I am Azrapse, lead developer of XWVM.
This is the first article we publish here, and I will try to explain what we are aiming at with this mod, and to address some of the questions that have popped out in the comments sections of many of the websites that have echoed the existence of XWVM since we uploaded the second video to YouTube.
We never expected so much publicity. That video was supposed to be just a recording of the current state of the prototype for those that followed the development in the GOG forums. But it spread like wildfire, and here we are now. :)
So let's start with the frequently asked questions.
Is this a new game?
No. This is a mod. It requires you to own Star Wars: X-Wing, the first game in the series, in any of its different editions. In particular, we will support:
- Star Wars: X-wing, DOS floppy disk, 1993.
- Star Wars: X-Wing Collectors' CD-ROM , DOS CD, 1994.
- Star Wars: X-Wing Collector Series, Windows 95 CD, 1998.
- Star Wars: X-Wing Special Edition, GOG digital download, DOS floppy, DOS CD, Windows CD.
- Star Wars: X-Wing Special Edition, Steam digital download, DOS floppy, DOS CD, Windows CD.
We do not recommend using XWVM on the Floppy edition, though. Since all copyrighted assets are read from the X-Wing resource files, and the Floppy edition lacks most content (bonus missions, digital sound effects, has lower quality voices), XWVM will be much worse when run on that version.
However, all other versions are virtually equivalent.
(It's perhaps worth noting that this limitation should affect really few users, since the chance of having a modern computer able to run XWVM that still has a floppy disk drive to install the original floppy edition is quite remote)
When will you release the mod?
Our plans are to release many smaller iterations of the mod to showcase implemented features little by little. These releases will be made available here in ModDb, and notified on the GOG forum, and on the Facebook group. Likely, a small video featuring the main changes in each release will be added to the YouTube channel.
Initially, we were aiming at a preview demo release for Christmas 2016. This demo release was going to be a stand-alone executable that didn't need any original game installed, only showcasing our progress with the the flight engine and the AI, with the same Y-Wing Historical Mission 6 that is shown in the video.
However, the unexpected attention generated by the different press notes and the YouTube video, and all the fearmongering about C&D letters, we will instead release a demo build that will require you to have the original game installed in your hard disk, or the CD inserted in the optical disk drive.
So the demo release will be available for download as soon as we get to code the part of the program that requests the user to enter the original game folder, and we read the resource files from there.
Why not TIE Fighter? Are you doing the same with TIE Fighter?
TIE Fighter was a much better game than X-Wing was, because the developers applied on it everything they had learned from developing the first game. It is natural that it ended being a much better product.
But precisely because of that, X-Wing is in greater need of a revamp than TIE Fighter is. We are retrofitting most of the features firstly introduced in TIE Fighter back into X-Wing, or at least those that make sense. You can see that already in the videos. We cannot get them all, because X-Wing's content just can't support some of those features (like briefing officer questions, secondary and bonus goals, etc), but there are many features that don't depend on the content, and those we are doing.
Also, TIE Fighter was an evolution of X-Wing. It used the same flight engine, only much improved and made more complex. It feels natural that we start with X-Wing and follow the same "learning" process that the original developers went through.
Perhaps, by the time we are done and happy with X-Wing, we will have a flight engine that will be so similar to that of TIE Fighter that a it will be just a natural step to support that game's content files. But this is still in the future.
Are the videos displaying the final look of the mod?
Many of the art elements that can be seen in the video are developer art (that is, art made by a guy that can code, but that can't draw).
What control schemes are you supporting?
Joysticks, gamepad with analog sticks, and mouse and keyboard (X-Wing style, Wing Commander style, and/or Freelancer style).
What platforms are you targeting?
We are working with Unity, which means that we could theoretically target a lot of different platforms. However, that doesn't mean we actually can make the game playable in all of them.
In particular, it is pretty unlikely a game like X-Wing could be played comfortably in mobile platforms.
Will you support VR or Track IR?
It depends on how well we could adapt the game for those methods. But at this point we are aiming at having that feature at some point, yes.
Are you releasing this little by little or in one go?
Most likely, little by little. We aren't developing a game here, but trying to revive a game. We expect players and testers to be understanding and accept that we can just do so much at a time.
Are you making new missions, or adapting the mission to your new engine, or rebuilding the missions with your own tools?
No. The missions that will be available from the beginning are the original missions made by David Wessman, David Maxell and Larry Holland from LucasArts/Totally Games, that you already have in your X-Wing installation.
We aren't rebuilding them, adapting them, or remaking them. In fact, if you have modified the original missions in your X-Wing folder, those modifications will be still there in XWVM.
Will you implement the iMuse dynamic musical system?
Yes. It's working already in the demo video.
Will you add new ships, Tours of Duty, or game modes?
That is not a goal for the release. But it is something that could be done at a later stage. We have big plans for this mod.
How much will this cost?
