Saturday, June 30, 2007

Wing Commander - Finished First Mission in Dakota

Wing Commander holds many fond memories for. It takes me back to 8th grade and my friend Max. He had a high end 386 at his house and he introduced me to Wing Commander.

I was never much into flight simulators before then, and I'm still not, but there is something about Wing Commander that pulled me in. Wing Commander obviously took inspiration from Star Wars - specifically the idea of world war II in space. It presents an epic story of a conflict between humans and an alien race, taking place on the equivalent of an aircraft carrier. Wing Commander was crafted like a movie. Before each mission you can shoot the breeze with your fellow pilots, then the colonel gives a briefing and you are off flying in space. After the mission, you are debriefed, possibly given a medal or promotion or reassigned to another squadron on the ship. But what was really neat about the story is that your actions directly affected it. Successfully defeat a wing of fighters or defend the transport ship and your carrier would move into one system. Fail to destroy the enemy capital ship or have your escort get blown up and your carrier would move into another. This branching storyline even led to affecting the results of the war in the rest of the sector, and every so often you would see scenes of marines successfully (or unsuccessfully) storming an enemy base or a group of brave scientists thwarting (or being killed by) an enemy sneak attack.

The flying in Wing Commander appealed to me because it was fast, intense, and boiled down to the basics of what was needed to fly an attack craft. Basically, it took a very arcade approach to the flying. Still, the communication with your wingman, ordering him to break and attack, retreat, attack your target or whatever worked well to enhance a "you are there" feel of putting you in a war story. The fact that you could taunt and be taunted by enemy ships was a nice touch as well. The physics were always a little off. It was much more like you were flying in a gravity-less atmosphere than in space, but it worked fine and when you were dogfighting an enemy ship, maneuvering to get a good shot on him while avoiding his shots, you didn't notice it.

When I visited Max's house, I would only occasionally get a chance to fly. Most of the time was spent watching him fly and giving suggestions. The game was pretty difficult and I remember seeing him in the less successful systems, often flying desperate attempts to defend the carrier.

Having a Mac, I was disappointed that I could not get the game for my computer since it was so enthralling for me. Fortunately, an enhanced version of the game was released for the 3DO system and for whatever reason that version also got aport to the Mac. Super Wing Commander came on a CD, giving it better graphics and sound than the original, voices for all the characters, and included the first expansion Secret Missions and a new set of missions exclusive to it. It also ran at a speed approximating molasses on my LC III. But I didn't care because it was still the Wing Commander I loved. Despite the stuttering sound, the characters whose voice acting made them sound like they were on morphine, and game that played like, as my friend Max said when he saw, "a chess match" as you had plenty of time to plan your next move in between frames of animation, I loved it. I played through it again when I got a PowerPC that could actually run the game at an acceptable rate. I went on to play Wing Commander 3 and Wing Commander IV since they were released for the Mac and loved them.

A few days ago, I was reading about the new Wing Commander game set to be released for Xbox Live Arcade in a week or so and that gave me the itch. I had never played Wing Commander II before or its expansions. And, while Super Wing Commander had the same plot of the first game and its expansion, the second set of missions was different from the PC expansion. Not to mention that it was much easier - your ships had more missiles and the wingman AI was better. Thus, I decided that I had to play Wing Commander I and II and their associated Secret Missions and Special Operations.

I'm enjoying it just as I used to. For a PC game released in 1990, it is quite impressive. Sure the standard VGA graphics, especially the ship bitmaps don't look great now, but it is still a ton of fun. It is also a lot harder than Super Wing Commander, which makes it interesting. While I have made it further on the positive mission path (haven't failed any missions yet) than I remember my friend Max making it, some of the missions took a few tries. In Super Wing Commander I rarely had to redo a mission unless my wingman died.

And that brings me to the last mission I played. Knight and I were tasked with protecting two Drayman class transports. It was a brutally hard mission. A wing of Salthis and then a wing of Krants came after the first transport. Knight and I fought valiantly and I took a ton of damage, but we managed to see the Drayman off safely to its jump point. Then came the rendezvous with the next Drayman, this one carrying precious vaccines to help with the outbreak of a disease on a nearby human colony. Three Jalthi, the Kilrathi's heaviest fighters, came after it. I managed to lure one off and was dogfighting with it. Just as I finish it off, Knight radio's in that he's in trouble. I spin my ship around and fire on the afterburners to get back to him, but I'm too late. One of the Jalthi's finishes him off and he doesn't eject in time. Filled with rage, I pump the last of my missiles into one Jalthi and tear into the other from the rear with my guns. When I get back to the carrier, during the debriefing the Colonel laments Knight's passing and comments that it seems he just couldn't handle it out there. Bullshit! I retort that Knight gave all he could, including his life, to ensure that the transport made it in safely. But in the back of my head, I can't help but blame myself for his death. I had my Jalthi damaged. It was still a threat but not a great one and I knew Knight was tackling with two of them. I should have turned around quicker to help him, but instead I went for the kill. The extra 30 seconds it took to finish off the Jalthi are the time the other two needed to lay into Knight. A good man died, and I feel responsible.

That's why I love this game. No way am I reloading. I'm going to have to go through the game with that on my hands.

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