Wing Commander Archive

1

Game Review: Elite Dangerous

I couldn’t tell you how much time I’ve invested in Elite Dangerous. Certainly more time than I spent playing EVE Online the one summer I was unemployed. During this time, I’ve done everything David Braben’s remake of the great-grand daddy of space trading/combat games has to offer: hunting bounty, piracy, mining, exploring, playing the commodities market, and alternatively harassing and helping other players. These adventures across the galaxy have led me to one conclusion; I really like Elite Dangerous, but I don’t think you, gentle reader, will feel the same way about it. And don’t get me wrong, not liking Elite Dangerous is probably the normal reaction to this game.

Perhaps, as modern gamers, we’re a bit spoiled with our endless tutorials and help screens. If I think about games that have challenged me in recent years, my mind goes to things like Dark Souls, Spelunky, and Risk of Rain. These games are unapologetic for being brutally hard, but they do have an achievable end-game. Elite Dangerous is equally brutal in its difficulty, yet lacking any purpose beyond amassing a shit ton of credits and earning the title of “Elite,” which instantly raises the question, “why bother?” Granted, Frontier Developments has promised expansions and better multiplayer interactions, but those things have yet to happen. This leaves me looking at the release build of ED and seeing it as little more than a very big, very beautiful, sandbox. It is the very embodiment of the phrase “A mile wide an inch deep.”

For weirdoes like myself, who find a subtle pleasure in buying cargo at one space station, flying to another, and selling said cargo, amid a sandbox that is literally the size of our galaxy, this is just fine. I like making spreadsheets to record my trade routes. I like listening to podcasts as I fly my ship about the cosmos. But let’s take a moment to work through the reason why I do those two things in concert with playing Elite Dangerous.

Someone on the Frontier Forum once said Elite Dangerous is only fun if you have something else to do while you’re playing it. I think this allegation is truer than most of us who play the game would like to admit. Space, as the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells us, is very big, and much of space is exactly that, space. Cruising about a solar system is often slow going, even at fifty times the speed of light. Elite Dangerous leans entirely toward reality in terms how it presents the galaxy as a 1:1 scale rendering of our own Milky Way. It’s technical achievement, to be sure. As a space nerd, it’s a total wet dream to pick a direction and see what’s out there. But if you’re somebody who wants a modern Wing Commander Privateer, Elite Dangerous can often be as much fun as getting hauled out on a drive through the country with your parents. Only in combat, docking, or scooping fuel from a star does ED demand a player’s full attention. This raises the question, are we actually playing a good game when we have to manufacture distractions from the extensive boring bits?

Then there are the spreadsheets. I love spreadsheets. I lovingly refer to EVE Online as Spreadsheets: The Game. Where my use of spreadsheets in EVE represented the game spilling over into my real life, I find that I’m keeping meticulous records of everything that happens to me in ED because the future is surprisingly inconvenient in its ability to manage data.

Suppose I want to visit station 1 in system X, it seems pretty pathetic that my ship’s computer can manage the math behind a FTL jump to get there, but can’t remember the prices of commodities on station 2 in system Y. Maintaining spreadsheets to manage the finances of a multi-player company in EVE is one thing, but having to keep records because Frontier Developments wants to insert an artificial barrier to success within the game’s trading system – which at the moment is the only way to make the kind of money necessary to buy the biggest and best ships in the game – seems to reflect some poor design.

Yet I keep going back to the game. I keep strapping on my mid-range cargo ship and scribbling down notes about low-priced tobacco and palladium. When I get bored of the scenery and podcasts, I switch to my hunter-killer ship, put on some Kenny Loggins and go blow up some pirates. While I enjoy myself in ED, I’m very aware of the fact I’m compensating for an imperfect game, which leans heavily on payer investment in Elite’s mythos, out-of-game social communities (e.g. the Elite Dangerous forms and reddit), and a player’s innate love of space.

Which brings me back to the biggest bug-a-boo of gaming: accessibility. While I would never argue that a game needs to be all things to all people, such that Elite Dangerous ought to cater to my mom’s gaming abilities, an appropriately accessible game is tailor made for anybody who wants to play it. This is where Elite Dangerous fails a pretty significant litmus test. Everything about Elite Dangerous, at the time of this review, tells me it’s catering to a very narrow niche of gamers and biting its thumb at everybody else, even if those players had a good time with Freelancer or Privateer and want a modern analogue. ED is out  to initiate the hardest of the hard-core space junkies into its ranks. Once you’re in, the game comes off as a weird libertarian environment; it proudly pronounces anybody can succeeded in Elite, but only if they are smart enough to get there on their own. It forces me to look at out of game for support and advice on how to be successful. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a John Galt station out there in the ‘verse. Is this why we play games? To struggle to find a purpose and then to depend on the largess of others to succeed in said purpose? Here I thought we played games to get away from how life tries to grind us down with those things.

