile of the so-called Secret Missions project kept growing, becoming first a standalone product available by direct order from Origin, and then a regular boxed product that was sold at retail, just like all their other games. “When I make the decision to purchase a product,” Roberts noted in his commonsense way, “I want to go to the store and buy it immediately. I don’t want to make a phone call and wait for someone to ship it to me.”

The add-on disk’s mission design wasn’t as good as that of the original game, which had already done a pretty good job of digging all of the potential out of the space-combat engine’s fairly limited bag of tricks. With no way of making the missions more interesting, the add-on settled for making them more difficult, throwing well-nigh absurd quantities of enemy spacecraft at the player. But it didn’t matter: players ate it up and kept right on begging for more. Origin obliged them again with Secret Missions 2, a somewhat more impressive outing that employed the engine which was in development for a standalone Wing Commander II, and was thereby able to add at least a few new wrinkles to the mission formula along with a more developed plot.

It was Wing Commander II itself, however, that everyone — not least among them Origin’s accountants — was really waiting for. Origin hoped to get the sequel out by June of 1991, just nine months after the first game. Chris Roberts, now installed as Origin’s “Director of New Technologies,” had been placed in charge of developing a true next-generation engine from scratch for use in the eventual Wing Commander III, and thus had a limited role in this interim step. Day-to-day responsibility for Wing Commander II passed into the hands of its “director” Stephen Beeman,1 who had just finished filling the same role on Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire.

Beeman’s team of coders improved the space-combat engine in welcome ways. They properly accounted for the speed of the computer running the game, thus mostly fixing the speed issues which have dogged the first Wing Commander to this day. They added an innovative layer of adaptive artificial intelligence on the part of enemy ships, so that if the player flew and shot better the enemy did as well and vice versa, in an effort to remedy one of the primary complaints players had made about the Secret Missions disks in particular: that too many of the missions were just too darn hard. And they also created a whole new slate of ships to fight and to fly; most notable among them was the Broadsword, a lumbering torpedo bomber of a spaceship with rear- and side-facing gun turrets which the player could jump into and control.

Wing Commander II‘s most obvious new gameplay wrinkle is the Broadsword torpedo bomber, in which you can control gun turrets that shoot to the sides and behind. But it doesn’t work out all that well because your ship just keeps flying straight ahead, a clay pigeon for the Kilrathi, while you’re busy in the turret. I tend to ignore the existence of the turrets, and I suspect I’m not alone.

With Wing Commander II, Origin’s artists began using Autodesk 3D Studio. Jake Rodgers, the first 3D artist they hired to work with the new tool, had learned how to do so at an architecture firm. “After talking with Origin, I decided that creating spaceships sounded a lot more interesting than working on buildings,” he remembers. The actual game engine remained only pseudo-3D, but Rodgers and the artists he trained were able to use 3D Studio to make the sprites which represented the ships more detailed than ever, both in the game proper and in some very impressive animated cut scenes. The 3D revolution that was destined to have as huge an impact on the aesthetics of games as it would on the way they played was still a couple of years away from starting in earnest, but with the arrival of 3D Studio in Origin’s toolbox the first tentative steps were already being taken.

Wing Commander II introduces the possibility of good Kilrathi, thus softening some of xenophobia of the first game. And yes, it remains completely impossible to take these flying Tony the Tigers seriously.

Most of all, though, Origin poured their energy into the story layer of the game — into all the stuff that happened when you weren’t actually sitting in the cockpit blowing up the evil Kilrathi. Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi took an approach to game design that could best be summed up as “give the people what they want.” With barely six months to bring the project to completion, Origin combed through all of the feedback they had received on the first game, looking to punch up the stuff that people had liked and to minimize or excise entirely the stuff they seemingly didn’t care so much about.

And they found out that what the people had really liked, alongside the spectacular graphics and sound, had been the feeling of playing the starring role in a rollicking science-fiction film. The people liked the interactions in the bar with their fellow pilots, the briefing scenes before each mission, and the debriefs afterward. They liked the characters of their fellow pilots, to whom they claimed an emotional bond that surprised even Chris Roberts. And they liked the idea of all of the missions they flew finding their context within a larger unfolding narrative of interstellar war — even if, taken on its own terms, the story of the first game was so vague as to barely exist at all. Faced with such a sketchy story, alongside a collection of characters that were often little more than ethnic stereotypes, players had happily spun more elaborate fictions in their minds, reading between lines the game’s developers had never drawn in the first place. For instance, some of them were convinced that Angel, the female French pilot, secretly had the hots for the hero, something that came as news to everyone at Origin.

But there were other innovative aspects of the first game which, equally to Origin’s surprise, their customers were less keen on. The most noteworthy of these, and a consistent sore point with Chris Roberts in particular, was the lovingly crafted branching mission tree, in which the player’s success or failure affected the course of the war and thus what later missions she would be assigned. Despite all of Origin’s admonitions to the contrary, overwhelming evidence suggested that the vast majority of players replayed each mission until they’d managed to complete it successfully rather than taking their lumps and moving on. Roberts and his colleagues found this so frustrating not least because they had poured a lot of energy and money into missions which the majority of players were never even seeing. Yes, one might argue that this state of affairs was to a large extent Origin’s own fault, the natural byproduct of a design which assigned harder rather than easier missions as a consequence of failure, thus sending the honest but not terribly proficient player into a downward spiral of ever-increasing futility. Still, rather than remedy that failing Origin chose to prune their mission tree; while limited branching would still be possible, the success and failure paths would be merely slightly modified versions of the same narrative arc, and failing two mission series in a row would abruptly end the game. Origin wanted to tell a real story this time around, and that would be hard enough; they didn’t have time to make a bunch of branching stories.

Who would ever have guessed that the black pilot would be the one named Downtown?

Given the new emphasis on story, Stephen Beeman was fortunate to have at his disposal Ellen Guon, the very first professional writer ever to be hired by Origin. Guon came to the company from Sierra, where she had polished up the text in remakes of the first King’s Quest game and the educational title Mixed-Up Mother Goose. Before that, she had written for Saturday-morning cartoons, working for a time with Christy Marx, another cartoon veteran who would later wind up at Sierra, on Jem and the Holograms. She’d also seen some of her science-fiction and fantasy stories published in magazines and anthologies, and her first novel, a collaboration with the more established fantasy novelist Mercedes Lackey, was being published just as she was settling in at Origin. Beeman and Guon developed the initial script for Wing Commander II together, learning in the process that they had more in common than game development; Ellen Guon would eventually become Ellen Beeman.

