Author Topic: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix  (Read 7431 times)

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Offline The E

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Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
So, as I alluded to in my recent postings in Celebration of FS, I found WCS to be somewhat off the mark in terms of being an enjoyable game. I also promised to expand on this, which I shall do now.

Before I go into the criticism though, let me say that while there are many things WCS gets wrong, there is one thing it absolutely nails, and that is graphics. Even though the models show their age (And a lack of artistic bravery regarding reinterpretations of the existing designs), it's still remarkably pretty, and some of the comm anis are really really good.

That being said however, this game is let down by lackluster efforts in most other areas, most importantly in terms of gameplay, campaign design, and writing.
Let's look at these points individually.

Gameplay
Playing through the prologue and the first few main campaign missions, it became apparent that the writers and designers never really had any intentions to abandon the rigid structure exhibited there, with each mission starting and ending at a hangar deck with varying numbers of waypoints in between. While this technically is closer to the reality of carrier-based combat, its only function in this game is to bring the pacing of a mission to a screeching halt while waiting for everyone to leave the hangar and the autopilot allowing you to proceed to the next waypoint. There are several instances where this time goes by unused; This could have been useful if there were story stuff happening here, but it doesn't.
Once you're on patrol, things don't really get better. Once you've reached the mission area, you're forced to fight through various waves of enemies (And may I just say how incredibly irritating the "waves" mechanic is?), until you're again told to go to the next waypoint, with either doing more combat, or doing nothing at all.

FS2 understood that, while a few seconds of dead time at the beginning of a mission are probably a good idea (only to shake it up to great effect later on), it shouldn't get in the way of enjoyment. WCS is filled with filler material that doesn't need to be there, similar to its source material.

There is also a distinct lack of player agency. The problems WCS tells you to solve rarely offer you the opportunity to choose different approaches; it doesn't even give you a choice of which tools to use to tackle a mission. When a modern jet pilot is heavily engaged during a patrol and manages to fight his way out, but sustains damage in the process and has to expend a significant portion of his main armament, he is expected to use his own judgment on whether or not to continue the patrol, but this is a choice we aren't given. Missions proceed linearly from start to finish, and what you do does not shape the narrative in any significant way.

This, of course, is something that would have been fine 5, or 10 years ago, but I figure that we can demand more now.

Campaign design

A lot of what I said above also ties into this. Not only is WCS incredibly linear on a mission-to-mission basis, it's the same on the macro level. There's a really nice concept in modern game design called "Differences in kind", short segments in which gameplay is completely transformed to break up the monotony and allow for different perspectives on the story and the world. WCS, of course, never does this (At least as far as I can work out).

Writing

Oh my god the writing. When it's not bland, it's atrocious, and when it's not atrocious, the line delivery is cringeworthy. The characters we're introduced to after the prologue are completely unlikable, and the protagonist still being called "rookie" even after single-handedly killing dozens upon dozens of Cat fighters is jarring, to say the least.

So what are we going to do about it?

It is my firm belief that we can tell a good, engaging story using the bare bones of the concept WCS was working on. I envision a much shorter, sharper game that uses the foundations of WCS' work, but does a better job at using the capabilities FS2_Open gives us, as demonstrated in recent campaigns and games like Diaspora, Dimensional Eclipse, Antagonist, BP, or ST:R. Over the next few days, I will be posting a campaign outline and what I believe we can do here.
Let us deconstruct WCS, and see what we can come up with when combining the Wing Commander universe with modern gameplay and storytelling sensibilities.
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Offline Dragon

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
Nice idea. I'd suggest to, for example, allow waypoints in most missions to be approached in any order you desire. WC3 did it that way (you could bring up a map and target different waypoints), but couldn't exploit it to the fullest. I don't mind having to fly a lot of patrols (afterall, it is similar to what a real carrier pilot usually does), but they could be somewhat more varied and without waves of enemies. Rather, the enemies should be all present from the start and appear further away, somewhat like in a real air engagement. As for pacing, I suggest making the new carriers use Diaspora-style catapult launch, launching the whole flight into space in one go. It wasn't in WC3, but the Ranger-class was old and we could say it simply didn't have this (flying a single mission from a Ranger, with lack of catapults commented on could be a nice touch). Also, WCS could really use a Concordia-class carrier, which is said in WC4 manual to be the main Confed carrier during the war, yet is nowhere to be seen in WCS.

