Wing Commander

I recently was able to get some old DOS games to work very well on my Mac by using DOSBox, an emulator that runs on several different platforms. The one that I’ve been playing the most lately (when I have time!) is the original Wing Commander.

Anyone who played computer games back in the early 1990s will likely remember this one. I received the original Wing Commander and the first Secret Missions expansion pack as a Christmas gift way back then and played them both through several times. For those who today are used to every game having shiny, three dimensional graphics and professionally recorded soundtracks, it may be a bit difficult to describe how truly groundbreaking this game was for its time. Containing stunning (again, for its time) graphics and a soundtrack that changed according to what was happening onscreen, Wing Commander was also known for its engaging storyline and memorable characters. It spawned several sequels and a feature movie. (Unfortunately, the movie was nothing to write home about. It changed many of the elements of the Wing Commander universe and was panned by pretty much every critic.)

In the game, your pilot flew different space combat missions in small fighters. Humanity was at war with the cat-like Kilrathi and your success in the missions (or lack thereof) affected the overall war effort. The game contained a pseudo-3D flight environment that was interesting in its technical details. Because the processors of the time were unable to render ships and outer space in real time as a game might do today (I ran it on a 16MHz 80286), the authors of this game resorted to a few tricks that gave the feeling of flying in a 3D environment. Scaling (changing the size of a graphic) was a much easier thing for the computer to work with than full 3D processing. So, the game’s engine would call up pre-drawn images of the various ships from different angles as they were needed, and then scaled the images to the correct size. It doesn’t look nearly as good as a game would nowadays and it provides for some extra difficulty in that you could accidentally run into a ship because you couldn’t see its edge until the last second. But, again, this was groundbreaking technology for the time.

So, I’ve been having fun on my days off lately. Here are some of my screenshots of Wing Commander, taken within the DOSBox window.

4 thoughts on “Wing Commander

  1. I love those old DOS games. I found copies of Commander Keen, which I loved playing as a kid. I never managed to finish a lot of the Keen games then, so it’s nice to find them now :-D

  2. I my humble opinion, the classic Wing Commander was one of the best computer games ever! I used to stay up for hours playing the game, trying to get through to the end. I remember how frustrated it could be, sometimes your could knock off 5 Kilrathi ships without break a sweat, and then sometimes it seemed impossible to take one out. I also love the simple music it had, the bar and the quarters were the best. I have copies of them on my computer and listen to them for old times sake. It’s so cool that you have found out a way to be able to play it again!

  3. Ooh, I haven’t played Commander Keen IV in quite a while, either. And CK 1 was another groundbreaking game for PCs. id used a clever trick to get smooth scrolling, full screen action on an EGA display that was workable on even an old 8088 processor. Amazing!

    DOSBox is a really neat tool. I was also able to install the original Descent game from my CD and it runs really well.

    Jeffery, if you are interested in reviving your old WC skills, I have the game files for it. I had to hunt around for a download because I didn’t have anything capable of reading my old 1.2MB 5.25″ floppy disks! They might run in Windows without DOSBox, though DOSBox does work well.

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