Wing Commander (video game)

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Break and Attack!

A series of space-based Flight Sim and combat games from Origin Systems, Inc., dating back to 1990 with spinoffs including one movie, animated series, novels, even a few action figures.

In the 27th century, the depths of space are host to brutal wars being waged by brave men and women (and cats, and bugs). Mighty warships face off against one another... when they're not being blown to dustbunnies by much smaller space fighters, as is often the case.

The player is a fighter pilot serving, in most games, in the Terran Confederation Space Force. The game setting is influenced by the interest of Chris Roberts (creator of the series) in Top Gun (the player character's callsign, established in later Canon, is Maverick, for example), as well as Star Wars (see the final mission of Wing Commander III, among other examples). The series also pioneered a lot of technology and advances we take for granted nowadays.

The series features six main games:

  • Wing Commander, in which your nearly-Silent Protagonist becomes a hotshot pilot aboard the TCS Tiger's Claw, a famed carrier in the Terran Confederation serving in the Vega sector of space. It made use of a fully-orchestrated (if MIDI) Variable Mix, helping to make Sound Blaster a household name in computers.
  • Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi, which starts out with the Claw being destroyed by Kilrathi Stealth Fighters (which can turn invisible) while trying to attack a major enemy command post. Your character finds himself unfairly blamed, and vows to clear his name, getting his chance ten years later. Its use of digitized voices finished cementing Sound Blaster's fame.
  • Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, in which the series moves to rendered 3D graphics and Full Motion Video, involving several big-name stars; it was marketed as "The First Interactive Movie." Blair helps take the war to the Kilrathi one more time, but not without cost.
  • Wing Commander IV: the Price of Freedom takes place two years after the end of the war, after Blair has retired and... become a farmer on a desert planet. Instead of buying some droids, he's re-activated to investigate unrest out on the frontier, where the difference between friend and foe isn't quite as clear-cut as it used to be.
  • Wing Commander Prophecy starts a new chapter in the series. You no longer play Christopher "Maverick" Blair, but a hot-shot new pilot, son of famed Tiger's Claw veteran Michael "Iceman" Casey. From the depths of space comes a new foe, one even the Kilrathi fear, and it's up to your experimental carrier to stop them. Prophecy is one of the first space sim games to utilize 3D accelerator hardware, in particular the 3DFx line.
  • Wing Commander Secret Ops was originally released online as a free Episodic Game, and may be the Ur Example of that trope. It moves six Midway pilots to a new ship for another campaign against the "Nephilim" invaders as they strike at the heart of the Confederation. Secret Ops, running on a modified version of Prophecy's VISION Game Engine, is something of a favorite in the Game Mod community for its relative ease of modification.

In addition to this, there are numerous Expansion Packs, tie-in novels, a couple spin-offs (including the Privateer series and to the lesser extent Strike Commander), a Spiritual Successor in the form of Starlancer and Freelancer, a Saturday morning cartoon, and a movie.

Origin Systems was eventually bought by Electronic Arts and then later dissolved, which marked an end to ongoing development of this franchise (not to mention Ultima), but there are some very promising fan projects keeping it alive.


