Mar 16, 2012

Wing Commander Saga - Preview & Interview

My Wing Commander memories mainly involve scheming. Well, scheming and fighting exciting space-battles while daydreaming the way only a space-opera can force (male) teenagers to daydream, but mainly scheming. Getting the original game, installing a Soundblaster Pro, accessing the Secret Mission packs, being given a copy of Wing Commander II and eventually even upgrading to a 386SX wasn't that easy. Not for a kid my age. Not without scheming. And begging, and pleading too of course, but mainly scheming. I even considered believing in Santa Claus for a moment, but, no, it was scheming that allowed me to experience Wing Commander in its almost full glory.

But, I do believe that's enough on my early teen years, as the future of the mostly ignored space fighter sim genre is actually looking much brighter. The indie, freeware project that's been going on for the past decade and will most definitely revive the Wing Commander universe, Wing Commander Saga, will very soon be made available. How soon? Watch this impressive trailer and you'll know:


Pretty fantastic, innit? And you should know by now that it's only a few days away. Then again you should (but, frankly, couldn't) also know that I've been playing with the almost final version of the game for the past few days and am more than enthralled by it. I do believe my jaw actually dropped a couple of times too.

Wing Commander Saga, you see, is so much more than a simple fan remake. It is a polished, feature-heavy, brilliantly designed behemoth of a game, that could have easily been a commercial release. The game does after all sport over 50 missions, 2 campaigns, 60 voice actors, dozens of Terran and Kilrathi spaceships and roughly 70 cutscenes. And some massive battles involving proper fleets.

What's more and despite using the smart but relatively ageing Freespace 2 engine, the game looks absolutely stunning and should run smoothly on any PC. The high-res models, the beautiful star-fields, those glorious nebulae and an inspired art direction make Wing Commander Saga's space battles the most spectacular of the series. Happily they play excellently too, even if you (like me) eschew the more traditional joystick in favour of keyboard controls. Everything you knew and loved is there in its evolved and refined version: travelling from nav-point to nav-point, on the fly changing of weapons configurations, deploying decoys, giving orders to your wingmen; the lot. You'll even be able to transfer power between shields, weapons and engines à la X-Wing.

As for the missions themselves they cover everything from patrolling and escorting to attacking and defending, and are masterfully scripted, story driven and, for lack of a better word, incredibly fun. Fun enough to keep me playing for a disturbing number of hours. To my defense, destroying Kilrathi hasn't felt this good in ages, and as the game is set some time* before the events of Wing Commander 3 you'll be getting a lot of that, all wrapped-up in a lovely plot and supported by an equally lovely soundtrack. (* Update: The prologue takes place roughly 6 months before the events in Wing Commander 3 while the main campaign begins right before Wing Commander 3 and concludes with the ending of the Terran-Kilrathi War.)


Enough with what I thought about Wing Commander Saga though. It's pretty obvious I loved it and so will you the moment it gets released (most probably here). For now let creator and founder of the project Anton (a.k.a. Tolwyn) further enlighten you via this handy interview:

What is Wing Commander Saga?

Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Dawn is a space flight simulator game, which recreates the vast universe of the famed Wing Commander series. Just like the original games, WC Saga offers a compelling mixture of sci-fi and World War II history, all told through the perspective of a skilled pilot that the player can relate to. We created a highly immersive plot line grounded in the Wing Commander universe which offers compelling characters in thought provoking situations - the very thing that Chris Roberts and his team did so successfully with Wing Commander.

How long did you spend on creating this shining behemoth of a space battles sim?

It is kind of odd to think that it took us exactly 10 years (to the day) to complete the project. It has been a wild and bumpy ride. The project had been pushed back several times over the years because we kept adding new features to the product or refining existing assets. Right now, I am looking back and am amazed at how far we have come - it is a great feeling to see this thing I have been envisioning all these years finally take form.

Weren't you afraid of such a herculean task?

We quickly learned that the process of creating a computer game is much more difficult than we initially thought. The project kept growing because we wanted gamers to experience a wide variety of missions while staying true to the feeling of Wing Commander. There was an intense desire to keep adding new elements, assets & features, which was very seductive. Many of the features we added (like the autopilot) were really great ideas too, so we did not want to let those go. The end result should be highly enjoyable for the players, and that's the audience we need to please.

Click for a more detailed look at the game's HUD.