 

Offline MatthTheGeek

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
Well you obviously have my support and all the WCSOpen resources available for this. When my RL calms down a bit, I should be able to polish WCSOpen. I should probably set up a svn as soon as I have time, if only so someone else can work on it while I'm RL-busy.
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Offline Lorric

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
Is it just me or does this assessment seem very harsh? "Lackluster efforts in most other areas" on something that took ten years? And I always got the sense you're not supposed to like the characters. Humanity is on it's knees. Only the strong have survived and they've been turned into a bunch of hardbitten, jaded people who are certainly going to be unlikeable for the most part. They've seen thousands of you come and go, you're nothing to them. I won't go into that any more because I know you and I have very different ideas about the subject of writing.

Also, why reinterpret existing designs? Surely taking the originals and simply upgrading them is the best thing to do?

Don't get me wrong, I think a lot of what you have to say is interesting and I will be looking forward to seeing what you want/plan to do, but you make it sound like some half-baked thing that was thrown out with little or no effort put into it, at least that's how it comes off to me.

 

Offline MatthTheGeek

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
Is it just me or does this assessment seem very harsh? "Lackluster efforts in most other areas" on something that took ten years?
That's actually the point. For something that took ten years, the result is rather underwhelming, to put it nicely. On nearly all accounts, including features, execution and mission design. Not even mentioning the overall attitude of the team.

I'd also like to mention that The E's analysis of WCS is actually shared by most WC fans I've spoken to on the SC community. It's not just a matter of seeing things through the lens of a decade of improving on execution and mission design.


EDIT: As someone who's dug deep into WCS files, I can tell you the whole mod is just a pile of bad decisions taken against common sense. Some of this judgement could be attributed to hindsight, but some of the biggest ones (like the fork, and the quantity-over-quality approach in mission design) always were obvious from the start of the project.
« Last Edit: September 09, 2013, 03:49:51 pm by MatthTheGeek »
People are stupid, therefore anything popular is at best suspicious.

Homeworld: Blue Planet     -     Help us help you     -     FSO Installer     -     BP extras portal     -     My legacy

666maslo666: Releasing a finished product is not a good thing! It is a modern fad.

SpardaSon21: it seems like you exist in a permanent state of half-joking misanthropy

Axem: when you put it like that, i sound like an insane person

bigchunk1: it's not retarded it's american!
bigchunk1: ...

batwota: steele's maneuvering for the coup de gras
MatthTheGeek: you mispelled grâce
Awaesaar: grace
batwota: oh right :P
Darius: ah!
Darius: yes, i like that
MatthTheGeek: the way you just spelled it it means fat
Awaesaar: +accent I forgot how to keyboard
MatthTheGeek: or grease
Darius: the killing fat!
Axem: jabba does the coup de gras
MatthTheGeek: XD
Axem: bring me solo and a cookie

 
Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
And I always got the sense you're not supposed to like the characters. Humanity is on it's knees. Only the strong have survived and they've been turned into a bunch of hardbitten, jaded people who are certainly going to be unlikeable for the most part. They've seen thousands of you come and go, you're nothing to them.

Which is basically what Lorna Simms was, except the WiH writers actually put some thought into her rather than making her a boring asshole.
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Offline Dragon

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
Yeah. Also, keep in mind that this kind of approach feels somewhat "non-WC-ish" to me. Wing Commander is firmly on the "idealistic" side of the scale, unlike the more cynical WiH. WCS could've chosen to portray the darker side of the war, but it isn't always done. The worst thing about WCS is it's inconsistency. Sandman's personality, as well as that of his wingmen, changes from act to act, sometimes even more often. It's as if different parts of the campaign were written by different people, without any sort of coordination or even communication besides skimming through what's been made so far. Considering sheer length of development, this was probably the case. 10 years and 40 missions is long enough for this to happen even if one or two authors were actually working on the campaign. With good writers and enough time, 40 missions are quite doable. X-Wing: Alliance main campaign hits a whooping 53 missions, while still being enjoyable and definitely not boring. It does boast more assets than WCS, but the most important thing is that mission design is much more varied, especially the "family" missions.

 

Offline Lorric

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
That's actually the point. For something that took ten years, the result is rather underwhelming, to put it nicely. On nearly all accounts, including features, execution and mission design. Not even mentioning the overall attitude of the team.

Well I would be lying if I said I wasn't also underwhelmed with it in that context. But I've always put it down to being a gameplay-above-all-else player. I thought everything else outside of it was great.

