The 1990’s were often known as the era of the spaceship combat simulator. Games like Colony Wars, Blast Radius, Darklight Conflict, and the infamous Star Wars X-Wing and Tie Fighter series dominated various gaming platforms. It was truly the age where our space combat fantasies began to come to life, inspired by movies and shows such as The Last Starfighter, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Battlestar Galactica.
Flying in zero-gravity, intercepting vessels, destroying installations, being on the edges of combat where escaping death is unlikely and it’s conclusion means being exposed to the unrelenting cold of space, left to drift and die through the cosmos for ages.
Through all these games, one that PC gamers and older gamers continuously refer to is the Wing Commander series, created by American gaming pioneer Chris Roberts. Chris Roberts and the team at Origin Systems with a simpler Electronic Arts, ushered in and reinvented the spaceship genre.
Pushing the limits of game technology at the time, the series gave fans their first taste of a true space combat simulator. Today, Wing Commander III is available today. Free. On the House. Where?
From EA’s Origin service, their digital distribution service for PC and Mac gamers. Here’s why you should download Origin and get this game. Of course, it’s free but it is much more than that. It is a piece of video game history, still very much playable today.
In the 27th Century, mankind is waging a bitter war with an imperial alien race, known as the Kilrathi. Standing in their way is the Terran Confederation, an allegiance of governments and colonies that provide military security and economic expansion.
That is where you step in. Players take to a ship of their choice, outfitting it with weapons, and take to the stars to fight the enemy! Players take on all sorts of enemy ships and interceptors in several dozen missions, all in an effort to stop this deadly war! Unlike other games at the time, the story and cut-scenes were a huge part of the game.
Earlier games in the series had animated 16-bit sprite cut scenes, with facial and speaking animations. On their main carrier, players could click and choose cutscenes and interactions. No voices could be provided at the time, but this was a revolutionary undertaking in conveying a strong story so early in the this era of video games. The first games of the series found themselves on the PC, 3DO, and even the SNES.
Wing Commander III, the third installment, was released in 1994, and would become a milestone in the video game world. In that early time, games were looking to animated Full Motion Video, or FMV’s, to tell their story and enhance their gameplay experiences. Here, FMV’s were employed, replacing the 16-bit sprite animations. Coupled with special effects, custom costuming, and modern puppeteering, Wing Commander III was on par with a big-budget television show or movie, making for an unbelievable experience.
Even better, and as one can see on the cover of the game, top-notch actors and actresses were hired for the scene. On the cover of the game is none other than Mark Hamill, the actor who portrayed Luke Skywalker in Star Wars and voiced The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. He plays as the main protagonist, Colonel Christopher Blair. Joining him is John Rhys Davies as both villain and hero, in a dual role between Crown Prince Thrakhath nar Kiranka and General James Taggart. Today in movies, you known John as Gimli from The Lord of the Rings Saga. Together with other name actors, like Christopher Walken, a compelling story and realistic science-fiction universe was made for all to experience.
As for the rest of the game, 16-bit sprites became fully rendered 3-D models with interesting particle effects and a more realized combat experience. Pushing the limits of the hardware, players were thrust into dazzling zero-gravity combat experiences, using the full advantage of advanced graphics cards and processors. The enemy ships, as they were now in 3D, had more of a tactical capability than ever before. Along with that came a more active cockpit and user interface, giving one the feeling that they were en elite starfighter pilot.
Today, Wing Commander still maintains its legacy as a technological and science fiction milestone. After Wing Commander III, several more games would continue for several years to come. A short-lived TV series was aired and a terrible movie made it’s release into movie theaters, subsequently becoming a critical and commercial failure. The older games would be made available on future platforms over time.Chris Roberts is currently helming the development of Star Citizen, the financially ginormous, crowd-funded spiritual successor to Wing Commander.
EA may not be what it once was but it’s nice to see that someone isn’t forgetting the simpler times, where modern games found their footings. Check this out and maybe, one day, well see a great return of the genre!