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Videogame: Wing Commander

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. Currently being given away for free on EA's (somewhat-fittingly-named) Origin service.
  • 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 employed by the Wing Commander video games:

  • 0% Approval Rating: Long before the events in Privateer, Gemini Sector Governor Menesch actively took part in clandestine operations such as selling surplus Confederation ships to criminal and terrorist organizations. He even made flattering deals with the Kilrathi in order to undermine Confed and humanity from within. You know all those surplus Talon fighters flying around by Space Pirates and the Retros in Privateer? This guy is responsible for that. He was forced into hiding in 2654 after the entire sector declared him a pariah and Confed put a huge bounty on him for such activities and not until 2670 (the time of Righteous Fire) did he show up and secretly stole the player character's Steltek gun from his ship while being moored in Jolson. The stolen gun was then sold to the leader of the Retros, who would then make nerfed duplicates of the gun in order to overthrow both humanity and technology. When news of his recent emergence came to light, everybody, even shady businessman Roman Lynch, started looking for this guy's head because of his aforementioned unscrupulous activities, forcing Menesch to flee to a quieter quadrant. Eventually, he is killed at the hands of the player character.
  • Ace Pilot: Besides the Player Character (a given, within the genre), most of the named pilots throughout the series qualify. It's common for ace pilots to have racked up thousands of kills.
  • 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.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Privateer in addition to the game's classic radio taunts allows you to also beg for mercy from hostiles. Unless it is Retros or a plot-dictated enemy, spamming enough of these messages will make anyone stop attacking you.
  • 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:
    • To the extent that if one only plays the games, the player will miss an incredible amount of story content, including how the saga begins and ends. As an example, the planned Prophecy trilogy was left unfinished. The Nephilim had been defeated twice at the end of Secret Ops, but the threat was never resolved. However, the in-universe magazine Star*Soldier from WC Arena provides the last canon look at the furthest point in the Wing Commander timeline. The Confederation successfully defended against further Nephilim invasions, including striking back at their home dimension. However, as a result Confed was forced to abandon their outer territories to consolidate their defenses, resulting in a lawless fringe in the Antares Quadrant where Kilrathi warbands, pirates, mercs, and colonial militias frequently clash. This level of detail extends all the way back to the first Wing Commander game, which detailed origins of the Kilrathi war along with dozens of prior military operations and biographies of other famous aces.
    • 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.
    • 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).
    • 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.
  • Animal Theme Naming: Most military fighters and bombers are named either according to this (e.g. Hornet, Ferret, Raptor), or...
  • Arms And Armor Theme Naming: ...after medieval-ish weapons. (e.g. Scimitar, Longbow, Morningstar)
  • 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 MST3K 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 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.
  • 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, with a few large asteroids instead of a lot of small ones relatively close together.
    • 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, giving the player a copy of their ship that flies in formation with them until it's destroyed.
  • 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. The Kilrathi homeworld itself is attacked on a major fault line with a special bomb designed to "literally shake the planet apart," as Paladin described it.
    • 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:
    • The Behemoth is a Planet Killer, and that's always awesome. But, 500,000,000 gigawatts? An easily targeted vulnerable spot? Slow as molasses? Its existence is a reflection of the fact that the Confederation has been slowly losing the war with the Kilrathi.
    • The Temblor Bomb had elements of this. It took up half the missile loadout on the Excalibur fighter, was only viable due to Kilrah's unstable tectonics, was extremely difficult to develop, and had to be fired with incredible precision. Despite this, it was successfully used.
  • Back in the Saddle: After the end of the Kilrathi War (at the end of Wing Commander III), Blair retires to a farm on a distant desert planet. Like a number of his fellow officers (such as Vagabond), he took a billet in the Reserves for the extra money. Wing Commander IV sees Blair and Vagabond both getting recalled to duty to deal with a crisis in the Border Worlds
  • 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.
