XWVM is a mod to the original X-Wing game from Lucas Arts and Totally Games by Larry Holland and Edward Kilham. We are re-implementing the executable to extend the game beyond its original hardware support. The mod of course requires the player to own and have installation of the original X-Wing game, or have the GOG or Steam versions of X-Wing Special Edition (either the 1993 floppy, the 1994 CD, and/or 1998 Windows edition). The team of fans developing XWVM is not associated with Lucasfilm Ltd or Disney, and XWVM is not an official Star Wars product. XWVM isn't a standalone game, or total conversion, but a mod to the original. XWVM neither contains nor distributes any copyrighted material. All game resource files (missions, voice overs, SFX, iMUSE automaton, in-game graphics and 3D models, etc) are loaded from the player's copy of the original game, or are replacements originally created by our team, where the original resources are considered inadequate for today's standards.
“Your focus determines your reality.” - Qui Gon Jinn
As we enter a fresh year, it’s a great time to reflect on the incredible progress and achievements made possible by the XWVM team in 2023.
It’s no exaggeration to say that over this period, there has been significant progress on our release roadmap, including some fundamental changes in the way that XWVM is architected and deals with assets.
In this article, we’ll share brief updates for some key development areas over the last 12 months, as a non-exhaustive showcase of the team’s hard work in making XWVM a reality.
Over the development cycle of XWVM, there have been many changes and iterations to how the engine, and project itself, are structured, and 2023 saw some significant development in this area.
As has been previously shared, XWVM will be released as a standalone game engine that contains no copyrighted assets, and uses files and data provided from the original game installation(s) supplied by the player.
This has required a major engineering effort in re-working the architecture of XWVM to support modular game content. Players can use XWVM directly with the built-in assets from the version of the game they are using (such as the DOS or Windows ship models), or optionally use plug-in assets packaged as mods, such as high-definition ships.
This process is still ongoing, but has made significant progress throughout 2023, with a majority of assets now integrated into this mod framework.
A key area that has reworked for this architecture is the concourse rooms. As an alternative to packaging HD concourse assets with the base XWVM release, instead the default experience will use a 2D UI to replicate the equivalent functionality for each concourse room (e.g. pilot registration, or historical mission select). The original 2D concourse assets are not presently used given their inherent limitations, such as not including new functionality and rooms that have been developed within XWVM.
Currently, about half of the rooms have functional 2D fallbacks that were developed in 2023, with the remaining rooms in progress.
Managing mod content for XWVM.
XWVM utilises the Unity game engine at its core, accelerating development and providing various tools and features that can be utilised by our development team. The Unity game engine is the subject of significant developments over time, and such changes are closely monitored by the team.
Over time, the team performs upgrades of XWVM to use newer Unity versions, typically to enable access to new features, bugfixes and other improvements. Such changes require engineering effort from the team to assess, update and then test these new versions, in some cases requiring modification of existing development to work with the upgrade.
In 2023, the team performed two major Unity updates in the project, yielding some improvements described later in this article, and XWVM presently makes use of the latest stable version of Unity available (2023.2).
Alongside these upgrades, the team has also updated a number of supporting packages and utilities used by XWVM for the best performance and stability.
While XWVM aims to provide a faithful recreation of the original X-Wing game, it does so with a view to providing quality-of-life improvements that allow players to enjoy the game more easily in a number of contexts - whether convenience, adapting to more modern game design and gameplay expectations, or for player accessibility. Here are a couple of gameplay features added to XWVM this year.
A new feature added in 2023 was an optional gameplay assistance feature called Facing Assist. This adds an optional key binding that when pressed, will make the craft turn towards the current target. The behaviour can be customised by changing the lock-on angle.
This is one of several features within XWVM intended to improve accessibility, in this case for players with restricted movement.
Some gameplay settings, including Facing Assist Precision.
An often-overlooked feature of the original game is the tracking of high scores as players complete missions and Pilot Proving Grounds levels. This feature has now been added to XWVM, with similar functionality to the original game, but with the addition of tracking high scores across custom missions.
As with the original game, top 10 scores for a level are saved, and displayed in the Historical Mission Selection or Pilot Proving Grounds rooms.
High scores on display in the Historical Mission Selection room.
The gorgeous screenshots that showcase XWVM at its best prominently show the high-definition models, painstakingly created and refined by our artists. Each has remarkable attention to detail and consideration for design elements from key sources, and are a testament to the skill and talent of their creators.
Such assets take significant time to create, but the results speak for themselves. We’re very pleased to shine a spotlight on some models completed in 2023.
As monumental an effort in the making as it is an imposing presence on the battlefield, this year saw the updated Calamari Cruiser make its appearance in XWVM.
Words are not sufficient to describe the sheer scale and detail of this ship in-game, but you’ll be forgiven for wanting to make some close fly-by passes of your own when the time comes.
