Wing Commander Prophecy Demo

There were two demos released for Wing Commander Prophecy. I’ve already looked at the first which was a simple but immensely fun gauntlet against the Kilrathi. This second demo was released around the same time as the game and is a unique 4 mission branching campaign. I had a little trouble running this as it kept randomly crashing on me forcing a reboot each time. It turns out that it didn’t like the Amiga-Merlin 3dfx drivers and it was far more stable as soon as I swapped back to official drivers. It also overrode Hypersnap with its own screenshot capturing system so I didn’t get half as many screenshots as I expected but there are enough for the job.

The action all takes place from the Midway but the bar is deserted each time with no cutscenes inbetween the missions. In the first mission briefing, I’m informed that a convoy is moving in and we have to fly a 3 point patrol to ensure its safe arrival. This is a straightforward mission against the smaller enemy fighters. Unlike the 3dfx test demo, this looks just like the final game as far as I can see.


In mission 2, the convoy has arrived and we have to escort them in. There are two hulking transports and a wing of Shrike bombers for us to escort. Of course the moment we get there they come under fire from fighters and Manta bombers. I’ve played enough Prophecy to know to concentrate on the bombers here. They do manage to hit one of the transports but it’s survives the skirmish. There is more opposition on the way back but a single Manta isn’t much of a threat to a whole wing of fighters. I think this guy was put there more to show off the fighter design.


With the transports and bombers safely back the final mission is to escort the bombers to destroy an incoming enemy cap ship. The briefing says to concentrate on the the turrets but I ignore that and take out the fighters while the bombers do their job. The demo ends after autopiloting back to the Midway.


The demo is actually branching and features an alternative third mission for those who fail number 2. In the alternative, the transports and bombers are destroyed and we have to patrol the area while waiting for another two supply transports. This mission is extremely difficult and clearly put in there for anyone who fancies a challenge. There are a huge number of fighters to destroy before getting to a final capship which must be de-turreted. It’s doable but this is a half-hour marathon with a heavy emphasis on conserving afterburners while taking out the 40-50 enemy fighters.

I didn’t play this demo back at the time and there was a lot more to it than I expected. The gameplay is exactly the same as WCP but with the original missions and a branching campaign, it’s almost like an extra Secret Ops episode.

Wing Commander Prophecy – 3dfx Test Demo

I thought while I had my Win 98 machine connected up, I ought to have a go at the Wing Commander Prophecy demo. There are actually two of these of which this is the first. It was released as a 3dfx hardware test for an early version of the game engine. The demo is 3dfx only so it needs Glide in some form to run and can be downloaded from WCNews.

It’s a fairly simple demo with no FMV and consists a 5 minute gauntlet against Kilrathi ships. On the intro screens it states that the best score any of the testers achieved was 17 kills, although the readme file says that one of them had since got this up to 24.

The mission starts off at a slightly different looking Midway with a few quick video messages to set up the scenario before I autopilot to the nav point and get stuck in. It has to be said the engine does still look good although it’s less polished than the final product was. The nav point marker is a couple of white lines and the space background doesn’t look quite right among other things but the gameplay is all there. I’m up against a never-ending stream of Vaktoth’s, Dralthi’s + another Vaktoth being flown by Thrakhath (which is actually easier to kill than the others).

I found the demo to be fairly unstable and my PC kept locking up and needing rebooting so I only actually played through the once. I’m sure this is my PC and not the demo. Most of the components are from one of my old PC’s which wasn’t running too well at the time I upgraded it. I’ve been underclocking it to keep it running which had been working but it looks like it’s on its last legs now. I’ll have to track down the faulty part and swap it over the holidays.

Aside from the crashing, I had a great time playing this. It’s frantic action with no holding back in an attempt to get as many kills as possible. I didn’t realise it until it happened but you get a second set of missiles after 15 kills. I wouldn’t have held back on my missiles so much if I’d known. The other tactic I’d try differently is to send my wingmen home at the start. They tended to drift away from me taking Kilrathi with them, leaving me wasting precious time afterburning to the next fighter when I’d cleared my area.