Quote
I'd also like to mention that The E's analysis of WCS is actually shared by most WC fans I've spoken to on the SC community. It's not just a matter of seeing things through the lens of a decade of improving on execution and mission design.

This is interesting. I remember something shortly after the release the team being dissatisfied with the reception the mod received here on HLP, and saying something vaguely to the effect of they didn't design it for us, they designed it for WC fans, and they love it.

So is this a shift in view towards it? After all, that was shortly after release.

Quote
As someone who's dug deep into WCS files, I can tell you the whole mod is just a pile of bad decisions taken against common sense. Some of this judgement could be attributed to hindsight, but some of the biggest ones (like the fork, and the quantity-over-quality approach in mission design) always were obvious from the start of the project.

Would you care to elaborate? The fork I presume is the deviation away from HLP. The missions I also agree with you on, although there is some quality in there, there are a lot of forgettable missions.

 

Offline niffiwan

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
"The fork" is the split of the codebase from FSO/SCP.  i.e. they have their own codebase and it has not been released, they don't have any features created by the SCP since the fork, and the SCP doesn't have any of their features.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fork_%28software_development%29
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Offline Lorric

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
Yeah. Also, keep in mind that this kind of approach feels somewhat "non-WC-ish" to me. Wing Commander is firmly on the "idealistic" side of the scale, unlike the more cynical WiH. WCS could've chosen to portray the darker side of the war, but it isn't always done. The worst thing about WCS is it's inconsistency. Sandman's personality, as well as that of his wingmen, changes from act to act, sometimes even more often. It's as if different parts of the campaign were written by different people, without any sort of coordination or even communication besides skimming through what's been made so far. Considering sheer length of development, this was probably the case. 10 years and 40 missions is long enough for this to happen even if one or two authors were actually working on the campaign. With good writers and enough time, 40 missions are quite doable. X-Wing: Alliance main campaign hits a whooping 53 missions, while still being enjoyable and definitely not boring. It does boast more assets than WCS, but the most important thing is that mission design is much more varied, especially the "family" missions.

Hmmm. I probably didn't notice this effect so much since I stop-started my way through the campaign over a long period. I certainly do stand by the big glaring fault of being a rookie all the way through, even if you do mean nothing to the other wingmen, this still should have been enough to get noticed in that respect.

Oh, and it's got 50 missions, 55 plus the prologue.

"The fork" is the split of the codebase from FSO/SCP.  i.e. they have their own codebase and it has not been released, they don't have any features created by the SCP since the fork, and the SCP doesn't have any of their features.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fork_%28software_development%29

Thanks. That's what I meant, although I can certainly see why you might think I didn't, I didn't know how to say it properly. :)

Thanks for the elaboration.

 
Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
Yeah. Also, keep in mind that this kind of approach feels somewhat "non-WC-ish" to me. Wing Commander is firmly on the "idealistic" side of the scale, unlike the more cynical WiH. WCS could've chosen to portray the darker side of the war, but it isn't always done. The worst thing about WCS is it's inconsistency. Sandman's personality, as well as that of his wingmen, changes from act to act, sometimes even more often. It's as if different parts of the campaign were written by different people, without any sort of coordination or even communication besides skimming through what's been made so far. Considering sheer length of development, this was probably the case. 10 years and 40 missions is long enough for this to happen even if one or two authors were actually working on the campaign. With good writers and enough time, 40 missions are quite doable. X-Wing: Alliance main campaign hits a whooping 53 missions, while still being enjoyable and definitely not boring. It does boast more assets than WCS, but the most important thing is that mission design is much more varied, especially the "family" missions.

55 missions is very long for FSO-style campaign design, and the format really begins to come under strain when pushed that far. It can work, as FS2 and Derelict show, but it's not to be attempted lightly. The fact that Star Citizen's launching with a 50-mission campaign is not encouraging in light of this.
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Offline The E

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
Yeah, a 25 to 30-mission campaign is far less likely to outstay its welcome the way a 50-mission campaign does.
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Offline jg18

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
Although I haven't played WCS (or any WC, for that matter), I must say I'm highly intrigued by this idea and look forward to watching it develop, even if I don't have any of the skills needed to help out.

FWIW, I vaguely remember the critics' reviews of WCS on release to be positive but not glowing.

For comparison, FS2 is 30 campaign missions + 6 training missions + 5 extra missions from the 2 SOC loops.