Thus we’re left with a game which is likely going to struggle to grow its base of players. This is a real shame, because Elite Dangerous is a genuinely gorgeous game. It’s a monument to how David Braben blazed trail for the likes of Origin Systems and Volition. Yet it’s a dick of a game that seems utterly indifferent to a player’s success. I consider myself a shrewd trader and an excellent shot and I’m still thirty or forty hours from buying a ship which that says “I wear long pants”. Still, I know I’ll go back to Elite Dangerous, because, for once, I’m part of the target demographic. I don’t mind making my own fun as I haul ass through the boring emptiness of space. Since there’s no free to play mechanic, I like killing an hour or two making fake money as the activity exists within a fair system.  Be that as it may, I’m pretty certain I’m the exception to the rule in this case, and the rule is that Elite Dangerous is probably going to turn off more people than it draws in.

 

4

The Wing Commander Riff Cast

That’s right, boys and girls, it’s here. The Wing Commander Riff Cast is now live, very late, but live.

But, Adam, what is a riff cast?

Pretty much exactly like a rifftrax, only with cheaper  production values. Myself and co-hosts Ken Waterhouse and Matt Leaver got together and watched 1999’s cinematic low point, Wing Commander. Then we watched it again and recorded all of our snarky comments for your listening pleasure.

Even though this project took far longer to finish than initially expected, it remains the first in a series of riff casts that we plan on producing over the coming months. Now that we know what we’re doing we can put these things together much faster and without having to do another kickstarter.

Speaking of Kickstarter

This project would not have been possible without the incredibly generous contributions from our funders, the Officers’ Club.

Aces

Adam Love, author of Principles of Investing: A Complete Introduction to Stock Ownership, Basic Valuation, and Risk Assessment.

Matt Moore, author of Touch the Sky, Embrace the Dark: tales of the bizarre, the terrifying, the all-too-near future, is a new short story collection from multiple Aurora Award nominee Matt Moore.

Beverly Bambury, publicist specializing in science fiction, fantasy, crime, mystery, weird, horror, comics, and other creative pursuits.

Top Guns

Hugo Chesshire

Kate Heartfield

Nick Matthews

Rebecca Pascoe

Leah Petersen

K.W. Ramsey

Jeremy Rowland

Hayden Trenholm

Steve Umstead

How do I listen to this damn thing anyway?

Easily enough. Queue up the DVD release of Wing Commander to the title menu. Then hit play on the riff cast. After a brief introduction you’ll hear me give you a countdown to click “start movie.” From there, you need only fasten your seatbelts for two hours – yes, it’s a two hour movie – of one of the worst things ever.

Who did the art?

The riff cast logo is the product of the brilliant and talented Akira Arruda.

Who did the music?

The riff cast theme is a cover of the original Wing Commander (PC Game) anthem, courtesy of The Blake Robinson Synthetic Orchestra.

Click here to download the Wing Commander Riff Cast


0

Achievement Unlocked: Extended Vacation

Well, it wasn’t really a vacation. It’s more like I spent the last two weeks making some great progress on the long overdue Wing Commander Riff Cast, and I don’t want to lose momentum on getting that out of the door.

So you’ll have to content yourself with some off the cuff posts on the Page of Reviews for this week. I’m probably still going to do a Fighting Words podcast on Wednesday, primarily because they don’t take a lot of time to produce, and also because I really like doing them. This week will be the first, and hopefully the last, thing I have to say on Gamergate and all associated ugliness.

For today, I’m going to leave you with a short story that I wrote in response to the utterly unnecessary diesel-punk, anime, alt-history sequel to War of the Worlds, War of the Worlds: Goliath. Seriously, nobody should have to listen to ninety minutes of Adrian Paul trying to pull off an Irish accent.

Furthermore, War of the Worlds doesn’t need a sequel. Full stop. If somebody were to make a sequel, I should expect it to be a short film along the lines of what I have written below.