Chris Roberts badly wanted not just a more developed story for the second game but a darker one, an Empire Strikes Back to contrast with the original game’s Star Wars. Beeman and Guon obliged him with a script that sees the Tiger’s Claw, the ship from which the player had flown and fought in the first game, destroyed in the opening moments of the second one by a Kilrathi strike force that, thanks to the secret stealth technology the flying tigers have developed, seems to come out of nowhere. The hero of the original game, who sported whatever name the player chose to give him but was universally known to the developers as “Bluehair” after the tint Origin’s artists gave to his coiffure, is flying a mission when it happens, and through a not-entirely-sensical chain of logic winds up being blamed for the tragedy. But the prosecution fails to prove his negligence or treasonous intent beyond a reasonable doubt at the court martial, and instead of winding up in prison he gets demoted and assigned to fly routine patrols with “Insystem Security” from a station way out in the middle of nowhere. Finally, after years of this boring duty, the Kilrathi unexpectedly come to his quiet little corner of the galaxy, and the “Coward of K’Tithrak Mang” — that being Bluehair — gets his shot at redemption, under circumstances that see him reunited with many of his old comrades-in-arms from Wing Commander I and its mission disks.

A rule of war movies applies here. If someone starts talking about her family…

The increased emphasis on storytelling — on cinematic storytelling — is all-pervasive. The original game played out in a predictable sequence: conversations in the bar would be followed by a mission briefing, which would be followed by the actual mission, which would be followed by the debrief. Now, the “movie” takes place anywhere and everywhere. In order to inject some cinematic drama into the mission themselves, Origin introduced cut scenes that can play at literally any time as they unfold.

Wing Commander II really is all about the story. It doesn’t want you to spend a lot of time working out how to beat each of the missions; it just wants to keep the plot train chugging down the track. Thus the new adaptive artificial intelligence, which keeps you from ever getting stuck on a mission you just can’t crack. At the same time, however, the selfsame artificial intelligence contrives to make sure that none of your victories are ever routine. “If you meet eight enemies and manage to take out the first seven,” noted Beeman, “the last ship’s intelligence is increased by a few notches. Engaging the last ship results in a really tough dogfight.” Wing Commander II is meant to be a relentless thrill ride like the movies that inspired it, and is always willing to put a thumb on either side of the scale to make sure it meets that ideal.

…and then starts talking about her impending retirement…

From a business standpoint — from that of making games that make money — Wing Commander II could serve as something of a role model even today. There was no trace of the indecision, over-ambition, and bets-hedging that so often lead projects astray. Stephen Beeman had a crystal-clear brief, and he achieved his goals with the same degree of clarity, bringing the project in only slightly over time and over budget — not a huge sin, considering that Origin’s original timing and budget had both been wildly overoptimistic. The important thing was that the game was done in plenty of time for Christmas, shipping on August 30, 1991, whereupon Origin was immediately rewarded with smashing reviews. Writing for Computer Gaming World, Alan Emrich optimistically said that the plot had begun “bridging the chasm from ‘genre pulp fiction’ to something that could be more accurately regarded as ‘art.'” Even more importantly, Wing Commander II became another smash hit. It sold its first 100,000 units in the United States in less than two months, and a truly remarkable 500,000 copies worldwide in its first six months.

…it can only end one way for her.

Yet in my opinion Wing Commander II hasn’t aged nearly as well as its predecessor. Today, the two games stand together as an object lesson in the ever-present conflict between narrative and interactivity. In gaining so much of the former, Wing Commander II loses far too much of the latter. Speaking at the time of the game’s release, Origin’s Warren Spector noted that “we’re still learning how to tell stories on the computer. We’re figuring out where we can be cinematic, and where trying to be cinematic just flat doesn’t work. We’re finding out where you want interaction, and where you want the player to sit back and watch the action.” It’s at these intersections between “being cinematic” and not being cinematic, between interaction and “sitting back and watching the action,” that Wing Commander II kind of falls apart for me.

I’m no fan of bloated, shaggy game designs, and generally think that a keen editor’s eye is one of the best attributes a designer can possess, yet I would hardly describe the original Wing Commander as over-complicated. In the second game, I miss the many things that have been excised as superfluous. I miss the little ersatz arcade game that lets you practice your skills; I miss winning medals and promotions as a result of my performance in the missions; I miss climbing the squadron leader board as I collect more and more kills. In the first game, your wingman could get killed in battle if you didn’t watch out for him properly, resulting in a funeral ceremony, a “KIA” next to his name on the leader board, and your having to fly all by yourself those subsequent missions that should have been earmarked for the two of you. This caused you, for both emotional and practical reasons, to care about the person you were flying with like any good wing leader should. In the second game, however, this too has been carved away. Your wingmen will now always bail out and be rescued if they get too badly shot up. They die only when the railroaded plot demands that they do so, accompanied by a suitably heroic cut scene, and there’s isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. Wing Commander II thus robs you of any real agency in what is supposed to be your story. Even the idea of a branching narrative, though poorly executed in the first game, could have been done better here instead of being tossed aside as just one more extraneous triviality.

After I published my articles on the first Wing Commander, commenter Jakub Stribrny described his experience with that game:

I decided to do one true honest playthrough. Just one life. If I got shot down, there was no loading the state. I had to start from the very beginning.

And that was when I discovered what the simulator was good for. Since I had only one life I had to make sure I was really prepared before each mission. So I devised a training plan for myself. An hour in the simulator before even attempting the first mission and then two simulator sessions between each subsequent mission. This proved very effective and I was able to clear almost the whole game. In the end I died just a few missions from the end when attempting to attack a group of Jalthi – fighters with extreme firepower – head-on. Stupid.

But I never got so much fun from gaming as when I really had to focus on what’s happening around me, cooperate with my wingman, carefully manage missile use, plan optimal routes between navigation points, and choose whether it’s still safe to ignore the blinking EJECT! light or it’s time to call it a day and survive to fight the battles of tomorrow. Or when I was limping to the home base with both cannons shot up and anxiously awaiting whether the badly damaged and glitching comms system would hold at least long enough for me to ask the carrier for landing clearance. My fighter failed me then and I had to eject in the end, but boy was that an experience.