EDIT: E, just curious, what do you expect in the way of code changes needed? Or is that TBD until the campaign storyline and gameplay features are hammered out?
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Offline The E

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
It's TBD, but at the moment, I can't see a particular need for code changes.
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Offline swashmebuckle

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
I only played the prologue, but assuming that the autopiloted waypoint-to-waypoint encounters featured there are the mainstay of WC gameplay, I think you could make things a lot more interesting by putting the player in complete control of the full fighter wing (like you would be a Wing Commander or something). You could start by taking advantage of the full campaign-persistent team loadout features, but I'm thinking more along the lines of in-mission decisions like letting the player choose how far they want to explore, whether to send damaged wingmen home to protect them, whether to risk going into known hotspots for a chance to gather valuable recon/complete bonus goals, etc.

It would be pretty cool to have something like the hub mission from Tenebra, but have it be the actual combat mission, so you launch from the same starting position over and over, but the mission treats you differently depending on how you have fared in previous attempts. For example, the player could choose to be very careful and always feel out new locations by taking just a small recon wing that can withdraw once you've seen the enemy's strength, or they could loadout based on the sketchier data from the briefing and try to complete long term objectives in fewer runs, which might make the overall war effort go better or get you more supplies or something. It might be smart to press an advantage in some situations so the enemy can't regroup and bring up reinforcements, but you could also be walking into a trap. Likewise, you can try to keep morale (AI class) high by personally leading all the sorties and making sure you keep all of your wingmen alive, or you can send your other squadrons off on simultaneous strikes to try to keep the enemy too busy to be able to attack your carrier.

Three or four of these strategically robust repeating missions with some one-offs for variety in between (or interrupting) them could make for a pretty neat campaign, and there could be some intrinsic replay value to it as it might take a couple runs to get a feel for how each mission reacts to the player's actions, and they would naturally want to see what happens if they come back and do it "right" from the start, or just see how bad they can screw things up and still win. I think the gameplay would have to have a much quicker tempo than that of the prologue to avoid tedium with the added repetition, but the really boring stuff like the launches and autopiloting probably should be addressed no matter what type of campaign you make, so whatever. Looking forward to reading your ideas!

 

Offline The E

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
Is it just me or does this assessment seem very harsh? "Lackluster efforts in most other areas" on something that took ten years? And I always got the sense you're not supposed to like the characters. Humanity is on it's knees. Only the strong have survived and they've been turned into a bunch of hardbitten, jaded people who are certainly going to be unlikeable for the most part. They've seen thousands of you come and go, you're nothing to them. I won't go into that any more because I know you and I have very different ideas about the subject of writing.

Unlikable, yes, distant, of course, all of these are things you would expect to see. But there's a difference between having such a character in your story, and having all characters be like that. When you write wingmen who will stick with you for some time, it's a really really bad thing if the player isn't given a reason to care about them. In BP, we tried to give the people around you distinct personalities so that you would care about them, their opinions and their eventual fates. WCS misses this crucial step (at least for me).

That noone around you seems to be willing to ackknowledge your skills and results is part of this issue.

Quote
Also, why reinterpret existing designs? Surely taking the originals and simply upgrading them is the best thing to do?

Again part of the experience I got working on BP. In WCS, one of the first things said to you in the Prologue is "Look at all these capital ships. It's your job to protect them, they're way more important than you"; yet those same ships never really do much except catch torpedoes. That's something I feel should be addressed, it should be shown on-screen that there are good reasons why these things are still around.

Quote
but you make it sound like some half-baked thing that was thrown out with little or no effort put into it, at least that's how it comes off to me.

The impression I get is that over the course of WCS' development, certain things were essentially abandoned when they were good enough, with not much in the way of feedback or internal review. They certainly did their homework with regards to testing these things to make sure the missions work, but I doubt there was much thought given to bugtesting, reviewing and revising the writing. These are all understandable flaws, but flaws nonetheless, and at least for me, they ruin a lot of the work and effort that went into this, like all those rendered briefings and stuff.

I only played the prologue, but assuming that the autopiloted waypoint-to-waypoint encounters featured there are the mainstay of WC gameplay, I think you could make things a lot more interesting by putting the player in complete control of the full fighter wing (like you would be a Wing Commander or something). You could start by taking advantage of the full campaign-persistent team loadout features, but I'm thinking more along the lines of in-mission decisions like letting the player choose how far they want to explore, whether to send damaged wingmen home to protect them, whether to risk going into known hotspots for a chance to gather valuable recon/complete bonus goals, etc.

