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Wing Commander Arena: The Sean Penney Interview

t's been quite a while since there’s been a true Wing Commander game for either PCs or consoles, the franchise is making it’s return in the form of an Xbox Live Arcade title. Wing Commander Arena is a departure from the usual 3D space combat sim, and falls into the realm of an arcade style multiplayer shooter. We chatted with the title’s Producer and Designer Sean Penney to get the backstory, feature set, the reaction from the fanbase, and the potential of seeing a new full fledged next-gen Wing Commander title.

Game Informer: Originally Wing Commander was a 3D space combat simulator. Why go into the realm of an arcade shooter with Wing Commander Arena?

Sean Penney: Across the board we’re all pretty impressed with what Xbox Live has done. I think the whole Arcade mode is pretty innovative. They really saw the future with their Xbox Live service, knew they needed to make sure that they made it really easy for users to jump into an online experience, because traditionally it never has been.  The arcade service allows people to download and try games, and spend a few dollars to buy the games. In my mind that’s pretty innovative. It really bespeaks the future in how games are going to be made and how games are going to be distributed. Right now the market there isn’t huge, but I think it’s going to be huge, so we need to get there.

As our gaming community matures, they have less time to spend 12-hours a day shooting Nazis or killing monsters. They need a shorter experience. They want to have all of the gratification they’d get from a longer experience, they want it in a more densely packed environment. So Arcade is perfect for that. You can pick it up, you can play it, you can put it down, it gives you your goal gratification in short bursts.

GI: Did you talk to the person who created the series, Chris Roberts?

Penney: No, everybody says that, but we didn’t. (laughs) I’ve seen it all over the net! We still have Origin people at EA. People that were involved in the Wing Commander series – senior designers – were part of Origin, worked on Wing Commanders and are still part of our EA community. So they’ve looked at the designs, they’ve played the game and they like what they see. Back when we were in pre-production, we showed them story lines, and high concepts and we got feedback from them.

GI:  Storyline-wise, how is the game going to unfold for gamers?

Penney: We sort of ignore the Privateer stuff and we take off where the Nephilim have been pushed back. But before that the Kilrathi sort of had their asses handed to them by the Confederation. The situation that we see it as is the Kilrathi empire is in shambles, the Confederation has been drained by their battles with the Nephilim. So right now the confederation is concentrating on the rebuilding the core worlds. The frontier, or what was the frontier has been pretty much forgotten – or it’s a very distant frontier now. This is where we decided to place this because it gives us a lot of flexibility in the fact that we don’t have to deal with the core storyline because this is a very near and dear franchise to a lot of people. A little arcade title I don’t think warrants any major plot deviations from expected history. By putting it out in the frontier we’re giving ourselves the opportunity to really play with some of the classic ships, the classic human versus Kilrathi rivalry. But I almost see humans versus Kilrathi, you know, the last time we saw them versus the Nephilim they were allied, so we sort of see the relationship where they’re certainly not allies and there’s lots of conflict between them. But it’s not all out war any more.

GI: Will there be classic voice taunts?

Penney: No, because Xbox has the voice-over-IP you can talk over the mic. We’ve got team speak so when it’s 8-on-8 you can speak to your own team members, but when it’s a free-for-all you can speak with everybody.

GI: Why go third person with this game?

Penney: Well it’s not just third person. We’ve actually got four views in this game. There’s the view that everyone has seen which is the third person view. There’s a second view that’s more pulled back third person view, there’s a reverse view. The fourth view is just above the cockpit – it’s practically first person view. You’re slammed right above the ship. You can basically see the nose of the ship.

One of the reasons we did this is as an arcade title, you’re looking at multiple targets and you also have multiple people targeting you. When you’re sitting in a cockpit in a classic Wing Commander game, you have far less targets. The game is much slower paced. In an arcade title it’s much more frantic. A cockpit view you don’t have enough of a POV to see everything that’s happening to enable yourself to survive, so we’ve offered that POV for people and it’s a lot of fun to jump into that for some of the modes. But you have to have the option to be able to pull back and see what’s going on in the complete battlefield. There’s some other options as well. The bombers have practically a 360 degree offensive capability, so it’s nice to be able to see all around your bomber. Another one is because the ships are a lot twitchier in this game than they were in the original Wing Commander – they spin, they do loops, they do barrel-rolls – if you were actually in a cockpit mode while doing that I’d suspect you’d be throwing up in no time.



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