I still managed 18 kills, beating the initial target at least. I did have a screenshot to prove it among others but apparently missed copying most of the jpg’s onto my phone so this post is a little lacking on pictures. If I can get 18 kills on my first attempt, the testers can’t have had much chance to try this out when the splash screen was created. If it didn’t keep crashing I’d have gone for the 24 kills which would be far more challenging.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the movie segments on WCP when compared to WC4 (although I’ve heard they nearly didn’t happen at all), but the gameplay still stands up brilliantly and I could have spent ages trying to up my kill score. Any WC fan should have a look at it and I’ll probably be going back myself when I get my PC fixed up.

A couple of bits of news to finish. First off, Amazon Canada have cancelled my pre-order for the Wing Commander Academy DVD set for the creative reason of not being able to get hold of it yet. I presume this is happening to everyone who pre-ordered. I suppose I’ll place my order again and go to the back of the queue.

Much more importantly, my parcel of Origin bits and pieces from Rhea Shelley has arrived just in time for Xmas. I don’t know if I simply got lucky or British customs officers were showing some Christmas spirit (not likely) but it got through without any added VAT. I’d been steeling myself for a huge bill, so this is a welcome early Xmas present. There is still some shop posters and the like which were too large to send regular post which will be following on in a month or so but it’s the bulk of the value. I didn’t buy any of the games which are currently up for auction on Ebay for anyone who wants them, with loads of shrinkwrapped copies of Origin titles among other things. I might have a go at one of them myself if it stays cheap but I’ve got other plans for the money I just saved.

In the meanwhile, I’ve not had time to even open the parcel yet and may not get much chance to start going through it all until boxing day. I won’t be posting again before then so happy Xmas to all.

Wing Commander Prophecy (GBA) – Part 2

I had a giant length podcast to listen to so I pressed on with the game while doing that and managed to finish it a lot quicker than I expected (quicker than the podcast at any rate) . There is no way I played through 48 missions so the total must have been including branches. I’m sure that some of the original missions have been skipped but the majority were present and it follows the PC original closely throughout. I can’t say that I ever got entirely used to the controls but I did start to learn how to play this specific port a little more and was considerably less frustrated in the later missions.

Once the game has got going, there definitely are tactics involved in regards to which ships you take out first and possibly in ordering wingmen around (although I’m unconvinced they ever followed my orders). The improved ships I got to fly in later missions is what made the biggest difference though. I’d already had the hardest fighters thrown at me, and the game got easier and more fun to play with a little extra firepower.

On the subject of firepower, I soon got to fly bombers and take out some capital ships. All of these look great in the engine and there is very little slowdown. Unlike the PC game, I can’t go around blasting turrets of course and there aren’t any sections of the ship to aim at. Like all the ships in the game, capships just have one shield (no front and back) and I simply blast it until it dies with everything I’ve got. I found all these missions extremely easy as it was just a case of afterburning behind the ship and holding fire. There is no need in this game to clean up the fighters after this and I immediately autopilot back to the Midway. As a consequence, the final sections of the game were quickly passed and I got through to the wormhole gate in no time.

I should mention that I could have aimed for bonus tasks such as taking out a percentage of the fighters in many of these missions if I’d wanted more challenge. Also I did have the choice of bomber or fighter for several missions depending on which part I wanted to fly. I’ve always had a preference for bombers since the Broadsword missions with Doomsday in WC2.

The final wormhole gate mission appeared to be a case of surviving for a few minutes and was also relatively easy, with the main challenge being knocking out all the fighters at the first nav point. There are no inflight comms in this game beyond a few instructions I can give to my wingmen, so it does help to have knowledge of what went on before playing the game in missions like this if you expect to follow the plot. The basic outline is in the briefing but there is no tension developed here as Dekker slowly works his way around the structure or anything like that.

At the end of the mission, there is a brief cutscene showing the gate blowing up to finish off and some dialog and stills from the original closing FMV. The dialog does come across as more cheesy as text than it was in a movie and Prophecy’s movies were not its strongest feature in the first place. It does end the game appropriately although it isn’t much reward and does leave me wanting the sequels we never got. I noticed a few familiar names in the credits after this and I think the WC community was heavily involved in editing dialog and the like.

