The 1990s were a veritable golden age for space combat gamers, but two series stand out in particular. Star Wars
fans had the award-winning X-Wing and TIE Fighter series, while Origin developed the ground-breaking Wing Commander
series. Ironically, Mark Hamil starred in the latter, beginning with 1994's Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger
(HOTT). WC3 was a smash success, and two sequels followed: Wing Commander IV
and Wing Commander: Prophecy
. After WC:P, Origin abandoned the series, and space combat sims in general went into decline. The Freespace
series and Chris Roberts' own Freelancer
were some of the last prominent titles in the genre.
Now there's news that one of the many fan-built projects in the Wing Commander universe is nearing completion and drops four days from now. Wing Commander Saga
kicks off six months before the events of WC3 and tells a parallel story of the Confed pilots fighting to end the war and protect their homes against the Kilrathi. Those of you who were Wing Commander fans way back when may recall that in WC3, humanity's survival was very much in question; Blair's suicide mission against the Kilrathi homeworld was a last-ditch attempt to end the war, not a coup de grace delivered by superior firepower.
The game purports to put players in the cockpit of the Terran pilots who were fighting a pitched delaying action to open a path for Blair's desperate run. Pilots will start off flying Hellcats, then progress to the Arrow, Thunderbolt, and Longbow, with the Excalibur as the final type of fighter.
The new Arrow fighter.
The game has been built using the open source Freespace 2 engine, which is both a boon and a limitation. Without a pre-made engine, it's doubtful that any game of this sort would ever exist, but the F2 engine doesn't allow the sort of branching that made previous Wing Commander games nearly unique. In the WC series, unlike in most games, it was absolutely possible to lose. We've lifted the diagram below from an unrelated project to show how the games had winning and losing paths, with the ability to move from one to the other.
This approach increased the work on staff and actors but made the games feel far more realistic and added replay value.
The Yorktown-class Victory in Wing Commander III
The Hermes in Wing Commander Saga. The Freespace roots are evident but the updates are a welcome sight.
Looking at the screenshots of Wing Commander Saga, it's obvious that the 1999-era Freespace engine is dated, despite repeated updates. The game, however, still looks gorgeous. Fans of the series, including the author, are unlikely to care if the graphics are a bit old-fashioned. Given that the last full Wing Commander game came out in 1997 and WC3 dropped in 1994, even an aging open source engine is capable of delivering plenty of eye candy.
This fan-made sequel is made without the official or even unofficial approval of Chris Roberts or EA. Bring it on. Thursday can't come soon enough. More details are available at the project website