War of the Worlds: An Epilogue

By: Adam Shaftoe-Durrant

Few would believe that in the in the first decades of the twentieth century the world’s most powerful men would stand vigil in a small observatory in Ottershaw. So much like all of us, these souls clawed out from under the ruins of a world laid waste by minds immeasurably more powerful than our own, but with bodies as frail as ours.

At midnight on the twelfth of August, Kerensky, the Prime Minister to the sickly Tsar; Wilson, the American President; von Richtofen, the German Prince; Haig, Lord Protector of the British Empire; and Lister, Duke of Glasgow and the architect of our salvation, watched as the first of our missiles cast a green hued silhouette against the outline of our celestial neighbour.

We were but insects under the ground-shaking claw of the tripod, scurrying toward our own extinction as victims of collective hubris. The false notion that mankind was supreme among the vastness of space carved forever into scarred cities and vast fields of festering red Martian weed. Only in the invisible world, the plane amongst the aether and immaterium, did humanity find its salvation; for neither the heat ray nor the black smoke was equal to the killing power of the humble germ.

And so it came to pass that the surviving nations, licking their still fresh wounds, stripped the mighty Martian war machines in an attempt to understand the mechanisms of our near-extinction. A grateful and exhausted people elevated the surviving scientists and engineers, many of whom were little more than alcove tinkerers, into living legends. They, in turn, gifted a starving and freezing world with technologies beyond the imagining of Edison and Tesla. Heat rays replaced artillery in the armies of the world. Yet even as we built ramparts, fortifying our cities against each other and the Martians, we knew that our home would not abide a second defensive campaign.

“Have we the right, Alexander?” Wilson broke the silence.

“Had we ever had the right? History will judge us in this, as it does in all things.”

“Without the barrage,” Lister stepped back from the telescope, “there will be no history.

“How long?” I dared to ask the planet’s savior.

“Twelve days.”

Amid the darkness and dawns that followed none of us left the observatory’s campus. We slept in shifts. We ate in silence. We drank to appease the demons which tore at our souls. And we watched, we watched as our spears fell upon an unsuspecting planet, spreading Lister’s germ across the windswept surface and deep into the Martians’ underground cities. In the perpetual darkness of a shifting night, observatories around the globe sent cables to our headquarters in Ottershaw.

There were no flashes in the deep ravines and trenches of Mars. The great mountain of Olympus Mons stood as a tombstone to the alien civilization. No cylinders propelled across the vastness of space from their mighty cannons. Soon after the world’s most powerful men returned to their homes, victorious.

The war was over.

The End


0

A Few More Words on the Space Combat Genre

There’s no shortage of essays and rants that lament the decline of the space combat genre after the masterpiece that is Freespace 2. That said, Monday’s post got me thinking about the cause of said decline. After playing a bit of mental kick-ball, I think I have a working theory. I call said theory, The Wing Commander Regression.

Not to bag on Chris Roberts, because I can give you ten reasons why Wing Commander is a seminal work, but Wing Commander is both the best and the worst thing to happen to the space combat genre. Here I mean both the main plot Wing Commander games and the Privateer games. While these are glorious games in their own right, they’re also the standard by which the industry measured all other space combat games ad absurdum. I dare you to find a review of a space combat game that doesn’t make some comparison to Wing Commander.

On the other side of the coin, I can’t imagine a developer pitching a space combat game to a publisher without bringing up either Wing Commander or Tie Fighter as a point of comparison. And why not? Wing Commander made money, lots of money. The kind of money where spending twelve million dollars (a then unheard of amount of money in game development) on producing Wing Commander IV was a sure thing. In turn, fans and critics alike ate up each successive Wing Commander chapter. It was a known quantity and a proven success.

When Chris Roberts left Origin to form Digital Anvil his first game was Starlancer, a Cold War clone of Wing Commander that pitted West against East in a battle for the solar system. Naturally, the Eastern Coalition was evil incarnate compared to the liberal democracy of the Western Alliance. What was the next game we saw from Digital Anvil? Freelancer, the Wing Commander: Privateer of the Starlancer universe. Then came the copycats, most notably Tachyon: The Fringe, a game that gamerevolution.com called “a cross between Privateer and Starlancer.” And what was the big difference between Freelancer and Tachyon? The latter had Bruce Campbell doing the voice acting. In terms of game play and narrative structure, both games were cut from stone pulled from the exact same quarry.

Again, given the financial success of Wing Commander, it’s hard to blame publishers for not wanting to deviate from a winning model. Be that as it may, space combat games were stuck in a situation where publishers and fans, alike, were demanding replication rather than iteration.

