This issue of The Point of Origin represents a time most of us remember fondly - the release of Wing Commander III! The rare Origin product that shipped on time, Wing Commander III completely changed the face of gaming -- with effects which last to this day. But how was the launch felt at Origin?
by John McLean
After eighteen months of development, during which more than 140 people worked some 125,000 man-hours, Wing Commander III is finally heading out the door. And not a moment too soon. At a cost of $4 million, Origin & EA's biggest-ever Interactive Movie will need to kick ass and take names in retail outlets this Christmas in order to repay the company's investment.
Fortunately, advance orders and early public buzz are encouraging. In the inimitable words of Marten Davies, "We're going to blow the doors off worldwide!" The completion of this massive project also marks the beginning of a new era in the computer game business.
Although live-action video isn't suitable for every title, an increasing number of producers are discovering that real actors can add significantly to the impact of their projects. "Computer games will never be the same," says Chris Roberts. "And we're there to lead the charge."
Yet blending traditional art, programming and audio requirements with a live-action component complicates a project enormously. Alliances between computer game companies and Hollywood actors, agents, unions and crewmembers were unknown a year ago. Now they're becoming a regular part of the interactive landscape.
While landing Hollywood veterans for a production costs money, if Wing commander III is any indication, the results are worth it. An experienced crew and cast bring professionalism, name recognition and high-quality work to the dance. Though the film community doesn't even pretend to understand the technical nature of creating computer games, they're fascinated by our industry and, in the end, their goal's the same as ours--to entertain as many people as possible with each new project.
Producing a movie of any size is difficult under the best of circumstances. When you add to the equation the programming challenges of topping the popular Wing Commander game and the enormous art hurdles of generating hundreds of objects, sets and animations, the result is nothing short of a logistical nightmare.
"Damn, that was a lot of work," says Art Director Chris Douglas. "But we pulled through and hopefully managed to set a new standard for the rest of the artists in this industry."
Generating the tremendous amount of art, code and audio was one thing. Keeping track of it all to make sure everything fit together and nothing fell through the cracks was another. At the peak of production, four separate people were engaged full-time in tracking and routing the constantly increasing amount of material.
Right up to the end, the sheer size of a game packed onto 4 CD-ROMs created new challenges. "The hard part about this project is that we have essentially two gigs worth of data,' says Director Frank Savage. "The fact that we can even keep track of that two gigs of data and not have each version totally screwed up is something of a miracle."
Simultaneous with the final stages of development, Origin's marketing department has been banging the drum for the title at events in New York City, Austin, Los Angeles and numerous points in between. Meanwhile our sales department continues to pull out all the stops to make Wing Commander III the must-have hit of this Christmas season.
As to what's next for his development team, Chris Roberts will only say, "You haven't seen anything yet." Who knows, maybe there'll be yet another multi-CD Interactive Movie under Christmas trees around the world for next year?!
Back in this country, Tom McDonald is jumping on the Wing Commander Armada bandwagon. In the December issue of PC Gamer, Tom listed Armada as one of his favorite modem games. "One of the best arcade titles I've ever played head-to-head," Tom writes. "Armada has it all."
And speaking of the December issue of PC Gamer, the cover has the Wing Commander III cover art on it. The guys at PC Gamer did an excellent job previewing the game. They even included the WC3 demo on the CD that comes bundled with the mag. Bill Trotter did a marvelous write-up inside. "Drop-dead gorgeous graphics," he wrote about Wing III. "The integration of digitized and computer-generated images was utterly smooth and convincing in every respect. The acting here is some of the best ever in a PC game." And that's not all, but space limitations prohibit me from going on.
It seems there are many others sitting up and taking notice of Wing III. Bernie Yee had an excellent article on the game in USA Today in the November 2 edition. That was a result of a Wing III press day in New York City last month put on by ORIGIN's Media Relations Dept. While Chris Roberts and Frank Savage demonstrated the game, cast members Mark Hamill, John Rhys-Davies and Ginger Lynn Allen talked to the media. Other media who stopped by to have a look included The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time, Billboard Magazine, Fortune, and Forbes.
Meanwhile, other gaming magazines are singing the praises of WC3. Bill Meyer of Electronic Entertainment writes, "Hold on to your joystick, because Wing Commander III is about to redefine the genre once again."
Bill Kunkel of Electronic Games, not to be outdone, writes, "The world of interactive entertainment has taken a quantum leap forward."
Charles Ardai, one of those who attended the NYC event, also appears to be in the WC3 fold. "ORIGIN's Wing Commander III heralds a new era in interactive cinema," he exclaims. "Chris Roberts has pulled off the impossible yet again; he's topped not only himself, but the entire industry of which he is a part." And Wing III apparently was music to Charles' ears. "You can hear the soundtrack loud and clear, and it's a beaut: a symphonic overture full of dread and mystery that would do John Williams proud."
Wing Commander III has also been featured on television quite a bit lately. This past weekend VH1 included a story about the game in its movie preview show "Flix." In recent weeks some of the WC3 cast have been plugging the game on national talk shows. Ginger Lynn Allen did just that while she was a guest on the Howard Stern show. And just last week, Malcolm McDowell did the same while he was on the Jon Stewart show. Last month, "The Computer Man," a nationally syndicated computer show, turned the spotlight on WC3.
And WC3 isn't the only Wing Commander drawing the headlines these days. In case you missed it, Computer Gaming World inducted Wing Commander II into its hall of fame. Calling it "one of the most popular games of all times," WC2 joins Wing Commander and three of the Ultimas in the CGW Hall of Honor.
Bill Trotter, who wrote the previously mentioned WC3 article in PC Gamer, was impressed with other games currently under development at ORIGIN... Meantime, the reviews keep coming in from several older ORIGIN titles. Trent Ward gave Privateer CD a four rating out of five in CD-ROM Today. "Stunning graphics, crisp digitized sound, and totally absorbing game play."
Point of Origin
Vol. IV, No. 61 - November 23, 1994
ContentsSpotlight: Wing Commander III and beyond