Tropes used in Wing Commander (video game) include:
  • Ace Pilot: Besides the Player Character (a given, within the genre), most of the named pilots throughout the series qualify.
  • Aerial Canyon Chase: In the original Wing Commander, one of your fellow pilots suggests that asteroid fields are great equalizers when you're outnumbered. Asteroids are great shields, and you only have to concentrate on not hitting them, while your pursuers have to divide their attention between shooting you and not crashing. Sooner or later, they're more likely to screw up than you are. While it actually didn't work out that way in that game, it sometimes does in the later games or the Free Space series.
  • Airstrike Impossible: The final mission of Wing Commander III was supposed to be this, with staying in the canyons on the way to the fault target to avoid attracting the attention of infinitely respawning Ekapshii, but a glitch in the transition from the space leg of the mission to the atmosphere leg allowed the "one time" cloak to be used again, making it trivially easy to get there, by cloaking and flying above the mountains in a straight line. (And, heck, even if you don't use the cloak, so long as you're in good condition at the start and have plenty of afterburner fuel left, the engine can only throw two Ekapshii at you at a time, so it's easier to just burn straight for the target rather than try to navigate the canyon.)
  • Alliance Meter: In Privateer, your standing with the factions in the Gemini sector can be altered by which faction you shoot down. While regaining trust with a faction after a killing spree of their pilots is technically possible, without Roman Lynch's help in the add-on Righteous Fire it's much more difficult. Note that Retros will never be friendly other than for plot-dictated reasons in Righteous Fire.
  • All There in the Manual:
    • Approximately 95% of Secret Ops' plot was explained on the (also episodically updated) website, with literally none of this included in any subsequent re-releases, in part thanks to copyright concerns from EA Germany. Have fun with Alt-tab.
    • Also, the manuals and supplementary materials for the Wing Commander games (and other games published by Origin) serve to tie the various games together, even games that don't seem to take place in the same universe (for example, System Shock is a movie in the Wing Commander universe, and the Crusader games are a particularly dark chapter in the Wing Commander universe's timeline).
    • And in general, the manuals for many of these games are legendary; the "feelies" that came with the first game in particular are beloved by many gamers of the early 90s and contained tons of background information not directly mentioned in the game (in fact the game assumes you read the manual and know the history... just like your character would). WC III and Prophecy had somewhat similar detailed manuals, as did Armada and both Privateer games, and the lack of this is generally one of the strikes held against II and IV.
  • Almost-Lethal Weapons: Starting with the third "main story" game in the series, the player's fighter gets extra damage absorption ability, compared to the same fighter flown by AI pilots, either friend or foe. In an extreme abuse of this property, if the player and the enemy are flying the same ship, as in the final flight mission of Wing Commander IV, the player can contrive a situation where the enemy runs into them at full speed, killing the enemy while leaving their ship significantly damaged but surviving for auto-repair to kick in.
  • Antimatter:
    • Traditional capship power source, also used on the Excalibur and its descendant, the Dragon.
    • Several capital warships also mount antimatter guns.
    • The torpedoes from the Kilrathi war use Matter/Antimatter warheads.
  • Anyone Can Die:
    • In the very first game, you could lose any one of your wingmen. Solemn funeral scene ensued. Next installments featured more comprehensive plot, so NPC pilots learned to use their ejection buttons. Since then, all deaths were plot-driven (but included some major characters).
    • Once a pilot has fulfilled their plot obligation, they once again become potential victims of this trope. Which could lead to some oddness if they died in a previous installment during the player's campaign, and were then needed for a plot driven event in the sequel. For example, Vagabond could die in Wing Commander III but make a comeback in Wing Commander IV. When spending a day or 2 on a Kilrathi Saga marathon with friends, can lead to Mystery Science Theater 3000 style "Hey, he's dead!" moments.
  • Apocalypse How:
  • Artificial Atmospheric Actions: Non-hostile NPC ships in Privateer would just wander around aimlessly by a jump point, even if logically they should be using it to go somewhere else (merchants), or traveling between jump points in a patrol (Militia, Confed, mercenary).
  • Artificial Stupidity:
    • Anyone who's had a wingman try to shoot through them to hit the ship they're targeting has gotten a demonstration of this trope. See also friendly NPCs trying to engage Triton transports in Prophecy without first taking out the turret guarding the engines. Also, your carrier in Secret Ops, the Cerberus, tended to use its BFG indiscriminately against any enemy craft nearby. This can result in various allied ships being accidentally destroyed because they wandered into the cannon's fire patterns, such as a) your wingmen, b) the subject of today's Escort Mission, or c) you.
    • Just imagine the frustration if you carefully aim and fire a slowly moving torpedo at an enemy capship in Wing Commander Prophecy, and then, while the missile is on its way, seeing a friendly NPC fighter flying directly into its flight path. Of course, this means all friendly ship would attack you for treason.
    • In the first game, it's also entirely possible to come back from a mission (and it's inevitably the really hard ones where this will happen) only to have your wingman crash into the Tiger's Claw and die because they take formation flying a little too seriously. Very annoying if you're trying to keep everyone alive. You could usually avoid it if you told your wingman to return to base. It was really bad when your wingman sank the Claw more than the Kilrathi did- something the SNES version of the first game was particularly prone to.
  • The Asteroid Thicket:
    • Crashing into an asteroid can (and often does) mean instant death. In some of the games they can also be shot with your cannons to sort of clear a path for you. There are also Mine Thickets in some sectors, and you do not want to shoot those.
    • These got much easier once the series made the jump to true 3D.
    • Made particularly annoying by the Kilrathi asteroid fighters in the third game, which still mean instant death if they hit you, with the added challenge that they are now also chasing and shooting at you, and have quite painful mines they're ready to drop in your face if you get on their tail.
    • The Rostov system in the original Wing Commander deserves special mention; it's basically one giant Asteroid Thicket.
  • Attack Drone: Arena has this as a Power-Up.
  • Attack Its Weak Point:
    • In Wing Commander III, while the Kilrathi dreadnaught isn't totally invulnerable, it's much more prone to damage from shooting at it inside the hangar, where there the fast-recharging shields don't protect.
      • Kilrah itself, after a fashion. You drop the Temblor Bomb in a major fault line, which is a planetary weak point of sorts.
    • In Wing Commander IV, the only way to kill the Vesuvius without taking all day to do it is to drop the Flashpak in the hangar, where they don't use the quite effective armor found on the outer hull.
  • Awesome but Impractical:
  • Awesome Yet Practical: The Flashpak. Functionally, it destroys any capital ship or starbase with one unit. Useful. How does it do this? By superheating the interior and igniting the atmosphere.
  • Badass: most Tiger's Claw pilots. Well, on a carrier with a bunch of veterans who've survived some pretty intense years of combat, of course they're going to be Badass.
  • Battle Theme Music: Wing Commander's use of situational music was part of what made Sound Blaster a home name in computer gaming.
  • The Battlestar: The series, at times, seems in love with the concept:
    • The TCS Concordia in Wing Commander II, armed with a full fighter wing, a Phase Transit Cannon, and Antimatter guns.
    • The Vesuvius class supercarriers in Wing Commander IV are equipped with anti-capship weapons as well as fighters.
    • Pretty much every ship in capable of carrying fighters counts as The Battlestar, in particular cruisers and larger.
    • Wing Commander III gives us, on the Kilrathi side, the Dreadnought, a huge (22 km long) warship equipped with a full fighter wing and numerous weapons including anti-ship missiles.
    • The TCS Midway from Prophecy technically qualifies after it acquires a plasma cannon that can wipe out entire fleets in one shot
  • Big No:
    • Kilrathi pilots in Wing Commander II and Wing Commander III sometimes do this when they get shot down.
    • So do some of the hostile human pilots in Wing Commander IV.
  • Body Count Competition: Several of the Wing Commander games had a scoreboard on the ship, showing the kills of all the pilots onboard. The wingmen would gain kills despite not going on missions with you, and some were much better at killing than others.
  • Bug War: The Nephilim from Prophecy and Secret Ops.
  • Burial in Space: Almost any pilots (including the player) that die gets one of these.
  • But Thou Must!: In Wing Commander IV, you're given two chances to defect to the Union of Border Worlds. If you don't take the second chance, infinite waves of UBW bombers spawn until your carrier is destroyed, ending the game. If you eject, it's court martial.
  • Call a Human a Meatbag: The felinoid Kilrathi refer to the humans as "hairless apes" and similar terms.
  • Calling Your Attacks: AI pilots launching torpedoes will announce the launch on the comms, mirroring Real Life Western-style air forces having their pilots call fighter missile launches so a wingman doesn't accidentally get hit. Not that it seems, in the fictional version, to stop your wingmen from themselves stepping in front of a fired torpedo. See Artificial Stupidity, above.
  • Canon Name: Blair[1], when the series went to Full Motion Video. His callsign, "Maverick," was made canon in the Novelization of Wing Commander III.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Ten thousand credits will net your civilian clunker a jump drive, with a mere 50 creds per landing to refuel, in Privateer. Privateer 2 doesn't even bother with the cost of a jump drive, it's built in to all ships.
  • Catfolk: The Kilrathi. Big furry Proud Warrior Race with cat ears.
    • Cats Are Mean: The Kilrathi, obviously. Dropping bioweapons on helpless planets (among other things) generally doesn't count as "playing nice".
  • Character Select Forcing: In Wing Commander III, if you continue to choose to fly with Hobbes over the other pilots, past the first mission, you get called to the carpet on it by Captain Eisen, and morale suffers from the show of favoritism.