  • The Battle Didn't Count: In the final Loki series mission of Wing Commander III, you're given the option to engage Prince Thrakhath at the end of the mission, but your carrier is about to jump out of the system, so if you stop to engage Thrakhath you won't make it home, and wind up stranded in the system (game over). However, if you conserve your missiles in the earlier parts, you can salvo-fire all of them and run for the carrier while the missiles track him down. If they make the kill before you land you get the death message, but at the end of the final mission in the game he shows up again as if nothing had happened to him in the Loki system.note 
  • 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 even if they weren't selected as a wingman for a particular mission (since the player isn't the only pilot flying sorties), and some were much better at killing than others.
  • Breaking Speech: During the endgame of Wing Commander IV, the revelation about The Dragon's involvement in the Genetic Enhancement Program.
    Tolwyn: He's more of a warrior than you will ever be, Colonel! He is excellence personified! He is—
    Blair: He is DEAD! I killed him.
  • Bug War: The Nephilim from Prophecy and Secret Ops are an insect-looking race coming to sterilize the galaxy. Most missions have you flying against swarms of fighters and some involve you destroying entire fleets in a single sortie.
  • Burial in Space: Almost any pilots (including the player) that die gets one of these, complete with 21 gun salute as the funeral crew sends the coffin flying into space. In the first game, if it's a wingman that dies Blair vows to avenge the dead pilot... even if he is the reason they died, in an Unfriendly Fire situation.
  • 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.
  • Call to Agriculture: After the Kilrathi War, Blair retired to a farm on a distant planet, but is happy to be recalled to active service. If you win the game without compromising Blair's morals (that is to say, if Panther's morale is higher than Hawk's), Blair becomes a Veteran Instructor, teaching new pilots how to fly starfighters.
  • Canon Name: Blairnote  became the Player Character's official name when the series went to Full Motion Video, prior to which you could select a last name as well as callsign. His callsign, "Maverick," was made canon in the novelization of Wing Commander III.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: After acquiring a jump drive in Privateer, it only costs a mere 50 creds per landing to refuel. You can jump up to six times before having to refuel, which will easily get you from one side of the Gemini Sector to another. Privateer 2 doesn't even bother with the cost of a jump drive, it's built in to all ships.
  • Cash Gate:
    • The jump drive you need to get out of the starting sector, in Privateer, costs ten thousand credits, a hefty sum early on in the game.
    • Privateer 2 has a few situations that require you to throw down some serious dosh just to continue the plot.
  • Cats Are Mean: The Kilrathi, obviously. Dropping bioweapons on helpless planets (among other things) generally doesn't count as "playing nice".
  • Cat Folk: The Kilrathi. Big furry Proud Warrior Race with cat ears.
  • Ceiling Cling: In Prophecy, the boss alien of the invading Nephilim uses this to ambush Commodore Blair, when the latter has boarded the alien wormhole gate to try to shut it down before humans get swarmed over by the Nephilim.
  • 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 on the carpet for it by Captain Eisen, and morale suffers from the show of favoritism.
  • Chew Out Fake Out: In Wing Commander III, Eisen pulls Blair aside just before he's to have a simulator duel against visiting test pilot "Flash" as part of a challenge, after Flash ignores a scramble call and stays in bed while everyone else is out defending their carrier. It looks like Eisen is about to chew Blair out for acting rashly in issuing the challenge, but instead he offers some advice: "Kick the little twerp's ass."
  • Chroma Key: Wing Commander III 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 and 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: Prophecy and its sequel Secret Ops has 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 Re-release:
    • 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 DOSBox 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.
  • Conveniently Close Planet: Privateer features planets within a star system that never move, and are infrequently more than 100,000 meters from one another, and all are capable of supporting humans comfortably.
  • 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 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) on the deck.
  • Crapsack World: Whatever part of the galaxy, or alternate universe, that The Darkening takes place in. A hospital getting shot up is just another everyday occurrence. The starting planet has drug addicts laying around everywhere, clawing at the sky, and on and on.
  • Creator Cameo:
    • Chris Roberts provides the Communications Officer voice for the TCS Coventry in Wing Commander III, as well as being a random pilot in the funeral cutscenes.
