Monday, 9 July 2018

The Past and Times of Yore: Star Wars - TIE Fighter: Collector's CD-ROM, For the Emperor!

Release date: July 1994
Genre: Space Simulation 
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: Totally Games
Platforms: Windows and Mac
Modes: Single Player only

When I was younger I played the much loved Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter (XvT) though due to a lack of story mode I couldn’t really get into it, I recall just doing the tutorial missions again and again as when I tried the other missions etc it was just too complicated. The problem was that I was starting off one of the most beloved Star Wars game series with a game that was (initially) conceived as a multiplayer-focused version of the first two games, and indeed it was a mishmash of different training exercises, “furballs” and only two “battles” that can’t technically be called Campaigns because they follow no chronological order. I had a vague understanding of the other games in the X-wing series but hadn’t made any particular effort to go back to them as I’m not really fond of flight sims, it was only many years later when I saw my housemate watching some videos of the original X-wing that I got interested again. X-Wing had a storyline as you are actively involved in a number of key battles before, during and after the Battle of Yavin.

X-Wing vs Tie Fighter basic gunnery training, ah the memories
My housemate recommended we purchase our star wars games from the Good Old Games (GoG) which I had not actually heard of at the time. GoG specializes in old games of course and they are different from Steam in the fact that when you purchase from GoG technically you own the game as you download the files and  play using the executable file without using any other program, whereas a game purchased on steam must be played through Steam itself, sort of like a jukebox. I couldn’t actually handle the freedom of GoG i.e. I couldn’t just put the icons on the desktop could I? it would be too messy, so I downloaded GoG Galaxy which is GoG’s own gaming client which is actually pretty cool. It allows you to revert back to a previous version of the game easily, which is a very good feature that Steam does not have. 

Anyway GoG had their usual “May the 4th be with You” sale of all of their classic Star Wars games and I got quite a haul with the following:

TIE Fighter Collector's CD (1995)
X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter
X-Wing Alliance™
Rogue Squadron 3D
Star Wars Starfighter™
Republic Commando
Empire at War: Gold Pack
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II - Mysteries of the Sith
Jedi Knight™ II - Jedi Outcast™
Star Wars™: Jedi Knight™ - Jedi Academy™
Knights of the Old Republic
Knights of the Old Republic™ II: The Sith Lords™
STAR WARS™ Battlefront™ II (Classic, 2005)

Rogue Squadron 3D, originally on the Nintendo 64
And the original Dark Forces which I have previously reviewed, though Tie Fighter was the first I wanted to try. There was then the issue about how to control the game, as you know this would be nothing less than a joystick, I still had my almost 10 year old joystick though without a USB port that thing wasn’t gonna fly so Brok and both chose our joysticks of choice. Being a Logitech fan I went with the Logitech Extreme 3D Pro as it was nice and cheap and suited my needs, Brok being a lefty when it came to joysticks opted for the Thrustmaster T16000M (the names these things have... I know) being an ambidextrous joystick.

The Logitech Extreme 3D Pro, no fuss functionality
So there we were, we had our games and our sticks it was time to get it on, I would have liked to start with X-Wing but Tie Fighter was already released earlier then XvT and X-Wing before that so it was the most basic one and I didn’t want to go that far, plus Brok said that If I played any of them again Tie Fighter would be the one, and so I did. 1994 was a big year for gaming indeed and it’s only fitting that what is possibly the best starfighter game LucasArts ever developed would come out in the same year as classics like Donkey Kong Country, Super Metroid, Doom II and the very first Warcraft game, Orcs and Humans. The version of Tie Fighter was the Collector's CD-ROM Edition which was a re-release of the original game which came out in 1994 and it included the Defender of the Empire and the Completely new Enemies of the Empire Expansions.

Whee Tie Fighter!
From the very moment you enter the game you feel nostalgic with the the 8-bit theme music, speaking of which, it’s the only Star Wars game which does not feature the Star Wars main theme in the title crawl, instead using the classic Imperial March theme which is a cool difference. You get to see the Emperor, Darth Vader and the might of the Empire in all of its glory before you seemingly wake up in front of a man at a very tall desk and with a rather brusque tone asks you to “identify yourself pilot!” which is where you create your profile, well at least the stormtroopers stand at attention when you walk in not before aiming their guns at you if you try to do this before registering.

The game intro and one of the in-game missions, I'm flying an assault gunboat in this one.

Tie Fighter had some innovative features for its time, the menu screen was a concourse inside the Star Destroyer Vengeance and you moved your mouse around the various doors to access the menu options. Among these options was the Tech Room where you could view the technical specifications of every craft available in the game which I remember from X-wing vs Tie Fighter. There was also the ‘Film Room’ as the game had a camera capture feature which allowed you to record your flights and view your missions and amazingly jump into them and play at any time which was pretty cool for back then. Setting up the controls wasn’t too hard as you could map everything through the dosbox interface, though I only mapped controls to the immediate buttons on the stick itself I didn’t do any for the controls on the bottom as it was far easier to just remember the keyboard commands as I had the joystick set up on my mousepad with my mouse on the desk and used my left hand for keyboard commands, Brok did it this way and It worked much better then when I tried to only use all the buttons on the joystick base. I think the only other joystick controls I used apart from the trigger to fire were to target any attackers, target incoming missiles and spin my craft around so I was right way up.

