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Wing Commander (video game)

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Wing Commander (retroactively referred to as Wing Commander I or WC1) is the first, eponymous game in Chris Roberts' science fiction space simulation franchise. The game was first released for the PC (MS-DOS) in 1990 and was later ported to the Amiga, CD32 (256-color), Mega-CD and the SNES. In August 2006, GameSpot reported that Electronic Arts would also be porting the SNES version to the PlayStation Portable as part of EA Replay. It was released in the United States on November 14, 2006.[2]

Released by Origin Systems in 1990, the game was a marked departure from the standard formula, bringing space combat to a level approaching the Star Wars films. Set in the year 2654 and characterized by Chris Roberts as "World War II in space," it featured a multi-national cast of pilots from the "Terran Confederation" flying missions against the predatory, aggressive Kilrathi, a feline warrior race. Most impressively, cockpit performance affected gameplay: going above and beyond the call of duty resulted in medals, promotions in rank were awarded at regular intervals, and success or failure on certain critical missions would even decide the player's plot progress, "winning" or "losing".

In 1991, this game won Computer Gaming World's 1991 Overall Game of the Year award.[3]

Plot synopses

Wing Commander

The player takes the role of a nameless pilot aboard the TCS Tiger's Claw, a Bengal-class Strike Carrier. The player gets to name the pilot and choose his callsign. The pilot (known in-production to Origin personnel as "Bluehair," after his most notable feature) quickly rises through the ranks of the flight wing, and (presuming the player performs ideally in the cockpit) eventually leads a strike on the Kilrathi High Command starbase in the Venice system. On the other hand, if the player does not perform optimally, missions become increasingly defensive in nature and eventually the Claw is forced to retreat. Of the two endings, the "winning" path is established as canon by the game's two expansion packs, as well as the sequel, Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi. In 1994, Wing Commander was retroactively renamed Wing Commander I in a bundled re-release of both games, in preparation for the release of Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger.

The rebundled remakes however do not contain and do not support the Secret Mission addons.

Wing Commander: The Secret Missions

Wing Commander: Secret Missions was an add-on campaign from Origin. It requires the WC1 software to run, but adds new missions, new ships, a new storyline, and an increase in difficulty. The game was also released for the Super NES as a stand-alone cartridge.

The Tiger's Claw, on maneuvers in the Goddard System, receives an abortive distress call from Goddard colony. When the Claw arrives, though, nothing is left but wreckage and corpses; a quarter of a million colonists have been killed. Confed realizes that this is the work of a new Kilrathi weapon, the "Graviton weapon," which is able to increase the power of gravity by over a hundred times. Clever work by the Claw's crew and pilots allows them to capture a Kilrathi courier ship, which reveals that this weapon is mounted on an entirely new class of ship; C-in-C codenames it the Sivar-class dreadnought, after the Kilrathi god of war. Bluehair leads the strike against the Sivar and destroys it in the Vigrid system; for unexplained reasons, ships of that class and armament are never seen again.

Unlike the original game, The Secret Missions does not feature a branching mission tree; every player plays the same missions in the same order. However, if the player does not the fulfill the mission requirements at any system, he immediately plays the two losing "retreat" missions that are not on the winning path.

Wing Commander: The Secret Missions 2: Crusade

The second expansion pack for Wing Commander, The Secret Missions 2 adds a new narrative, new ships, more difficult missions, and two new wingmen.

The Tiger's Claw is in the Firekka System, whose native intelligent lifeforms — the bird-like Firekkans — are negotiating to join the Terran Confederation. Tensions are high, and will only get higher. There is an unusual Kilrathi presence in the area, including their upgraded Dralthi II and ships that have never been seen before: the Hhriss-class heavy fighter and the Snakeir-class heavy carrier. This presence develops into a massive battle group, and though the Firekkans sign the Articles of the Confederation, the outnumbered Terrans have no choice but to retreat. Adding to the mess, a Kilrathi lord, Ralgha nar Hhallas, defects, bringing his Fralthi-class cruiser, the Ras Nik'hra, and word of a rebellion against the Empire on the Kilrathi colony of Ghorah Khar. Finally, almost overlooked in all the chaos, Major Kien "Bossman" Chen is lost while flying on Jeannette Devereaux's wing; the nearby TCS Austin transfers over two pilots, Lieutenants Zachary "Jazz" Colson and Etienne "Doomsday" Montclair. All this happens in the first six missions of the game.