  • Chroma Key: Wing3 had absolutely no sets whatsoever: it was filmed completely on greenscreen, and the sets computer-generated. This beats films like Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow, not to mention The Phantom Menace, by at least half a decade.
  • Cliff Hanger: Wing Commander II ended with Prince Thrakhath bragging to the Kilrathi Emperor about the utter destruction of the Confederation's 6th fleet in Deneb Sector, with the last words on the screen being "To be continued in Wing Commander III".
  • Cluster Missile: Wing Commander Prophecy and its sequel Secret Ops includes the Tracker missile on higher-end fighters, which consists of four Friend or Foe missiles mounted to a common frame, that break off after running a certain distance to allow the individual missiles to track on whatever target meets their targeting parameters.
  • Compilation Rerelease:
    • Wing Commander: The Kilrathi Saga. The first three games, re-released for Windows 95 and adjusted to run at the correct speeds on a modern computer. Also included remastered audio and music, as well as an expanded manual and a calendar listing many important dates in the Wing Commander universe. After it went out of print, it was known to reliably sell for over $100 on EBay. At least one copy sold for over three hundred dollars. The release of DOS Box allowing the original games (which usually sell for $20 or less on eBay) to run on modern computers has since lessened the need for The Kilrathi Saga, but it still often sells for above its original retail price on eBay.
    • On a slightly lesser scale, Prophecy and Secret Ops were combined into Wing Commander Prophecy Gold, with a new manual that combined material from the manuals of the individual games into one book, and added some details not seen previously ...but did not include the online material that provided the meat of the plot for Secret Ops after it was taken offline from EA's website.
  • Converging Stream Weapon: Prophecy was supposed to have the Tiamat dreadnought equipped with a version of the "fleet killer" plasma gun mounted in the Kraken, with the green glowing tips of the Tiamat's arms forming the beam, but technical difficulties prevented it from being implemented.
  • Cool Starship: it's a space flight sim. These games run on the Rule of Cool Ship.
  • Copy Protection: The original game and its add-ons asked a question of you when you loaded the game, with answers available from the manual or the blueprints that came with the original releases. The protection was removed when Wing Commander was modified for the Kilrathi Saga collection.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: In Wing Commander Prophecy, it's not shown, but in a discussion between Zero, Dallas, and Hawk in the pilot's lounge, it's mentioned that the Kilrathi aboard the kat fleet that got wasted earlier in the game used their blood to write "Knathrak", roughly equivalent of Ragnarok for them.
    • This is actually where the name Nephilum comes from for the new enemy race, because of a comparison between the Hebrew Nephilum legend and the Kilrathi Knathrak legend. This has a long and involved explanation in the manual, but in-game it's one line.
  • Creator Cameo: Chris Roberts provides the Communications Officer voice for the TCS Coventry in Wing Commander III. He also appears as the Black Lance officer saying "and I couldn't go on!", in the winning game end cinematics for Wing Commander IV.
  • Critical Annoyance: The Eject alarm, which goes off when your fighter is likely to be killed by the next hit. Fortunately, Deflector Shield regeneration turned it off.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Averted throughout the entire series, actually, as your fighter would lose certain capabilities (shielding, radio, guns) as those systems were damaged or destroyed. (Well, averted with your ship; this kind of damage only infrequently affects enemy fighters.) Starting with Wing Commander III, capships started to have components, or at least weak gun turrets, which could be destroyed separately from the ship itself.
  • Cutscene: The series as a whole made extensive use of cutscenes, originally with animated art and then later with live-action Full Motion Video, to tell the story between the missions and provide the general atmosphere for the setting.
  • Cutscene Power to the Max:
    • The Privateer intro exemplifies this trope, with one laser doing more damage than the best fighter available to the player having four of the most powerful guns in the game, among other feats not possible in gameplay.
    • Mostly averted in Wing Commander Secret Ops, which used the game engine for rendering cutscenes, albeit tweaked in some instances (ex: the Plunkett successfully engaging a Hydra, as the game engine can't target components in the manner required of the player's bomber seeking to kill a capship).
  • Cyanide Pill: In the "bad" ending of Wing Commander Secret Ops (fail to destroy the command ship before it opens the gate to Nephilim space), the captain of the Cerberus tells pilots there's a pill beneath their seat that will kill them, so they don't have to experience the horror of endless waves of aliens overrunning the universe.
  • Dead Man's Hand:
    • In II, Spirit gets dealt the hand and later kamikazes a Kilrathi-controlled space station.
    • In IV, Vagabond gets the hand, and dies later in a mission that goes badly wrong. Bonus points for it being one of the few times the card shark had lost... and to Maniac, no less.
  • Death Cry Echo:
    • The Wing Commander games would have both friendly and enemy pilots scream over the radio at you if they were destroyed.
    • Before they coded in the actual dialogue for the speech pack for Wing Commander II, they had placeholder sound files, such as "forming on your wing" or "attacking" in a complete deadpan. Hilarity ensued the first time the player lost a wingman, who calmly stated, "I'm dead."
  • Death Course: See above, under The Asteroid Thicket.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: The preferred method for capital craft destruction in the Wing Commander games when you don't absolutely need a torpedo to kill a capship.
  • Deflector Shields: used throughout the series. The more pertinent question is how strong the capship's "Phase Shielding" is: in games 1 and 3, you can shoot a carrier to death with your fighter's guns, but in 2, 4, Prophecy, & Secret Ops torpedoes are the only viable method of downing a capship (unless you're flying a Devastator bomber, in Prophecy or Secret Ops).
  • Depopulation Bomb: The Gen-Select bioweapon in Wing Commander IV releases nanobots that kill everyone who doesn't meet the Black Lance's genetic standards. This weapon killed roughly 90% of the population on the planet it was used on.
  • Design It Yourself Equipment: Privateer and Privateer 2
  • Determinator: In the Wing Commander series, the Kilrathi embody this trope. In fact, it's established in Wing Commander III that they literally don't know the meaning of the word "surrender" (even those few who are truly well-studied in Terran languages and culture seem to have trouble grasping the concept of it).
  • Dialogue Tree: Privateer had a primitive version of this, but it's mostly present in any of the FMV games from Wing Commander III onwards.
  • Difficulty Levels:
    • From Wing Commander III onwards, you could select a difficulty level, from the options screen. AI in the higher levels use decoys to distract your missiles more frequently, and will use their own missiles more freely - and effectively. Given the deadly nature of missiles in all but the easiest difficulties, this becomes a nasty case of Reality Ensues.
    • When Secret Ops first came out, you were required to fill out an online registration before you could download the game. One of the questions the registration asked was your experience with the Wing Commander series. If you said that you had beaten a Wing Commander game in the past, then the game would automatically be set to the "Nightmare" difficulty level without telling the player.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: Privateer 2: The Darkening, the "sequel" to Wing Commander Privateer, originated as a non-Wing Commander-related game with a working name of The Darkening (as per an advert in the back of the Wing Commander IV manual). Due to several factors, including but not limited to Executive Meddling, Privateer 2 had Wing Commander touches added before the final release.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting:
    • On rare occasion, after shooting down a ship in Privateer, you can see a body part (often a hand or booted foot) floating in space.
    • When investigating the transport destroyed in the intro of Wing Commander IV, you may see a charred skeleton floating around in space.
  • Dynamic Difficulty: There was supposed to be an adjustment of AI skills, in the games before Difficulty Levels, but for many there's often little to no notice of much of a difference, in any of the games where this trope was in effect.
  • Earthshattering Kaboom:
    • The Wing Commander III Temblor Bomb, which ends the Kilrathi war by blowing up their seismically-unstable homeworld. Weirdly, Luke Skywalker is the one who drops the bomb - after being "required to maneuver straight down this trench and skim the surface to this point"...
    • See also the Behemoth
    • The Sivar's main gun in Wing Commander: Special Ops was sufficient to destroy a whole colony from orbit.
  • Easter Egg: In Wing Commander IV, typing "animal" when the terminal text is scrolling, before it gets to the prompt for a callsign, results in a text based "20 questions" type game called "Animal Gump". Replacing "animal" with "chicken" gives an alternate version of the credits, with strange comments.
  • Easy Logistics: In Wing Commander II, one of the escort missions is for a transport hauling missiles to resupply the Concordia, and if you fail the mission you're supposed to not have any more missiles. However, failure doesn't seem to actually affect whether or not your fighter goes out with missiles in later missions.
  • Eject! Eject! Eject!:
  • Ejection Seat:
    • Ejecting means that you just failed every remaining objective (because your wingman Can't Go On Without You), but it can occasionally be a wise move, especially if you don't like Save Scumming.
    • Ejection in many missions, however, was still a loss. And one Kilrathi ace in particular was known for shooting up ejected pilots.
  • Elite Mooks: In the Wing Commander series, most of the games had the elite, named opponents with personalities. The exceptions:
    • The Drakhai, in Wing Commander II. Slightly better defensive stats for their ships, and an AI set one level above the regular opponents were the primary distinguishing characteristics, aside from their specific taunt "You cannot defeat the Drakhai" (ignoring that you regularly did just that).
    • In addition to the few named opponents (other than Seether, which ones depended on when you defect, Wing Commander IV also had nameless, generic "ace" pilots.
    • And finally, the "Ace" pilots from Prophecy, who, though they flew an excellent fighter (by raw statistics, the best ship in the game), had no personality whatsoever.
