Nostalgia-driven gaming site Good Old Games announced a new set of releases this morning. Gamers everywhere, including the one writing this, are ecstatic.
X-Wing and TIE Fighter absorbed a large chunk of my misspent youth.
X-Wing set the bar for space combat sims at the time of its release. While Wing Commander was already firmly established, X-Wing took it up a notch with full 3D polygonal graphics and advanced ship systems. Star Wars was the perfect setting for such a simulation, and let thousands of pilots grip joysticks tight and lose themselves in the same ship-to-ship combat we saw in the original trilogy.
I eventually got involved with an online gaming organization that custom-built missions for X-Wing and regularly had competitions and storywriting around them. Really, this involvement was my first “serious” writing outside of school assignments – and it was because I wanted to, not because I had to. While the various writeups are long-gone, it was cooperative fanfiction at its finest – a stolen setting, yes, but original characters, original plots, and a fantastic time by all.
But going on the merits of the game itself, TIE Fighter took an excellent game and made it into a shining star that still appears on “Best Ever” lists whenever they are written by someone old enough to have played it.
TIE Fighter swapped the cockpits. Instead of flying for the good guys in the alphabet fighters of the Rebel Alliance, players pulled on the dark helmets and clung to the yokes of the evil Galactic Empire’s TIE series instead. And while X-Wing‘s storytelling was good, especially for the time, TIE Fighter‘s writing still stands up as an amazing product today.
A big chunk of games now days have a good/evil alignment system of some sort, and allow players to be “evil”, but I can’t think of one that managed the subtlety and moral shadows that TIE Fighter pulled off with style and eloquence.
While we all know the Empire as evil embodied, the average pilot or soldier doesn’t see it that way. The player flies on the side of order against the elements of chaos that, frankly, cause death and pain for innocent people. Various tours of duty include yes, hunting Rebel elements down, but also bringing a halt to an inter-species civil war, eliminating pirate gangs, establishing new security outposts on the frontier, and putting an end to traitors (who don’t have pure or even ideological motives themselves).
It’s a game that makes you root for the bad guys, and enjoy doing it. And suddenly the black-and-white of Imperial vs Rebel isn’t nearly so clear-cut.
These are two fantastic games that have been way overdue for this sort of re-release.
I guess it’s time to dig the joystick out of the basement and get myself set up to fly again. There’s a war on, after all!