The Kilrathi presence in the Firekka sector is eventually explained by an all-channels transmission from the Crown Prince of the Kilrathi Empire, Thrakhath nar Kiranka: Firekka has been chosen as the site of this year's Rite of Sivar, a holy festival that involves feasting, worship, and live sacrifices. Seeing the chance to strike a heady blow to Kilrathi morale, the Confederation assigns its Firekka-sector resources the task of disrupting the ceremony. The Dralthi medium fighters from the Ras Nik'hra are put to work on reconnaissance missions (conveniently, the Confederation Scimitar medium fighter is retired at the beginning of the expansion pack, opening a space in the database of Confederation fighters for the Dralthi), and Terran troops begin landing in secret. Between these, the Firekkans' warrior spirit and some of the Confederation's best pilots and tacticians, the Sivar ceremony is utterly wrecked and the Kilrathi forced to retreat, though they take a number of important Firekkans with them as hostages.

Ralgha and the rebellion at Ghorah Khar, though promising, are taken over by Confed Intelligence and do not see mention until the first expansion pack for Wing Commander II. Also, at the end of Crusade, Jeannette Devereaux is detailed off to the TCS Austin, where she will serve as Wing Commander.

Interested in the other half of the crusade, Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon penned the first Wing Commander novel, Wing Commander: Freedom Flight. It tells the Firekkan side of the story, from several points of view: Ralgha nar Hhallas, Ian "Hunter" St. John, James "Paladin" Taggart, and K'kai, a Firekkan flock leader.

Super Wing Commander

Super Wing Commander released in 1994 for 3DO was a drastic new look at the events of the original Wing Commander game with enhanced graphics and full speech. In 1995 this was ported to Macintosh. [1]

The game also contained both Secret Missions and a special third campaign was also created between them (called Secret Mission 1.5 by fans).

That mission lead the Tiger's Claw to track down and destroy the shipyards responsible for creating the Sivar Dreadnought. Additional background elements rumors about stealth fighters and Admiral Tolwyn were added to improve the continuity with Wing Commander II.


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As development for Wing Commander came to a close, the EMM386 memory manager the game used would give an exception when the user exited the game. It would print out a message similar to "EMM386 Memory manager error..." with additional information. The team couldn't isolate and fix the error and they needed to ship it as soon as possible. As a work-around, Ken Demarest, a developer on the game, hex-edited the text so it displayed a different message. Instead of the error message, it instead printed "Thank you for playing Wing Commander."[4]

The Manual: Claw Marks

Wing Commander shipped with an instruction booklet styled as a shipboard magazine, Claw Marks. It provided tactical suggestions, statistics on fighters and weapons both Kilrathi and Terran, capsule biographies of notable pilots on both sides of the line, and general shipboard news (such as the discontinuation of the popular comic strip Hornet's Nest, due to the recent death of its artist, Lt. Larry "Tooner" Dibbles). It is the source of most of the following information. Notable contributors to the Claw Marks magazine include Captain Aaron Allston, Major Warren Spector, and Col. Chris Roberts.


The game was reviewed in 1991 in Dragon #166 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 6 stars, out of an ordinarily 5-star system.[5] The Lessers reviewed the Secret Missions Expansion Disk in Dragon #169, and gave the game 5 out of 5 stars.[6]


  1. Wing Commander. (1997-03-30). Archived from the original on 1997-03-30.
  2. Release Information for EA Replay. Retrieved on 2007-07-02.
  3. "Computer Gaming World's 1991 Games of the Year Awards". Computer Gaming World (Golden Empire Publications) (88): 38–40, 58. November 1991. 
  4. Sheffield, Brandon (March 2010). "Dirty Coding Tricks II". Game Developer 17 (3): 8. 
  5. Lesser, Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk (February 1991). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (166): 31–36. 
  6. Lesser, Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk (May 1991). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (169): 61–65. 

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