- Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger
Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger Developer(s) Origin Systems Publisher(s) Origin Systems Designer(s) Chris Roberts
Frank Savage (engine)
Platform(s) MS-DOS, Mac OS, 3DO, PlayStation Release date(s) MS-DOS and Macintosh
- NA 1995
- JP September 6, 1996
Genre(s) Space combat simulation Mode(s) Single player Media/distribution CD-ROM System requirements
Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger (commonly abbreviated WC3, WCIII, or HOTT) is the third main game in Chris Roberts' Wing Commander science fiction space combat simulation video game series, developed and released by Origin Systems. Released in 1994, Wing Commander III made the move from the sprite-based graphics used in previous titles to software-driven texture-mapped polygonal 3D, and used FMV for cut scenes.
A novelization of the game, by William R. Forstchen and Andrew Keith, was published in 1995. A collectible card game adaptation was published in the same year by Mag Force 7 Productions, under the helm of noted science-fiction authors Margaret Weis and Don Perrin. The sequel, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, was released in 1996.
The protagonist of the previous two games was officially assigned a name in WCIII, Colonel Christopher Blair (Mark Hamill). The opening cutscene, the first FMV cutscene in the Wing Commander series, depicts a saddening scene: Thrakhath nar Kiranka (John Rhys-Davies), Crown Prince of the hostile Kilrathi Empire, presiding over the execution by disintegration of a group of Terran Confederation prisoners of war. One, however, is left alive: Blair's lover Colonel Jeannette "Angel" Devereaux (Yolanda Jilot), due to her status among the Kilrathi as a respected warrior, who is executed by Prince Thrakhath using his claws to disembowel her (though her death scene is not shown until later in the game). The scene then cuts to the planet Vespus, where Blair and Brigadier General James "Paladin" Taggart inspect the downed wreckage of the TCS Concordia. The carrier is a total loss.
It is the year 2669, and the Terran-Kilrathi War has been going for over thirty years, with no signs of stopping. Blair, by orders of Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn, is transferred as Wing Commander to the TCS Victory, a Ranger-class carrier twice as old as Blair. Her captain, William Eisen, has been with her for many years, and is proud of his ship. There are a few old faces—Colonel Ralgha nar "Hobbes" Hhallas (John Schuck), and Major Todd "Maniac" Marshall (Tom Wilson)—but all the other pilots and staff are people Blair has never met. Among the characters onboard, Blair notably meets fellow pilot Lieutenant Robin "Flint" Peters (Jennifer MacDonald) and Chief Fighter Technician Rachel Coriolis, with either of whom the player may eventually choose to start a romance.
The Victory is currently assigned to the Orsini System, away from the front. Shortly after Blair's arrival, and a few introductory mission, a test pilot, Major Jace "Flash" Dillon (Josh Lucas), arrives onboard the Victory with his prototype warcraft, the F-103A Excalibur heavy fighter. Blair is given the chance to "borrow" it for a live combat mission. This angers Flash who challenges Blair to a simulator duel. If Blair wins the duel, he forces Dillon to request reassignment to the Victory's flight wing. Immediately afterward the Victory is rerouted to the Locanda System, where the Kilrathi are deploying a potent pair of new weapons: the "Skipper" cruise missile equipped with a cloaking device and a genetically-engineered bioweapon for use against the Locanda colonies, the home of Flint. Blair and his wing are scrambled to defend Locanda against several flights of these missiles. Even if the player is able to destroy the missiles, Flint breaks formation and attacks the Kilrathi forces in an act of revenge. The player is given the option to follow her, though she returns safely in either case.