As new space combat games like Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen prepare to invade our PCs, I question if we’re looking at a renaissance, in the strictest sense of the word, or an evolution. Is there something, anything new to either of these games, or is it first rate catering to what the fans – including myself at some points – have wanted for the last 20 years: a prettier Wing Commander: Privateer. What I’ve seen of Elite: Dangerous suggests that the main innovations are going to be to the graphics and AI. Granted, you can get a lot of mileage out of jaw-dropping graphics and good ship AI – and E:D seems about as sexy as they come – but if it’s nothing more than a space sandbox, then I fear we won’t see this genre make a long-term return.

Bearing that in mind, I’m asking game developers intent upon making a space combat game to give us what we can’t ask for on our own. Give us something that evolves the genre beyond pretty graphics and more/less Newtonian physics. Do something crazy with the narrative. Come up with a variation on the single pilot who commands a squadron formula. Do anything but fall back on letting a player fly a cargo ship filled with space turds from planet X to planet Y. I’ve been flying ships filled with space turds for longer than I’ve been driving an automobile. It’s time for a change.

I’m asking, in all sincerity and with boundless esteem for the space combat genre, for current and future developers to think about what they want this genre to be. If there’s no effort to move past variations on the Wing Commander theme, then we will likely see this genre lost to oblivion for another decade.


0

Strike Suit Zero, Space Combat Sims, and the Wrong Side of History

The seasonal barn burner of video game sales, courtesy of Steam and Gog.com, allowed me to pick up a few games that have been on my “want to play” list for some time. One among them is Strike Suit Zero – Born Ready Games’ attempt to inject some much needed life into the space combat genre. While it’s not Wing Commander or Freespace – in fact, it is closer in style to the reprehensible Zone of the Enders SSZ is a more than respectable title, which I will review in earnest at a later date. Today I’d like to talk about how SSZ’s story got me thinking about morality in space combat games.

Unlike Bioshock, The Witcher, and like titles, morality in space combat games is generally a straight forward affair. Take Wing Commander as an example. The conflict between the Terran Confederation and the Kilrathi Empire offers little in the way of moral complexity. The Kilrathi are brutal aliens bent upon the subjugation of the galaxy. Their political framing as an empire reminiscent of imperial Japan, compared to the democratic Terran Confederation (i.e. the Allies), also helps code their role as the game’s antagonist amid a conflict built on the back of World War Two’s carrier warfare in the Pacific.

Freespace and Freespace 2 took this dynamic a step further. The prototypical war between humanity and an alien Other (an Other whose culture is fleshed out through the use of ancient Egyptian and Indian religion and culture) is resolved at the end of Freespace’s first act. A military coalition between the Galactic Terran Alliance and the Vasudan Empire emerges as the morally just force in the face of a Shivan invasion. Any lingering doubts therein are quashed when the Shivans destroy the Vasudan home world, prompting a Vasudan Diaspora and the creation of the Galatic Terran Vasudan Alliance in Freespace 2.

I’ll save my discussion of a middle-eastern themed alien Other and Diaspora for another day.

Despite my affection for both franchises, it’s fair to say that they both lacked any sort of moral complexity in the narrative. They are great games, and exemplars of using game play as a narrative tool, but in terms of story they never do more than to beat on the drum of war is hell. In other words, there is never any doubt that the player, and their affiliated in game faction – is on the right side of history. Bearing this in mind, let us turn our attention to the Colony Wars franchise, a lesser known contemporary of Wing Commander and Freespace.

Colony Wars and its direct sequel, Colony Wars: Vengeance were released exclusively on the Playstation One in 1997 and 1998, respectively. In the shadow of Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom‘s port to the PSX in 1997, a game which was then the most expensive video game ever produced, and the release of Freespace in 1998, Colony Wars was a franchise that lived in the shadow of titans. Moreover, Liverpool-based Psygnosis Studio brought space combat to the Playstation at a time when serious gamers wanted their space combat on PC. Despite graphics that paled in comparison to WC4 and Freespace, Colony Wars boasted some innovations in space combat mechanics and a politically charged story – the latter being of particular concern to this essay. For your consideration and context, here are the opening cut scenes to Colony Wars and Colony Wars: Vengeance.


Colony Wars’ intro gives us all the language we need to code the Terran Empire as a straight forward antagonist: league versus empire, father versus Tsar, rebellion versus oppression. As the game progresses along a branching story arc based on player performance during the missions, it reveals that the father might not be the benevolent figure he seems. Perhaps, as the Colony Wars: Vengeance video suggests, the League are a rowdy bunch of terrorists. Surely the League must forfeit some moral high-ground in their war for independence when their solution to the empire’s hegemony is to seal billions of people within the resource starved Sol system, condemning them to a slow death.