I suppose I have to look at this game within the context of mobile games back in 2003 which were still quite primitive. It would be so easy to do a fantastic job of putting Prophecy on the PSP complete with the movies though and I can’t help but wish that this game had come a few years later. Prophecy on the GBA is technically a triumph for what it achieved on the system but not as much fun as I might have hoped. I’d have liked it at the time just on the basis of the 3D graphics on a portable device. Coming to it now I don’t find it easy to see past its limitations and it’s a pale shadow of PC Wing Commander Prophecy. It’s worth a look for fans and the multiplayer could be good fun but it seems to me that due to the nature of the game and it’s choice of platform it’s badly dated even if it is less than a decade old. If I want to play Wing Commander on the move, I expect I’d do better sticking the Playstation versions of WC3 & 4 on my PSP, or WC1 & 2 on my Pandora for that matter.

Speaking of which, I wouldn’t have minded having a look at those Playstation ports at this point having never actually played them. I’ll take any excuse to play either of those games again really and with the 3D hardware they have the potential to be better than the PC. I don’t own either of them yet though and I’m still flat broke thanks to a certain Mr. Shelley so they will have to wait until I’ve paid the bills. It’s not exactly an easy time of year to be saving money so that could take me a while. On that basis, I’ll switch over to Ultima ports next and get back to the previously promised Ultima 4 on the PC-98.

Wing Commander Prophecy (GBA) – Part 1

Wing Commander Prophecy was published on the Gameboy Advance in 2003 by Destination and developed by Raylight. From what I understand, Destination had previously secured rights from EA to publish mobile versions of their games. Raylight wanted to do a new Wing Commander game and created a demo of their shiny new 3D engine which was presented to Destination to persuade them to grant access to the license. However, there were copyright issues for Wing Commander 1 with some work being done by contractors and owned by them (e.g. the Fat Man’s music). WC1 isn’t the obvious choice for a pure 3D engine either since it used sprites so in the end Raylight secured the rights to do Prophecy instead of the original Wing Commander and this game is the result.

The Gameboy Advance was initially marketed at least partly on its 3D capabilities but not many games had exploited this making Prophecy one of the most technically advanced games for the system. Whether this translates into the gameplay or not, just fitting the game into a ROM less than 4 Mb is impressive.

It gets underway with a 3D introduction cutscene which mirrors the opening FMV on the PC. On a tiny screen this doesn’t look too bad and it does the job of setting the scene within the limitations of the GBA. There is no speech of course and the dialog is done with captions.

Once on the Midway, the in-game cutscenes are a little strange. They all have still backdrops with head photos which swap depending on the mood of each character. From what I’ve seen so far, the original script is nearly all there but I’m not sure how easy it would to follow if wasn’t already familiar with it as there is no context for a lot of the dialog. I assume this game is aimed at fans of the original who want to play it on the move, in which case it does the job.

I have to mention the background music which has been the same for all of these scenes and is the most god-awful dirge I’ve heard in any game for some time. Not only that but its on something like a 6 second loop. If I’m utterly sick of it now, I can only imagine what I’ll be like after another 40 missions. I’m not going to be taking my time over reading the dialog in this game as my ears won’t take the punishment.

Music aside, I can wander around the usual rooms in the ship and get the familiar cutscenes (sort of). The briefing is a simple text only affair with no 3D wire-frame graphics but the missions themselves are based around the PC originals which I really didn’t expect. I was assuming it would be cut down but I gather there are 48 missions in the game. This could keep me occupied for some time.

On launching into the actual flight part of the game, I’m impressed with the graphics which really do look like a tiny version of the original. The launching sequence is present (complete with speech), my cockpit flashes with coloured light when I fire, the missiles all lock on correctly and all the different ships are there. It really is a portable version of WCP, admittedly with some cutbacks and simplifications. It isn’t without problems though.

The biggest of these is that the GBA has two fewer buttons than the SNES gamepad and it shows in the controls. They aren’t entirely dissimilar to the SNES but the shoulder buttons are used as modifiers instead. This means that to change speed you have to hold R down and press up or down. This is awkward and the best of times and impossible to do while steering making tailing ships extremely tricky.

Dropping decoys uses the select button which I often can’t find quickly in an emergency either. If someone fires a missile at you in this game you get about half a seconds warning in which time you need to afterburn, steer away and drop decoys and it is physically impossible to do all these at the same time.

