Wing Commander 1 and 2 Demos

I don’t have many of them but I thought I might have a look at some Origin’s demos. I’m starting with these two which are both new to me and were downloaded from WCNews. Since they are both short, I’ve put them up on Youtube.

Wing Commander 1 is a rolling demo with a good mix of cutscenes and in game action. This would have sold me on the game at the time but is the least interesting of the two as there isn’t much new here. There are some changes to what appeared in the game with the most obvious being the cockpit art and the fact that Origin FX was the Origin sound And graphics system at this point.

The Wing Commander 2 demo doesn’t show any gameplay but instead has a short piece of the WC2 intro. The majority of this was changed in the final game with several cuts to dialog, whole scenes removed and new voice acting. Some of the changes were for the better but I expect others were made to save on the already ridiculous number of floppies the game shipped with. My 3.5 DD version came on an insane 14 disks as it was, not including the speech pack. The lid barely even goes on the box.

Out of the new bits, I especially like the long flight to the palace and the sequence with Thrakhath walking past all the guards. Both would have added to the final game. I’m not so won over by the medieval style Kilrathi guards with little cat ears on their helmets.

5 thoughts on “Wing Commander 1 and 2 Demos

  1. Wing Commander II’s intro lost a bunch to save space. Another big change (not in the demo) is that they initially had you see Blair’s trial instead of just seeing Blair and Tolwyn talk about it. You can even see a screenshot from the scene on the back of some versions of the box: ‘young’ Blair surrounded by photographers. The finished game switched to Tolwyn’s office because they could reuse those graphics through the entire game… and then it cheated and used the “ten years” aged Bluehair portrait even for the intro that takes place right after WC1.

    (Actually, we dug up the original script outline for Wing Commander II at University of Texas last summer… I’m hoping to have it online soon! Lots more characters and subplots. A lot of them, like the court scene, made it to the point where graphics existed and were rewritten into the addons.)

    I know the Wing Commander II voice acting doesn’t sound “professional” today… but it’s sure as heck better than the version in the demo! You can just imagine two guys at Origin recording that on their PCs. 🙂

    Two seemingly pointless demo tricks:

    – If you want you can take Thrakhath’s fighter file from the WC2 demo and overwrite it into Wing Commander I. It’ll replace the ship of your choice and fly around just fine… but if you target it the game will crash because there’s no VDU image.

    – I learned just recently while building the DOS computer ( that while the WC1 and 2 demos don’t have setup programs you can configure their sound effects using the command line. I think starting them as “wc v r” will make them play Roland MT-32 music.

    For years I wondered where the demos actually came from, assuming they were done for trade shows and store demo machines. I recently found a *commercial* copy of the Wing Commander I demo–they actually packaged it (two DD disks!) and sold it for a few dollars in stores. Weird.

    Here’s some of the WC2 demo artwork, the original background paintings:

    You should have a good time with the other demos! While there’s nothing as /different/ as the WC2 movie, the WC3/WC4/WCP demos all have new missions. Wing Commander 3 is also clearly a rougher version of the game…

    • Looking forward to seeing the script. I’d love to browse through those archives if I wasn’t on the wrong side of the globe.

      There is actually an install program with the WC1 demo which worked OK for me, but the WC2 demo just has a batch file which doesn’t set up the startup options as you say. I managed to figure it out before I recorded the videos, so they’ve both got MT-32 sound.

      To be fair to the WC2 demo, I’m not convinced the speech is any worse than Super Wing Commander and I had to put up with that for the entire game. Some of Origin’s talkies have to be among the bigger crimes against acting in the industry. Wing Commander 2 was the first game I ever played with more than a snippet of speech though so I can forgive it. I was that impressed at the time to be hearing speech at all, the quality of acting didn’t come into it.

    • “You can just imagine two guys at Origin recording that on their PCs.”

      Heh… yes, that’s literally what happened. We had exactly one SoundBlaster card in the entire company at the time, so our audio recording computer was the desktop PC I coded the demo on. Thrakath was voiced by Savage Empire writer Phil Brogden, the guard by composer Martin Galway, and the Emperor by me. The actors were picked not for our acting ability (clearly!) but for our presence in the building at 3AM.

      “For years I wondered where the demos actually came from, assuming they were done for trade shows and store demo machines.”

      The WC2 demo was a teaser created for the Origin and SoundBlaster booths at Fall COMDEX in ’90 to announce the game. It was the very first work I did on WC2–once I wrapped on Savage Empire, Chris tossed me the SoundBlaster card and said “hey, see what you can do with digitized speech”. The SDK was really easy to use, so I got voice working in a day, at which point we decided to make that the big tech advance for WC2 (much to the delight of the SoundBlaster marketers!). Start to finish I think the demo took maybe 80 hours of work… so basically one calendar week, considering the Origin lifestyle.

  2. That’s great! Creative has to owe a lot to Wing Commander 2. I remember showing off the intro with the speech to everyone I could find at the time, it was just amazing in 1991-2.

    If you’re ever interested in chatting more about those days, please drop me a line at It’d be really fascinating to hear more… we know so much about the making of the later games, but not Wing Commander I and II.

    • It would have worked both ways with Creative. I had a Soundblaster long before I had a PC that could dream of running the likes of Wing Commander. When I eventually got a 386, a game like UW or WC2 with all that speech was a must purchase to get the most out of it. I remember showing off the intro myself but the blue hair and my general lack of resemblence to the main character drew more comments than anything else. With the Underworld intro, it was Richard Garriott’s pronunciation of the word low. Trying to impress people who weren’t really gamers never did work.

      Great to get some input from an ex-Origin guy anyway. That’s a definite first on here.

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