This ambiguity, however, is not as overt as it might seem. Both games start from similar narrative places, mobilizing the sort of language that helps a player insert themselves as the hero of the story. Then both games  proceed to gradually break down that initial coding until players are left to wonder if their side is indeed the righteous one. In CW the father escalates the war to include League strikes against civilian targets. In CW:V Kron, the leader of the Earth Navy, executes his fellow soldiers for dissent and questioning the righteousness of their cause. While both games stop short of letting players take an active role in challenging their political order (i.e. lud narrative agency), they none the less subvert the narrative of assumed player righteousness that permeates this genre.

This brings me back to Strike Suit Zero. SSZ’s opening cut scene spells out a fairly archetypal imperial conflict between the United Nations of Earth and its colonies. The colonies want independence, and the Earth isn’t having it. It’s the British Empire/American Revolution in space trope. Naturally, I presumed that I would be playing as the colonials, who in true Zone of the Enders fashion secure the strike suit and use it to toss off the shackles of oppression. Quoting Dan Harmon, “The audience follows their sympathy,” and my sympathy is rarely with the forces of oppression in these sorts of stories. Instead, I found myself playing for the Earth. Furthermore, I was playing for an Earth that is on the losing side of the war and the wrong side of history.

But the losers have to be the good guys. That’s what George Lucas encoded in all of us as kid. That’s how this genre of story telling always works. The good guys can’t be agents of oppression. Right?

Even though the Colonials are hell bent for leather on using alien technology to destroy mother Terra, the UNE brought this doom upon themselves through greed, stupidity, and mass murder. Similar to Colony Wars, Strike Suit Zero doesn’t offer any ludonarrative freedom to challenge the UNE. Instead, it peels back the layers on the Terran empire, exploring them as the best of two bad options. Fighting for the UNE means defending a state that oppressed and murdered the Colonials; to sympathize with the Colonials is to give tacit approval to a polity that mobilizes genocide and planetary destruction as a tool to affect geopolitical change. As is so often the case, nobody’s hands are clean in this war.

This sort of moral ambiguity is the antithesis of the space combat sim’s origins. The essential experience of the space combat game is to make a person feel like Luke Skywalker. X-Wing Alliance’s final mission goes so far as to retcon Return of the Jedi such that the player character, Ace Azzameen, is in the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon during the Battle of Endor.

 

Even a classic like Tie Fighter does everything it can to remind a player that the Empire is the protagonist of the galaxy far, far away.  Imperial pilots don’t carpet bomb planets or murder civilians – so the mission briefings remind us – they defend the good people of the empire against left-wing militants intent on destabilizing the galaxy.

When Wing Commander 3 lumbered into the realm of morally dubious things, it always framed them as necessary actions for the greater good. Again, there’s no ludonarrative freedom to make Colonel Blair turn back from his mission to drop the Temblor Bomb on Kilrah, thus annihilating the Kilarthi home world (nuclear allegory, ladies and gentlemen). Where one might expect Blair to quote Oppenheimer and put a gun in his mouth, WC3′s epilogue offers little in the way of guilt on the part of the Heart of the Tiger.

 

The Kilrathi, despite having a genocide visited upon them, all but excuse Blair of any guilt for his actions. The final narrative of the Kiilrathi is to witness Melek, chief retainer of the Kilrathi Crown Prince, say that his people brought their destruction upon themselves through corruption and decadence. How nice of them to absolve Blair, Paladin, Admiral Tolwyn, and the entire Terran Confederation of any guilt for the war. This leaves precious little room for inner turmoil or conflict on the part of the player for their hand in the destruction of Kilrah, especially when the game mobilizes the visual symbolism of the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri. Blair, and the player by proxy, is left to believe that he has done good work, and is now free  to go on about banging a porn star turned video game actor.

Strike Suit Zero leaves players with no such easy out. Players know that each Colonial ship they shoot down is a link in the chain of Earth’s oppression. Every colonial capital ship the player torpedoes is a further reinforcement of this shameful domestic policy. Adams, the pilot of eponymous Strike Suit, is on the wrong side of history in a war that might not have any clear path of virtue. It is a remarkable divergence from the gold standard of the space combat game.