Wing Commander II obviously pleased many players in its day, but it could never deliver an experience quite like this one. Nor, of course, was it meant to.

In the years that followed Wing Commander II‘s release, a cadre of designers and theorists would unite under the “games are not movies” banner, using this game and its successors as some of their favorite examples of offenders against all that is good and holy in ludology. But we need not become overly strident or pedantic, as so many of them have been prone to do. Rather than continuing to dwell on what was lost, we can try to judge Wing Commander II on its own terms, as the modestly interactive cinematic thrill ride it wants to be. I’m by no means willing to reject the notion that a game can succeed on these terms, provided that the story is indeed catching.

This is hands-down the funniest picture in Wing Commander II, almost as good as the Kilrathi helmets with the ears on top from the first game.

The problem for Wing Commander II from this perspective is that the story winds up being more Plan 9 from Outer Space than The Empire Strikes Back. No one — with, I suppose, the possible exception of Computer Gaming World‘s Mr. Emrich — is looking for deathless cinematic art from a videogame called Wing Commander II. Yet there is a level of craftsmanship that we ought to be able to expect from a game with this one’s stated ambitions, and Wing Commander II fails to clear even that bar.

Put bluntly, the story we get just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. What exactly did Bluehair do to cause the destruction of the Tiger’s Claw, a tragedy for which only he among the carrier’s entire air group was blamed? Why was everyone so quick to believe that a decorated war hero had suddenly switched sides? Why on earth — excuse me, on Terra — would the Terran Confederation reassign someone widely suspected of high treason to even an out-of-the-way posting? And once the game proper gets going, why does Bluehair’s commander persist in believing that he’s a traitor even after he’s saved the life of said commander and everyone aboard his ship half a dozen times? And if the commander does still believe Bluehair is a traitor, why does he keep assigning him to vital missions in between bitching about what a traitor he is and how much it sucks to have him on his ship? Etc., etc.

Now, you could accuse me of over-analyzing the game’s action-movie screenplay, and you’d perhaps have a point. After all, Wing Commander‘s inspiration of Star Wars is hardly the most grounded narrative in the world. What I would also say in response, however, is that there’s a craft — a sleight of hand, if you will — to keeping the reader or viewer from focusing too much on a story’s incongruities. The writer or screenwriter accomplishes this by offering up compelling characters that are easy to root for or against and by keeping the excitement ever on the boil.

This game’s story makes me feel like Bluehair looks in this picture.

And here too Wing Commander II drops the ball. At the center of the action is the charisma vacuum that is Bluehair. The first game held back on characterizing him, letting the player imagine him to be the person she wished him to be. That can no longer work in the more developed narrative of the second game, but Origin still seems reluctant to fill in the lines of his character, with the result that he falls smack into an uncanny valley between the two classic models of the adventure-game protagonist: the fully fleshed-out individual whose personality the player is expected to assume, and the proverbial “nameless, faceless adventurer” that she can imagine to be herself. Bluehair becomes what my dear old dad would call a “lunk,” a monosyllabic non-presence who rarely has much to say beyond “Yes, Sir,” and “No, Sir.” It feels like a veritable soliloquy when he can manage to muster up an “I’m not guilty, sir. I won’t sign it!” or a “Go to hell, Jazz!” And when the romance subplot kicks in — duly following the stated desires of their players in this as in all things, Origin made Angel the love interest — it starts to get really painful. One does have to wonder why everyone is getting so hot and bothered over this guy of all people. Luke Skywalker — much less Han Solo — he definitely ain’t.

So, we might ask, how did we wind up here? How did one of the first Origin games to take advantage of real, professional writers not turn out at least a little bit better? A strong clue lives in a document that’s been made public by the website Wing Commander Combat Information Center. It’s the initial script for the game, as prepared by Ellen Guon and Stephen Beeman and completed on November 29, 1990, before production got underway in earnest. The version of the story found herein differs considerably from that found in the completed game. The story is more detailed, better explained, and richer all the way around, including a much more dynamic and assertive Bluehair. It might be instructive to compare the opening of the story as it was originally conceived with what that of the finished game. Here’s how things started back in November of 1990:

Establishing shot — Tiger’s Claw floating in space.

Narration: CSS Tiger’s Claw, six months after the Vega Sector Campaign…

Establishing shot — Tiger’s Claw briefing room. We can’t tell yet who the commander is.

Bluehair: Okay, everyone, settle down…

Cut to Bluehair. Now we see that Bluehair is in Colonel Halcyon’s familiar position.

Bluehair: Pilots, I’d like to welcome you to the Tiger’s Claw. I’m Lieutenant Colonel Bluehair Ourhero, your new commanding officer. I hope everyone’s recovered from the farewell party for Paladin, Angel, Spirit, Iceman, and General Halcyon.

Hunter: An’ don’t forget that bloody lunatic, Maniac! They finally transferred ‘im to the psych ‘ospital.

Bluehair: Sad but true, Hunter. Now, pay close attention, pilots. We’ve just been assigned a top-priority mission, to spearhead a major raid deep into Kilrathi space to their sector command post in the K’Tithrak Mang system. The plan is to jump in with a few carriers and Marine transports, hit the starbase hard, then jump out.

Hunter: ‘nother bleedin’ starbase, eh?

Bluehair: (smiles) You got it, mate. Let’s just hope it’s as easy as the last one. Now, listen close, everyone. Knight and Bossman are Alpha Wing — check for enemy fighters at Nav 2 and 3. Kilroy and Sabra are Beta Wing…

Narration: You assign all the wings. All but one.

Bluehair: I saved the most important wing for last. Computer, display Kappa. On our way to the starbase, the Claw will pass close to the asteroid field at Nav 1. We don’t know what’s out there, so Hunter and I are going to sweep the rocks as the Claw begins its approach. We’ll either take out whatever we find or hightail it back here to warn the Claw. Any questions, pilots? Good. The Claw will complete her last jump in approximately seven minutes. Get ready for immediate launch. Dismissed.

Animation of crowd rising — different backs! Animation of Tiger’s Claw jumping.

Narration: K’Tithrak Mang system, deep within Kilrathi space.

Animation of launch-tube sequence.

Mission 0. This really should be a basically easy mission. However, just as Bluehair is returning to the action sphere that contains the Claw, we cut to a canned scene.

Bluehair: No!

