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April 1, 2012

Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Dawn

Filed under: General,Random Thought — Tags: — Nate @ 11:00 pm

I don’t write very often about games, since I don’t play too many of them. Somehow I missed the release of Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Dawn when it was announced(did not even know it existed), fortunately one of my friends pointed it out and I played it a bit over the past few days.

Here is a trailer for Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Dawn.

Wing Commander Saga is 10 years in the making(!), an open source project – they were able to take (fortunately without pissing people off) a lot of content from the original series and re-use it including sounds, music, ships, tons of stuff. They put all of that along with an open source 3D engine from the Descent 2: Freespace a ton of new content, voice acting, story lines to make what seems to me the best Wing Commander yet.

They had 50,000 downloads in the first 24 hours of launch (which was on March 22nd).

I really can’t put into words how amazing this game is. I was there about 20 years ago playing the first Wing Commander on an HP 286 12Mhz. I was talking with a friend of mine who played it with me at the time and we both recall using a keyboard to fly at least initially – didn’t get a joystick until later.

It is one of my favorite games of all time, I remember so much of it even today (played it through again about two years ago). The missions, the story, the attention to detail that was put into the game was just awesome. Then came Wing Commander 2 with more advanced AI – I struggled with that one. Later came Wing Commander 3 and it’s breakthrough video sequences that could be run on ordinary computers, the level of quality was just outstanding, I remember playing it on a 486 DX 33MHz, with, if I remember right was a Cirrus Logic VLB video card.  Later Wing Commander 4 and Wing Commander Prophecy (wasn’t a big fan of the last one).

From Wikipedia on Wing Commander 3:

The game made the transition from animated cut-scenes to full motion video, one of the first computer games to do so; it was frequently marketed as the world’s first interactive movie. It pioneered the use of CGI backgrounds and greenscreen work; all sets were added digitally during post-production, nearly a decade before George Lucas would use the same tactic in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

To given an example of attention to detail, take a look at the manual (16MB), more than a hundred pages (the vast, vast majority of which are not directly related to playing the actual game but rather history and stories and stuff).

The original Wing Commander series to some extent was limited as to what they could put on the screen by the hardware. Wing Commander Saga seems to have no limits, massive dogfights with tons of fighters, multiple capital ships engaging each other head on things that I never recalled seeing in the original Wing Commander series (Though to be honest my memory of things other than WC1 are kind of fuzzy it was a long time ago). The last mission I played tonight I barely escaped with my life (had to try the mission twice since the first time I was shot down), limped away with 36 kills — a number far higher than any other WC game that I can recall.

I’ve played probably 8-10 missions at this point. In those missions I already have war stories to talk about .

Beyond the added visuals comes the really excellent voices, story, smalltalk etc. It adds an amazing level of realism to the game.

Confederation Strike force going to their target

The controls are quite advanced as well, quite similar to those available in the X-Wing series of flight simulators. Again my memory of WC:4 and WC:P are fuzzy at best those very well may of been available then too I don’t remember.

If I had one complaint it is the game is too strict in the rules, I get in trouble quite often when all I want to do is go in and skin some cats. One mission I was ordered to retreat, but I didn’t want to I turned around and watched some action, I never engaged or got close to the enemy, at the end of the scene they abandoned me.

It’s really amazing this team of people were able to hold together for a decade and release such a quality product, I really still have no words for how incredible of a game this is. If you haven’t tried the Wing Commander series this is something you should check out — in order to play it properly you will need a joystick though. I use a trusty old CH Flightstick Pro which works pretty good. I re-bought it about two years ago when I went and re-bought the original WC series (excluding Prophecy). I had intended to play the series through but haven’t had as much time as I would of liked so didn’t get past part way into WC2. The games play well in DOS Box so when I get time in the future I can go back to them again.

I don’t see any way to donate to them on their site, I read some speculation that they would probably get in trouble with the content owners (Electronic Arts I think) if they did take any money for the game.


  1. I spent countless hours with WC3. It was my first exposure to the franchise. I really have not played much in the flight/space sim for some time (I really enjoy the driving sims ala the Dirt series). Still I have some very fond memories of hammering away on an 486 SX (no math co-processor) with 4MB of RAM and a thrustmaster joystick. Will have to check this one out.

    Comment by gchapman — April 2, 2012 @ 5:13 am

  2. totally unrelated, but you should check out the slide deck that Eric Pickup presnted at Confoo regarding scaling youporn up to 200 Million page views per day using primarily a LAMP stack.

    Comment by gchapman — April 2, 2012 @ 9:50 am

  3. BTW, CH Products makes awesome industrial joysticks — we used a CH HFX hall effect joystick in a product over a decade ago, and I was so impressed I picked up a couple at reasonable cost from eBay last year. I like the industrial style much better than the flight-stick style for making motors move around (although I do have a Logitech flight-stick style).

    Comment by Tony — April 2, 2012 @ 10:06 am

  4. I just browsed through the slides but didn’t notice a whole lot there. I’m sure there was a lot more information in the talk itself. They spent a few months re-writing the site and gained a 10% improvement in speed – no mention of what was used previously (other than Perl).

    The guy uses Facebook as a claim to PHP’s scalability which really isn’t a good example given how much hardware Facebook has that is backed by memcache and FusionIO-based sharded MySQL systems(also note that Facebook hacked PHP up quite a bit so I think their php stuff runs mostly as compiled binaries now).

    I’ve used haproxy a bit along with nginx(more experience there), ActiveMQ used some, varnish used a little. ActiveMQ is a strange choice given it’s java and they are using PHP (looks like they may phase it out). I’m not really a fan of nginx and varnish is overly complicated to configure (have it at my current company). Varnish doesn’t support SSL either last I checked. But it is free so you get what you pay for 🙂

    In any case looks very much geared towards developers since us operations folks can’t exactly get into the code and change things to make it better.

    But in general it seems like their strategy was fairly typical – do what you can to reduce/eliminate load on the transactional database, cache as much as you can – the more stuff you can keep in memory the faster you can go.

    Comment by Nate — April 2, 2012 @ 10:28 am

  5. Tony – I had no idea CH had industrial products – I was just looking at their web site this past weekend and was kind of surprised they had such few products (was looking at the retail section) but obviously they have more than what is in retail!

    Comment by Nate — April 2, 2012 @ 10:31 am

  6. I’m pretty sure the industrial side of CH is more important, because they were recently (2008) bought by APEM, a French company that makes industrial switches, indicators, and joysticks. At least APEM is keeping the CH consumer division open.

    Comment by Tony — April 2, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

  7. […] smaller so I could turn the HP box into something less serious to play some games on my TV on (like WC: Saga!). Maybe get a better video card for it I'm not […]

    Pingback by Built a new computer – first time in 10 years « — April 5, 2012 @ 8:51 am

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