You never know when the wormhole is going to hit. One minute you’re just clearing some space in a closet, the next you’re 18 and waiting patiently for an Emerson 16mhz 80286 with 3 megs of ram to finish booting MSDOS 5.0 so you can patiently fiddle with its onboard expanded memory card TSR to open up just the right amount of memory to load Wing Commander with the expanded memory graphics that gave you…a 16×16 pixel 4 frame animation of your pilot’s hand on the fighter’s joystick.
I turned down chicks for that shit man. I turned down keggers for that shit man.
Slowly, Rochelle and I have been getting around to getting rid of crap from our last move, nearly eight years ago. For us, this is progress. Impatient to go get my Eddie on in Guitar Hero: Van Halen, I tore open an old box and heard the ever familiar sound of the DS9 wormhole and fell through.
You see, back when physical games were shipped they came in insanely oversized boxes. You could *always* judge a game’s quality by the weight of its box. That meant it had a thick manual, lots of disks (note to the children reading, not “discs”, “disks”) and probably some goodies inside too like maybe a cloth map if it was a dungeon crawler or ship blueprints if you were playing a space shooter. There’s no other way to say it people, when you opened a AAA title PC game in 1990, the first smell you smelled was paper. Not plastic.
Wing Commander came with blueprints AND a special magazine called “Claw Marks”, after the enemy you fought in the game, the Kilrathi.
Man, the Kilrathi. Blatantly ripped off of Niven’s Kzinti, the denizens of Kilrah were a worthy, epic enemy in the silver age of PC gaming. A warlike Feline race, their ships had a wicked claw motif and the game had a great differentiation of the fighter classes such that you knew you were ok fighting Dralthi class fighters in certain Confederation ships, but if you got caught without a ton of Spiculum IR missles or at least some Dart Dumbfire missiles in a messy Jalthi furball then—By the way there are two types of people reading this right now, the first is nodding and in their own wormhole. The second type are wondering what the fuck I am talking about. This next pic is for the first type.
I opened the Claw Marks and here’s what was inside:
That’s right. The Secret Missions 2 install sheet. You remember, the missions where you got to fly a captured Dralthi. When you got that mission, which is an epic stealth/space furball firefight, you marked your life into two epochs: Before virtual pixilated slightly choppily rendered 16 color incredible epic 1 year old mythos mission, and after virtual pixilated slightly choppily rendered 16 color incredible epic 1 year old mythos mission.
I still remember my first night actually playing Wing Commander. I had bought the game without owning a computer to play it on. Now you see why the manual and blueprints were so important to me. I poured over those blueprints. I studied every single word and hint in the Claw Marks magazine. I was like Luke on the vaporator farm, I had the yearn and the fire. I just needed Uncle Owen to get the hardware to work to LET ME JOIN UP. I knew my Mass Driver cannons from my lasers. I knew my Pilum Friend or Foe missiles from my Javelin heat seekers.
Luckily my friend Rick had his 286 based PC. Unfortunately I was home for the summer from my first year at college, and Rick was doing summer RA duty along with my friend Jason. So after a month of owning this epic title I squared away enough time from the restaurants I was working at to drive down to San Marcos (a three hour trip) for a weekend. Rick unfortunately had to work almost the entire time but he gave Jason and I the key to his room.
There we huddled over a 13 inch .55mm dot pitch CRT monitor. Chain smoking cigarettes and downing Captain Morgan’s or Canadian Hunter cut with Dr. Pepper while we played.
Wing Commander was one of the first games to feature something called a branching plot line. This was a brilliant innovation because it kept you playing even though you might be failing in the game. Wing Commander was basically a space fight simulator that tried to recreate the Star Wars in-cockpit space fight experiences in an entirely new plotline. So it had two paths. A winning path and a losing path. Each one had a unique plotline. If you won enough and lost enough you could see maybe two thirds of both, but to really see everything you had to win everything and lose everything.
This took Jason and I mere minutes to figure out.
A secondary characteristic of the game was that as the game progressed, win or lose you got to fly newer, more advanced models of space fighters.
Thus was born the opportunity for drunken hilarity.
Jason and I decided immediately we would get to experience the entire losing plot by ejecting at the opening of every mission, thereby automatically losing the mission and triggering another losing plotline cut scene. After doing this 15 times and getting awarded a newer, nicer fighter every 5 missions or so we began to drunkenly get excited about how each new fighter was not more advanced in its handling or weapons load out, but in the speed and luxury of its eject mechanism.
As we gleefully pissed the future of the Terran Confederation into the wind we noted how clearly the Rapier’s eject mechanism was ruddy and primitive but far more robust than the Hornet’s. While the top of the line fighters the Raptor and Scimitar offered an unparalleled experience with their high-end comfort and overall view of space once ejected.
We eventually watched the bloody beheadings of our pilots in the Chengdu system. The terrible aftermath of the loss at Hell’s kitchen, and the final losing cinematic that left us a bit unsettled that as proud officers in the Confederation we’d just spent the evening getting progressively more shitfaced while bailing out of humanity’s last opportunity to stop the horrible Kilrathi threat and the genocide and enslavement of mankind.
Sobering up, we poured over the blueprints again, knowing the path of the missions, and spent the entire night playing through the winning path, starting over when we lost, because we’d already seen those missions more or less. Those of you in the know will agree the less said about Brimstone, the better.
I found many other game manuals tonight as well. So this is first of a series. But don’t worry, we’ll make it through it all if it hairlip’s Admiral Tolwyn.