The Tiger’s Claw floats in the medium distance. Close to us, three Kilrathi stealth fighters in a chevron uncloak, launch missiles, then peel off in different directions. The missiles impact the Claw and blow it to kingdom come.

Dust motes are zooming past us, as if we were headed into the starfield. Now a space station appears in the far distance, rapidly getting closer. We zoom in on this until we start moving around the station. As we do so, the planet Earth comes into view on one edge of the screen. The station itself remains center frame.

Narration: Confederation High Command, Terra system, six months after the destruction of the Tiger’s Claw.

Admiral Tolwyn presides over Bluehair’s court martial. A very formal-looking bench with seven dress-uniformed figures, Tolwyn in the middle, is in the back pane. Bluehair and his counsel are sitting at a table. Spot animations of camera drones with Klieg lights will help convey the information that this trial is based more on media image than justice.

Tolwyn: Lieutenant Colonel Ourhero, stand at attention. Lieutenant Colonel Ourhero, you stand accused of negligence, incompetence, and cowardice under fire. Your actions resulted in the death of 61,000 Confederation defenders. Despite your plea of not guilty and your ridiculous claim that the Kilrathi used some non-existent stealth technology, flying invisible ships past your position…

Bluehair: It’s true, sir.

Tolwyn: …you are obviously guilty of these crimes against the Confederation. But, fortunately for you, this court cannot prove your guilt. Our primary evidence, your black-box flight recorder, is missing from the Confed Security offices. Because of the lack of physical evidence, this court is required by law to dismiss your case. We find you not guilty of crimes against the Confederation. This court is adjourned. Lieutenant Colonel Ourhero, report to my office at once.

Establishing shot — Tolwyn’s office

Tolwyn: I wanted to talk to you in private, Bluehair. The court couldn’t convict you because of a technicality, but we all know the truth, Ourhero. You’re a coward and a traitor, and I’ll personally guarantee that you’ll never fly again. Your career with the Navy is over. As I assumed that you have some small amount of honor left, my secretary has drawn up your resignation papers…

Bluehair: I won’t resign, Admiral.

Tolwyn: What??

Bluehair: I’m not guilty, sir. I refuse to resign.

Tolwyn: Then I’ll offer you one more option, just because I never want to see your face again. I have a request from Insystem Security for a mid-ranked pilot. If you’ll accept a demotion to captain, it’s yours. Otherwise, pilot, you’re grounded for life.

Bluehair: I’ll accept the demotion, sir.

Tolwyn: Very well. Get out of here… and you’d better hope we never meet again, traitor.

Below you can see the finished game’s interpretation of the story’s opening beats.


Some of the choices made by the finished game, such as the decision to introduce the villain of the piece from the beginning rather than wait until some eight missions in, are valid enough in the name of punching up the anticipation and excitement. (One could, of course, still wish that said introduction had been written a bit better: “Speak of your plans, not of your toys.” What does that even mean?) In other place, however, the cuts made to the story have, even during this opening sequence, already gone deeper than trimming fat. Note, for instance, how the off-hand epithet of “traitor” which Admiral Tolwyn hurls at Bluehair in the initial script is taken to mean literal treason by the final game. And note how the shot showing the court martial to be a media circus, thus providing the beginning of an explanation as to why the powers that be have chosen to scapegoat one decorated pilot for a disastrous failure of a military operation, gets excised. Much more of that sort of subtlety — the sort of subtly that makes the story told by the first draft a credible yarn within its action-movie template — will continue to be lost as the game progresses.

There’s no single villain we can point to who decided that Wing Commander II should be gutted, much less a smoking gun we can identify in the form of a single decision that made all the difference. The closest we can come to a money quote is this one from Chris Roberts, made just after the game’s release: “We learned some lessons. We tried to do too much in too little time. None of us had any idea that the game had grown so large.” Like politics, commercial game development has always been the art of the possible. Origin did the best they could with the time and money they had, and if what they came up with wasn’t quite the second coming of The Empire Strikes Back which Roberts had so wished for, it served its purpose well enough from a business perspective, giving gamers a much more concentrated dose of what they had found so entrancing in the first game and giving Origin the big hit which they needed in order to stay solvent.

Origin, you see, had a lot going on while Wing Commander II was in production, and this provides an explanation for the pressure to get it out so quickly. Much of the money the series generated was being poured into Ultima VII, a CRPG of a scale and scope the likes of which had never been attempted before, a project which became the first game at Origin — and possibly the first computer game ever — with a development budget that hit $1 million. Origin’s two series made for a telling study in contrasts. While Wing Commander II saw its scope of interactivity pared back dramatically from that of its predecessor, Ultima VII remained as formally as it was audiovisually ambitious. Wing Commander had become the cash cow, but it seemed that, for some at Origin anyway, the heart and soul of the company was still Ultima.

Origin thus continued to monetize Wing Commander like crazy to pay for their latest Ultima. In a cash grab that feels almost unbelievably blatant today, they shipped a separate “Speech Accessory Pack” simultaneously with the core game. It added digitized voices to a few cut scenes, such as the opening movie above, and let your wingmen and your Kilrathi enemies shout occasional canned phrases during missions. “You want to buy our new game?” said Origin. “Okay, that will be $50. Oh… you want to play the game with all of the sound? Well, that will cost you another $25.” Like so much else about Wing Commander II, the speech, voiced by members of the development team, is terminally cheesy today, but in its day the Speech Pack drove the purchase of the latest Sound Blaster cards, which were adept at handling such samples, just as the core game drove the purchase of the hottest new 80386-based computers. And then two more add-on mission disks, known this time as Special Operations 1 and 2, joined the core Wing Commander II and the Speech Pack on store shelves. Well before the second anniversary of the first game’s release, Origin had no fewer than seven boxes sporting the Wing Commander logo on said shelves: the two core games, the four add-on mission packs, and the Speech Pack. Few new gaming franchises have ever generated quite so much product quite so quickly.

Where it really counted, Wing Commander II delivered.