If you already own a copy of X-Wing, nothing. Otherwise, you will need to buy a copy of X-Wing from Steam or GOG.
Why is the music like that?
One of the innovations of the original X-Wing game was its soundtrack. Written by Michael Land, it was inspired on John Williams soundtrack, but it was totally dynamic: the musical themes changed depending on the action on-screen, and different melodies played depending on whether your were dogfighting a TIE, a friendly ship was shot down, or enemy reinforcements entered the area. This was called the iMuse system, that later on was improved and used in many other LucasArts games.
XWVM brings the iMUSE system back, as well as Michael Land's original scores. The scores are available in the game files, even in the edition that dropped the entire iMuse system (Collector Series for Windows). We have just passed it through a synthesizer to make it sound less like a chiptune and more orchestral.
We are totally aware that:
- TIE Fighter's score was better. Yes, it's a later game in the series and of course, it was a step ahead in quality. But this is an X-Wing mod.
- Some people prefer static CD tracks with the original John Williams music. X-Wing versus TIE-Fighter, and the Collector Series of X-Wing, used that. However, we think it was a step back, since it basically deleted all work from Michael Land, and the musical score was totally out of synch with the action. Besides, we cannot use copyrighted music files that don't come with the game already, and playing Audio-CD tracks on a digital download edition of the game can be quite bothersome.
- Some people prefer chiptune music to orchestral. While the demo will launch with the orchestral track, it's not hard to enable an option to have different versions of it.
I never played the original. Why is the gameplay like that? Why isn't it more like that other game?
XWVM is a mod to X-Wing, and X-Wing is a Star Wars space combat "flight sim". The key words here are "flight sim". Even when it is much easier and streamlined than a real flight simulator, it is still a game closer to that genre than to the space shooter genre.
There is a good reason why we are creating this mod, and it is because the space sim aspect of X-Wing has not been done again for many years by either LucasArts, Disney, or EA. And for a good reason: space shooters are more approachable than flight sims, and thus they have a bigger potential market.
In particular, XWVM does not even attempt to replicate the gameplay or control scheme of games like the Battlefront series, the Rogue Squadron series, or the Starfighter series. Those games are firmly established in the shooter genre and have little to do with the X-Wing series other than the Star Wars theme and the presence of common spaceships.
Also, even when we are adding all kind of extra aids and tools to help the player figure out how to complete every mission (more than they ever had with the original game), it is still a more "old school" game experience than in the other games series.
In X-Wing, every mission is designed to be like an action puzzle to be solved by the player. It is perfectly normal that every mission takes between 3 and 5 attempts to complete before moving onto the next one (with rare case where fewer or even more attempts are needed), with the player having to stop and reflect on what went wrong and how to adapt their tactics for the next attempt.
So it is definitely not a game for the extremely casual, or those without tolerance to failure or frustration. Please understand this is so by design. It's what the game is about, its entire point. For faster paced action and approachable difficulty, there are the Battlefront and Rogue Squadron series.
Aren't you going to get a C&D letter from Disney?
There is always the chance that someone somewhere misunderstands the nature of this project. But as we see it, Disney or Lucasfilm Ltd. have virtually no reason to feel concerned about this. These are our reasons:
- We aren't creating a derivative work based on their IP. We are just giving their customers an external tool to make use of their existing game at higher resolution, with better graphical and audio quality, and with more input methods. There are hundreds of mods that do exactly the same, even with other Disney products, and they have been there for the past decades.
- We aren't distributing copyrighted assets. The user purchases the product from Disney's distributors, and the mod makes use of those assets included in the product for the convenience of the user.
- We aren't claiming ownership of the intellectual property, or the assets included in the product. We aren't removing copyright or trademark claims, logos, credits, neither we are adding any of our own. The user is not misled about the ownership of the product or the IP.
- We aren't pursuing any commercial exploitation of the product of any kind or manner, neither we are taking or accepting any form of reward from the users, requested or freely offered.
- Where new assets have been created for the necessity of the revamp, they aren't copyrighted materials, but originally created by our team. We claim no intellectual property on those assets, and we acknowledge that they are fan-made depictions of Lucasfilm's or Disney's trademarks. In some cases, assets are borrowed, with permission, from the X-Wing Alliance Upgrade Project, a mod to another LucasArts game that has been available for more than a decade now, that has basically the same goal than ours, but targets a different game.
- Disney, EA, or other partners aren't suffering loss of sales because of this mod. This mod targets a product that is currently being sold by Disney, X-Wing Special Edition. If anything, this mod should increase interest on that product and drive sales for it.
- No third party is benefiting from the Star Wars IP through this mod. This mod isn't recreating X-Wing in a third party's game (unlike many other projects have done in the past, with this or other IPs), possibly driving sales for that third party, in detriment of Disney or EA, by using the Star Wars IP. This mod targets one of Disney's own in-catalog, products and merely allows to use it in a way more up-to-date.