In a genre where critical discussions tend to get hung up on Newtonian physics and the beams versus bullets, Strike Suit Zero reminds us that the space combat sim is to video games what the war epic is to film. The most interesting, though not necessarily the best or most recognized, entries among both genres are the stories that abandon the binaries of war and instead study how these grand conflicts drag everybody into the mud.


0

Star Citizen: A Study in Attention Fatigue

Two years ago, the mere mention of Star Citizen, Chris Roberts’ in-development space combat sim, had me frothing at the mouth. For those of you who don’t know, Chris Roberts is the game design god who created the Wing Commander franchise. Now, after twenty-some months of Friday afternoon update emails from Roberts Space Industries, which today included the news that Star Citizen has cobbled together $40,000,000 in crowd sourced funding (BTW, Kudos RSI), my enthusiasm has waned.

Don’t get me wrong, I still want to play this game, and I really want the title to be a success. I just had no idea that watching a game come together from the bleachers would be so dull. In days past, the opaque and arcane nature of game development ensured that things didn’t appear on the popular/critical radar until a product was near to completion. Now that I have watched a few games come together from inception to production delays to completion, I find myself growing ever more blasé when I hear about a new game that is promising to verb the adjective-noun in the finest tradition of ­that game franchise we all love.

Awesome. Sounds cool. Call me when it gets to a beta build or at least an alpha with early access buy-in. Otherwise, I fear that this tendency toward endless cinematic trailers and pre-alpha build hype is going to take many a good game and unjustly raise expectations therein to Phantom Menace levels.

I understand that this is the way the winds of game development are blowing, but I can’t be the only person whose default reaction to a “hurry up and wait” situation is lethargy. There’s only so much enthusiasm I can muster for concept art and developer blogs. These things are cool, mind you, but if I can’t quench my primal gamer desire to have it right the fuck now, then I at least want to know when I should set my alarm clock for the game’s arrival to a playable state.

As a critic, there’s only so much I can say about newly released starship classes, in the case of Star Citizen, or another game’s ephemeral geegaws, which usually conceptual and subject to change as the game gets built. Make no mistake, I would like to write about those things, but I don’t want my audience to hate me for making mountains out of mole hills.

Dare I ask if anybody else feels this way? Or do I chalk this post up to the fact that I have a head cold that is making me miserable?


0

Live Riffing, this Saturday

With four days remaining, we are hitting the home stretch for the Wing Commander Riff Cast’s kickstarter. On behalf of Matt and myself, let me say a huge thank you to everybody who has contributed to date. It is humbling and gratifying to see such wonderful support for our mad little project.

As we edge closer to the goal line, it seems fitting to turn things up to eleven for the final few days. Rather than merely tweeting and posting facebook updates about the riff cast, I want to do some actual riffing. So on Saturday October 12 at 3pm Eastern I will be hosting a live and public Google+ hangout with the express purpose of riffing on select movie trailers. You’ll be able to watch the trailers in real time with others as I drink scotch and sound off on the marketing fodder for some of Hollywood’s worst movies.

As of this post, there is a playlist of about fifteen trailers lined up and ready to go. Though I expect a few more will likely make their way on to the list by popular request. Of course Wing Commander’s trailer is going to be up on the chopping block.

I’ll be posting links to the hangout tomorrow on the Page of Reviews facebook page, my twitter feed, and on this very post. Make sure you install the youtube app in G+ to watch the videos along with the group.

Meanwhile if you like the idea of Wing Commander getting some feature-length audio comeuppance for being such a terrible excuse for a piece of crap, feel free to click the “back this project” button, just to the right of this text. Our rewards positively shameless in the way we publicly recognize our backers.

See everybody tomorrow.

UPDATE:

Click here to join the hangout

0

Scramble All Fighters – The Wing Commander Riff Cast’s Kickstarter is Live

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Today marks the start of our kickstarter campaign to raise $300 to produce our first riff cast. What’s a riff cast? Good question. For the long reads answer, click here.

The quick, fast, and dirty is as follows.

Riff track + podcast = riff cast.

I want to produce, with some help from recent podcast co-host Matt Leaver, a podcast that is going to be entertaining to listen to on its own, but even better if you synch it up to the hot mess that is 1999’s Wing Commander screen adaptation.

Per the rules of comedy, we’re going to be bringing in a third guy, who shall remain nameless for now. And assuming we hit our goal, so that we can get a third mic for our third man, we will undertake to offer up an homage to Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett whereby we improve a movie through merciless heckling.