Of course, all this product was being generated for one reason only: because it sold. In 1991, with no new mainline Ultima game appearing and with the Worlds of Ultima spin-offs having flopped, the Wing Commander product line alone accounted for an astonishing 90 percent of Origin’s total revenue. Through that year and the one that followed, it remained undisputed as the biggest franchise in computer gaming, still the only games out there scratching an itch most publishers had never even realized that their customers had. The lessons Origin’s rivals would draw from all this success wouldn’t always be the best ones from the standpoint of games as a form of creative expression, but the first Wing Commander had, for better or for worse, changed the conversation around games forever. Now, Wing Commander II was piling on still more proof for the thesis that a sizable percentage of gamers really, really loved a story to provide context for game play — even if it was a really, really bad story. After plenty of false starts, the marriage of games and movies was now well and truly underway, and a divorce didn’t look likely anytime soon.

(Sources: the book Wing Commander I & II: The Ultimate Strategy Guide by Mike Harrison; Origin Systems’s internal newsletter Point of Origin from June 21 1991, August 7 1991, October 11 1991, October 25 1991, November 8 1991, January 17 1992, March 13 1992, and May 22 1992; Retro Gamer 59; Computer Gaming World of November 1991. Online sources include documents hosted at the Wing Commander Combat Information Center, US Gamer‘s profile of Chris Roberts, The Escapist‘s history of Wing Commander, Paul Dean’s interview with Chris Roberts, and an interview with Richard Garriott that was posted to Usenet in 1992.

Wing Commander I and II can be purchased in a package together with all of their expansion packs from GOG.com.)


  1. Stephen Beeman now lives as the woman Siobhan Beeman. As per my usual editorial policy on these matters, I refer to her as “he” and by her original name only to avoid historical anachronisms and to stay true to the context of the times. 

 

48 Responses to Wing Commander II

  1. James Majure

    March 2, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    14-year-old me spent the better part of the summer of 1992 dogfighting Kilrathi in this game. (My copy was a bootleg complete with a trainer, which came in handy.) Although I coveted the first game thanks to Video Games & Computer Entertainment’s coverage, I’ve still never played it, leaving me a bit lost as to the exact nature of Lt. Bluehair’s “treachery.” At the time, I put this confusion down to not having played the first WC, but it’s good to know that the story gaps are inherent. Still, I was invested enough in the characters that Hobbes turning traitor in WC3, cartoon feet and all, felt like a shocking betrayal and turned me off to the series.

     
  2. whomever

    March 2, 2018 at 7:57 pm

    Don’t worry! Origin of course had Strike Commander! The assault begins 1991 as the posters said! (For those who aren’t aware, this is a joke; Strike Commander was the biggest piece of vaporware in history before Commander Keen 3; at least it did eventually come out but our patience for Origin’s notorious bad QA was lessening by then). Not sure if Jimmy will cover that, but I actually am curious about what was really going on then.

     
  3. Captain Kal

    March 2, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    For all its faults, PC still had its Wing Commander. We, poor Amiga users, had to wait for two years for the first game to be ported!! :D :D :D Excellent article as usual!!

     
  4. Chuck

    March 2, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    >> “Speak of your plans, not of your toys.”

    I loved that line. He seems to be trying to groom his young grandson for high command by upbraiding him for bragging about his stealth tech, insisting that he lay out his tactical plan instead.

    Not sure what I paid for this game, but it was one of a few that caused me to save up for a real Sound Blaster and not an Adlib board or some other lesser choice.

     
    • Pedro Timóteo

      March 3, 2018 at 9:44 am

      Yeah, the emperor’s line suggests Thrakhath was gushing over his stealth tech, but it feels as if some line was cut. From here:

      Thrakhath: The Terran carrier, Tiger’s Claw, tried to attack us here at K’Tithrak Mang. But my stealth fighters destroyed it! And soon we will demolish the rest of their fleet–
      Emperor: Speak of your plans, not of your toys. Tell me how you will defeat the Terrans!

      “But my stealth fighters destroyed it” sounds perfectly reasonable; maybe in the original script he went on about how great his tech was?

       
    • Kaj Sotala

      March 3, 2018 at 10:19 am

      I liked that line too. The way I interpreted it, the grandson’s response was focusing on what his stealth fighters had done, leaving it pretty vague what exactly he was about to do next: “soon we will demolish the rest of their fleet” does not give enough details for the emperor to evaluate what’s actually going on. After being chastised to be less like an excited geek who’s focused on boasting about his new tech, the grandson starts giving actual strategic details of their upcoming plans.

       
  5. Ricky Derocher

    March 2, 2018 at 8:33 pm

    A minor nitpick – “Guon came to the company from Sierra, where she had polished up the text in point-and-click re-releases of the first King’s Quest game and the educational title Mixed-Up Mother Goose” – Technically the remake of the first King’s Quest game is not a point and click. It got upgraded from the original AGI engine to the SCI engine used in games like KQ4. It still uses the parser for typing in commands.

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      March 2, 2018 at 8:54 pm

      Didn’t realize that. Thanks!

       
  6. Carl

    March 2, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    Nice article. As an Amiga user I never played Wing Commander (was in college by the time the Amiga version came out and I was done playing games) so it is nice to read about what the fuss was all about. I do have one comment. The sentence:

    They added an innovative layer of adaptive artificial intelligence on the part of enemy ships, so that if the player flew and shot better they did as well and vice versa, in an effort to remedy one of the primary complaints players had made about the Secret Missions disks in particular: that too many of the missions were just too darn hard.

    Doesn’t seem to make sense. Perhaps you missed a clause explaining what the AI did if the player flew and shot better? (presumably increase the difficulty).

    Second, and it isn’t that important, but in the list of top game the Speech Pack as you say is written as Speech Pak.

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      March 3, 2018 at 9:08 am

      I think there was some pronoun confusion going on in that sentence. Hopefully fixed now. Thanks!

      The box for the Speech Accessory Pack does spell the name with a “C”; this was Software Etc.’s error.

       
  7. Lane

    March 3, 2018 at 4:10 am

    I don’t think I got very far in the game itself, but I certainly watched that opening cinematic many times over.

    “I will speak with Prince Thrakath alone; guards, you are dismissed”

     
  8. Nate

    March 3, 2018 at 4:41 am

    I’ve never played Wing Commander 1, but I love Wing Commander 2 deeply (though not quite as much as I love Wing Commander: Privateer). I *know* the story is pure grade A reconstituted American Cheese, but it’s just so cinematic. It’s like playing a Saturday morning cartoon!

    Was very very disappointed in Wing Commander 3. The live-action compositing looked terrible, the gameplay was worse, and do NOT even talk about frickin’ one-shotting ship killing stealth missiles.

