Day 215

I didn’t have long to play this yesterday but I got as far as finishing the WC1 missions.

The final mission involves blowing up a Kilrathi superbase. The base is vaguely recognisable in the final mission but only in that it is roughly the same shape as the one I’m more familiar with. I wouldn’t say I’m finding the game easy (as can be evidenced by the state of my ship) but I’m making it through these missions without too much trouble and managing most of them like this on my first attempt. If I could use my joystick, I’d be breezing through them.

There were no more cutscenes during the rest of the game and only a brief going into hyperspace scene after this last mission. If I didn’t know it already, it wouldn’t be all that obvious that the mission I’d just played was different to any other. I’m missing the guys pushing up the giant flag we got at the end of WC1. Instead SWC continues straight into SM1 which I’ll attempt to play today. That means the infamous Gwynhaver mission, but I’ve thanfully got savestates to help me out.

I’ve read up a little on Super Wing Commander now. Apparently the team was not given access to any of the original artwork. However some of the models were later reused in other Wing Commander games which would explain why some of them look so familiar. What’s slightly strange is that some of the Kilrathi ships look far more like Terran ones and I’m sure that they were used for Terran ships in those later games. I would love to have seen the original models used, only in higher quality.

I’ve also learned that there is a new campaign after I finish the SM1 missions, set between SM1 and SM2. SM2 isn’t included but I’m fine with this as I’d much rather play something new. When I get that far I’ll start blogging the game in more detail. I’m glad to learn that there is something new, as it will make playing this a lot more worthwhile. So far I’d describe it as different but lacking a little of the excitement of the original. The pace of the FMV and speech is slowing the game down and the commander sounds positively bored and/or depressed as he drones on in his mission briefings. The FMV is far too slow and things like the launch sequence take forever. The one in WC1 was quite quick and built to a crescendo as you launched. The FMV here fails to build that sort of excitement and I’m finding that I preferred the layers of 2D artwork sliding around over each other.

I can see why this never got a PC release as you would have a hard time justifiying buying this at full price if you already owned Wing Commander. The new look is as likely to alienate existing fans as to draw new ones to the series. Having said that, it would have been a more worthwhile release than Wing Commander Academy. SWC only makes sense to me as a port to a couple of new systems which targetted people who had never had the chance to play the PC games. I’m sure the new missions were put in there to give WC veterans an excuse to buy the game however, and I’m looking forward to playing them.

Day 214

I got as far as mission 10 in my first real day of playing Super Wing Commander. I would have liked to have played for longer only my gamepad batteries ran out and I couldn’t find the spares so I’ve had to wait for them to recharge overnight. 10 missions is long enough for a write-up actually, as I’ve got a good feel for the game now. Rather than a full review, I’ll concentrate on the differences between this and WC1.

I’m probably about as comfortable as I’m going to get with using the gamepad. It works although it does feel cumbersome and unintuitive. To do some tasks, I have to go into a menu screen and navigate around this while the game is paused. This brings the action to a grinding halt every time I have to do it, but it’s usually only at the start of the mission to alter my gun setup and at the very end to request permission to land. As far as I can tell this screen is also the only way to swap missile types, which is putting me off missiles altogether. If I was playing this on the PC, I’d sometimes swap quickly to a dumbfire or a heat seeker depending on the situation and I’m just not prepared to spend the time it takes to do this on here. I’ve not figured out how to lock onto a target either but this isn’t actually all that important. The controls in the manual didn’t make much sense to me first time around, given that it was referring to buttons in completely different positions to those on my joystick but I’ll go back to it and see if I can make sense of it now I’m using a gamepad with a more similar layout.

Aside from the communications menu, there are shortcuts to order my wingman around. Things like bottom-left trigger + up to order them to either break and attack or attack my target (depending on whether a target is selected). This works ok but it does mean I can’t steer and order them around at the same time. Speaking of the wingmen, it’s possible that they are a little more useful in this game than WC1. They are certainly getting more kills, although that could be because I’m not able to fly to the usual standards with a gamepad.

