A Series of Unfortunate Events (July 16, 2010)

ChrisReid

Super Soaker Collector / Administrator


GameSpite has posted an article on "the end of space combat simulators." It's a good topic to talk about, and it frequently comes up in conversation. A lot has to do with the changing tastes of the gaming market, the role of peripheral input attachments, rising game development costs and more. There are also many specific factors that influenced each particular series and company. Gamespite's article focuses on the discontinuation of three series - Wing Commander, X-Wing and Freespace - at the turn of the century. There's a lot of potential confusion about the events that lead up to this, and we're always anxious to set the record straight.

In 1998, Interplay decided to leap in with the confusingly named Descent: Freespace. The name was a curious marketing ploy, considering that Descent was a niche series that played like a corridor-based first-person shooter on three axes, offering only the faint whiff of crossover appeal for space combat fans. But it came at a perfect time, arriving on the heels of the disappointing Wing Commander: Prophecy, which marked EA’s attempt to relaunch the series without the input of creator Chris Roberts. Freespace received enough positive word-of-mouth to warrant a sequel, which would be released the following year.

The release of Freespace 2 alongside X-Wing Alliance was part of a confluence of events that would ultimately mark the end of what had been one of the preeminent genres of the 1990s. Roberts had long since left Origin, leaving the series dead in the water after the lukewarm reception given Wing Commander: Prophecy. Interplay was in the process of hemorrhaging money, and X-Wing Alliance marked the end of a trilogy. The stage was set for the genre’s demise.



It's a little more complicated than this, especially in regards to Wing Commander. Prophecy was a very successful entry in the series, and while it disappointed some who were in love with the hours upon hours of FMV in Wing Commander 4, it dazzled fans who were anxious for a greater emphasis on space combat. Sales were excellent - so good, in fact, that Wing Commander Secret Ops followed up for free to tide over fans, keep them excited until the next game was released, and test novel new ways to market new Wing Commander games. And these games were well on their way into development through 1998, 1999 and 2000.




Privateer 3 (more, more, more, more, more, more and more) and Wing Commander Strike Team / Shadow Force should have continued the series as everyone expected. But then we got to those changing market conditions, unsustainable FMV budgets and rising costs. Games like Freespace 2, X:BTF and Starlancer did not sell as well as the last crop of Wing Commanders and Star Wars games. New formats such as the massively multiplayer Ultima Online were booming, and so there was a big shift in direction. Wing Commander development transitioned into Privateer Online (more), Wing Commander Online and then Privateer Online again. Electronic Arts also acquired Westwood Studios, which was further along on their space MMO Earth & Beyond. With competing products in the pipeline and a market quickly becoming saturated, the decision was made to launch E&B instead. Wing Commander Online and Ultima Online 2 were sidelined, and Origin didn't recover from the tailspin.

That hasn't kept the powers that be from attempting to pull everything back together, but so far only smaller scale projects (Prophecy Advance, Wing Commander Arena, various ports/rereleases) have made it to see the light of day. Hopefully you find this history fascinating, and someday we'll all be able to look back at this time period and see how it built up into a great relaunch of the series. It's only a matter of time until the next Wing Commander game!

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Original update published on July 16, 2010
 
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Jason_Ryock

Vice Admiral
I'm mildly confused about how X-Wing Alliance is the end of a Trilogy. There are Four Games in the X-Wing Series, so how exactly does four games make a trilogy?
 

Dead Honky

Spaceman
There were three major single-player games. X-Wing vs TIE Fighter certainly isn't without significance but I remember a whole lot of people back then kinda taken aback that XVT didn't have much in the way of single-player and were awaiting the "real" sequel to TIE Fighter.

So I've heard that interpretation before.
 

Jason_Ryock

Vice Admiral
There were three major single-player games. X-Wing vs TIE Fighter certainly isn't without significance but I remember a whole lot of people back then kinda taken aback that XVT didn't have much in the way of single-player and were awaiting the "real" sequel to TIE Fighter.

So I've heard that interpretation before.