That’s what we are doing; here’s why you might want to support us in this mad venture.

First and foremost, this isn’t just a one-off for us. If we meet our goal now, we can do this again without having to pass the hat around. It will also allow me to take the Page of Reviews Podcast up to the next level. I’ve always wanted my podcast to be more like The Ricky Gervais Show and with a third mic I can make that happen.

Second, we’ve built almost of the rewards around publically recognizing our contributors. Toss in a little and you can get your name read into the movie’s end credits. For a few dollars more, we’ll personalize your copy of the riff track with a custom opening. If you want to make it rain, we’ve got sponsorships of upcoming podcasts and name drops in the final product of the riff cast. Our highest level reward sees us surrendering creative control of an episode of the podcast to the contributor. I dare you to make us review 50 Shades of Grey or Atlas Shrugged. I dare you.

Third, we’re giving away the final product for free, just like every other podcast we have done or ever will do. I know some people like to monetize their podcasts, but I take my queues from the likes of Jon Oliver and Joe Rogan. Give away the content, get people talking about it, and all the rest will fall into place.

So that’s what we’re putting out there. The campaign will run until October 16th. Here’s the link which includes a custom kickstarter exclusive episode of the podcast.

You have the power.


2

Post 500 and The Next Big Project

If only my third grade teacher could see me now. She once told my parents I lacked focus and would never amount to anything. Where are you now, Mrs. Saaid? You’re in hell (or more likely Florida), that’s where, and I’m writing the 500th post to my completely reasonably moderately comparatively successful blog. Point, Shaftoe.

But enough of that, this isn’t going to be a usual big number post. This is an announcement post, of sorts.

After recording the last podcast, my co-host, Matt Leaver, and me decided to watch The Last Starfighter. Of course by watch, I mean we mercilessly made fun of a movie that only holds water if you’re ten-years-old and some sort of space-time conveyance has returned you to the 1980s. Half-way through the second act, it occurred to me that we should have recorded our banter, if only to try our hands at making an homage to Mystery Science Theatre 3000 and RiffTrax. Because at the end of the day, everybody whose seen a bad movie and whispered a snarky rejoinder to their neighbor wants to have the freedom to be Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett.

Later, I recounted the day’s goofing off on facebook; therein a mutual friend asked, “Who am I, Pierce? Why didn’t anybody invite me in on this?”

And out of this unintentional Piercing, an idea was born; we would make a full-length riff ‘cast. But what movie? What movie is so obviously bad that we could thrash it without fear of alienating the audience. Not to mention we needed something untouched by either the real RiffTrax team or Red Letter Media? The answer came in an epiphany from the nerd gods: Wing Commander. Tell me another movie that is so reviled by both critics and the audience at large? And let’s not forget all the gamers who are in all likelihood still bitter about this movie taking a steaming dump on established video game canon.

But we couldn’t do it on our own. We would need a third guy, because the laws of comedy clearly demonstrate that three nerds are better than two when making fun of awful movies. Also, we don’t want our friend to think he’s the Pierce of our group. Three voices, however, would require three microphones, which is one more than I currently have. So like so many projects before us, we’ve decided to take to begging. Thankfully, it’s a small-scale beg with long term benefits.

Our goal is $300.

Expenses break down like so:

$100 for a new microphone

$50 for a mic stand and shock mount

$40 for a mic cable

$25 for a pop filter

$15 for a BluRay of Wing Commander, because none of us own, or will admit to owning, this abomination of a movie

$70 to cover production costs

As kickstarter campaigns go, we wanted to keep this a humble affair.

Why turn to crowd sourcing? First and foremost becasue we’re giving away the final product for free.  Maybe, one day, somebody will pay me to do stuff like this. For now, I’m happy to do it for the fun of doing it. That said, it would take my Google ad revenue about 21 years to absorb the costs of this project. So a little assistance would not go amiss. Rest assured that even if we don’t meet our goal, we’re still going to do this. It just means the audio quality isn’t going to be where I want it to be and we won’t have any original art to go with it. Speaking of art, Akira Arruda, who has done some fantastic promotional work for the weekly web series Continue? has agreed to do the art for riff ‘cast. I want to be able to pay her for her effort, even if it is a pittance of a symbolic gesture. In the long run, having a third mic means I can expand the podcast into a Ricky Gervais Show format, which is want I’ve wanted to do all along. So without wanting to sound too sentimental, contributing to this campaign has the added benefit of helping me meet a goal that predates podcast #1 – which nobody should listen to because it is terrible. I mean it’s just awful.

