Guest Blog – On a Wing and a Player by Ryan “The Unevenflow”
So I’m assuming all of you reading remember the 1990′s ? Yes ? Good. Seemingly everything even potentially marketable was licensed into a cartoon series at one point or another. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Beetlejuice, Batman: The Animated Series – some of these turned out much better than others. Well, in 1996, the USA network looked to cash in on this phenomenon and created a block of cartoons from different sources. Street Fighter (so bad compared to the Japanese series), Savage Dragon (Comic book series), and Mortal Kombat (It’s Kombat time !! Ugh…). Each of these shows shared a common issue : they were each absolutely awful and produced for next to nothing. One show they made actually bucked the trend though: Wing Commander Academy.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of the Wing Commander games. They were one of the first to have full voice acting for portions of the games and are generally credited as one of the earliest games to actually incorporate cutscenes and a storyline to a videogame. The series would also be one of the first and only to have a “losing path”. You could fail missions and the games would actually remember and allow you the opportunity to redeem yourself. You weren’t forced to replay a mission because you failed, though sometimes the missions on the “losing path” were more difficult. Your experience playing the game would vary based on which of your wingmen survived and your performance in the missions. I should also note that Wing Commander was the first game I can recall having an acheivement system – you were rewarded medals or promotions based on your performance. With an excellent series of books (most of which were written by acclaimed author William Forstchen) and an excellent cast of sci-fi regulars, one wonders why they never made a film based on the source material…
Oh alright, go watch Spoony’s review of the Wing Commander movie – he sums up the majority of why I think it was an abomination. Go ahead, I’ll just wait right here.
Anyway, Wing Commander Academy was also made on a low budget – much like the other shows I mentioned above. There were two things which saved it from being like the rest of the USA network’s Saturday morning lineup – the first was the cast. Unlike the movie, they retained much of the cast of the game series: Mark Hamill voices Christopher Blair, Tom Wilson is “Maniac” Todd Marshall, and Malcolm Mcdowell is Geoffrey Tolwyn. Dana Delany rounded out the cast as Archer, and a number of excellent guests helped retain the quality of the voice acting as well. FemShep herself, Jennifer Hale made an appearance, along with Ron Pearlman and others.
The second change which helped the show was the decision to have plot and character threads continue from episode to episode. The show has goofy moments, but it was surprising to see characters grieve over the loss of other pilots for more than one episode. One character takes most of the season to recover from having to shoot down a fellow pilot – another is recovering from survivor’s guilt… the plotlines for the characters were remarkably adult at times. The Blair from the first episode is quite different from the Blair in the final one. I’ll also note that for any fans of the books or games, there are TONS of references to planets and charcters who are more promanent in later games or books.
The animation was not particularly good, the first episode was one of the weaker of the series, the ninth episode contained one of the oddest crossovers (The Warrior King) with the other USA shows, and the series was cancelled after 13 episodes. However, the games have recently been released over at Good Old Games (www.gog.com) and the complete Wing Commander Academy has been released on DVD. For anyone that grew up with the games, or who remembers what a bad taste the movie left in their mouth, I highly recommend giving the show a watch.
Oh, and those games are a major part of gaming history, so head to GoG and give them a shot sometimes too, won’t you ?