I disagree entirely, no only was there a Campaign Mode that spliced together individual missions into a campaign, but every mulitplayer mission in the game was playable in single played - AND the expansion pack released for the game added in an entire story line.
 

ChrisReid

Super Soaker Collector / Administrator
I really wouldn't worry about whether the guy who thinks Prophecy was "a disappointing attempt to relaunch without Chris Roberts" calls something a trilogy or quadrilogy.
 

CrazySpence

Rear Admiral
Boo.

I'll be telling my grandkids one day "Back in my day there were different genres of games...I used to pilot a space ship and shoot cats!...and I used to play games on a computer!!"

"Oh sure grandpa, whatever you say *rolls eyes*"
 

Jason_Ryock

Vice Admiral
I really wouldn't worry about whether the guy who thinks Prophecy was "a disappointing attempt to relaunch without Chris Roberts" calls something a trilogy or quadrilogy.

For all it's faults (Mainly just the guy who played Casey) I thought Prophecy was a great WC game, and I thought Secret Ops was a great way to continue it too.

WC:SO deserves some credit for being ahead of the time - every game that comes out now has some sort of DLC associated with it, and WC:SO was really one of the first. And to link that with a dynamic campaign...just brilliant stuff.

Now if only they could link it to Social Networking it would be the next big thing!
 

Bandit LOAF

Long Live the Confederation!
WC:SO deserves some credit for being ahead of the time - every game that comes out now has some sort of DLC associated with it, and WC:SO was really one of the first.

Actually, Wing Commander Armada may be one of the first games with 'DLC'--you had to dial in to Origin's BBS in 1994 to download the free 'Proving Grounds' addon.

I really wouldn't worry about whether the guy who thinks Prophecy was "a disappointing attempt to relaunch without Chris Roberts" calls something a trilogy or quadrilogy.

Tetralogy -- I think they made up 'quadrilogy' to sell Aliens DVDs.
 

jon1138

Rear Admiral
It's only a matter of time until the next Wing Commander game!


Here the facebook mail I sent to John Riccitiello last year (on april) :

"Hi !

I'm a great fan of the Wing Commander saga and I miss it !

Do you think EA will produce a new episode one day ? A Wing commander 6 with awesome 3D graphics, HD FMV sequences with Mark Hamill (of course, if Blair is still alive...) and all the original cast, great screenplay...It could be cool !

And Remastered versions of WC3, WC4 and WC Prophecy with new 3D graphics but keeping the original movie sequences (but remastered in HD of course), it could cool too !

I have been playing WC4 20 times since 1995 ! So I really hope that WC will comme back soon (I don't count WC Arena sold on Xbox Live...it's not a REAL Wing Commander...)...


I really hope old IP will come back one day : Wing Commander, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, Theme Hospital, Little Big Adventure, Ultima...
Why ? because I think old games are the best ! Because nowadays the industry think "money" before "creativity" and it's very sad...

Sorry for this huge facebook message but it's very interesting to write to a CEO of one the largest Video Game Company in the world !

Jonathan

P.S : Sorry for the possible English mistakes in my message but I'm French so my english is not perfect !"


He didn't answer me but David De martini (Ex-Visceral Games Director. Now Head of EA Partners) did !

And here's his answer :


"Jonathan,

Can't give any specific details but I was forwarded your message from John Riccitello and saw your interest in Wing Commander and some of the other older great games. Hope is potentially on the way. Old is new and you may see something about this title in the next 6 months.

Thanks for your interest in EA and in games!

All the Best"


But one year has passed and nothing more...

Small precision : According to their friend list (containing Chris Roberts and others famous creators), it really was Riccitiello and De martini...
 

AD

Finder of things, Doer of stuff
But one year has passed and nothing more...

That's pretty cool. If my memmory serves me right, EA did have a WC counterpart to the likes of the Lords of Ultima browser game. I can't say for certain that that is the project he is refering to, but that game didn't make it out the door. There may or may not be other WC projects currently on the burner.
 
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