     
  9. Ricky Derocher

    March 3, 2018 at 4:52 am

    Personally, I think that not having wingman die in WC 2 is a nice feature. In the original game, it is annoying when your wingman does something stupid like crash into the Tiger’s Claw just before you are about to land, and gets themselves killed.

    Yes, the story in WC 2 is somewhat cheesy, but other than adventure games, not many other games at the time attempted to have much of a story. Personally, I like the story in WC 2 better than the one in WC 3.

    WC 4 has a fantastic story line, they really went all out on the story and cinematics, but the game play isn’t quite as good.

     
  10. Venya

    March 3, 2018 at 5:09 am

    The first game was the first CD-ROM game I ever saw with digital voice–on a friend’s parents’ 386. The CD-ROM was a “caddy” drive, and he only had one caddy so he had to keep switching the discs out carefully each time we loaded something different. When we eventually bought a multimedia kit upgrade for our 486SX, Wing Commander was the first game we bought for it. I was 13 in ’91; I adored both games and never cared (noticed?) how terrible the story was. I did really like, for some reason, playing the increasingly desperate missions in the first game as you started to lose–and kept losing, all too often. You started the downhill slide, and started to see more and more empty seats in the bar as you lost your wingmen, but you fought on to the bitter end….

     
  11. The Wind Cries Roberts

    March 3, 2018 at 11:37 am

    Chris Roberts’ current disgraceful greed drive makes me so angry that I’ve retroactively erased my enjoyment of “his” games. Good thing the ones I liked most he had the least to do with other than putting his name on the box. Besides, Larry Holland did it with much better missions and in a much less rip-offy world.

    May CR crash and burn in Space Court for the slimy ship-selling scam he’s been pulling on Engineering Debt III: The Search for Crowdfunding.

     
  12. Laertes

    March 4, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    I didn’t t notice all these flaws when I bought it, installed it from so many disks and started fidling with the autoexec.bat and config.sys to get a good balance between conventional and expanded memory. All that in my 16MHz 286 with 1MB of RAM. And I finished it. Later on came X-wing, a much better game, but I suppose you will write about it sometime.

     
    • Tomber

      March 5, 2018 at 6:40 pm

      I actually had to go confirm the game would run on something like that. Wow! It does say 386 required for speech pack, and maybe the music system required more RAM too. I remember playing the first on a 286, but the second was on a 386. It apparently even ran on EGA. I’ve never seen it that way. Quite an accomplishment, and a big part of their sales success. I played Sierra’s Dagger of Amon Ra recently, and it was so cramped on RAM that it wouldn’t show the credits in certain rooms.

       
      • Laertes

        March 6, 2018 at 7:37 pm

        Oh yes, it worked indeed! And it was playable too. I only had an adlib so no speech pack for me anyway. I remember that the expanded memory was used to show the wingman’s and enemy pilots’ faces on the cockpit screen when communicating with them.

        It would be fun to have that old 286 and the original disks to test it again but alas I don’t have either anymore.

         
  13. Infinitron

    March 5, 2018 at 10:32 am

    What exactly is your frame of reference for comparison here? Wing Commander II is ten times more story-driven than its predecessor, so it seems odd to complain about what you didn’t get (cut content, etc) instead of appreciating that. Although I’d agree that the first game has tighter dogfighting, I also think that there are things to appreciate about WC2 in terms of gameplay, such as the addition of bomber missions and torpedo runs.

    I don’t like being rude, but it feels like you’ve taken your personal peeves with the game and generalized them into a questionable historical narrative. You make it sound like Wing Commander II was some Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II-type release that everybody who was smart knew was flawed and incomplete. I doubt that’s true and I don’t think it felt like that at all. Whatever it took away, it made up in other ways.

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      March 5, 2018 at 11:09 am

      I’m a little confused by this. I would have thought the answer to your first question was obvious; I’m comparing Wing Commander II to Wing Commander I. And the fact that one game is “ten-times more story-driven” than another says nothing about the relative qualities of the games or, for that matter, the stories. Why am I obligated to “appreciate” the fact that a game is story-driven if I didn’t like the story? Your own “frame of reference” seems to be that more story automatically equals a better game. I’m afraid I don’t agree with that at all.

      Your second paragraph is equally confusing to me. I specifically stated that Wing Commander II “hasn’t aged well,” which would indicate that it held up better in the context of its times. I noted that the game received very good reviews and sold extremely well, and took pains to frame my own criticisms of the game as just that — my own. Where do I mention these other “smart” people who knew it was “flawed and incomplete?” I would agree that it probably didn’t feel nearly so much that way at the time.

       
      • Infinitron

        March 5, 2018 at 11:37 am

        Why am I obligated to “appreciate” the fact that a game is story-driven if I didn’t like the story? Your own “frame of reference” seems to be that more story automatically equals a better game. I’m afraid I don’t agree with that at all.

        Not quite what I meant. I think that the story-driven focus of WC2 is clearly such a major part of the game that it deserves a more thorough analysis, and more of a chance, that what you’ve given here. It feels like you decided its premise was flawed early on and dismissed it out of hand – kind of like what the CRPGAddict did with the Worlds of Ultima games.

        I noted that the game received very good reviews and sold extremely well, and took pains to frame my own criticisms of the game as just that — my own. Where do I mention these other “smart” people who knew it was “flawed and incomplete?”

        I feel like that’s sort of implied by the text. Your article is framed as an historical piece. When you finish it by saying “Wing Commander II was gutted, Origin really cared most about Ultima”, that feels like you’re making a statement about the historical critical consensus of the game.

        In the past, you’ve split your pieces into an “objective history” part and a “Let’s Play” part where you offered your personal opinion. Something to think about in the future, perhaps.

         
        • Jimmy Maher

          March 5, 2018 at 12:19 pm

          I feel like that’s sort of implied by the text. Your article is framed as an historical piece. When you finish it by saying “Wing Commander II was gutted, Origin really cared most about Ultima”, that feels like you’re making a statement about the historical critical consensus of the game.

          Now I’m more confused than ever. I specifically state that Origin did *not* make any conscious decision to gut Wing Commander II, and state only that *some* at Origin — most obviously Richard Garriott, who still enjoyed more clout at the company he had founded than Chris Roberts — may still have been more invested in Ultima. I’m going to bow out now, but it would be helpful if you would engage with the words I actually write, not with what you “feel” they “sort of imply.” Something to think about in the future, perhaps.