  • The Empire: The Kilrathi Empire, naturally.
  • The End of the World as We Know It:
    • In the games, the Locanda missions from Wing Commander III. Admiral Tolwyn, in Wing Commander IV, believed this to be the fate of humanity without his plan, but in the Novelization realized the Black Lance could have served an unmodified humanity to the same effect, just before he killed himself. See also the fate of the Sirius colony in the novel Fleet Action, and almost the fate of Earth until Max Krueger's Big Damn Heroes moment.
    • We see this if you fail Wing Commander III. Not die, but fail enough missions and you'll see the Kilrathi invade Earth, reducing it to something similar to post Judgment Day from Terminator, complete with a Shout-Out to the human skull being crushed beneath a metal foot.
      • If you are on this path and get picked up in your ejection pod in the final mission, Blair gets to meet Thrakhath face to face. Blair states states that you'll never "truly" conquer Earth, but Thrakhath shrugs this off, stating that Earth's water rich environment is of little interest to his people anyway, strongly implying that genocide is the fate that humanity now faces.
  • Enemy Mine: Thrakhath escapes and steals a fighter to avenge himself against his traitorous kin Khasra, in Wing Commander II. Blair pursues. The two temporarily join forces.
  • Escort Mission
  • Event Flag
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep":
    • In addition to most pilots usually being referred to by their callsign only, the first game had a bartender named "Shotglass" (his callsign from his pilot days) and the second and fourth games had mechanics named "Sparks" and "Pliers" respectively. (The latter two did have spoken-on-screen names - Janet McCullough and Robert Sykes - but nobody ever used them.)
    • Lampshaded in the Wing Commander IV novelization: "You have a mechanic named Pliers?"
  • Evil Luddite: The Retros from Privateer are on the same level as the pirates and Kilrathi.
  • Executive Meddling: Hobbes' betrayal in Wing Commander III was apparently because Chris Roberts didn't like the idea of a Kilrathi good guy.
  • Expanded Universe: Wing Commander's EU includes ten novels (both adaptations of other material and original stories), multiple game guides, a Western Animation series, a Collectible Card Game, and a movie, all of which count fully towards continuity.
  • Fan Nickname: "Bluehair", for the Player Character in the main games, prior to his being given a canonical name (which happened to be a contraction of "Bluehair"). Similarly, in Privateer, "Brownhair" for that game's PC, prior to discovery of a magazine ad that gave his canonical name as "Grayson Burrows" (confirmed in the manual for Arena).
  • Fantastic Slurs:
    • "Hairless ape" is used by Kilrathi on Terrans, along with other simian-related insults. Terrans call the Kilrathi "furballs" usually, with occasional feline-related comments (including, for example, a reference to the taunt target being made into kitty litter, from Armada).
    • There's also a lighthearted scene in one of the novels where the Cats reveal they've intercepted old TV transmissions from Earth: "Bugs Bunny screws his mother!" ("Wait, that's not an insult? You genuinely think it's funny? Man, now what am I gonna yell?")
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • The first three Wing Commander games are the Pacific theater of World War II IN SPACE! Confed are the United States, while the Kilrathi are Imperial Japan, complete with godlike emperor, warrior codes, scheming henchmen, inability to understand surrender, the whole nine yards.
    • The Kilrathi also bear more than a passing resemblance to the Aztecs (ironically for many of the same reasons): divine imperial authority, warrior codes and edicts, semi-formal but very much in place cast system, and VERY heavy emphasis on ritual violence (a great deal of the reason they started the war in the first place was so they could have POWs to sacrifice back on the home planet as they are religiously obligated to have, which is not unlike the Aztecs save for the fact that the latter just wanted sacrifices and just had to attack to get them in anywhere near adequate numbers).
    • The ending of Wing Commander III in particular - the Kilrathi's final surrender aboard the TCS Victory is based on that of the Japanese aboard the USS Missouri at the end of World War 2.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: via "jump points", which are formed by specific gravitic conditions. In the games, a Swirly Energy Thingy opens and the ship goes through.
  • Faux First Person 3D: The first two games of the series.
  • The Federation: Terran Confederation.
  • Feelies: Origin in general was good about this: the first game came with a "ship-board magazine" written by crew members of the Tiger's Claw (IE Roberts, Warren Spector and Aaron Allston) and contained tidbits which were used to answer Copy Protection questions. When they created collection releases (Kilrathi Saga, for the first three "main" games", and Prophecy Gold for Prophecy and Secret Ops) they didn't just slap together the original manuals, but created new ones that included extra information that the originals didn't have, as well as the information from the individual releases.
  • Fighter Launching Sequence
  • Final Death: either played straight or Subverted, depending on the game.
  • Fixed Forward-Facing Weapon:
    • In Wing Commander II, the Confederation class dreadnoughts (including the player home ship, the TCS Concordia) had the Phase Transit Cannon as an integral part of the design's keel. The Kilrathi design from which the PTC was copied, aboard the Sivar dreadnought from Wing Commander: The Secret Missions that used its gun to destroy the Confederation's Goddard colony was also a fixed mount. As the latter wasn't of any use against anything smaller than planetoids, maneuverability of the platform wasn't an issue.
    • Roughly half way through Prophecy, the Nephilim fleet-killer plasma gun is mounted to the TCS Midway, positioned between the two halves of the forward part of the ship.[2]
  • Four-Fingered Hands: The Kilrathi are shown (usually) as having 4 digits, and use Base 8 numbering.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: Played straight, and then some with the Tachyon cannons. Which should, according to tachyon theory[3], fire particles faster than light.
    • The manuals for the games indicate that the destructive potential for these tachyons comes from the fact that they've been decelerated to subluminal speeds.
  • Friend or Foe:
    • In Privateer, it's trivially easy to fall afoul of this with the starting radar, which doesn't give target types any color coding; the militia forces fly the same ships (with different color schemes that are hard to notice until you're right next to them) as the pirates and Retros, further compounding the problem. More advanced radar models color-code contacts, making it much easier to determine who is or isn't a legitimate target.
    • In the main games, for the most part your opponents will be flying ships entirely different from your own side's, so it's easier to tell who's who. This doesn't, however, help too much if your wingman flies right into the path of the torpedo you just launched, resulting in an insta-kill of said idiot and everyone else declaring you a traitor, in all but the very first game.
  • Game Level
  • Game Mod:
    • Hackers & programmers using Prophecy's VISION Engine have managed to produce their own campaigns. Others have employed the Free Space 2 engine, Vega Strike, or even built their own.
    • Multiplayer functionality was originally planned for Prophecy but never finished, and the incomplete code was commented out due to time constraints (though not before an ad touting that functionality was published). Many fans were disappointed by the lack, but one was bothered enough to polish off the code and make it a viable option.
  • Generation Xerox: the four main characters of Prophecy are clearly meant to take the torch up from characters in the first four games. Casey is Blair, Maestro is Maniac, Stiletto is Angel and Zero is... hmm, who woulda thought Doomsday was important? Must've been his major role in the novels.
  • Got Volunteered: Spirit does this to Maverick in Secret Missions. Yeah you heard that right.
  • Guy in Back:
    • Technically, the option exists for any craft in the series with a rear turret to have a gunner, but for the most part they go unnamed. The games allow you to switch to that turret and operate it, but while doing so you can't control the rest of the ship.
    • Any time you pilot a Broadsword in Wing Commander 2, however, you're explicitly stated to have a full gunnery crew, one for each turret. In fact, in one mission, Angel herself straps into the lead gunner's seat to help you out (and won't take no for an answer, either). The gunnery crew occasionally serves as background characters, to boot.
    • In Wing Commander IV, Pliers notes that Blair will have to use an inferior auto-gunner in his craft's rear turret, as the Intrepid doesn't have personnel to spare for the duty.
  • He's Dead, Jim: Wing Commander IV, with Vagabond's death. However, the same guards who had just killed Vagabond were still shooting, so Sosa not going to check is understandable.
  • Hello, Insert Name Here: Prior to the option of available speech, the name and callsign you chose at the start of the game was worked into the speech text. Starting with the Full Motion Video of Wing Commander III, you could only choose your callsign, but it was never mentioned in conversation.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The story of Tolwyn's life, and probably also that of many of the Black Lance in addition.
  • High Altitude Battle: Subverted in Wing Commander III and Wing Commander IV, in that they are space combat games that require the player, in some missions to descend into the sky (i.e. atmosphere) of multiple planets to accomplish plot-critical objectives. Needless to say, these special levels as a rule tend to be tougher than the conventional space battles seen elsewhere in the series, if for no other reason than crashing into the ground by mistake.
  • High-Speed Missile Dodge: Generally one of the ways to survive in the Wing Commander series, given the limited amount of decoys you generally get (at least pre-Prophecy), particularly when they get significantly more fatal in Wing Commander IV. In something of a "huhwha...?" situation, your slow-ass, stock clunker of a Tarsus, the starting ship in Privateer, can simply afterburn away from missiles that are supposedly twice as fast as the ship they're targeting, even without much ECM help.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: The official strategy guide for Wing Commander III included a CD with, among other things, a collection of filming outtakes, including the Star Wars one mentioned elsewhere on this page, found after the end of the closing credits.
  • Holding Back the Phlebotinum:
    • The alien fleet killer plasma cannon mounted on the Midway, in Prophecy, was salvaged from a spaceship that comes from another dimension, and given the jury-rigged nature can only safely be fired once.[4]