I’ve only seen them in my communications screen but the Kilrathi look very different to WC1. They are best described as talking lions and look like they should be in a Disney cartoon. Their speech sounds like slowed down womens voices and remind me of scenes of people getting possessed in old horror films like Legend Of Hell House (great film by the way). Its hardly the voice I would expect from a giant cat and I prefer the growled Kilrathi voices I know from WC2.

All the ships I’ve flown in this game have the small floating crosshair showing me where to aim, which definitely wasn’t the case in WC1. The snag is that having played the game for a while, I’ve decided that this crosshair is completely useless. I’d swear that it’s on completely the wrong side of the ship at times. I’m certainly finding the game easier now that I’m ignoring it. I doubt this is an emulation issue and it’s poor if it was like this on a real 3DO.

I seem to remember that you got a little cutscene on a planet every 5 missions or so in WC1. So far I’ve only had the one cutscene showing a failed attack on one of our capships after 8 missions. I was looking forward to seeing the new cutscenes, hoping they would tie in with the originals but this was actually quite disappointing. I suppose it’s a lot easier to render ships flying around in space in 3D than a load of people on a planet. Maybe some of the later ones will be more interesting. Simple as they were, these scenes provided the reward for successfully completing a section of WC1 and I’d like to see something a bit more impressive.

I’ve left the speech on, although I’m still not too happy with it. It’s of a similar standard to the CD version of games like Strike Commander and just like Strike Commander it’s worse than reading the text on the floppy disk version. All the “actors” seem determined to read the lines slightly more slowly that is really necessary and it does try my patience at times. It’s not helping that I know what’s coming all the time.

I am enjoying playing this, but I’d still prefer to be playing the PC version of WC1. By far the biggest obstacle is the controls but I assume that the game worked reasonably well with an analog joystick on it’s original hardware so I shouldn’t hold this against it. If you happen to have a 3DO and never played the PC version this could even be the version to go for. I’m not convinced that it’s actually an improvement overall, but it certainly isn’t worse. For anyone with any nostalgia whatsoever for the PC version, they would be better off playing that in Dosbox and I very much doubt I’ll ever come back to Super Wing Commander once I finish it.

The box claims that Super Wing Commander has 72 missions. That sounds like at least enough for it to include both Secret Missions expansions. Even then, it almost sounds like too many so I’m wondering if there might be an original mission or two later on. I certainly hope this is the case as it would mean this offers something above and beyond WC1 but I’m not really expecting it. I’m going to attempt to play to the end of the Wing Commander 1 missions when I get in tonight anyway which shouldn’t take too long, and then time allowing get started on Secret Missions 1 over the weekend.

Day 213 – Super Wing Commander

I was going to have a look at Origin FX next but true to form, I’ve changed my mind and am instead going to finally play Super Wing Commander for the 3DO. The first thing you might notice here is that I’ve started up the day count again in the post title, since this is after all an actual game published by Origin. For anyone who ever wanted to know how many days it would take someone with too much free time to play every Origin game, you will probably get your answer fairly soon as I’m intending to look at the remaining 3 titles one after another.

This game was published in 1994 for the 3DO although I also understand it appeared on the Mac as well. It’s an updated version of Wing Commander which wasn’t exactly old at that point having been published only 4 years earlier. It brings the graphics up to something approaching Privateer levels, but being a CD only title it also includes full speech and FMV cutscenes.

I’ve avoided playing different versions of the same game so far in the blog. This one makes it onto the list mainly for the pedantic reason that it has a different name, but also because it’s a serious modification to the original rather than just a port. There is also the fact that I’d quite like to play it at least the once. The question I ask myself before I play this is whether any of the new features will mean this actually improves on the original?

The old intro is gone and replaced with a well rendered and badly acted one showing Paladin and his wing attacking a capship. This first piece of acting is not boding well for the rest of the game but the FMV was certainly pretty enough for 94.

I start the game proper and it’s apparent that the Tiger’s claw has undergone something of a makeover for this game and is unrecognisable apart from the green colour.

The start of the game is immediately familiar for any WC veteran. It may not look the same but it’s the bar from WC1, with the same characters sat in the same places….

