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Wing Commander Saga: The Darkest Remix

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The E:
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.

Dragon:
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.

MatthTheGeek:
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.

Lorric:
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.

MatthTheGeek:

--- Quote from: Lorric on September 09, 2013, 03:33:22 pm ---Is it just me or does this assessment seem very harsh? "Lackluster efforts in most other areas" on something that took ten years?

--- End quote ---
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.

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