Admiral Tolwyn rendezvouses with the Victory, escorted by several destroyers. The Victory is the key to his latest plan, which involves the escort and defense of the TCS Behemoth; an extremely large vessel with a forward cannon capable of destroying a planet. Blair is to defend it while it is used against Kilrathi assets. Following the destruction of a Kilrathi planet in the Loki system, Thrakhath appears with a squadron of Pakthan bombers and taunts the Victory over subspace radio. He reveals that Blair is the game's titular "Heart of the Tiger;" the Kilrathi have bestowed this warrior's name on him as a sign of respect. Thrakhath's forces attack the Behemoth. A traitor aboard the Victory has transmitted comprehensive targeting data to the Kilrathi revealing the Behemoth's weakpoints, and the Behemoth is destroyed. Thrakhath then takes space in his personalized Bloodfang fighter to challenge Blair in single combat. He taunts Blair with an FMV recording showing how he personally disemboweled Angel after her colleagues had been disintegrated. Blair's instinct is to accept, but if he does, the Victory will leave without him being in an indefensible position. When he returns to the Victory, the player chooses between getting drunk or grieving in another way. If the player chooses getting drunk, he must then fly an emergency scramble drunk, with the game controls not responding reliably making combat virtually impossible and generally resulting in the player being forced to eject.
After a retreat to the Alcor System, Paladin arrives. He too has a scheme for bringing about the end of the war. He reveals that it has something to do with why Angel was captured; he also reveals that he's known about Angel's death for months. Paladin's scheme involves a weapon called the Temblor Bomb. The Kilrathi home planet, Kilrah, is seismically unstable, and if the Temblor Bomb is dropped in just the right place, the planet will shake itself to pieces. Angel was assigned to set up a number of hidden asteroid supply caches, which the delivering pilots (Blair and his wingmen) will use to resupply for the long journey into Kilrathi space. Matters are complicated when the traitor is revealed as Blair's friend Ralgha nar Hhallas. He kills one of the Victory's pilots, Lt. Laurel "Cobra" Buckley (B.J. Jefferson), steals her fighter and makes for Kilrathi space with news of the planned T-Bomb attacks. Blair has the choice of chasing him or letting him go. If he gives chase, the carrier is attacked and Lt. Mitchell "Vaquero" Lopez (Julian Reyes) is killed in the fight, for which Blair is held responsible. If he chooses not to follow Hobbes, the storyline proceeds as planned.
Blair tests a Temblor Bomb on a planet in the Hyperion System, featuring atmospheric combat for the first time in the series. Upon returning from the mission, Blair has the option to choose to initiate a romance with Flint or Rachel. Flint refuses to fly with him if he chooses Rachel, Rachel refuses to help him with his missile loadouts if he chooses Flint, and both are grumpy with him if he chooses neither. Finally, he launches against Kilrah, with up to three wingmen of the player's choice. After successfully downing Prince Thrakhath above Kilrah (and Hobbes, if he was not killed earlier), Blair descends to the surface and delivers the bomb. The resulting explosion wipes out a great deal of the Kilrathi fleet and destroys Kilrah (and kills the emperor of the Kilrathi), but damages Blair's fighter as well; a surviving Kilrathi capital ship tractors him in. To his surprise, he has been retrieved not to be killed, but so that the Kilrathi, commanded now by Thrakhath's retainer Melek nar Kiranka (Tim Curry), can surrender. The war is over. The surviving Kilrathi begin to colonize a new homeworld and now want to live in peace and harmony with the humans.
The credits are preceded by scenes of Melek and Tolwyn formalizing the peace treaty, and Blair returning home with the love interest of his choice or alone, if he chose none.
As the man giving the orders, Blair often gets to choose what ship he will fly, what missiles it will carry, and what wingman (wingmen) he will take with him. As in WC, some wingmen can be killed permanently in combat. Blair's own call sign remained customizable.
Wing Commander III featured an entirely new line of ships and fighters, abandoning the technology of Wing Commander and Wing Commander II. Terran Confederation craft were redesigned from "airplanes in space", while Kilrathi craft were totally redesigned into asymmetrical ships with prongs, barbs and fang-like surfaces. The new, blockier forms were made necessary by the then-primitive state of polygon graphics, as WCIII was released a few years before the first true 3D video cards and all 3D effects had to be calculated by the CPU.