Captain Wilford: "...a fire-and-forget weapon: we fired it once, and now we can forget about firing it again."

    • The Concordia's Phase-Transit Cannon in Wing Commander II broke down every time a Kilrathi corvette was in the area for no reason other than to let the corvette pretend to be a threat to the Concordia... never mind the antimatter guns that the Concordia had and the corvette didn't.
  • Hold the Line: Several missions throughout the series are escort missions of your home carrier, buying time for it to make it to the next jump point.
  • Home Guard: The Border Worlds Militia in Wing Commander IV started off as one of these. They are essentially a small modern navy when the game takes place.
  • Hopeless Boss Fight: In Wing Commander III, the plot called for was for you to lose your wingmen in battle with an enemy ace and make the final attack alone: however, this was achieved by having the ace magically respawn for so long as any wingmen not lost prior to that point were present. This lead to a surreal battle in which you might shoot him down a dozen times in a row, using up all of your missiles and countermeasures, and have no way of knowing what obscure action would cause things to proceed.
This was apparently fixed in later versions, where wingmen vanish when autopiloting through the previous waypoints, regardless of whether they were still alive. Arguably even weirder.
Similarly, forgetting to use a certain technology could also lead to a constant stream of respawning wingmen. Finally, if you fail a critical mission and end up in the losing path, the final mission involves a confrontation with a unique Kilrathi capital ship which is almost impossible to kill. The expectation appeared to be for the player character to die trying so that the Bad Ending could roll. While that ship can actually be destroyed with sufficient effort, as you were not meant to destroy it, the game has no idea what to do when you beat it so just leaves you hanging in space.
  • Humans Are White:
    • Averted in the first game. Although a majority of your crewmates on the Tiger's Claw are white, it's not by a large margin. Among the main characters, besides the white ones, are a black man, a Japanese woman, and a Taiwanese man. And Maniac.
    • When the games made the jump to Full Motion Video, the ratio of ethnicities tilted towards Caucasians, but there was still a fairly significant non-token minority presence, including the first carrier captain seen in the series who wasn't white, Captain Eisen.
  • Humanity Is Superior: Subverted in Wing Commander IV, in that Tolwyn didn't believe it was, without genetic manipulation and changing to a warrior society like the Kilrathi.
  • Hyperspeed Escape: Fans of Privateer and Privateer II, are quite familiar with this tactic. Or, in the case of the latter, frequently the inability to employ it, thanks to the prolific use of random enemies and the limitations on using autopilot or the jump points when enemies are present.
  • I'd Tell You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You: Blair, in Wing Commander IV when he comes aboard the TCS Lexington, uses this line to poke fun at Maniac.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum:
    • The TCS Midway in Prophecy gets this later in the game, in the form of a fleet-killer plasma cannon. See also the human cloaking devices, which are derived in part from captured Kilrathi devices.
    • Concordia's phase-transit cannon in Wing Commander II is based on the main gun from the wreck of the Kilrathi dreadnaught Sivar destroyed in Wing Commander: The Secret Missions.
  • In Space Everyone Can See Your Face: The series averts this trope, for the most part. At most one only saw the area immediately around the eyes of the pilots wearing the helmets, and it wasn't illuminated other than by the light in the cockpit (which just shifted the problem out of the helmet, but that's not this trope).
  • Incredibly Obvious Bomb: One of these (complete with flashing red digital countdown) takes out the Concordia flight deck towards the beginning of Wing Commander II.
  • Inertial Dampening: One of many components in your fighter that can fail as you take damage, though the games don't model any actual effects of its loss other than any collision being fatal.
  • Informal Eulogy: Your commanding officer will have a special eulogy on your behalf when you kick the bucket. Your wingmen get these, too, if they die in combat.
  • Informed Ability: The wingmen you fly with are all supposed to be truly Badass veteran pilots, but with a relative few exceptions... well, they aren't.
  • Instant Win Condition: In some missions not only is it not required to destroy all targets, you get chewed out for doing so.
  • Intelligent Gerbil: The Kilrathi.
  • Interface Screw:
    • If you choose to let Blair drown his sorrows prior to one mission in Wing Commander III, your controls will randomly reverse during the mission. Fortunately, your only real goal for that mission is to survive until your carrier is about to bug out. There's no saving the Behemoth.
    • Wing Commander IV has a few missions where the odds are against you due to a jamming ship that pretty much screws over most of your instruments, including your shields and your missiles, which will not lock. What makes it even more of a kick to the face is that the enemy fighters are not affected at all by the jamming due to frequency-agile avionics and tempesting (as per the Novelization), so they have working shields, and missiles that lock. On the upside, though, salvo-firing off all of your "dumbfire" unguided missiles will put a quick end to the jammer ship, once you locate it.
    • In Wing Commander II, when you take too much damage your instruments explode leaving you without the benefit of whatever it was for the rest of the mission. If you're on a torpedo run and your targeting computer bites it, Save Scumming is your only hope to avoid losing the mission.
  • Invisibility Cloak:
    • Kilrathi "Strakha" stealth fighters have them; they figure strongly into the plot of the second game, in that they blew up the Claw and cost Blair his career in doing so because no one else has ever seen them before. (Pretend you're a jury, listening to a pilot claim he was paying attention but sneaky impossible ships blew up his carrier anyway. You do the math.) Then, in a Running Gag, every time you fight them in the second game, your flight recorder is blown out, so you still can't prove they exist.
    • The "Strakha" fighters are still in use in Wing Commander III, but then you get to fight back with the Excalibur later on (only thing is that the Excalibur's cloaking device is experimental and only works twice in a mission).
    • Wing Commander IV has the Dragon, and after you capture a batch of them you get to see a cutscene showing exactly how the visual cloaking works (while cloaked Dragons are completely undetectable by other ships, they can still be detected by other Dragons and are seen by pilots as transparent and glasslike, but nevertheless cannot be attacked with guided missiles). Also in IV, you get a pseudo-cloaking device for your ship early in the game (though you have the option to fly without it), which according to chief tech Robert "Pliers" Sykes who developed it, it only hides your ship from radar detection (still, when it's on, you can't be spotted visually by the enemy), and it only works a few times in a mission.
    • One particular level early in Wing Commander III also features a "Skipper" stealth torpedo. If it hits the carrier you're trying to escort, the mission fails. Later, said torpedoes are used again, loaded with enough bioweapons to kill umpteen-million humans and then launched against a human colony.
  • Ironic Nickname: Colonel Christopher "Maverick" Blair is, for the most part, not actually a Military Maverick. He in fact had quite the reputation as a Lawful Good for much of his career. Major Todd Maniac Marshall, however, averts this trope like you'd never believe.
  • I Shall Taunt You: Wing Commander has this as a basic tactic: taunting Kilrathi fighters has a chance of making them drop whatever they're doing to attack you (instead of whatever you're escorting).
  • It's a Wonderful Failure: Every Wing Commander game has an ending scene depicting the results of losing the campaign.
    • The losing ending of Wing Commander III shows the Kilrathi landing on a ruined Earth.
    • In Wing Commander IV, if you fail during the final sequence (which is entirely conversational) you end up shown being put before a firing line, to be executed for treason. Fail several times in the first few mission sets, they'll show Blair back at the bar in Nephele after he's been booted from the service, watching a newscast of a declaration of war against the UBW.
    • In Prophecy, the aliens end up destroying you, your carrier, and presumably the last hope of staving off the invasion.
  • I Was Never Here: One of the random messages from the pirates in Privateer, when pirates are friendly to you: "I didn't see you, and you're blind."
  • Iwo Jima Pose: The Good Ending of the original game features an Iwo Jima-style flag raising.
  • Jerkass: Stingray.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence:
    • Happens quite regularly in games in the series that have speech, with taunts being cut off by the speaker's ship becoming a rapidly expanding ball of plasma, courtesy of your guns.
    • Averted 99% of the time in Prophecy/Secret Ops, where a "dead" ship would just keep spinning out of control until its pilot could give its last words. Depending on how much comm chatter was in the queue, it could hang out for as much as 30 seconds.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Flashpak, in Wing Commander IV, destroys ships by igniting their internal atmosphere, burning them out from the inside.
  • Last Stand
  • Leitmotif: Wing Commander II has a number of prominent leitmotifs, most notably the grim, minor-key brass fanfare accompanying Prince Thrakhath, the syncopated piano motif for Jazz, and the theme that plays during the love scenes between Blair and Angel.
  • Legally Dead: Christopher Blair, Type 5, in the online content for Secret Ops.
  • Little No: If you get caught by Confed in Wing Commander IV. Blair utters a quiet but defiant "no" when asked if he wants to be blindfolded for his execution.
  • Loading Screen: Wing Commander III on a bare-minimum 486 PC. 'Nuff said. See also Loads and Loads of Loading.
  • Lost Forever: Wing Commander IV, where if you don't take certain missions in the Speradon mission set, or skip it entirely for the Circe set, you miss out on one of two special missiles and/or a fighter (which was arguably more interesting than the other "superfighter", as it had a flaw that kept the ship from being Munchkin), depending on the choices you make.
  • MacGuffin: a communications officer is murdered in Wing Commander II when he comes across the traitor Jazz transmitting information to the Kilrathi; even better, the traitor leaves someone else's pilot's-wings insignia in the dead man's hand. Lampshade Hanging: the officer is named "Specialist MacGuffin."
  • Macross Missile Massacre:
    • In Wing Commander Prophecy and it's sequel, Wing Commander Secret Ops, the player on occasion has access to the Wasp interceptor. One of it's weapons is the Swarmer, a launcher that with each shot fires eight missiles that track your locked target--as long as you keep your target within your front view (otherwise the Swarmers will lose lock and fly off aimlessly. If you possess the piloting skills to keep your target in your view (often not possible without jettisoning the Wasp's booster), it's a one-shot kill. See also the Tracker, mentioned in Cluster Missile.
    • To a lesser degree than a full MMM, using the salvo function, one can dump all of one's missiles in a short time. This is a cheap way to kill "Flash" in the sim contest in Wing Commander III, if you don't want to take forever to kick the little twerp's ass. This method also works on potting Thrakhath after the Behemoth is destroyed in the Loki system, but in the Kilrathi Saga version of Wing Commander III, unlike the initial DOS release, the instant Thrakhath dies your carrier jumps out, even if there's still time left on the countdown. Of course, being The Dragon, Thrakhath returns at the end anyway, even if you do kill him and get to land.)
  • The Magic Poker Equation: In Wing Commander II and Wing Commander IV, two NPC pilots get a certain hand with plot significance: The Dead Man's Hand (aces and eights), in particular, signaling the impending demise of Mariko "Spirit" Tanaka in Wing Commander II, and Winston "Vagabond" Chang in Wing Commander IV.
  • Manchurian Agent: Hobbbes is shown to be one in Wing Commander III. His trigger phrase is "Heart of the Tiger".
  • Mildly Military: The Terran Confederation armed forces' discipline wavers between "relaxed" and "a complete disgrace", throughout the games.
  • Military Maverick:
    • Maniac. One of the game manuals suggests that Maniac is best utilized like a hand grenade. Throw him into the midst of the enemy, and then go in after him to clean up.
    • The Border Worlds Militia ups the ante on this trope by being a straight-up Ragtag Bunch of Misfits.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: In Wing Commander III, with one bomb Blair (the Player Character) destroys a planet, killing billions of Kilrathi, but except in the Novelization of the sequel it's not even mentioned (and only hinted at with a brief shot of the Emperor's chambers collapsing), unlike the deaths of Jeanette "Angel" Devereaux, Mitchell "Vaquero" Lopez, Laurel "Cobra" Buckley, or the fate of Locanda IV, homeworld of Robin "Flint" Peters.
  • Military Mashup Machine: both subverted and played straight, depending on the game.
  • Misguided Missile: In the first game Angel refers to a missile that Maniac fired that missed its intended target and took out a friendly ship. Later, in Wing Commander IV, Maniac suggests deliberately missing his first few missiles to Catscratch. (As per Maniac's usual track record, this fails miserably when Catscratch tries it, leading to a failed mission, a destroyed fighter, and - depending on the player's choices - Catscratch's death.)
  • Mission Briefing: A staple of the series, which isn't really surprising given that Wing Commander's setting is a military one (mostly). Also where one can find one of the early swipes at Maniac:

Halcyon: I thought so. Now, let's look at your patrol plan, Maverick. It's a simple three-point route, with a few asteroids near Nav 2. Keep alert. We really don't know what to expect out there, but we know we're in hairball territory. Just fly your route and get back with a report - and if Maniac gives you any static, you have my permission to shoot him to pieces.
Maverick: Should I use missiles, sir, or ship's guns?
Halcyon: Guns, Maverick. Save your missiles for important targets.
Maniac: What?!
Halcyon: Squadron dismissed.

  • Mission Control: Most missions don't have any information more than what you get at the Mission Briefing before launching, but on occasion (particularly in the later games) the player receives information from their home base, directing them to another task while still in flight or informing them of any changes in the situation.
  • Money Spider: Privateer 2: The Darkening paid out bounties for destroyed pirates. The amount didn't really compensate for how annoyingly prolific those pirates were, given the difficulty in avoiding an engagement.
  • More Dakka: Secret Ops introduced a number of new guns, most of which fired a lot faster than anything in Prophecy.
  • Multiple Endings: determined either by gameplay performance or Relationship Values.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Subverted in the two addons for Wing Commander II. Jazz is working for an organization called the Society of Mandarins, which believe humanity should surrender to the Kilrathi, and change them from within, not unlike their historical counterpart from ancient China.
  • Mythology Gag: Quite a few in the manuals and supplementary materials for the Wing Commander games, as well as for those of other games Origin published. The Ultima games, for instance, have had various hints that Brittania was located on a planet in the Wing Commander universe. This included a ship-wrecked Kilrathi pilot in Ultima VII.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Hobbes makes an off-hand mention that his callsign comes from a human philosopher. The obvious answer would be Thomas Hobbes, but Fanon espouses a different suspect.
  • Nanomachines: The GenSelect Device, from Wing Commander IV
  • National Stereotypes: The first games plays up your Japanese, Chinese, Australian, French Belgian, African and American pilots quite a bit. From the second game we still have your 26th century samurai and Everything Sounds Sexier in French Colonel Badass, but the trope gets toned down in later games.
  • No Fair Cheating:
    • In the compilation Kilrathi Saga (1-3), the launcher program gives you the option of making yourself invincible, in the first two games, akin to the old "origin -k" command line switch, but changes your callsign to "CHEATER".
    • In Privateer and its addon Righteous Fire, with invulnerability activated at any time during a mission, whether random or plot, you can't get credit for completing it.
  • Nom De Guerre: The callsigns for pilots, most of which sound really cool: Maniac, Angel, Bossman, Knight, Spirit, Doomsday, Jazz, Paladin, Shotglass, Shadow, Crossbones, Hobbes, etc. In Wing Commander III, they even gave the main character of the series the callsign Maverick (most famous from its use in the movie Top Gun, one of Chris Roberts' inspirations to make Wing Commander).
  • Non-Mammal Mammaries: Wing Commander seems to be a little confused about this. In the Secret Missions 1 add-on to the original Wing Commander, the Kilrathi priestess is shown with a multi-part bra covering three sets of human-style breasts. The intro to Wing Commander Prophecy, however, has a wall drawing of a nude Kilrathi female with one pair of human-style breasts.
  • Non-Linear Sequel: Wing Commander II was set ten years after the end of the second addon, the Xbox Live game Arena was set 20 years after the events of Prophecy, and Privateer 2: The Darkening was... well, its own little world, for the most part, with subtle hints of a connection to the "main" games dropped throughout the game.
  • Nonstandard Game Over: Each game has at least one bad ending, in addition to the "standard" whoops-you-died-in-combat Game Over; sometimes the two are lumped together (thus implying that the Player Character's death has led to disaster).
    • If the Tiger's Claw gets destroyed in Wing Commander I, you see a message saying "With your carrier destroyed, you drift endlessly through the void..." and are sent back to the title screen.
    • In Wing Commander IV, if you repeatedly screw up your early missions, say, by immediately ejecting on launch for every mission you get, Tolwyn hands you your pink slip in a hysterically dark cut scene.
  • No One Could Survive That: Christopher Blair gets left behind on the last tower of the wormhole generator in the last mission of Prophecy. Due to the tower itself being pulled into the wormhole, of course, they Never Found the Body. He is declared Legally Dead in Secret Ops.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: In Wing Commander II, every now and then you're assigned a solo mission. Invariably, you run up against the Kilrathi's stealth fighters on these missions, and when you return to base you discover that your flight recorder has malfunctioned. Add in the fact that your character claimed to see stealth fighters ten years prior when your carrier from the first game was destroyed - a claim that was never verified and is still in fact ridiculed - and it's not terribly hard to see why nobody believes you.
  • Numbered Sequels: Hopefully there's no need of an explanation, here.
  • Old School Dogfighting: the whole reason for the existence of the series.
  • One-Man Army: With the average NPC wingmen, this is often your role in a mission.
  • Oral Fixation Fixation:
    • Captain Ian "Hunter" St. John and his cigar.
    • Robert "Pliers" Sykes' regular use of chewing tobacco.
  • Palette Swap: Due to space limitations, the SNES ports of Wing Commander and Wing Commander: The Secret Missions use the Salthi model in a different color for the Jalthi heavy fighter, though it did have the correct (and painful, for their target) gun loadout and performance.
  • Pass Through the Rings: In Arena, there's a Power-Up in the Bearpit game that presents a game where you have to fly through a series of rings, in order and within a certain amount of time. Finishing the 3 levels of the ring game in a single game session is worth an X-Box Live achievement.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Inverted in Wing Commander IV, during the cutscene where Pliers (ship's mechanic) has found a disc of unknown purpose in a captured Dragon (to the characters, that is - the players know it as a Flash-pak, a bomb capable of burning out a entire capital ship if it hits anywhere on the hull). He doesn't know what it is, so he drops it on the deck, while everyone around him dives for cover - when it doesn't explode, he then picks it up and resigns himself to some actual work.
  • Photoprotoneutron Torpedo: Many. Neutron guns, ion cannons, tachyon cannons...
  • Planar Shockwave: The Vision engine used in Prophecy generates these randomly when a fighter-class craft explodes.
  • Planet Terra: The Terran Confederation.
  • Pleasure Planet: An entire class of planet in Privateer. Pleasure planets will buy food, and almost any luxury goods (legal or otherwise). The only products they produce are movies and magazines.
  • Plot Coupon: Wing Commander IV, the Dragon fighter.
  • Plotline Death: Spirit in Wing Commander II; in Wing Commander III, chasing Hobbes results in Vaquero's death; Flint's fate in the novelization, dying in the final mission; Vagabond in Wing Commander IV; Dallas and Hawk in Wing Commander Prophecy
  • Point Defenseless:
    • Averted in Armada, where quite accurate flak cannons will rip the dogsnot out of even heavy fighters in a few hits. Played straight pretty much everywhere else, where anti-fighter weaponry generally tends to just be a relatively minor annoyance.
    • Mostly averted in Privateer 2, where even cargo freighters are at Gunship Rescue level thanks to their relentless, targeted, and high-powered turret fire. Either you're constantly evading, you get out of range, or you get shredded. Depending on the ship, you might be able to take it out by getting into that blind spot.
  • Portal Network: the jump-point system, at least in the games.
  • Precursors: The Steltek, from Privateer. Arguably they were Precursors of the neglectful variety, though they did make an effort to clean up after themselves once made aware of the problem.
  • Press Start to Game Over: The first game starts with your ship blowing up and a Game Over screen. Fortunately, it's Fission Mailed -- you've been playing the Unwinnable Training Simulation.
  • Private Military Contractors: The Mercenaries Guild, from Privateer.
  • Privateer: Privateer, obviously.
  • Proud Warrior Race: As a predatory species evolved from an unusually dangerous homeworld, the Kilrathi are disproportionately geared toward war and conquest. In a slight twist, they actually approve of deception and stealth as opposed to "honorable" combat (probably stemming from their feline evolutionary path: as any cat owner will tell you, deception and stealth are part of what cats do). (Fortunately, the Kilrathi speak non-mangled English.)
  • Punctuation Shaker: Many Kilrathi names make use apostrophes, although just as many do not.
  • Radio Silence: You can give this order to your wingman, but whether they obey depends on the individual. If it's Maniac? Forget it, outside of the final mission series in Wing Commander III, where he obeys all orders.
  • Ramming Always Works:
    • The "bad" ending from Wing Commander III, in the Sol System mission series.
    • Heaven's Gate is a heavily armored space station that Confed thinks will stand up even to bombers. Spirit has a rather unorthodox tearjerker - but effective - solution... given the National Stereotypes, you can probably guess what it is.
    • One of the strategies recommended by players to beat Kurasawa 2 is to ram enemy fighters targeting the Ralari. Not only is there the obvious damage, but doing so causes their ship to briefly lose control, and throw off their aim.
  • Random Encounters: Privateer and its add-on Righteous Fire, and from Wing Commander III onwards in the "main line" games.
  • Reassignment Backfire: at the beginning of Wing Commander II the main character has spent ten years on a space station in the backwater Gwynedd system, where he was assigned by an admiral who thinks he's a traitor, and hasn't flown a combat mission in all that time. Then, suddenly, the war comes to Gwynned.
  • Red Alert
  • Red Baron:
    • The Kilrathi Aces in the games have a few of these. Bhurak Starkiller, Khajja the Fang/The Machine, Dahkhath (translates to 'Deathstroke'), and Bahktosh Redclaw.
    • Of course, the Kilrathi consider Blair to be such a skilled pilot that they have named him Heart Of The Tiger.
  • Relationship Values: in Wing Commander III and Wing Commander IV.
  • Respawning Enemies: Used in various places:
    • In Wing Commander III, in the final Behemoth defense mission, Kilrathi fighters respawn infinitely until the Behemoth is destroyed.
    • In the final mission of the same game, the Strakha ace "Stalker" will respawn just before going to the planet until your final wingman is no longer present, to ensure you fly the final leg of the run alone.
    • In Wing Commander IV, an infinite number of Border Worlds bombers will spawn if you refuse the second opportunity to defect from Confed until the Lexington is destroyed.
    • One mid-game mission in Wing Commander Prophecy feature infinitely respawning Nephilim fighters. The goal not to kill them all, but to keep your fighter and the Midway alive until the carrier is ready to jump out.
  • Revenge of the Sequel: Wing Commander II: Vengeance of the Kilrathi
  • Riddle Me This: One optional mission in Privateer 2 involves a math-based riddle to identify the nav point you need to go to, to complete the mission.
  • Rotoscoping: The kiss scene between Blair and Angel in Wing Commander II was rotoscoped, with series creator Chris Roberts providing the basis for Blair's body.[5]
  • Rubber Band AI: Wing Commander had a "dynamic difficulty" system that scaled the enemy's abilities based on how well the player was doing. It did not, however, change the wingman's performance or take it into account. So if for some reason the wingman was doing poorly (making the mission hard to start with), and the player pulled off a miraculous save, things got a whole lot worse for the player. And wingman.
  • Save Game Limits: Not so much in the later games, but there were only a limited number of save slots. In Prophecy, however, there were two-stage missions, and you weren't allowed to save between the stages, resulting in an annoyingly long stretch of gameplay if you were pressed for time.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale:
    • The series as a whole was never all that clear on what units of distance to use, depending on the game, but pretty much all of them were ludicrously wrong.
    • There's also the shenanigans it plays with measuring speed, by using a variable "klicks" (which, unlike in Real Life, isn't slang for kilometers) for the distance portion of stated speeds, for gameplay reasons.
  • Schematized Prop: The original Wing Commander came with blueprints of the space fighters you flew in the game, and as mentioned above served as a form of Copy Protection in the original games.
  • See You in Hell: In Wing Commander IV, some of the Space Pirates literally say it, and in dramatic fashion, when you kill them.

