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Wing Commander

Entry updated 21 August 2021. Tagged: Game.

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Videogame (1990). Origin Systems (OS). Designed by Chris Roberts. Platforms: DOS (1990); Amiga, SNES (1992); MegaCD (1994); rev vt Super Wing Commander, 3DO (1994); Mac (1995).

Wing Commander is a combat-based Space Sim, a descendant of Star Raiders (1979). The background is a Space Opera universe in which the Terran Confederation is fighting an interstellar war against the feline Kilrathi; the tone is much influenced by World War Two aircraft carrier operations and the aerial action film Top Gun (1986). The dogfight-based gameplay is well crafted; notably, the player can issue instructions to their wingmen in combat, though those orders may not always be obeyed. Wing Commander is also interesting for its early use of non-interactive animated scenes to immerse the player in its fictional world, and for its multilinear plot (see Interactive Narrative). Actual gameplay occurs during missions against the Kilrathi; if the player fails to complete their assigned tasks the plot branches, changing the nature of future missions. The game received two expansion packs, which continued the storyline on the assumption that the player had won the original game: Wing Commander: The Secret Missions (1990 OS, DOS; 1993 SNES) designed by Aaron Allston, Steve Cantrell and Wing Commander: The Secret Missions 2 – Crusade (1991 OS, DOS) designed by Ellen Guon, John Watson. A revised version of the game, including The Secret Missions and additional material which replaced The Secret Missions 2, was released as Super Wing Commander.

Several Wing Commander games followed, with broadly similar gameplay and steadily improving graphics. The games established a consistent storyline featuring the player as Christopher Blair, who begins as a raw recruit and is eventually acclaimed as the saviour of the Confederation. From Wing Commander III onwards, the series made extensive use of Full Motion Video starring well known actors to tell the parts of the story that occurred between missions. Perhaps as a result of the expense of filming, the game plots became increasingly linear as the quality of their delivery grew ever more impressive. Taken as a whole, the games are somewhat analogous to a 1930s Serial Film with a strong Military SF flavour, reminiscent of the novels of David Weber and Elizabeth Moon. Each game begins from the most successful ending of the previous one, assembling a grand, if somewhat melodramatic, tale of betrayal, dishonour, revenge and eventual victory. The games are Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi (1991 OS, DOS) designed by Chris Roberts, Stephen Beeman, Ellen Guon, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger (1994 OS, DOS; 1995, 3DO, Mac; 1996 PS1) designed by Chris Roberts, Frank Savage, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom (1995 OS, DOS, Win; 1996 Mac; 1997 PS1) designed by Anthony Morone, Chris Roberts and Wing Commander: Prophecy (1997 OS, Win; 2003 GBA) designed by Adam Foshko, Billy Joe Cain. The Kilrathi are finally defeated at the end of Heart of the Tiger; The Price of Freedom deals with a civil war in the Confederation. Prophecy has a new hero, the son of a character from the earlier games, who must fight an invasion by the alien Nephilim; Christopher Blair dies heroically at the end. Two of the games had expansions which further extended the plot: Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi – Special Operations I (1991 OS, DOS) designed by Kevin Potter, Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi – Special Operations 2 (1992 OS, DOS) designed by Kevin Potter, and Wing Commander: Prophecy – Secret Ops (1998 OS, Win) designed by Cinco Barnes, initially released as a free download and later included in Wing Commander Prophecy Gold (1998 OS, Win).

Wing Commander: Privateer (1993 OS, DOS) designed by Joel Manners, Chris Roberts is the start of a different series set in the same universe, with a linear plot in which the player adopts the role of a freelance mercenary. Privateer's gameplay is similar to that of Elite (1984), with the player able to trade, prey on other vessels or hunt pirates as they choose, both during the main storyline and after its completion. Wing Commander: Privateer – Righteous Fire (1994 OS, DOS) designed by Tom Kassebaum, Phil Wattenbarger is an expansion pack which continues the story and adds new spacecraft and weapons. This game inspired considerable loyalty; two separate amateur remakes are available for free download. Wing Commander Privateer Remake (2005, Lin, Mac, Win) attempts to improve on the original, while Wing Commander Privateer Gemini Gold (2005, Lin, Mac, Win) prefers to replicate it. Privateer 2: The Darkening (1996 Electronic Arts, DOS; 1997 Win) is a sequel to Privateer with similar gameplay, set over a century later than the other Wing Commander games.

Related works: Wing Commander Academy (1993 OS, DOS) puts the player in the position of a new recruit to the Confederation, practising their starfighting skills in a simulator; players can design their own test missions. Wing Commander Armada (1994 OS, DOS) designed by Jeff Everett, Whitney Ayres contains both a turn-based Computer Wargame of space warfare set in the Wing Commander milieu and a space dogfighting game, but no storyline. The game can be played cooperatively or competitively by two players using various methods, including telephone modem connections. Wing Commander Armada: Proving Grounds (1994 OS, DOS) is an expansion which was made freely available as a download. Wing Commander Arena (2007 Gaia Industries, XB360) is a space combat game based on the franchise with single and multiplayer options; uniquely amongst Wing Commander games, it is played in a two-dimensional overhead view. Wing Commander (1995 Mag Force 7) designed by Jeff Grubb, Don Perrin is a Collectible Card Game based on Wing Commander III.

Wing Commander (1999; vt Wing Commander: Space Will Never Be the Same) is an exceptionally poorly reviewed film based on the series (and directed by Chris Roberts, its lead designer) which serves as a loose prequel to the events of the original Wing Commander. Wing Commander Academy (1996), meanwhile, is an associated animated television series. Both of these works are to some extent incompatible with the continuity established in the games. Several Wing Commander-related novels have been published, including Freedom Flight (1992) by Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon; End Run (1993) by William R Forstchen and Christopher Stasheff; Fleet Action (1994) and Action Stations (1998), both by William R Forstchen solo; and False Colors (1998) by Forstchen and Andrew Keith. Heart of the Tiger (1995) by Forstchen and Keith, and The Price of Freedom (1996) by Forstchen and Ben Ohlander, are game novelizations of Wing Commander III and Wing Commander IV respectively. Wing Commander (1999) by Peter Telep is a novelization of the Wing Commander film; Pilgrim Stars (1999), also by Telep, is a sequel; a third Telep novel, Pilgrim Truth, was cancelled by the publisher but eventually appeared online [see links below]. [NT]


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