Care to introduce us to the team?

The team behind Wing Commander Saga was small from the start, but what we lacked in numbers we made up for in dedication and talent. These guys really stretched their creative muscles and put in ridiculous hours to make sure that this project stayed true to the Wing Commander canon and spirit (although we may have taken some artistic license here or there) and made it out of my dreams and into reality. I've worked with some people who were easy to get along with, some others who were more difficult. We've been through hard times, through tough times, but we've all kept together--because we love Wing Commander and have produced WC Saga as a celebration of a great series.

What would you say is the most impressive feature of Wing Commander Saga?

Features don't make games great. What makes them great is the love poured into them, great game dynamics, and solid storytelling--and we've done our best to make sure Wing Commander Saga has all of that. We, as designers, wanted to ensure that the entire experience is exciting: the game makes you feel that you are not just watching the action but actually stepping into the role and experiencing what it is like to be Sandman.

How well does it tie in with the original Wing Commander series?

It should tie in very well storywise. It has several references to the old series, to novels, to other stuff about the Wing Commander universe. Our approach to game design draws mostly upon elements from Wing Commander, but we also analyzed other great titles like Freespace and the X-Wing series. We have tried to learn from all of these sources about what makes for action packed and diversified mission design and I can see that it's really making a difference. I feel that the final product will be great. For example, sizeable fleet battles are things that WC fans have largely only been able to read about, or have inferred in the games... until Wing Commander Saga. The largest fleet action-type battles you have actually been able to play until now were in Wing Commander: Prophecy, and the fan project Wing Commander: Standoff deserves props for taking Prophecy’s engine and putting together some good fleet action.

What does the future hold? Any future projects we should be looking out for?

It's been a fantastic experience to create something in homage of a great series. A big thank you has to go to our fans for their extreme patience over the long development period, as well as to Chris Roberts, Origin, and EA for their generosity in allowing Saga and other Wing Commander fan projects to be released and distributed.

Pulling off something like this is a lifetime achievement. We couldn't easily repeat it, nor would we want to. But who knows, maybe we will start developing a new indie game very soon.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

36 comments:

  1. How fantastic! Thank you for the kind words, good sir.

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    1. Thank you for an amazing game dear admiral!

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  2. Oh wow. I'm overjoyed to see WC Saga finally come out! Congrats to their team for their insane labour over the last ten years.

    Gnome, my teenage story isn't much difficult. I first came across Wing Commander II at a friend's house. Their parents (who were wealthy) had bought a 486 DX-33 to do their taxes and farming inventory on, and my friend bought WC2 and a SoundBlaster (v1) for it. I just had an aging Amstrad PC 286-8mhz at home that couldn't even run the game. The first time I saw the intro and heard "I will speak with prince Thrakhath alone!", I almost died. This brings back some wonderful memories.

    Thanks gnome!

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    1. Ah, it is indeed lovely sharing such childhood memories, though I did have a 12Mhz machine back when WC1 was released (and for the next couple of years)... I don't believe any other game managed to ever impress me this much. Ever.

      Oh, and technically it's not out for the next few days.

      Thanks!

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    2. "Guards, you are dismissed"

      Aaargh! The memories!!!

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  3. This is awesome! I am so excited! I need to go to my parent's place to search from my old Microsoft sidewinder joystick! I believe it still works and I hope it will work with windows 7 as well!

    A big THANK YOu for the guys that revive our teenage years!

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    1. Glad you share the rejoicing Gannicus! Actually I had a joystick lent to me by a friend and, well, things get so much better...

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  4. Thats really fantastic. I always like this kind of games. i played Start Wars to have experience of Space wars. Hope this will like that. Will play this. Thanks for nice review

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  5. Hey, the FreeSpace engine isn't "aged". It's been under continual, fan-driven development for ten years now...

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  6. Such an amount of work, voice acting, scripting, story, etc...too bad it was spent on a franchise that should stay dead. Should have gone for the original universe.

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    1. Well dear Laplace, not quite sure what you mean with the 'original universe'. WC Saga is indeed set during the Kilrathi wars. Oh, and I for one am more than excited on a new Wing Commander game. Can't quite understand why it should stay dead either... More than enough people care, you know.

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    2. Frank Costanza's Lawyer3/19/12, 3:19 AM

      Dear "laplace",

      You are a horrible person.