The game made the transition from animated cut-scenes to full motion video, one of the first computer games to do so; it was frequently marketed as the world's first interactive movie. It pioneered the use of CGI backgrounds and greenscreen work; all sets were added digitally during post-production, nearly a decade before George Lucas would use the same tactic in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. A large number of branching ("interactive") conversations allow the player to choose what response his character will give; the choice may affect the other person's attitude towards your character, or even the morale of the entire crew. To act in these live action sequences, director Chris Roberts hired a formidable amount of talent, most notably Mark Hamill for the player character. The game's budget was the then unheard-of sum of 4 million dollars, making it the most expensive game produced at the time. As such movie content consumes a large amount of data storage, the game was packaged on four CD-ROMs instead of floppy disks, another emerging technology at that point.
While mostly following the plot outlined above, authors Keith and Forstchen made a number of decisions and changes to increase the tension of the novel. In chronological order:
- Blair's Gold Squadron flies Thunderbolts exclusively before transferring over to the new Excaliburs. Green Squadron runs the Longbows, Red Squadron has Hellcats and Blue Squadron flies Arrows.
- Flash arrives, not as a test pilot for the Excalibur, but from the Locanda system as a replacement contributed from a Home Defense squadron. He retains his "hotshot" mindset and rank of major, however, leaving Blair the unwelcome problem of having two extremely senior officers on his flight wing who are also complete hot-doggers.
- Blair fails to save Locanda.
- Forstchen-created character Kevin "Lone Wolf" Tolwyn makes an appearance as a courier, preparing the Victory for the admiral's arrival. Lone Wolf, now a major, declines to join Blair's wing only because it would pain his uncle.
- Thrakhath's declaration that Blair is the game's titular "Heart of the Tiger" occurs while the pilots are in their cockpits, scrambling to defend the ill-fated Behemoth (instead of standing around on the Victory's bridge. Flash, flying on Hobbes' wing, is killed in the ensuing fight.
- Since Hobbes knows about the Temblor bomb project, there is no question of allowing him to escape. Hobbes uses voice recordings to impersonate Buckley, but when Vaquero (Cobra's wingman) hears what has happened, he engages Hobbes, as per Blair's orders to "stop that bastard at all costs", and is killed just as Maverick arrives to finish the job.
- The novel includes a scene inexplicably cut from the PC version of the game, though not the PlayStation version: Blair finding a message in Hobbes' locker, explaining his treachery. Ralgha nar Hhallas, a loyal Kilrathi, volunteered for a special operation, in which his original personality was overlaid with one that would be much more sympathetic to humans. This personality defected to the Confederation over ten years ago and has served them loyally. However, nar Hhallas's original personality could be reactivated via certain audio cues—namely, hearing Thrakhath saying Blair's Kilrathi warrior name, "Heart of the Tiger"—and this personality has served Kilrathi interests with characteristic loyalty. In the end, though, both personalities have come to respect Christopher Blair and value his friendship, and it is with regret that they betray him.
- Blair chooses Rachel.
- Flint, Winston "Vagabond" Chang and Maniac, the only living Gold Squadron pilots at this point in the novel, fly with him to Kilrah. Vagabond is shot down on the second leg of the journey (though he survives through unspecified means to return in Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom), Flint is killed in space above Kilrah, and Maniac is shot down in the planet's atmosphere, though Maverick is described as catching a glimpse of what might be an ejection seat (Marshall also returns in WC4).
Wing Commander III has often been praised for its updated visuals, the performances of its main cast, and its highly-immersive story, which stays true to the storytelling style of Wing Commander. Its combined use of FMV, blue-screen backdrops, and polygonal graphics is considered a turning point in the series, and is often praised as one of the first simulator games to successfully apply polygonal graphics. In 2011, PC Gamer ranked it 72nd on the list of the 100 best PC games of all time.
Wing Commander series Main series PrivateerWing Commander: Privateer (Speech Pack · Righteous Fire) · Privateer 2: The Darkening SpinoffsWing Commander: Academy · Armada (Proving Grounds) · Arena RemakesSuper Wing Commander · The Kilrathi Saga Media BooksFreedom Flight · End Run · Fleet Action · Heart of the Tiger · The Price of Freedom · Action Stations · False Colors · Wing Commander · Pilgrim Stars · Pilgrim Truth
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