Origin’s motto was “we create worlds”, an accurate statement when describing the imagination bursting from 1990’s Wing Commander. Created by Chris Roberts (who’s currently working on the behemoth kickstarter project Star Citizen), it raised the bar for storytelling in space. It wouldn’t be topped until 1993’s X-Wing used realistic 3D polygons to outclass Wing Commanders modest bitmaps. But those bitmaps were still incredible for the time.
WC’s appeal extended far beyond visuals. The graphics were engaging enough, but the narrative stole the show. The story was told on many fronts. Colonel Halcyon set the table with mission briefings, while the human element was regaled in the ship’s bar with other pilots and old Shotglass the bartender.
The pilots had distinct personalities and would fly uniquely when paired with you. A friendly kill tracker hung up in the bar, providing a little healthy competition for the aces.
The enemies had aces up their sleeves as well, detailed in the Ship’s Onboard Magazine: ‘Clawmarks’ (included in the instruction manual (those were great)). Learning about Kilrathi pilot Bakhtosh “Redclaw” Nar Kiranka and how “he is an excellent marksman but a mediocre flier” breathed life into the universe and heightened the experience when you finally ran into him.
The information in ‘Clawmarks’ about pilots, tactics, and the political climate could have been written as a dry instruction manual, but going the extra mile to ‘create worlds’ is why Chris Roberts had an army eagerly support Star Citizen.
Missions felt realistic as you traveled through several nav points, sometimes, not seeing enemies at all. It made you feel like a pilot living on a Carrier, putting in your shift, chatting with wingmen, and potting the odd Kilrathi ship in between grander events.
Contributing to the realistic feel was the ability to lose missions and continue the story (if you survived of course). The story would branch positively or negatively depending on the outcomes. Lose a few missions in a row and morale would be low in the ships bar, but you could always have a string of great missions and turn the tide.
Based on your performance, you’ll earn promotions and the privilege of flying better ships. Even the ships are discussed the first time you meet ‘Iceman’ and ‘Knight’.
Maverick. They call me Iceman. Don’t let Knight here fool you about the Scimitar. It’s a gun-heavy slug. Forget finesse in a Scimitar.Just head straight in, guns blaring. Give me a ship that lets me use my skill… A Raptor, even a Hornet… …or one of those new Rapiers! If half of what they say is true, the Rapier’s a true artist’s ship!”
Knight “Maverick, right? I’m Knight. Welcome to the Killer Bees. You’re flying a Hornet right now, right? Ever flown Scimitars before? I think you’re going to like them. A Scimitar isn’t quite as fast or nimble as a Hornet, but she’s got twice the armour, as well as heavier guns.”
Iceman “And she handles like a Centaurian mud pig.
Knight “Iceman here’ll try to tell you speed and handling’ll save your butt, but I’ll take an extra three centimetres of durasteel plating any day!”
Speaking of which, the flying used a great momentum mechanic that let you boost, cut the engines and powerslide past enemies, firing as you went.
Wing Commander came together perfectly as each of these extra bits of polish and lore helped build an incredibly engaging experience. Alien and Star Wars were sci-fi worlds that felt lived in, Wing Commander felt like you were doing the living.
If you’ve never checked the series out I can still recommend both Wing Commander 1 and 2 for the classic experience. III and IV went crazy with FMV but do have unbelievable casts (Mark Hamill, Malcolm McDowell, Biff from Back to the Future and more).
If Star Citizen can evoke the same personality and passion alongside the visual spectacle, it’ll be well worth the millions pledged so far.