      Also, I care, and thank you so much for this game. I'm sure I'll have a blast with it.

      Did I mention laplace is a horrible person?

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    3. Don't Feed the Troll.

      BTW, great work on this guys!!!

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    4. @ Frank: Glad you too are excited about the game, but please do refrain from being nasty to Iaplace. Oh, and cheers!

      @ Anonymous: Might have a point there.

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  7. I for one an dying to play this game. I spent thousands of hours on the all of the Wing Commander games. My Dad had a 386 25mhz machine. I think it had a 25 MB HDD. I can't remember how many times I had to swap disks after cleaning a hole oh this tiny little drive. 1 game at a time please.
    Can we be a little more specific about a release date?
    Thank you to all the people who made this project possible. I will certainly be heading over to their website to thank them personally.

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    1. @ Trizunky: The release date will be the 22nd of March. Soon enough? I thought so :) Oh, and I frankly can't forget what a monumental pain installing WC2 was. Must have taken more than a couple of hours watching it get settled on a hard-drive.

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  8. Can't wait.. loved the series (even the "spin-off" Strike Commander) and I hate to admit it, but I even have a soft spot for the film - you know, if we're talking bad film nights.

    Brilliant accomplishment and I hope it gets the attention of some people who might want to throw money at you!

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    1. Same hopes here. The team does deserve all the support it can get and we could all use another excellent space game. Mind you, was never too fond of Strike Commander myself.

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  9. Looks like a Freespace 2 mod TBH.

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    1. Well, it has been based on a vastly improved Freespace 2 engine...

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  10. to Quote Wing commander 4's Mark Hamil in he first cut scene. This pisses me Off! Ain't my Business....This Pisses me off, Ain't My business! (Excited!)

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  11. WOW - AWESOME NEWS!!! I cant wait to play this as its sure to bring back memories of my 386-dx40 w/soundblaster and mach 3 joystick. I played all the WC series to death!!! Its about time someone resurrected this classic game. Lets hope there are more to follow.... a million THANK YOU's to Anton and his crew :-)

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    1. And I'm pretty confident it will easily surpass your expectations. Cheers!

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  12. Just glances through a newsfeed and an article on Wing Commander Saga showed up from Maximum PC. They posted a link to this very page. Glad to see your hard work getting good press.

    Also glad to see that I was ahead of the curve since I keep an RSS tab on my browser for your worthwhile information.

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    1. Ah, thank you so very much dear Blue Gnome. Always lovely having you around :)

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  13. I too came here from Maximum PC.

    I can't wait to try this! Wing Commander is what got me into the PC world, prompting me to buy my first PC at a computer convention. (386-DX33/66) Before that I was a Commodore Amiga user. I've played every iteration of WC, and I have read all the novels. (I try to forget the movie ever existed...)

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    1. Welcome dear Anonymous! Joining you in ignoring the movie, I'll just mention that at least a couple of friends abandoned the Amiga in favour of the PC. though more changed camps due to DOOM.

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  14. Haha same here, also came from Maximum PC's site. I'm so glad we have people/fans to revive the WC series. Oh it's only 4 days away...hopefully it will work with my Thrustmaster HOTAS WARTHOG. CAN'T WAIT!!!

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    1. Welcome, welcome and do help yourself to some space cookies. Oh, and thanks for reminding me to actually hook up that ST290.

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  15. Omg how did I miss this?....

    You know when Prince Thrakhath killed my girl in WC3, I hated every last one of em...An honorable death by disembowelment!!!

    I just wanted to kill kilrathi....Now it seems I can relive those moments again. Move over Mass Effect. A space opera original relives!!!

    Happy Days killing kilrathi days.....

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    1. Gloriously happy days indeed. And one can't help but hope for a wider renaissance in space sims and, of course, Wing Commander. Saga has been downloaded almost 70k times in less than a day!

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  16. 38 years old, and feeling like a little kid now, looking so much forward to play this game, downloading as we speak, I was one of the privileged bastards who had both an amiga and a pc, and my still remember my mom coming home from a trip to the US, with the wing commander game, and asking me if I thought this would something for me, She never expected me to lock myself in my room for hours :)

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    1. Ah, yes, happy memories indeed. Really do hope you enjoy Wing Commander Sasa; I know I did. Oh, and I would suggest playing it with a proper joystick too...

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