A lot of the pieces have fallen into place

Stormfire cannon on the Hellcat V

As we work towards the demo release there are three main areas to focus on:

  • Applying all the now-known stats values to the game objects
  • Running the mission scripts for all of the objects
  • Improving the AI

The first of these is largely done and has driven a lot of new work; one piece of which is implementing the stormfire gun.

That’s contraband, where did you get it?

Loading the stats meant supporting all the weapons we encountered – and there’s one you may not have been expecting if you haven’t played the demo.

Bullet hell!
Bullet hell!

A Hermes shuttle will drop a Stormfire cannon for you to attach to your Hellcat. This isn’t a feature found anywhere in the actual game, and the stats are such that there’s not that much of a benefit – but we love how it looks and how it feels to play with the rapid fire weapon.

The Stormfire is listed as having refire delay of zero which is obviously meaningless. Clearly the intention is for it to fire every frame at 1996 framerates. We assume a refire rate of 0.04 seconds (compared to 0.1 seconds for the WCP stormfire).

She handles like a Centaurian mud pig

Until now we’ve been using placeholder numbers, but now it’s time to start applying the data we’ve been loading. As we have been loading them I’ve been going back and forth and comparing our implementation to the original, trying to match it – but there is one area where we are intentionally not trying to do so.

Pages in the Wing Commander I/II guide talking about the Afterburner slide
Pages in the Wing Commander I/II guide talking about the Afterburner slide

This is going to sound strange, but despite Wing Commander 4 being my favourite title I’ve never particularly liked the way it handles. I’ve always assumed this was a precision issue – space in WCIV is vast and certainly the inconsistency in rotation speeds seems to be down to this fact.
But now I am certain what my biggest gripe is; infinite acceleration (or rather, one dimensional acceleration using speed instead of velocity).

In Wing Commander 1, 2 and Prophecy you have a sense of momentum. In fact, this allows you to employ a tactic which is essential in titles with punishing forward and rear lasers: the afterburner slide.

Stop moving damnit!
Stop moving damnit!

In Wing Commander III and IV however, acceleration appears to be one-dimensional. Whatever direction you are facing, that is the direction you are moving and, with no residual speed, an afterburner slide is not possible.

To see this in action, hit your afterburners and then try and turn 180, you will notice in I/II/P the direction of the dust particles seems to alter whereas in III/IV it is constant. The best example of this effect in WCP is trying to turn whilst using the wasps booster.

Why this was done, I have no idea. Perhaps an inexperienced programmer uncomfortable with motion or a design decision to simplify the controls, or maybe even to really make the ships with auto-slide stand out. Whatever the reason, as WCP returned to the model of WCI+II, I’m inclined to take that as the “correct” path.

[edit] Going through the play guides I’ve found some references to these changes:
“The most basic differences are probably the slower afterburner acceleration and the lack of an afterburner slide in many fighters. If you’re an experienced pilot who is used to manoeuvring with the afterburner slide you may want to stick with the Arrow as much as possible until the Excalibur becomes available” [wc3 guide].
Note to Wing Commander vets- Prophecy includes more realistic physics than previous Wing Commander games, and your sliding ship maintains a great deal more inertia than it did, for example, in Wing IV. While the slide & Pop remains an extremely effective tactic, don’t expect quite the same degree of responsiveness you may be used to [wcp guide].

From these two guides I do get the impression that the decision was made for the auto-slide, and then later undone despite the reduction in effectiveness of the auto-slide. [/edit]

While less noteworthy, this effect is also felt on rotation (although the alternate dynamics option seems to introduce some rotational accelation).

This didn’t just impact your tactics. Trying to hit an enemy was harder because their ITTS seemed to move from one side to the next almost instantly. If you beat Maniac in the virtual combat mode without just firing off a few shots and then burning away you are a better pilot than I.

In resurrecting the feel of I/II/P, I feel like the controls are vastly improved. And before purists burn me at the stake I’d like to point out that Wing Commander 3 3DO had that momentum, so we can assume a WC4 port would probably have felt similar.
Wing Commander IV is often thought of as a missile dependent game, but with more realistic motion it’s much easier to make use of your lasers and the game should feel more balanced.