Award-winning games, a feature film, an animated TV series, and books - the franchise created in 1990 by Chris Roberts has expanded beyond imagination. The 30th anniversary of the Wing Commander release is the perfect opportunity to look back at the story behind one of the most famous space simulators of all time.
Above and beyond
Game developer Chris Roberts had already worked at Origin Systems for a few years when he came up with an idea for a game that he described as “World War II in space.” Released in 1990, Wing Commander
was a major breakthrough in the space combat genre, as it combined action-packed 3D gameplay with cinematic story elements and lore.
Set in the year 2654, Wing Commander tells the story of a war between the human-led Terran Confederation and Kilrathi, a feline race inspired by Larry Niven’s books. You become a nameless pilot transferred to the TCS Tiger's Claw space carrier. Along with other pilots, you must commit to a series of ferocious space battles and dogfights that results in an attack on the Kilrathi High Command starbase.
A cinematic story
What helped make Wing Commander stand out from other contemporary space combat games at the time was an engaging story that accompanied the fun gameplay. In between space battles, you could explore the TCS Tiger’s Claw’s board to see what other pilots had to say about ongoing events.
This approach, coupled with dynamic gameplay, made Wing Commander a massive success and Computer Gaming World's Overall Game of the Year award in 1991.Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi
took all the elements from the original game and refined them. This time, our hero had to make ends meet after the TCS Tiger's Claw carrier was destroyed by a Kilrathi surprise attack. To do that, the hero not only had to prove himself as a pilot, but also face a tale of love and betrayal.
The dogfights in the sequel were better-looking and the game’s characters received voices, thanks to Sound Blaster cards.
After spending less time on the second Wing Commander game due to his involvement in other projects, Chris Roberts returned in grand style. Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger
, released in 1994, became a truly cinematic game, with interactive FMV cutscenes aboard the TCS Victory carrier, which took place between flying missions.
In addition to a more cinematic experience, players also learned the hero’s name - Colonel Christopher “Maverick” Blair, played by none other than Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill himself.
He is accompanied by John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark) as James "Paladin" Taggart and Malcolm McDowell as the malicious Admiral Tolwyn. The cast also included Tom Wilson (Back to the Future Part II) as pilot Major Todd "Maniac" Marshall and Ginger Lynn Allen (her movies are not very... mainstream) as the mechanic Rachel Coriolis.
The lore expands
Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger’s visuals gave a true workout to contemporary PCs, considering that 3D graphics cards wouldn’t really see mainstream use until 1995. The risk paid off - the game sold 700k copies around the world. It also paved the road for the release of yet another sequel, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom
, in 1996.
The game had a huge 14-million-dollar budget. The cast remained pretty much the same as in the third installment and the game received a fantastic orchestral score from George Oldziey. This time, after the so-called Kilrathi Trilogy closure, Christopher Blair went on to fight enemies in the heart of the Terran Confederacy.
Mark Hamill went on to play Colonel Blair one more time in Wing Commander: Prophecy
from 1997, this time as a secondary character. The fifth part of the series was focused more on the space battles than cutscenes. The game that told the story of the Terran Confederation’s war with a new foe, the insectoid Nephilim, was created without Chris Roberts. Around that time, he left Origin Systems and focused on his next great project, the 30-million-dollar feature film - Wing Commander
A cinematic universe
Chris Roberts’ directorial debut didn’t fare well in the cinema, yet it was only one of many examples of how the Wing Commander franchise expanded over the years. In 1993, along with his brother Erin, Roberts developed Wing Commander: Privateer
, a space combat and trading simulator game. This spin-off of the Wing Commander series was so popular that it led to the creation of the sequel, Privateer 2: The Darkening
, which featured an all-star cast that included Clive Owen, Mathilda May, Christopher Walken, and David Warner (the only actor who can “out-creep” Christopher Walken).
Want more? There’s a 13-episode Wing Commander Academy
animated series from 1996, at least 10 novels set in the same universe, a card game, and Wing Commander Arena, an online multiplayer game for Xbox consoles. You can also take a shot at game spin-offs like the simulator Wing Commander Academy
and Wing Commander Armada
, which brings a more strategic flavor to the series (you can even play as Kilrathi!).
All in all, if you want to immerse yourself in the Wing Commander series, you’ll have plenty of options with the games available on GOG.COM. So, let’s celebrate the 30th anniversary of the series in the best way possible - by becoming an ace space pilot.