Thursday, March 24, 2016

A (Very) Brief Look Back at Star Wars: X-Wing

I recently completed a full play through of the classic Star Wars: X-Wing game and its two expansions. Originally released in 1993, the game saw updates in 1995 with a collection release, and again in 1998 with a major upgrade to run on Windows 98, and an engine upgrade to match the graphics of X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter.

But how did this classic ever come to be? Oh, sure there had been Star Wars games before 1993, most notably the vector graphics arcade game where you flew an X-Wing down the trench to simulate the end run of A New Hope, but there hadn’t been a true space combat sim like X-Wing before.

Here’s where a fascinating bit of history comes in. In the early ‘90s, LucasArts was still LucasFilm Games, and didn’t even hold the license to create video games based on Star Wars. That license was held by Brøderbund. LucasFilm Games, meanwhile, had been creating a number of highly successful adventure games, and an excellent series of WWII flight-sims culminating with Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe.

It was this experience creating flight sims that would stand them in good stead when the Star Wars license became available again. The Wing Commander series of space combat sims had demonstrated both critical and sales success, but with the Star Wars license and name behind it, LucasFilm Games was had the power of massive name recognition.

It could have been a disaster. It could have been a casual, “me too” licensed product, that no one other that serious Star Wars fans would have remembered. But it wasn’t. Led by Lawrence Holland, who had been the designer behind the WWII flight sims as well, X-Wing proved both a critical and sales success, paving the way for two expansion packs and a huge sequel, Star Wars: TIE Fighter.

Following the path of a Rebel pilot through the time leading up to A New Hope, and tracing the events after the destruction of the first Death Star leading up to the Rebellion’s move to Hoth, X-Wing allowed players to live out their Star Wars pilot fantasy in a big way. Playing it again twenty-three years later, the gameplay still remained solid, even if a few of the seams of the scripting showed up here and there.

Most importantly, the game is still fun, and with the rereleases on Steam and Good Old Games, accessible once again. There’s really only one reason it’s not the best Star Wars sim of all time, and that’s because TIE Fighter exists. But that’s another story, for another week.

The author did not receive any compensation for this article. Links included for reader convenience. To see videos of X-Wing in action, please check out my youtube channel.

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