…. and they even speak all the same lines. Angels dialog about 1.4 missile strikes to kill a Salthi/Dralthi is straight out of WC1 although with full speech this time. The dialog in Wing Commander 1 was perhaps not the most realistic ever and hearing it read out in an appalling monotone French accent isn’t doing it any favours I have to say. The characters are very nicely drawn however. It may not be what I’m used to but I’m liking the look of the game a lot already.

The briefing room is a much darker affair but the briefing itself is word for word the same. We have a fancy 3D nav screen for this to show the mission and probably makes more sense than the old 2D ones.

The good old launch sequence is replaced by a very futuristic affair where my space suit is moulded around me by a machine….

… before I’m pushed into my cockpit by a giant piston and launched. I quite like the sequence although it’s hardly what I’m used to. I expect I’ll be skipping through it after 4 or 5 missions but that’s nothing new.

After all the changes, the cockpit feels immediately familiar. I should probably talk about my experiences trying to run the game at this point as this is where I’ve been struggling. There is only one 3DO emulator available called Freedo which hasn’t been in active development by the original author in some time. The final version would play Super Wing Commander but with no joystick support which is hardly ideal. A while back some Russian developers picked the project up and improved things somewhat but I still couldn’t get the joystick working. I have recently found an English translation however which worked straight off.

This still wasn’t perfect however as it only used the analog joystick digitally. I.e. all on or off in each direction. This fits with the standard 3DO controller but according the the SWC box, it should support analog sticks. I never did figure out a solution for this so I started trying to play with the analog joystick as it was and it actually worked pretty well until I had to start issuing orders to my Wingman and ultimately attempt to land back on the Tigers Claw. The problem here is that there is no keyboard support so all commands have to be issued through button combinations. This is less than intuitive at the best of times but some of these combinations on a HOTAS joystick required some serious finger contortions, so in the end I’m just playing it with a gamepad using the d-pad to control the ship. This isn’t ideal but it will be good enough. If it makes some of the missions tougher later on then I can always cheat using save states since I’m on an emulator.

The in-game graphics don’t look too bad. The ships are certainly less pixellated than their original equivalents although I’m not sure I like the actual models as much. The d-pad appears to be adequate for combat. I did originally play Wing Commander using cursor keys many years ago so I know it should be possible. Using button combinations to issue commands and select weapons feels very awkward though. I may get used to it eventually but it’s not very intuitive.

I definitely don’t like the explosions. This while cloud is a lot less satisfying than the balls of flame I remember from the original game. If the enemy A.I. has been tweaked at all, I can’t say I notice it. Gameplay wise it appears this really is going to play exactly like the original.

Even the music in this mission is familiar and could be the same as was used in the Kilrathi Saga remake. This being the original mission, I have to take on a couple of asteroid fields which I never did enjoy in the original game as the asteroids had a nasty tendency to come out of nowhere at warp speed. Here it’s much improved and I can see them coming from a good distance.

After clearing a couple of nav points and flying through the asteroids, there is a suitably impressive landing sequence to end the mission and I get my mission debriefing just like in the original game. It sounds less than natural when the kill scores are being read out but you can’t have everything.

Having played through the one mission, I’ve decided I’m not going to blog my journey through every one, since it is after all the same game I’ve already written about a couple of years back. I think that I’ll just do a quick summary after I finish the game and maybe shove in a few screenshots of the ending. I expect I’ll make my way through the game fairly rapidly since I know Wing Commander 1 inside out. My main problem is going to be getting used to the controls. I expect I’ll spend about five minutes trying to figure out how to swap to torpedo’s the first time I have to attack a capship.
My first impressions are mixed. It’s very strange playing something that I know so well after it’s been changed like this and I can’t help but feel that I’d much rather be playing the PC version again. However, if I attempt to look at it as though I don’t know the original game, then it’s looking pretty good. The production values are top-notch and the graphics are fantastic. It’s just been let down by the acting. I possibly shouldn’t be too harsh as a lot of voice acting in the first CD titles was awful. I’ve heard things like the FM-Towns Ultima 6 and why anyone would voluntarily play that version over the PC one I have no idea. I’m going to look for an option to turn off speech and switch on subtitles but failing that I’ll grit my teeth and see if I can get used to it.