Blaise Russel demonstrated what you can do here, and I would really like to explore this concept in at least a few missions. My plan, as far as it goes at this stage, is to abandon the "single protagonist" campaign and go for a more multiangled narrative so that you can experience more facets of the war than just the fighter pilot's perspective. Being able to have input on mission planning, or even capital ship control, is something I would like to see (Of course, that's contingent on finding places in the story where such an approach would be appropriate).
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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
For a fan game that I belive took the WC formula and made something very interesting out of it with really decent attempt at character development, I highly reccommend that youall take a look at Standoff.   It took a few years less then Saga to complete and, like diaspora the went in the episodic release format which worked well for them. I belive it to be a far more polished and enjoyable experince with some really fun missions.  Especially on the loosing path missions where the missions really got creative.  Like the main Wing Commander Games the Episodes are in a branching mission format which let the player make the decission to end a patrol early or not complete a mission because they were damaged or out of weapons.  To think they had that kind of story telling and mission design you talk about in the 1990 dos era.

It shares a lot in common with Saga in that it takes place in a time where all hope should be lost, a gigantic Kilrathi fleet (That is logically setup, and not from nowhere) is on it's way to earth and little you do seems to stop them,  but unlike Saga it doesn't delve into the cynical, hoplessness with misrable one note characters.  It maintains that heroic WC idealism.

Really, take a look at it for ideas.  Its a fun play through, and will give you a really good idea of what IS wing commander in your quest to make a better, modern, WC game. 

http://standoff.solsector.net/
« Last Edit: September 10, 2013, 10:30:46 am by Darklord42 »

 

Offline Luis Dias

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
I enjoyed BR's campaign, but I do think that the concept isn't exactly my taste. It's sort of strange for one person to dictate tactically what should the fleet do (playing the admiral) and at the same time be the squadron leader of Alpha Wing of every single mission (playing the disposable leutenant, apparently available for every single mission he himself dictates!).

The same sort of thing happens in BP, but in a different way, where Laporte is the do-it-all-in-every-single-way, be it commanding a simple sortie, or a full blown destroyer battle, or commanding a cruiser against Destroyers and habitats, or venturing in psycho-Nagari adventures.

Now I take all that with a smile and a "why dafuq not? it's fun!", it's a ****ing game for christ sakes, but if someone brings up "believability" or character building and so on, my brain just explodes with the inconsistencies.

This "Alpha 1" is now being promoted from being that one pilot who can save the universe to become the admiral, the commander, the cruise pilot, the stealth pilot, the bomber pilot, the psycho-probing connection between species.... it's hilarious if you think about it.


"Ah, that's all fine and dandy Luis, but what would you do about it? I mean, these things are the way they are in BP so we can have these amazing different gamestyles, to show different angles of the plot, and yeah to be fun! Are you suggesting that FS should go back to one-style boring campaigns? What a loser!"

Yeah well you know we can have the cake and eat it too, without any writing revolutions of any kind. Just adopt the "multiple personality RPG" style! Why not? You'll have "the" sniper character, you'll have "the" admiral character, you'll have "the" cruiser commander character, and they can all have their own stories, their own personalities. You can change who "the player" is as he goes along the campaign. They can even screw with each other ("you" the admiral putting the "you" squadron leader in trouble, in which case "you" will say nasty things to "yourself" in-mission, or the reverse, "you" half-****ing up a mission and then "you" the admiral having to cope with this miserable failure of that god damned pilot, and other fun intersections!). The end result might be amazing and it avoids this OTT "protagonist does it all by himself" shenanigan.

 
Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
I liked the narrative structure The E suggested when the topic of a Sanctuary campaign came up, where you just make the campaign into a series of short vignettes following a single character in their own predicament.
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Offline Luis Dias

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Re: Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix
Yes I like that too.

I also imagined a mod where the final moments of "Apocalypse" in FS2 could be extended into a full fledged campaign with lots of different vignettes with a lot of different gamestyles, problems, objectives and personalities, like being part of the probe squadrons near the Sathanas' fleets, or being part of the fleeing cruisers, or being part of an opportunistic high-risk pirate squadron, or belong to a hidden small NTF contigent in the system. They would then smash their heads against each other, while you would "rotate" your own roles. There would be some surprises at the final 3rd of the campaign...it could be fun!