The ship's concourse which acts as a menu
Then it was time for the training simulator which I thought was the best choice for starting out. And it was, I became proficient at maneuvering the various fighters though that circular obstacle course that got more complicated with every few laps and shooting those yellow balls for more time. I then tried the combat chamber where you flew your selected craft in different scenarios with some based on historical events, I did actually end up doing them all for every craft which I probably shouldn’t have as I forgot that this version included the expansion and I technically wasn’t going to fly things like Tie Defenders for a while so I got to experience the newer craft in the simulations which I thought was fine hah. Your choice of craft go from TIE Fighter, Bomber, Interceptor, Advanced, Defender, Assault Gunboat, and Missile Boat.  It’s remarkably simple flying a Tie Fighter, there are no shields, no advanced missiles, no beam weapons, it’s almost scary, just your lasers and missiles and flight expertise most of the time, I would have liked to stay with it for most of the game but I found that for most of it you were in the more advanced fighters unsurprisingly but I did get sick of being in an assault gunboat or missile boat. I’m still not exactly sure which is my favourite but it’s possibly still the Tie Advanced with the Tie Defender coming in second.

Tie Fighter Combat Chamber mission 2, oh it was damn simple back then

So after all the training it was time for the real thing, the Tours of Duty! Oh yes we’re getting canonical now and boy I was excited to take part in the historical battles. Of course before you get into the flying you go through the “New Battle” door and choose your first “battle” or “tour of duty” Tour of Duty I: Aftermath of Hoth and then go into the briefing room for your first mission Patrol Jump Point D-34 (Holy shit! Jump Point D-34 I can’t wait!) and there was another one in third tour of duty simply titled “Hold Position” (FUUUAAARR!)  The missions actually have a more exciting name in the wiki “Skirmish at Outpost D-34” and “Second Battle of the Pakuuni system” respectively and I can assure you in none of these missions does everything go exactly to plan or I’d have to start taking shots at friendly ships seeing how much I could piss off the Flight Officer. Speaking of which, you have various options in the briefing room, you can view the mission briefing, you can talk to your flight officer about the mission or speak to a mysterious figure who is actually an envoy of the Emperor, and he gives you hints for bonus objectives in the mission. Then that’s pretty much it, you choose your armaments (missiles, beam weapons) then launch.

Your flight officer near the briefing screen and the masked figure hiding in the back there.
Having played XvT before and practiced on it recently I didn’t have much trouble setting up the controls, I had basically just configured them through the dosbox setup to use the joystick buttons and only used about 3 or 4 of them. The trigger to fire of course and the thumb button to “roll” the craft around to the right way up, the rest were to target nearest fighter and nearest warhead and the hat was for looking around though I never really used them most of the time I just had the joystick on the mousepad and used my left hand for the keyboard controls which worked fine.

Oh no, not those pesky A-wings, this was before they had the red paintjob.
The improvements over X-wing are numerous, the most obvious improvement was the graphics which were much improved and the game engine supported much larger numbers of craft in the missions and higher detail and much more smoothly, the AI was also improved allowing for more challenging opponents. There were many more flight options added like flight dialogue and messages, a message log, a list of objectives, ships' status and behavior, three-dimensional map, and HUD, a sub-target system and other additions such as an option to choose armaments before flying. I swear I took these things for granted as I had started with XvT and watching my housemate play X-Wing just reminded me more of how I didn’t want to start with it hah, the HUD was heaps better as it had a 3D rending of the target craft with stats on their shields, hull, distance etc and you also now had a button to attempt to match speed with the target which helped a lot to stop you crashing into slower craft which I almost did many times trying to take them down (we all know the feeling, just one more lasercannon blast!)

About 3 minutes in I have a squizz at the interactive map, Imperials are red, rebels are green and neutral are usually blue or pink

The initial missions were fairly easy as the craft you were fairly simple (Tie Fighter, Bomber and Interceptor) The storyline was basically the events from the Battle of Hoth to the Battle of Endor though you do not have any direct involvement in each, in fact for many of the missions of the storyline you are fighting off pirates and Imperial defectors such as Admiral Harkov and Zaarin in the Zaarin Insurrection instead of the Rebel Alliance itself though you still fight them on occasion. The game maintains that you are playing as yourself never calling you by any name, the canonical pilot for the game is Maarek Stele an ace imperial pilot whose plight is written in The Stele Chronicles which actually came with the game itself similar to The Farlander Papers that shipped with X-Wing.

