In Spaaaace!

In Spaaaace!
Wing Leader

Allen Varney | 18 Jul 2006 12:00
In Spaaaace! - RSS 2.0

But fandom lives on. A few hundred fans have sheltered in the copious Wing Commander Combat Information Center and the German site WCRevival. Multiple daily news stories, lively forums, an active mod scene - you'd think the ship was still flying. In addition to an online encyclopedia and scads of fan fiction, CIC modders have created Wing spacecraft for Homeworld, X-Wing Alliance, Star Trek: Armada and the Macintosh game Escape Velocity: Nova. Most interesting are the new games and expansions. Among many:

  • Unknown Enemy, a 2003 mod using the engine from Prophecy.
  • Standoff, an ongoing set of mods based on the Secret Ops online expansion for Prophecy. Includes a global ranking system.
  • Flight Commander, a full-featured space engine created by NASA programmer Ed Benowitz.
  • Privateer Gemini Gold, a cross-platform fan remake of the original Privateer with updated graphics.

Roberts' Freelancer also has an active modding community at Lancers Reactor. Turn down your speakers before you visit.

The Price of Freedom
Sad is the mismatch of aptness and desire. With the Wing Commander series, Chris Roberts the game designer repeatedly pushed the field forward on several fronts, achieved unprecedented success and defined a genre. He proved a spectacularly gifted creator. Few designers of comparable stature have simply walked away at the height of their powers - and to so little purpose. After seven years in the field he loves most, the movie business, Roberts the filmmaker has proven - at best - by the friendliest, most forgiving standard, an incidental figure. Yet, though he remains fond of the Wing Commander universe, he has expressed no plans to resume game design.

Possibly, this is for the best. Possibly, gaming has evolved so far, Roberts would have nothing more to contribute. Given his record, that's extremely doubtful. We may never know. But ongoing fan efforts signify Wing Commander's lasting hold over players' imaginations. They testify to the vision of the designer who transformed computer gaming, and then abandoned it.

Allen Varney designed the PARANOIA paper-and-dice roleplaying game (2004 edition) and has contributed to computer games from Sony Online, Origin, Interplay, and Looking Glass.

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