I initially started playing the game on my DS but found the controls so awkward that I went back to using an emulator instead. This is as much about the DS as the controls, it’s just too small for my shovel-like hands (anyone would think it was designed for kids). Playing this on the DS was like a miniature equivalent of twister for my fingers and they still feel sore a day later. Using a proper gamepad on an emulator is more comfortable but the graphics don’t look all that nice simply because of the larger screen showing them up.

Another issue with the controls is once again the lack of analog input. I’d got used to this on the SNES but I’ve found it trickier here and my initial impression is that it hasn’t been as well implemented. The aliens in Prophecy are a lot more twisty and turny and they are tricky to hit at the best of times. They don’t have the same problem with me however and if they get on my tail, I’m usually dead in seconds as they spam me with missiles.

A final annoyance is that there is no way to lock onto a target and which target the game auto selects is almost random. With a tiny little radar, it’s really hard to keep track of each dot at times and it makes it difficult to find a specific ship again after it has gone out of sight. The auto selection doesn’t even limit itself to enemy ships and I often find it locking onto my wingmen which really doesn’t help.

All this combines to make this game properly hard. It has required multiple attempts at most of the missions so far, and if you haven’t played a few Wing Commanders you would have little chance of getting anywhere. I wouldn’t say that it’s so much a case of learning how to approach the missions as just lucking out, although there is plenty of skill needed as well.

I’ve got about 8 missions in and I’ve got mixed feelings about the game from what I’ve seen. It’s technically impressive but not as much fun as Secret Missions was as I’m fighting my own ship more than the aliens. I can’t see myself getting used to these controls in all honesty. With the shoulder buttons doubling as afterburners, I keep stopping my ship by accident when I steer straight out of an afterburn and it’s all a little frustrating. There is clearly a decent game in there but I’m struggling to get at it.

Wing Commander Prophecy – Soundtrack CD

This soundtrack CD was released in 1997 and features 13 tracks allegedly either from or inspired by Wing Commander Prophecy. A copy found its way into my possession last week which I’ve managed to listen to several times since.

Apart from Cobolt 60 who have a couple of tracks, all of them are by different bands most of which are European. I can’t say I’m too familiar with any of them although Paradise Lost is (or was) a local band for me. So local in fact that one of the members used to live above the fish & chip shop about 30 seconds walk from my house. At least it was a fish and chip shop back then. These days it’s an Indian/kebab house that just got done for breaking food hygiene laws. I can only say I’m glad I don’t like kebabs…

To get back to the album, most of the tracks are fairly dark with plenty of emphasis on drum and bass. Only a few of the them have clear connections to the game in their titles, (e.g. Prophecy or The Vampire Strikes Back) but the reference doesn’t stretch to the lyrics. In terms of quality, it’s a real mixed bag with so many bands in there. The music usually falls somewhere between metal and dance and none of it is quite my thing. Most of it is decent enough apart from an out of place dance style track near the end of the album. It’s definitely not a CD I’d listen to often but I can see some of these tracks working well as background music to an action game.

The odd thing is that I don’t remember any of the music being in the game itself, which mainly used an orchestral score. The only place I recall anything different was in the simulator missions which were optional. A couple of those missions used remixed (and much improved) versions of the two Cobalt 60 tracks without the lyrics but those are the only tracks I recognised. How the soundtrack CD to a game ended up not including any of the game’s soundtrack is anyone’s guess.

The CD contains a multi-media element of a Prophecy gameplay video with Cobolt 60’s music over the top. This shows an earlier version of the game with a different HUD design and is available on WCPedia for anyone wanting a look. If you prefer to own the real thing, thanks to all the bands involved this CD seems to be extremely common and available very cheaply.

Speaking for myself, I’m holding off on spending money on pretty much anything for the immediate future as against my better judgement I just agreed to spend an inordinate amount buying and importing the remainder of ex-Origin developer and serial game collector Rhea Shelley’s Origin trinkets, documents and assorted nik-naks. There is a lot of it so expect an onslaught of scans and photos as I work through everything when the parcels arrive.

As much as it goes against my hoarding instincts, I’ll have to sell some of this stuff on as I couldn’t really afford it all. If you ever wanted to own some of the original cover proofs or a near life-size cardboard promo of the Bioforge cyborg then keep your eyes on Ebay in the next month or two.