- This mod doesn't compete with EA's products or those of other Disney partners. No more than Disney does by having X-Wing Special Edition in catalog. The X-Wing game series is fundamentally a different sort of games and cater to a much different (and by comparison, tiny) niche of users than any product currently marketed by EA or other Disney partners.
- This mod doesn't permanently alter or modify the original product. The user can always run the product afterwards without experiencing any change.
- This mod doesn't make use of decompilation, disassembly, or other reverse-engineering techniques over the original game executables. No member of the development team has ever had access to the original source code. The development of this mod is documented as an iterative process of guesswork over several years, sometimes using descriptions of the asset formats that have been publicly available, in some cases since as early as 1993.
Why is the Imperial Star Destroyer model not looking exactly like the one from the movies?
It does look like the one from the movies. The question is: which movies.
There isn't a single star destroyer model in Star Wars.
The model in Episode IV and Rogue One have some particular characteristics that make them distinguishable from the one in Episode V and VI. In particular the angle at which the shield domes over the bridge stand.
While in RO/Ep4 the domes stand perpendicular to the surface of the bridge superstructure, in Ep5 and Ep6, the domes stand vertically straight from the observer's point of view.
Also, the sensor array between the domes is different, in one case being visually much bigger than the other.
The official canon explanation of this is that there are more than one model of star destroyer in the galaxy. The Rogue One/Episode IV model is known as Imperial-class Star Destroyer mark I (or ISD-I), and the one introduced in Episode V/VI is Imperial-class Star Destroyer mark II (or ISD-II, or "deuce"). It's worth noting that at least one ISD-I appears in Episode V/VI too. So we know they coexisted.
Since the storyline in X-Wing spans from several years before Rogue One and ends about one/two years before Empires strikes back, it makes most sense that X-Wing uses the star destroyer model and design that was current in that moment in the lore.
We can assume that later models of star destroyers were put in production with the mentioned modifications around the time of Episode V, that falls outside the scope of X-Wing.
In any case, our ISD-I model makes uses of very precise photogrammetry and first hand sources about the proportions and the details. Where there are some minor differences between the ISD-I seen in Rogue One and the one seen in Episode IV, we have opted to hybridize these differences in our model, so that it looks like a link in the chain of evolution of this ship.
Why doesn't that ship look like Fractalsponge's model?
Fractalsponge's models look spectacular, but some of them aren using precise proportions, details or measures. In some cases, several liberties were taken for artistic purposes. Ultimately, his models are just Fractalsponge's take on Star Wars spaceships, and by no way canon.
Also, his models are meant for raytracing, not realtime rendering, so he can go much further away with polycount and detailing, since raytracing can perfectly deal with it just by taking longer (minutes) just to draw one frame.
In our case, we need to be more careful with the little details, because we need to draw at least 60 frames per second.
Why your videos show you flying only the Y-wing?
The cockpit interiors need to be modeled in detail to be usable as a flyable ship.
It's a job that takes long time, and while we are soon getting a replacement for the temporary Y-wing 3D cockpit that looks better, we still don't have anything ready for the other rebel ships.
Why your videos show planets in all missions? X-wing missions happened in deep space.
Not really. XWVM uses the mission files from your X-Wing installation to know what objects appear during a mission. Planets are among these objects listed in the mission file.
Most missions specified a planet, with its type and relative position. These planets are usually related to the particular story of the mission. For example, Y-Wing Historical Mission 3 happens at Ryloth, Mission 4 happens happens at Kessel, Mission 5 at Mytus VII, and Mission 6 at Mon Cal.
Now, why don't you remember seeing these planets during the missions in X-Wing? Because of the original game's limitations.
The original game was meant to run on a computer with 2 megabytes of RAM. (That is about the size of a single picture taken with a digital camera nowadays)
In that memory, it needed to squish in the game engine, the music, the graphics, the sound effects, etc. Obviously there wasn't room for having a high resolution picture of a planet detailed enough to fill the entire viewport. So instead, the original game had a few different images for the planets that were really reduced in size to use up as little memory as possible.
The problem is that planets then looked tiny during the game. But they were there. Anyone can launch the original game and check these missions to find them.
Since missions usually had a story about something happening at a planet, it makes sense giving more relevance to the planet itself to serve as a background and context for the missions. Also as set dressing for the otherwise monotonous starfield.
Finally, in Star Wars movies (and other Star Wars media), most space battles or skirmishes happen immediately over a planet, and not in deep space. In all these cases, the planet is shown at a really close distance. In particular:
- Episode I: Blockade and final battle over Naboo.
- Episode II: Skirmish in the asteroid field over Geonosis.
- Episode II: Battle over Coruscant.
- Rogue One: Battle over Scariff.
- Episode IV: Capture over Tatooine. Battle over the Death Star.
- Episode V: Siege of Hoth, escape from Bespin.
- Episode VI: Battle over Endor and the Death Star II.
- Episode VII: Battle over Starkiller Base.