What will you get for contributing? Well, we’re still working on all the details therein, but here is what we have so far:

- A personalized copy of the riff track.

- A name drop for your book/web series/podcast/whatever during the track.

- Page of Reviews podcast producer powers for a day; wherein you can subject Matt, myself, and our mystery third to reviewing a movie of your choosing.

- Executive producer powers, which get you the same as the above but also include making me do a dramatic reading from any book of your choosing. Well, almost any book. I draw the line at Mein Kampf and its ilk.

Look for the kickstarter in the days to come. And even if you don’t contribute to this wholly reasonably somewhat worthy campaign, thanks for reading this post. I wouldn’t keep writing if people didn’t keep coming back to see what I have to say.


0

What is Chris Roberts’ Next Video Game Project?

Behold the mystery hallway of Chris Roberts' "Cloud Imperium" project

If you read this blog, chances are good that you know Chris Roberts’ name. As the creator of the much loved Wing Commander series as well as Strike Commander, StarLancer, and Freelancer, Roberts was once the Don of video game design and storytelling. He elevated the video game to a truly cinematic experience complete with branching story lines and eventually full motion video cut scenes. When Bioshock was even less than a glimmer in the eyes of System Shock, Roberts mastered building true consequences into his games. Then he just faded away, leaving the space sim genre without its finest consigliere for much of the twenty-first century.

Well, not so much faded away as changed careers. About ten years ago, Roberts stepped back from his role at Digital Anvil, the very game studio he created in 1996, to work on film production in Hollywood. In his own words, Roberts had “become frustrated with the limits of the technology at the time…” Now it seems that he is ready to emerge with a new project. In a statement released on his faux-password protected website robertsspaceindustries.com, Roberts has begun teasing out the details of his new labour.

I’m here to tell you that I have been working on something for just under a year, something that embraces everything that my past games stood for but takes it to the next level.

I hope you’ll be as excited by it as I am.

My new endeavor is still in its early stages but I invite you to take the journey with me.

If you register below you’ll become an insider that will not only give you early access to the game’s website and forums, but you will also get the opportunity for rewards and privileges that no one else will get. It’s my way of showing how important your early involvement and support is.

The full announcement will be at 10am Eastern Standard Time (UTC -5) on the 10th day of the 10th month of this year.

My name is Chris Roberts.

And if you would indulge me I would like to create a world for you.

So what sort of world should we expect? In all likelihood a space combat simulator, or possibly a space/ground flight hybrid.

Roberts’ sign off “I would like to create a world for you” is a derivation of the old Origin Systems tagline, “We create worlds.” For those who don’t know, Roberts was in Origin’s employ when he created Wing Commander and its contemporary flight-sim companion piece Strike Commander.

A poll found on the RSI website asks, “Do you use cockpits?” which, again, strongly hints at the nature of the game Roberts has in mind.

The “Time Capsule” section of the RSI website presents a piece of fiction presumably meant to give the back-story of Roberts’ new game. Therein the year is 2075 and Doctor Scott Childress has completed work on “the first self-sustaining quantum drive engine, capable of achieving 1/100th the speed of light.” The story goes on to frame this discovery as something which will allow for meaningful exploration of the solar system.

If Roberts is working within his own existing mythos, and not something completely new, then chances are pretty good that this game will have more in common with StarLancer than it will Wing Commander. It may even be a chapter within the StarLancer universe itself; as StarLancer was set in the year 2160 and saw two rival supra-nations on Earth competing for colonial holdings within the Sol system. While Freelancer was an apt spiritual successor to StarLancer, it offered no player controlled resolution to the aforementioned war between the Western Alliance and the Eastern Coalition. Therefore this game could be something intended to fill said long dormant demand. But given Roberts prolonged absence from the gaming world, I’m inclined to believe his return would be with something more grandiose than a sequel. My best case scenario would be a game offering the air/space combat of Battlecruiser with the trade and combat mechanics of Wing Commander: Privateer while set in a world similar to StarLancer.

Anybody with the wisdom to know the answer to the ultimate question can gain access to the RSI website and register for updates on the game, access to forums, free access to “a very special equipment package” limited to “golden ticket” holders upon the game’s release, and, potentially, beta access when that time comes.

The golden ticket itself quotes a 24 month development cycle. No word on if this timeline includes the year Roberts has already worked on the game. Either way, if Roberts is mobilizing his fan base this early on, then he must have something quite ambitious up his sleeve.