This scene may be familiar to X-Wing fans, albeit with much higher detail.
A craft that you will be seeing much of during the X-Wing campaigns and missions, the TIE Bomber received a new model - just try not to crash into it as you admire the incredible detail!
A TIE Bomber squadron swings into action.
Using some downright wizardry, the hologram effects were replaced with a completely new shader that is much more in keeping with Star Wars holograms, particularly in A New Hope.
Traditionally, a hologram effect is achieved by applying a transparent material to an object, and possibly applying some lighting effect.
Unfortunately, this is not consistent with how Star Wars holograms have been shown, hence a new technique was created that takes a much more authentic approach to rendering objects, such as omitting ‘backfaces’, and featuring scanlines and rollbars that are more consistent with A New Hope.
Hologram shader in action in the Tech Room
As mentioned earlier in this article, one of the key developments in 2023 was to enable mod support for concourse rooms, which allows for the separation of HD assets from the core game release.
Therefore, if a player is to be able to play an original game without the HD assets installed, they need to be able to interact effectively with the game in between missions - and so the concept of ‘fallback’ rooms was created.
Several of these rooms have been created in 2023, such as the Historical Mission Select and Briefing rooms, with development progressing on the remaining rooms.
The fallback version of the Hangar.
The Game Library received some enhancements this year, including a new Game Information view. This page provides background about the selected game version, including a summary of what functionality is utilised by XWVM.
Where the selected game version originally had expansion packs that were released, these are also available to view (for example, the X-Wing 1993 floppy disk release).
Each game will also display 3D box art if available, letting you enjoy a taste of the experience of reading the original 90’s game boxes.
Showing the game box and information in the Game Library
Traditionally, when using VR, a player will use their hand controllers to interact directly with their environment. While this makes sense and is responsive for many VR game use-cases, it is not always applicable when playing XWVM, particularly if the player would prefer to use a HOTAS or game controller instead.
The Gaze Cursor allows the player to interact with items that are in the centre of the screen, and need only press a button on their chosen controller to initiate the interaction.
This represents an approach that unifies and simplifies the available control schemes for VR players to accommodate their chosen play style.
Playing a game in VR mode is typically more performance-intensive than running in 2D mode: two versions of the camera view are rendered each frame (one for each eye), and the resolution of each frame is also typically quite large to accommodate a realistic view.
In addition, the approach taken by VR rendering also has implications for how certain effects are implemented, and some techniques that apply to 2D rendering do not work for VR.
XWVM has had VR support for several years, however the performance was less than our desired target. As a result of the engine upgrades and further optimisation work, however, the VR performance has noticeably improved, resulting in a more pleasant experience for users of VR headsets.
When developing XWVM, there are some scenarios that we identified where we felt it would be useful to have an option to override some original property of a mission.
For example: in Y-Wing Historical Mission 3 ‘SOS from Twi’Lek Corvette Karinne’, the mission briefing refers to the Twi’lek home planet as Twi’lek, which most fans would better recognise as Ryloth, as featured in various Star Wars content published since the release of X-Wing. Using sidecars, the label shown under the planet in the briefing can be amended directly, with no change to the original files.
A significant enhancement to XWVM in 2023 was the introduction of sidecar support to enable such changes.
This has important uses outside of cosmetic changes, too: in Tour 3 Mission 4 ‘Scramble’, the player starts the mission inside of a cruiser’s hangar. This works well in the original DOS game, but the same position is no longer accurate when the HD model is used.
Therefore, we created a sidecar for that mission - if the HD cruiser model is being used, the player flight group start position is updated accordingly. This way, the player gets the original experience if using the classic models, but will also have a smooth start if using the modern models.
A long-time goal for XWVM has been to include functionality for revising and updating the original missions and Tours of Duty, utilising features of the later games in the series to increase immersion and better maintain consistency across the series.
In 2023, this goal was finally realised with the implementation of two features: dialogue trigger support in the engine, and sidecar functionality to allow such triggers to be assigned during mission loading.
Over a number of years, dialogue has been written to enhance the original missions in this way, in preparation for these features. Once implemented, the first version of the dialogue sidecars was built in a matter of months for all 116 original missions.
To learn more about sidecars and how XWVM offers enhancements to the original campaign, be sure to read our feature article about extending an X-Wing mission here.
Having read through this article, you may be wondering what the future holds, and what is planned for XWVM in 2024.
While we cannot and will not commit to specific timescales - a project such as this requires the time and energy of talented individuals who often have real-life commitments - there are some objectives we are looking at as a team, among others:
We appreciate your patience as development of XWVM continues, and we look forward to sharing more as we progress towards a public release.
You made it to the end of the article - so here's a fun blooper from development in 2023.