Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom
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It Was One Of The Most Hyped releases of last year, and if you had a machine that could manage to run it properly (ie at least a DX2/66 with 8mb of ram and a fast-ish video card), you could actually appreciate what all the fuss was about. Even before it was released, everybody knew that Wing III was a bit special. It was the first true interactive movie adventure, with real "stars" acting in it and quite a nifty space combat bit, which still managed to hold it's own against anything Lucas-Arts could throw at it. It was good, the best thing of it's kind on the pc. So how could they possibly top it...?
I'm sure they can...
...Well, Chris is confident they can. I managed to drag him off a very busy set and toss him a few posers, much to the fury and dismay of the Assistant Director, who spent the entire interview giving me daggers through the dry ice smoke that's being constantly pumped out of a black box and fanned around the set by some bloke with a huge fan.
They need Chris on set, now - there's no time to do interviews. They all hate journalists, 'cos they waste their time. Journalists (except those from film magazines) are scum. Worse still. I'm British. They don't want some Johnny Foreigner grabbing their main man and taking up his valuable time, asking questions about computer games. Even when I turn round I can feel their eyes burning into my back. Uperturbed, I offer up my starter for ten in my best Hugh Grant accent:
So Chris (looks sheepishly at ground, pushes floppy fringe back from forehead, shines brogue on back of tweed trousers etc, etc,) is it a film or a game?
"Well, I think it's best described as a story. The Wing Commander games were always stories, this is just better told. Sure, it borrows bits from different genres: film, adventure and space shoot 'em up, but it's not any one type of game. What we've tried to do is take the best elements of each and blend them together to make something really extra special."
How is it different from the previous game?
"Well, this time we're filming with 35mm film instead of videotape, so the quality of the live-action stuff is much higher than before, and we're using real sets instead of rendered stuff, so it's altogether more atmospheric. When we shot the footage for Wing III we limited ourselves by using computer-generated sets, which meant that we had to use a static camera. This time round, because we're using real "movie-like" sets, we can now film in smoke-filled rooms and make use of moving cameras and special lighting techniques to create a greater sense of pace and tension. It really is just like a movie in terms of quality now."
So the budget went skywards pretty quickly, eh?
"Yeah! You can say that again," Chris quips with an embarrassed smile. "The budget for Wing IV is roughly twice that of Wing III."
Which is how much exactly?
"Officially, we're talking something around $8 million for the entire production."
(Gulp!) And you haven't quite finished filming yet, have you?
"No, but we're pretty much on schedule. We've got a good crew and it's really coming together brilliantly. The expensive things are the sets. We've built nearly 40 different sets altogether, ranging from futuristic cocktail bars to staff quarters. It's pretty impressive really, but that's what takes up so much time. Building the sets, dressing them, lighting them, shooting all the different scenes and then tearing them down to make way for another. It's quite a crazy way to do things really, but the results are just awesome. And it needs to be big if it's going to be believable."
This is your first time in the Director's chair. So how are you finding it?
"It's pretty good. I'm enjoying the challenge. With Wing III I co-directed, so I learnt a lot. This time round there's more going on - we're working with a bigger cast and live sets, and luckily we're filming in a controlled environment in the studio, so it could be a lot worse."
But how does it differ from, say, how you worked on the original Wing Commanded
"Well, previously I would work with the programmers and artists, explain what I wanted to do and then they would go away and do it, come back a few days or weeks later and show me what they had come up with. This way is much quicker. There's more energy, more feedback. We shoot the scene and I can then look at it through the playback. If it doesn't work out, we do it again. Compared to the old way, it's pretty much instant. I feel like I have more control."
What improvements have you made, apart from the different filming techniques?
"Well, we've tried to give the player more choices. You can now choose your own missions, as well as who you fly with, and we've introduced more strategy and tactics to give the feeling of a bigger, better world that's a lot more involved. The player will feel a lot more in control."
So what of the actual space combat?
"It's all been incremental changes really. It was pretty much there with Wing III and we've just built on what we already had. Basically, the engine's a bit faster, there's digital music and effects, the graphics are a bit sharper and we've spent a lot of time improving the AI. We can do a lot better job of it now. Wing III was real cutting-edge stuff and as a result, some things could have been better. We've learnt how to do things a little better second time round and do a much better job.
Technology is equalling out now. Everybody can get their hands on a 3D engine and do a Doom-clone or a shoot 'em up, but it's how you put it together, how you tell the story, that's most important now. The Wing Commander games have always had very strong storylines and characters, and Wing IV is no exception. It's altogether more involving for the player - an experience, not a game."
What's next, then? Strike Commander 2 perhaps?
"No. I don't think so. But I'm working on a couple of projects at the moment ready for next year, the most obvious being a full-scale movie."
A real movie, like Star Ward? (excitedly)
"Yeah - well we're almost there at the moment. The budget's already up there with the made-for-TV movies. We've got the expertise, the crew, the sets, the actors and an excellent storyline, so it's naturally the next step - the next level."
Would it be a continuation of the plot from Wing 4 and feature the same cast?
"Ideally, yes. I've spoken to Mark [Hamill] about it and he's keen to do it, as is everyone else. I've just got to find the money. It probably won't follow on from Wing N, though. I'd rather go back to the beginning and tell the story properly from the start."
And will there be another game?
"Sure. The plan at the moment is to film the movie and then set aside extra time to shoot the footage for the game."
And loads of special effects?
"You bet. And we won't have to worry about constructing models and huge sets like they did in the original Star Wars movies. We'll do the whole thing with computers - generate all the space ships and back drops, using the artists who've worked on this project, and lace it together with the live-action stuff. It'll be cool."
Isn't that what George Lucas wants to do with the next lot of Star Wars films?
"I believe so. But we have an awful lot of experience in this area, through working on the Wing Commander games and other projects, so I'm confident we can produce something pretty special."
And the other thing?
"I've been talking with the British fantasy author, Michael Moorcock, for around a year now about doing some kind of fantasy action/adventure game, which incorporates live-action stuff with an amazing combat system. I love his books, they're brilliant, and when I found out that he's now living in Texas, just down the road from Origin, I just had to meet up with him. He's a really interesting guy."
Sounds cool. And what's it going to be called?
"At the moment it's called Silver Heart, although that might change, as it's not going to be released until next year. We've got a lot to do yet."
(I spy a mad-looking assistant director marching towards us with a look of journalist loathing in her eye. Time to let Chris go or I'm for it. Just one more question:)
So Chris, what games are you playing at the moment?
"When I get the time I like to play Full Throttle. It's not too taxing and it's easy to jump in and out of. And Descent. We've got it running over the network in the office at the moment and it's awesome."
(At this point Chris is suddenly grabbed by the arm and dragged back on set by the now furious assistant director. In Hollywood, I guess time really is money. Chris shrugs helplessly and disappears into the smoke that's still being pumped onto the set. I guess that's a wrap then.)
Download Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP