Friday, May 1, 2015

A Long Time Ago...

...I stopped caring about Star Wars, and when it comes to video game adaptations of the property there's far more garbage than gems.  Even well regarded entries in the franchise such as Knights of the Old Republic never really grabbed me.  I did enjoy some of the Atari 2600 titles though and there is one Star Wars game in particular that stands out in my mind as being exceptionally good - Tie Fighter.

Before I continue, I should mention that Tie Fighter is actually a sequel to X-Wing (which in turn was based on a series of WW2 flight sims also made by LucasArts).  Both of the Star Wars games aimed to capture the feel of the space battles seen in the movies, but while X-Wing barely managed to emulate the Battle of Yavin, Tie Fighter was able to push things closer to the Battle of Endor.  Tie Fighter also improved on its respective genre in many fundamental ways; a special hotkey to target threats to a particular ally greatly improved situational awareness, matching speeds with targets at the press of a button made dogfights a lot more exciting, and the ability to call in reinforcements at any time gave players a kind of level-by-level easy mode option.  The last, in particular, was something X-Wing sorely needed.  Personally, I hit brick wall with regards to the infamous "Redemption Run" mission about halfway through that game, but had no such problems with Tie Fighter.  Partly, it was because of better mission design, in addition to the fact that the Galactic Empire has the numbers and firepower to make friendlies genuinely useful in combat.  Sure, I would always get a disproportionately large amount of kills, but at least half of the total enemy ships destroyed on a mission wouldn't be by me.  In X-Wing, and most other flight-sims for that matter, the player always has to be the big damn hero, which really just means wingmen are useless.  Not so in Tie Fighter, you're a cog-in-the-warmachine (it just so happens that you an especially important one).

The audio/visual presentation was also quite impressive for the time.  Music changed dynamically based on the ebb and flow of battle.  Sound effects matched those in the films quite well, and provided important feedback to the player.  The graphics engine also boasted a Gouraud Shader that allowed the crude polygonal models used in the game to appear much sleeker than they actually were.  Compared to X-Wing the number of flyable fighter craft doubled from three to six (not counting expansions).  This put the game on par with all time greats such as Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi.  Although even Tie Fighter would one day be surpassed from a technical standpoint by Freespace 2, I always had a soft spot for the design of spacecraft in the Star Wars setting.  Here too Tie Fighter is no slouch, having an impressive variety of different vessels ranging from rarely seen precursors like the Z-95 Headhunter to late model classics like the B-Wing.

I'm sure there are some folks who will read this blog post and disagree with my assessment of Star Wars video games.  That's fine.  My tastes in genres tend not to jive well with the mainstream.  Unfortunately for me, that also seems to be true for the people who make Star Wars games.  Case in point, there's a new Battlefront in the works, but the space combat element seems to have been remove entirely.  You'd think some developer would be coming out with a Star Wars themed space combat flight-sim especially given the popularity of the newly released Fantasy Flight tabletop game entitled "Star Wars: Armada."  Alas, nothing has been announced.  Compared to others perhaps my interests, when it comes to Star Wars video games, are in a galaxy far, far away.


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