Space Pirate: See you in HELLLLLLLLLLL-(Static)

    • And the Midway's communications officer, should the player drop the ball in defending the ship.

Midway Comms Officer: SEE YOU IN HELL, YOU BASTARDS!

  • Self-Insert Fic: Oh, a few. See for yourself.
  • Shout Out:
    • You have Luke Skywalker dropping a bomb in a trench run to save the good guys, not to mention said pilot name is Maverick. And if you lose in Wing Commander III, you get a nice apocalyptic scene where a furry cat foot crushes a human skull during a nuclear holocaust.
    • The map that came with some versions of Prophecy contain a whole bunch of references, from famous space travelers, to scientists and engineers, to Science Fiction writers, and even to some of the fans that have worked with Origin/EA in various ways, over the years.
    • The manual for Arena is loaded references to various fans and fan projects, some of the latter becoming sources of official ship designations and class names.
    • In a nod to Batman: The Movie, the fighter startup screen shown while loading data from the CD, in Wing Commander III, is lifted in part from the startup checklist for the Batmobile.
  • Significant Anagram: In Star*Soldier, the manual for Wing Commander Arena, one of the entries in the timeline lists a "Rein Etorbs" as an author of a book series The Darkening. Erin Roberts (brother of Chris) was in charge of what eventually became Privateer 2: The Darkening (originally titled "The Darkening", as mentioned in Dolled-Up Installment).
  • Simulation Game: Well, duh!
  • Sink the Life Boats: As mentioned in the ejection entries, above, one of the Kilrathi aces in Wing Commander has a reputation for shooting ejection pods. This doesn't seem to come up if you eject when flying against him, though.
  • Space Amish: The Church of Man ("Retros") from Privateer and its addon Righteous Fire are arguably a militant variation on the theme. Of course, the irony of using technology to punish you for using technology is completely lost on the Retros.
  • Space Fighter/Space Plane: Many of the fighters that are a staple of the genre are said to not be atmospheric capable, or at least not fighting in an atmosphere, while others are explicitly stated to be capable of flying and fighting in an atmosphere. In a pre-flight briefing for a mission in one of the Secret Missions expansion packs, Colonel Halcyon even warns pilots against trying to fight in the atmosphere of a nearby planet[6].
  • Space Flecks: In the games prior to Wing Commander III in particular they're quite noticeable, given the resolution of the earlier games.
  • Space Friction: The Wing Commander series plays this trope mostly straight for the sake of Old School Dogfighting, but in the later games some fighters have the option of "autoslide", which will make your fighter operate in a purely Newtonian manner for as long as autoslide is toggled. To actually change your vector requires turning it off and going back to playing the trope straight, however, then turning it back on when you're on the desired heading and have accelerated back up to the desired velocity.
  • Space Is Noisy: Justified; the Wing Commander II manual explains that your fighter's computer provides audio cues to improve your situational awareness... which is actually quite rational.
  • Space Marine: Space Marines get little mention in the Wing Commander game series as a whole, given the focus of the genre, but they are seen in several of them, playing a relatively minor but still important part in the plot.
    • In the add-on "Operation Thor's Hammer", for the original Wing Commander, they provide the force that assassinates the Kilrathi priestess conducting the Sivar Eshrad ceremony on Firekka.
    • In Wing Commander IV, Space Marines of both the Terran Confederation and the Union of Border Worlds play a part in the plot, mostly in regards to boarding ships and stations to (re)capture them for their respective governments.
    • Likewise, in Wing Commander Prophecy, Terran Confederation marines recapture several stations taken over by the Nephilim, and shut down most of the wormhole gate in the final mission, leaving the player to finish the job due to stiff resistance from the bugs preventing further marine penetration of the facility.
  • Space Mines: Porcupine Space Mines (proximity, limited homing); turret mines (miniature laser platforms), high explosive contact mines and viral mines (broadcast virus-infested transmissions to infect and shut down ship computer systems).
  • Space Navy: Wing Commander has not only a Space Navy, but an Air Force analog (Terran Confederation Space Force), as well. There's no real rhyme or reason as to when a carrier is host to a Navy wing or a Space Force one, and there's apparently some switching of personnel between the services (Commodore [a navy rank] Blair in Prophecy was, prior to 2681, in Space Force, which uses a modified Army rank structure). The ships themselves, however, are pure navy, and manned by navy crews.
  • Space Pirates: Pirates of the first type serve as mooks in Privateer and Privateer 2: The Darkening. The former even has a mission series operating from a pirate base, as a drug smuggler.
  • Spiteful Spit: In Wing Commander III, during taunting/questioning by Prince Thrakhath, "Angel" Devereaux spits in his face.
  • Splash Damage:
    • Wing Commander II and Wing Commander IV have the Mace, a tactical nuclear missile that can be used to take out groups of sufficiently close targets, detonated either by shooting the missile (WC2 or on command (WC4).
    • Wing Commander IV also has the Starburst and Coneburst missiles, which effectively act like player controlled grenades. As the names suggest, the Starburst's shrapnel field is omnidirectional, while the Coneburst's damage is aimed forward in a conical pattern. Unlike with the Mace, though, the damage is constant within the damage area.
  • Stalking Mission: Hellespont system in Wing Commander IV, when tracking down the pirate frigate.
  • Standard Sci-Fi Fleet
  • Starfish Language: In Wing Commander: Prophecy, the invading Insectoid Race initially communicates with unintelligible buzzing sounds until around the third mission when we find out that they've already deciphered our language and can now at least broadcast in it... for the explicit purpose of taunting and creeping us out. Quoth Maestro: "I think I liked it better when I couldn't understand them!"
  • Stealth in Space: Cloaking devices, as noted above
  • The Stinger: Watch the WCIII credits all the way to the end. Maniac has a fun little bit.
  • Story-Driven Invulnerability:
    • Starting with Wing Commander II, downed friendly NPCs could eject, to become available in the next mission... until the plot called for them to die.
    • Zigzagged starting with Wing Commander IV by supplying death-able pilots in addition to the plot-critical always-ejecting supporting characters. (Even better, the redshirts sometimes eject.)
  • Story to Gameplay Ratio: The prevalence of plot and cutscenes increased from the original game, which didn't have much at all, on to Wing Commander IV, which shipped on 6 CD-ROMs. (For context, Half-Life 2 takes 5.) Thereafter it receded sharply.
  • Streaming Stars
  • Stripped to the Bone: As mentioned in Dramatic Space Drifting, above, you may see one or more charred skeletons floating in space when investigating the wreckage of the transport destroyed in the intro of Wing Commander IV.
  • Subsystem Damage:
    • Available for the Player Character ship since the very first game, where you could lose subsystems that hamper your performance but don't kill you outright; some of the damage can be repaired by auto-repair systems if given sufficient time... unless that, too, was destroyed, in which case you were hosed. Losing a gun, though, wasn't fixed until after you returned to base.
    • Starting with Wing Commander III, capships were given individually targetable turrets, and in Wing Commander IV one of the Speradon missions involves destroying the engine exhaust ports on a carrier in drydock as part of an effort to keep it from escaping.
    • In Prophecy and Secret Ops, destroying certain critical subsystems (including, on the largest vessels, shield generators) was the only way to damage Nephilim capships. 90% of their hull was invulnerable for all intents and purposes.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: Wing Commander loves these:
    • Wing Commander II - the Tiger's Claw is destroyed in the intro sequence, killing many of the characters from the first game (eg. Halcyon, Shotglass).
    • Wing Commander III - Angel is executed by the Kilrathi as part of the opening sequence, though the full scene isn't shown until later.
    • The first scene with Blair also shows him investigating the wreckage of the TCS Concordia.
    • Wing Commander IV - Vagabond is killed a short way into the game. Averted, however, by the TCS Victory, which is said by Maniac to have been converted into a museum ship after the conclusion of the Kilrathi War.
    • Prophecy - Christopher Blair is missing in action/presumed dead by the end of the first act, but then recovered, only to be missing in action/presumed dead again by the end of the game. Also, Hawk is killed a little after halfway through.
  • Take a Third Option:
    • In Wing Commander III, at one point you're given a choice between kissing Rachel or Flint, which would make the one not chosen mad at you (and thus unavailable, leaving you to either fly short a wingman or configure your own ship loadout if you don't want to launch without missiles, respectively). However, you can choose to not kiss either of them, by bypassing the decision scene entirely, and have both still available. Both will be unhappy with you, but only for Flint does that really matter, as lowered morale makes her flying less effective.
  • Tank Goodness: In Wing Commander IV, one of the missions in the Circe mission series puts you in the position of halting an offensive by laser-armed hovertanks.
  • Technology Marches On:
    • the Javelin HS ("Heat-Seeking") missile is a "rear-aspect" weapon: it can only achieve or maintain lock if the target's tailpipe is pointing towards its nose, and is susceptible to the High-Speed Missile Dodge. Real world infrared-homing missiles have been all-aspect (and thus trope-proof) since 1978. (Not to mention that a fighter's heat signature would show up like a Christmas tree.
    • (For that matter, as of the 21st century there are high-off-boresight missiles linked to helmet-mounted cueing systems, which can basically lock on to anything in all 720 degrees so long as the pilot looks at it. This is more excusable due to the difficulty of implementing turn-your-head-inside-your-cockpit controls; while joysticks with hat switches solve the problem, this franchise had sputtered out before they were prevalent.)
  • Tim Taylor Technology: In later games in the series, you could divert power from one subsystem to another. In Wing Commander III and Wing Commander IV, this allowed you to get to maximum speed/shields/capacitor/repairs faster, but didn't otherwise improve your stats. In Prophecy, however, the repair system was removed, but putting more power into engines allowed you to exceed the normal top speed of your ship.
  • Title Drop: several times in the games.
    • Done most gracefully in Wing Commander IV, where the title drop is part of a quote that forms the game's Arc Words: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." Tolwyn says this once near the beginning of the game, and then again at the very end; what happens in between places those two utterances into very different contexts.
  • Too Awesome to Use: Played straight and subverted with the Flashpak. The player can either use it on the Ella Starbase (killing thousands of civies) or save it (and deal with waves of enemy fighters). If the player opts the latter, they have the option of using it on the Vesuvius. Either way, they only get one use with it.
  • Translation Convention
  • Unfriendly Fire: Blair threatens Maniac with this, in Wing Commander III, after the latter makes one of his usual snide remarks, when Blair is still dealing with Angel being disemboweled. This does turn into a much more friendly running gag, though, as the series goes on, with everyone predicting that friendly fire is the only way Maniac will ever really meet his end.
  • Units Not to Scale:
    • Prior to Armada the animated sprites had no particular scaling in mind. An external view of your fighter beside your home carrier would leave one scratching their head at how a hundred or more fighters could fit in such a rinky-dink ship. In Armada, Wing Commander III, and Wing Commander IV, they used three separate scales ("fighter", "capship" and "starbase"), which were accurate within their own domain but not so outside of it. With the introduction of Prophecy, everything was brought into scale with everything else.
    • However, even with the release of Prophecy, the speed units tended to vary, so a "klick" wasn't the same thing as a kilometer, the variation being a gameplay issue.
  • Unwinnable by Design: Losing paths of any games, where even if you succeeded in surviving and meeting the mission requirements you still lost the game, but in particular from Wing Commander III onwards, if you screwed up sufficiently, you got routed to a no-win scenario, where you continued until either dying or quitting in disgust and/or boredom.
  • Used Future: In particular the Tiger's Claw, to try and get that World War Two feel. Later games were somewhat more spit-and-polish, though the Victory and Intrepid were still pretty duct-tape-and-prayers kinds of ships.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: Many of your wingmen receive considerable Character Development, giving you extra motivation to look out for them in combat, and causing some of their scripted deaths (beginning with Wing Commander II) to deliver quite the Player Punch.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: In Privateer, you can tractor beam the pilots of the ships you just blew up into your cargo hold and sell them as slaves.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: The first game allowed you to kill your wingman without retribution. [7] Later games made the wingmen start fighting back if it was obvious you were trying to nail them, and from Wing Commander III onward, you get court-martialed if you return to base after shooting down your wingman... unless you eject afterwards, in which case the game forgets that you did the killing.
  • Visible Invisibility
    • In Wing Commander III, in the "fly-by" cutscenes the player's cloaked Excalibur shows up as wireframe outlines.
    • In Wing Commander IV, thanks to special optics for the Dragon fighter you can visually track cloaked ships, which use the wireframe outline mentioned above to display them.
  • War Is Hell: A staple of the entire franchise. Tends to come out even more in the books than in the games, though the games sure don't slouch on this in places.
  • Washington DC: The city serves as the capital of the Terran Confederation, as seen in Wing Commander IV. In the bad ending of Wing Commander III, the closing Cutscene shows the wreckage of the Capitol Building after Kilrathi bombardment.
  • Wave Motion Gun:
    • The Behemoth, a planet-exploding gun with a ship wrapped around it. In an interesting subversion of the actor, Blair has to protect it ( he fails, because a) it wasn't finished before being trotted out, and b) Hobbes found out about that).
    • The Phase Transit Cannon mounted on the TCS Concordia in Wing Commander II (which may have been a direct shoutout to the original WMG).
    • The "fleet killer" alien plasma weapon acquired for the TCS Midway in the latter half of Prophecy, originally mounted on Krakens.
  • Weak Turret Gun: Pretty much any game from Wing Commander III onwards.
    • Except for the rear turret on the aforementioned Triton transport. However, this isn't because the turret itself is powerful, but rather it's invulnerable from most angles due to weird nuances in the transport's shields, and its annoying tendency to shoot down torpedoes aimed at the engine with more success than any other point defense system in the entire franchise.
  • Weapon of Mass Destruction: The bioweapons used against Locanda IV, in Wing Commander III, which renders the planet uninhabitable for centuries, and the Genselect device used in Wing Commander IV, which in the novelization is estimated to have a fatality rate of roughly 90%.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • If Blair pursues Hobbes in Wing Commander III, Vaquero gets killed in a carrier defense mission and Captain Eisen calls him out on it.
    • Blair to Admiral Tolwyn in the endgame of Wing Commander IV, if done a bit more subtly than normal.
  • What the Hell, Player?:
    • In the Wing Commander series, you get called on accidentally shooting your wingmen. However, in the first game you don't get punished for it in any way, even if you shoot them down. Colonel Halcyon wasn't kidding when he said you could shoot Maniac down if you want. Later games, however, would take more than a few hits on a wingman's fighter as a sign of turning against your friends, and will act in self-defense.
    • From Wing Commander III onwards, you'd get court-martialed when landing after shooting down a wingman. You get a free pass on it if you eject instead of landing afterward, though.
  • Who Are You?: From the Privateer intro:

Space Pirate: Who are you that flies so good? Are you insane?!
Grayson Burrows:: No, it's just got a load of cargo in the back, and a load of bills to pay at home.
Pirate: And I the same! You shouldn't kill me just for attacking you!
Burrows: I don't mind that you tried to kill me, but protecting myself against your kind gets to be expensive, and I'm on a budget! [missile to the pirate's face]

  • Wing Man: Given the genre, this should go without saying. Given the media, it should also go without saying that they're mostly useless.
  • Wronski Feint: In the intro for Privateer, the Player Character lures a pirate's missiles around an asteroid, and then sends them back at the firing craft. How he did that in a ship that can't outrun or outturn the missiles is an exercise best left for those who forget the MST3K Mantra.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Your fate, in timed missions, if you don't return to your carrier before it jumps out, or as noted above if your carrier gets destroyed.
  • You Nuke'Em: In the add-on Secret Operations 2, for Wing Commander II, Maniac makes a big deal about the Mace missile mounted by the Morningstar fighter, a tactical nuclear missile that can one-shot smaller capships, or be used to take out a cluster of fighters via splash damage. Oddly, no such deal is made of regular torpedoes, which utilize matter/antimatter warheads that are even more powerful during the war with the Kilrathi.[8]

Notes

  1. Blue + Hair = Blair
  2. The game's artists weren't aware of the plot requiring the weapon when the Midway was designed. That the gun had a place to go ready-made was happy coincidence.
  3. no tachyons have been actually observed in Real Life; at present they only exist as a mathematical concept
  4. In a "You Lose" cutscene, they do try firing it again. It just explodes.
  5. The female providing the base body for Angel is unknown, however, but probably an Origin staffer at the time.
  6. even if the actual game mechanics don't let you get the chance to actually try it until Wing Commander III
  7. In fact, Colonel Halcyon encourages you to do so to Maniac if he refuses to listen to your orders too much; it's a major point of debate as to just how much he was joking
  8. Post-war torps are less powerful, primarily for cost-cutting purposes