Vice Admiral Thrawn from the opening cinematic
I didn’t have much trouble doing most of the missions, just look at the mission briefing, talk to the cloaked figure, check the mission objectives and then go at it, I made myself familiar with the shield, cannon and beam weapon recharge rate and dumped energy into one or the other before the action started. The missions objectives vary from attack this and defend that to more involved things like inspecting and using tractor beams to stop fleeing craft. Objectives sometimes change whilst in the midst of playing: new friendly/enemy craft leave or show up, things get destroyed, people defect mid battle even, I tell you what I press G (the button to show your goals) a lot during a mission. Some of the most difficult missions involve safeguarding a friendly ship which were often very fragile and would be destroyed in a direct assault so you had to keep an eye on them at all times often destroying any threatening craft before they got close enough to launch missiles, I got stuck on a mission like this where I had to defend a freighter while being harangued by a Tie Advanced but apparently I got past it and I’m not sure how. I was up to the last tour of duty before Enemies of the Empire but by then I’d had enough.

New craft alert!
After the mission you can meet with your flight officer and debrief, and then that’s basically it, you go from different battles and the missions in between. There are a small amount of cutscenes to show the storyline and some awards ceremonies showing the medals you receive, the story is actually quite good with the betrayal storylines but then again I’m going from XvT which was basically just a big multiplayer combat sim. You can also speak to the cloaked figure again who after completing enough bonus objectives initiates you into the Secret Order of the Emperor and the more bonus missions you complete the more you gain rank and title in the order though it doesn’t give you anything special apart from an an arm tattoo. In the options menu you can see the medals you have earned, training certificates and gameplay records such as scores and hit rates, you can also see your arm on the left of the screen and when you roll your mouse over you can see how far you have progressed in the secret order of the emperor from the complexity of your tattoo. You change the difficulty level and other settings whenever you like too which is helpful as if you were having trouble with a mission you can change the difficulty to easily to get past it then change back.

Medals, Records and options viewing screen
The graphics although primitive looking now were very nice for back in 1994 and they run nice and smooth on modern machines so the dosbox conversion was done well, pretty much everything has been updated from X-wing, the ships look better, the environment looks better (well it is just space but it still looks looks good) the graphics system supported Gouraud shading which apparently is an effect that makes curves of low polygon objects appear more realistic. I can’t really say much apart from that as I didn’t play X-Wing only XvT in which the major new graphical feature were the  feature were the textured ships. But from what I can see from X-wing anyway the graphics are better on Tie Fighter, the game runs smoother and sort of has this timeless feel like Super Mario World and Yoshi’s island have. I think there was something different about pc graphics compared to console graphics in the 90’s as I was mostly playing console back then and from experiencing the transition from 2D to 3D on consoles (Super Nintendo to Playstation in my case) I think the PC just did it better.

Beautifully rendered Star Destroyer there
 The music of course is one of the best things about a Star Wars game and I don’t need to tell you that taking part in hectic battles with the Star Wars official soundtrack blaring is amazing. The good thing about the X-Wing and Tie Fighter is that they use the iMuse music system which basically is a system that changes the music depending on the events of the game, for example, new ships entering the battlefield, a change in objectives, a craft being destroyed, a mission being complete or simply just going quiet when there is nothing happening at the time. XvT didn’t have this system it just played the music consistently so I could really tell the difference between the soundtrack and it sounds so so much better and  I wish most games had this feature, in fact SWTOR has it to an extent when certain events or player abilities are triggered while in game. The audio was as clear you could expect with the speech being able to be heard absolutely fine and the voice acting done well. You can’t exactly hear everything that goes on in the battle as you are inside your star fighter in space so you mostly only hear your own activity unless you are being shot at or ships are shooting near you but it’s still great.

I have no idea what I'm doing at this point, you can hear the music change when I fail the mission

I’m not exactly a big fan of fight sims, or space flight sims I guess if you can call them that, but Tie Fighter isn’t quite that. At the start you are a bit daunted about all of the controls and functions of your craft (especially the later ones) and all the targeting and wingman orders and recharge rates and HUD information etc but it’s easy to pick up and pretty soon becomes second nature. I’m glad I played Tie Fighter though I didn’t quite get all of the way through up to Tour of Duty X if I remember correctly though that was far enough as I’d done pretty much everything I could in the game. Tie Fighter is one of those games that true classic gamers remember and get all nostalgic when talking about it, I certainly do but it’s for a slightly different game. Anyway it’s currently on Good Old Games but it’s best to pick it up on the May the Fourth sales that happen every year, if you’re a Star Wars fan or a fan of Flight sims or even if you’re not it’s still well worth a go. I remember sometimes going back and playing old games and just being underwhelmed with the magic of it seemingly gone, not so with Tie Fighter, nostalgia is rarely this good.


External view is quite nice sometimes, though you can't swing the camera around yourself

Fighting for the Empire gives me a strange sense of purpose and righteousness

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