           
          • Infinitron

            March 5, 2018 at 12:28 pm

            Look, I’m not some kind of fanboy who’s out to give you a hard time. Just making a point here for any younger ones curious about history who might stumble across this article and possibly get the wrong idea. I feel (there’s that word again) like it might happen! If I’m wrong, then no harm done.

            Wing Commander II is a game whose story featured a murder mystery, romance, and political and social intrigue. I realize that as primarily an adventure game and interactive fiction guy, these things aren’t new to you, and you’ve seen them done better in other contexts. But it was a big deal! It ushered in an era of story-driven cinematic action games. WC2 is an important game, and it’s important because of its story. That’s the context in which I would have liked to see it examined.

             
          • Jimmy Maher

            March 5, 2018 at 12:47 pm

            But it was a big deal! It ushered in an era of story-driven cinematic action games. WC2 is an important game, and it’s important because of its story. That’s the context in which I would have liked to see it examined.

            Well, then, I’d say you got your wish; this article devotes exactly two paragraphs to the non-story aspects of Wing Commander II, and even goes so far as to compare the original story script with the finished product. Its conclusion, which, as our English teachers taught us all to do, sums up the salient points and gives the reader a final takeaway:

            Through that year and the one that followed, it remained undisputed as the biggest franchise in computer gaming, still the only games out there scratching an itch most publishers had never even realized that their customers had. The lessons Origin’s rivals would draw from all this success wouldn’t always be the best ones from the standpoint of games as a form of creative expression, but the first Wing Commander had, for better or for worse, changed the conversation around games forever. Now, Wing Commander II was piling on still more proof for the thesis that a sizable percentage of gamers really, really loved a story to provide context for game play — even if it was a really, really bad story. After plenty of false starts, the marriage of games and movies was now well and truly underway, and a divorce didn’t look likely anytime soon.

            At this point, my friend, I have no idea what we’re even debating. ;)

             
          • Infinitron

            March 5, 2018 at 12:57 pm

            I’d say we have different opinions on what constitutes a thorough examination, but I think we’re at an impasse here.

            I know from experience that sometimes people just don’t values things in games in the same way, and that’s all right.

             
  14. JCG

    March 6, 2018 at 12:18 am

    My personal favorite Wing Commander game would probably still be the fourth entry, all things considered, with the huge disclaimer that I played the main series in a strange order: 2, 1, 4, 3.

    Given that I didn’t start with the very first title, I wasn’t expecting anything in particular from WC2 and I suppose the dumb blockbuster aspects of the script seemed acceptable enough as an overall framework for the time.

    Can’t deny I was fairly engaged by the betrayals and other plot twists that happen towards the end of the game. It wasn’t highly sophisticated cinema, but there was a fun pulpy vibe that was nicely supplemented by the graphics and the soundtrack.

    That said, in retrospect, I won’t deny the story lacked subtlety and the main character could have had a stronger personality. It’s both surprising and too bad that the original script seemed to be a lot longer and more fleshed out. Perhaps a mix of resource limitations and the idea of making a speech pack made Origin cut down on the total number of lines?

    Regarding the evil space cats, I only found them funny when they were briefly locked in mid-expression while the game was loading the next scene on occasion. Otherwise, I guess growing up with so many Disney cartoons made me easily accept animals as characters.

    I was only able to go back and play WC1 when a friend in high school lent me his copy and sure enough, those little details like earning medals and promotions made for a more charming experience. The manual was a pretty amusing read too, as far as I can recall.

    Looking back, I think the early WC games were flawed yet entertaining classics that pushed the medium forward. They also benefitted, at least for a while, from Chris Roberts having to delegate power to others and not being able to hoard all the time and money to let the infinite depths of his grand ambitions overpower his reason (in my opinion).

    WC set the stage for what came later, including a bunch of copycats that eventually tried to handle the branching paths in a more organic and complex fashion. For instance, does anyone remember Star Crusader? I That game probably fell off into total obscurity and has ugly 3D rendering that aged poorly, yet I recall there being cool routes and other merits to it.

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      March 6, 2018 at 6:53 am

      They also benefitted, at least for a while, from Chris Roberts having to delegate power to others and not being able to hoard all the time and money to let the infinite depths of his grand ambitions overpower his reason (in my opinion).

      I very much agree with this. Chris Roberts strikes me as a bright guy who functions best when someone is in a position to tell him no. It’s interesting to note that he kept trying to expand on the original Wing Commander during production. Fortunately, Warren Spector was there in the producer’s role to say, “No, Chris. This is the game we all agreed to make, and it’s the one we are in fact going to make.”

       
    • Pedro Timóteo

      March 6, 2018 at 9:57 am

      and the idea of making a speech pack made Origin cut down on the total number of lines?

      The speech pack doesn’t voice most of the game, just part of the intro (I say “part of” because I remember the part with the emperor and his grandson being voiced even *without* the speech pack, though I think the next bit, with Bluehair talking to Tolwyn, needed the pack to be voiced — I could be wrong about this, though) and pilots’ generic “barks” (e.g. “Got it. Engaging enemy fighters.”), plus enemy taunts. I don’t think they could have voiced the entire game without CD technology, or at least dozens of floppy disks…

       
      • Jimmy Maher

        March 6, 2018 at 10:25 am

        I believe that there’s also a midway-point cut scene that’s voiced only with the Speech Pack, and then the grand finale as well.

         
        • Pedro Timóteo

          March 6, 2018 at 3:24 pm

          Ah, I didn’t know that. I never got that far with the pack installed (though I intend to play the entire game again soon, in part inspired by this post).

           
  15. Steven Marsh

    March 7, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    I appreciate the analysis, as ever . . . as well as the opportunity to steep in my own nostalgia.

    I recall really enjoying the cinematic aspect of Wing Commander II when I played it back in the day. It gave me a true compulsion to keep wanting to play it, with “rewards” of more story being doled out. It certainly wasn’t Shakespeare, but it got the job done AND was trying to be (more-or-less) serious, in a way that nearly all games of the era (especially adventure games) weren’t. There really wasn’t any equivalent I remember — at the time — of something like the Space Quest series, but not joke-y or tongue-in-cheek. (Thinking about it, it’s one of the reasons I liked the Ultima series; it was possible to envision that this story “mattered” in some fashion, without the goofy “we’re just joshing” vibe found in King’s Quest, Quest for Glory, Zork, etc.)

