Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Re-imaginings of Futures Past

Remakes are all the rage these days which makes me wonder why no developer has revisited the Wing Commander franchise.  With the success of War Thunder's free-to-play model and Star Citizen's fund raising efforts, you'd think it would be a no-brainier.  Then again, it's surprising how many people have never heard of Wing Commander.

If you're not familiar with the IP, it's basically World War 2 in space.  An alien race of bipedal felines, called the "Kilrathi," are stand-ins for the Japanese while humans, or "Terrans" (as they are called in-universe), are the Americans (although their ethnic diversity reminds me of the RAF during the Battle for Britain more than anything else).  Regardless, the game is really about dogfights and fleet actions, just in space instead of the Pacific.

I won't go into great detail about how to do a remake, mostly because someone else has done an fairly good job of laying out how to go about it.  For the sake of brevity, I will try to summarize some of the ideas presented in the link provided here.

Rather than spanning over a  hundred different solar systems, the area of conflict is narrowed to a pair of neighboring stars, Sol and Proxima Centauri.  Around the red dwarf orbits a lone planet.  A thick atmosphere allows only a dim haze of crimson illumination to filter down to a tropical jungle of dark colored foliage.  This is the home of the apex predators known as the Kilrathi.  Their large stature is the result of a low gravity environment, their "cats-eyes" a natural evolutionary adaptation to the low-light conditions, geological instability has resulted in steep mountain ranges and long chains of volcanic islands which in turn has contributed to the formation of their aggressive, warlike society.

A war between two stars might sound too small compared to the vastness of the original setting, but don't forget that space (even in the limited context of our own solar system) is really huge.  It's easy to think of various planets as being roughly analogous to places of conflict during the Pacific War; Mars as Hawaii, Mercury as the Aleutians, the Asteroid Belt as the Solomon Islands, Jupiter (with all it's moons) as the Philippines, Saturn as Malaysia and the moon Titan - Saipan.  Perhaps Uranus and Neptune could be Rabal and Truk respectively.  Pluto would make a good Iwo-Jima.

Of course, the link above goes into even more detail, especially regarding the individual pilots and fighter spacecraft.  The only major thing I'd like to add is the notion of the emperor (and imperial family) being non-indigenous to Kilrah.  The Kilrathi always struck me as being far too primal to naturally develop into a space-faring race.  If their technology and organization were the result of an "up-lifting" by another enigmatic race then things would make more sense (at least to me).  It was an idea suggested in the novels, but I'd like to see it more integral to the setting.

I also think a bit more strategic input would work wonders for the setting.  Looking at the pre-alpha footage of Enemy Starfighter, it's pretty clear that a lot is being done to innovate on the space flight-sim combat genre.  Being able to switch control from one spacecraft to another could easily be justified in-universe if the player character were a remote drone pilot.

In terms of graphics, I think there's a number of improvements that can be made.  Sure, detailed textures are great, but aesthetically I'd like to see some of the sleeker designs of the earlier games, rather than the boxy shapes that came later.  Battle damage tends to not receive the attention it deserves which is why I'd love to see ship models that allow wings to get ripped off, noses smashed in, and ruptured hulls bleeding trails of vapor.

Rather than heavily scripted missions with rigidly defined objectives, it would be great to see a more dynamic framework the adjusts depending on how well the player does during sorties (think Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor, but with capital ships rather than orc captains).  As always, I'm going to lobby for the option to fly as the Kilrathi, if for no other reason than increased replay value.  Some kind of co-op multiplayer mode or asymmetric gameplay wherein some players fly fighters while others drive capital ships would be pretty interesting too.  Oh yeah...and the obligatory traitor pilot should be decided via random algorithm.  Then, maybe I'll have a chance to kill Maniac without getting court-marshaled.

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