    I certainly don’t begrudge anyone from finding enjoyment from emergent stories; I get it! I’ve had my own share of stories in such a way. But there’s also an enjoyment for a shared communal story (even a flawed one); for example, the final fate of Hobbes in the series still gives me a fair bit to think about, and can discuss with others, in a way that I can’t really replicate with any number of “Gee, this battle was really tough and I thought I was going to die but I didn’t die The End” stories.

    As an aside: One time I played through Wing Commander II, I gave myself the codename TRAITOR (and I think I had my personal name as “Judas Turncoat” or something similar). It gave all the dialogue a fair bit of extra amusement: “Gee, who do you think the traitor is, TRAITOR?” It was especially amusing when I shot at my wingmen; they all have dialogue (voiced with the voice pack!) along the lines of, “I can’t believe it! You’re the traitor!” (Who could’ve guessed?!? Were there any clues?!?)

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      March 8, 2018 at 8:45 am

      I certainly don’t begrudge anyone from finding enjoyment from emergent stories; I get it! I’ve had my own share of stories in such a way. But there’s also an enjoyment for a shared communal story (even a flawed one); for example, the final fate of Hobbes in the series still gives me a fair bit to think about, and can discuss with others, in a way that I can’t really replicate with any number of “Gee, this battle was really tough and I thought I was going to die but I didn’t die The End” stories.

      This is a really interesting take on narrative in games. I’d never really thought about it in those communal terms.

      And I know what you mean about names in Wing Commander. I found it inordinately hilarious to be known as “Captain Honeybun” — my wife’s nickname for me, chosen by her to be the name of our character in the game about five minutes before she lost interest.

       
    • Alex Freeman

      March 16, 2018 at 4:49 am

      I certainly don’t begrudge anyone from finding enjoyment from emergent stories; I get it! I’ve had my own share of stories in such a way. But there’s also an enjoyment for a shared communal story (even a flawed one); for example, the final fate of Hobbes in the series still gives me a fair bit to think about, and can discuss with others, in a way that I can’t really replicate with any number of “Gee, this battle was really tough and I thought I was going to die but I didn’t die The End” stories.

      I rarely say this, but I REALLY wish I could upvote your comment!

       
  16. whomever

    March 7, 2018 at 8:09 pm

    One thing about WC 2 is that Origin distributed a trailer with animations and voice some amount of time before it was released (“The Tigers Claw has been destroyed!”). I can’t exactly remember how long before hand (given Origin’s notorious inability to hit dates probably a while), but I remember downloading it from…somewhere and watching it with my younger brother; this was super exciting. Yes, in hindsight it’s just a few minutes of animated video with voice, but we’d never seen anything like it on the PC before! Catnip to the adolescent game buyer. Of course they later did this even better with the same idea for Ultima 7 (The Guardian taunting you, the Avatar), which is coming up in your timeline.

    I actually wonder if WC2 was the first game to offer actual voice via the Soundblaster, I don’t remember any earlier? Regardless, I handed over the $10 for the voice pack. (And let’s be honest, compared to the pathetic voice acting in WC3….is it so bad?)

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      March 8, 2018 at 8:24 am

      Discounting early CD-ROM products like the fully voice-acted King’s Quest V, it probably had more speech than any MS-DOS game to date. That said, Amiga games had been featuring sampled speech for several years by 1991; probably the most iconic example, and a real stunner in its day, is the introduction to 1989’s It Came from the Desert (https://www.filfre.net/2016/10/cinemawares-year-in-the-desert). The Amiga’s sound hardware was actually much better-equipped to deal with sampled sound than the first generation of MS-DOS sound cards. That changed only with the second-generation Sound Blasters, for which Wing Commander II served as something of a coming-out party.

      The Amiga’s big limitation was the fact that relatively few owners had hard drives. It was hard to do too much with sampled audio without making the player swap disks every two minutes.

       
      • whomever

        March 11, 2018 at 2:52 pm

        Interesting, forgot about KQ V. Sure, the Amiga had it, but as I’ve mentioned in the past, the Amiga was (for us PC people) an Eden of gaming we could only look upon (or read about) with wonder and jealousy.
        Anyway, all very interesting. I just hooked up WC 1 for my 6 year old and he had a ball flying around and shooting things (he didn’t really get the missions or anything, but who cares).

         
  17. Steve

    March 9, 2018 at 9:03 pm

    Bluehair: Computer, display Kappa.

    Well maybe his transgressions don’t technically amount to treason, but I can understand exiling this guy to a remote corner of the galaxy as an elaborate way of timing him out of the chatroom.

     
  18. Green

    March 10, 2018 at 3:03 am

    I really loved the story of Wing Commander 2, outside of 4 it was the best narrative in the series. Is it a little corny and over the top? Sure, but it’s still impressively cinematic for its age and fits the cartoon visuals well. The third game just copied most of its story beats and didn’t really handle them as well while adding a little extra schlock on top. I can’t separate myself from the nostalgia though, it was one of the first games I remember playing that had a more mature and expansive plot.

    Anyway, great write-up.

     
  19. Blake

    March 21, 2018 at 2:00 am

    Ya know what I find most ironic about all this?

    WCII was supposed to be “dark”, because of the whole “traitor” storyline, but I remember the original WC game as “feeling” darker…

    …because it was hard as hell.

    BTW Wing Commander fans, there’s a passionate group of developers that have done a Privateer remake & other WC mods based on the Vega Strike engine:
    http://vegastrike.sourceforge.net/wiki/MODs#Privateer_Universe_MODs

    About a decade ago I built a gaming machine to play all the way through the Privateer remake; it’s fantastic.

     
    • DAWN BENDER

      April 20, 2018 at 9:31 pm

      i have a box set of wing commander 2 vengence of the kilrath with wc hd disk 1-6 and 7,8 secret missions wc2 special opps2 hd disk 1,2 and speech accessory pack 3 hd disks plus wc2 1-8 on floppy and disk #5 crusade secret missions w manuels to all of them plus some map type blue prints of ships and special addition wing commander special edition getting ready to ebay that s@*t what should i price it at?

       
  20. Gilles Duchesne

    April 28, 2018 at 5:06 am

    “Psuedo-3D” –> “Pseudo”

    (Late to the party. I’m surprised no one said anything sooner…)

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      April 28, 2018 at 7:00 am

      Thanks!

       

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