    • Roberts 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:
    • In the Privateer intro, one laser mounted on a "clunker" with no power output upgrades does 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 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.
  • Darker and Edgier: Happened little by little over the main series, with the situation growing ever more desperate and moral ambiguity creeping in. The first game depicts humans and Kilrathi being evenly matched in the war, with humans standing a good chance of winning. The second game introduced a faction of human traitors, and the Kilrathi ready with plans to recoup their losses in the end. The third game makes it clear that humans are slowly but surely losing the war, and the only hope of victory is a sneak attack on the Kilrathi homeworld with an experimental Weapon of Mass Destruction. With the Kilrathi pacified, the fourth game deals with a civil war between humans, with more WMDs and an Evilutionary Biologist cabal orchestrating the events. Prophecy made a deliberate return to straightforward righteous battle against evil aliens. On the other hand, Prophecy makes it clear that the Nephilim pose an even greater threat than the kilrathi and what the player faces is more or less a 'scouting party' and the much creepier mission music makes the game feel a lot scarier.
  • 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: Particularly in the earlier games, Asteroid Thickets and Space Minefields were placed in and around navigation waypoints, forcing the player to either have to fly carefully or travel off the straight-line path to the next point to steer around it. Several missions in Privateer and its add-on Righteous Fire don't even allow that option, as the base you're operating out of for them is an abandoned mining base located in the middle of an asteroid field.
  • 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. Guns are renewable resourcesnote  and found on every ship, unlike torpedoes.
  • Defiant to the End: Two from Wing Commander III:
    • In the introduction, Prince Thrakhath says this of Jeanette "Angel" Devereaux after she spits in his face when he's gloating about the capture of her and her special forces operatives. The player doesn't see it until later in the game, but after spitting in his face he disembowels her with his claws in what the Kilrathi consider an honorable death, unlike the disintegration of the other humans.
    • In the losing path if captured after failing to destroy Kilrah, the player is given the option for Blair to either give up and meekly accept defeat or to basically tell Thrakhath "screw you". The former gets Blair disintegrated by guards behind him as not worthy of a "proper" Kilrathi death, while the latter earns him Angel's fate.
  • 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 allow you to equip your own ship to personal preferences, even though fan preferences tended to clump towards one or two configurations.
  • The 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 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.
  • Drool Hello: In Prophecy, the first hint Commodore Blair gets of an alien waiting to pounce on him, while he's trying to shut down the alien wormhole gate before getting swarmed by the Nephilim, is its drool landing on the rifle he was carrying.
  • Due to the Dead: When a named character (even the player character, if the player screws up) dies, more often than not there's a funeral cutscene, with a 21 gun salute as the character's coffin drifts off into 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.
  • Earth-Shattering 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 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 is a Proud Warrior Race empire bent on conquest of the rest of the galaxy.
  • 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 The Terminator, complete with a Shout-Out to the human skull being crushed beneath a metal foot.
    • If you are on the losing path of Wing Commander III 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: Many. Some are more tolerable than others.
  • Establishing Character Moment: All the pilots from the first game will quickly establish their personality when you meet them. In Wing Commander III when first visiting the bar we get a scene where Hobbes walks in, Cobra storms out since she hates Kilrathi, and Vagabond tries to cheer Hobbes up who is upset that she is so angry with him.
  • Event Flag: Some engagements during a mission are triggered at random when passing a certain point in space other than the designated navigational waypoints.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Explosion Propulsion: In Wing Commander IV cutscenes, Seether does this utilizing mines deployed from his own fighter, in one instance using it to allow a bomber he was flying to go to escape. The player is unable to do it, but in the novelization of WC4 Blair uses the technique to allow his damaged fighter to catch up to Seether and destroy him.
    Hawk: When I signed up for Confed there was a rookie pilot on my ship. He was the only guy I ever knew who could do that trick.
  • Fantastic Naming Convention: The Kilrathi use [Given Name] nar [Clan Name]. The nar is always lower case, and usually italicised. The Clan Name is usually the name of the place or planet where the Kilrathi was born. The novels add hrai to the name of one Kilrathi, meaning 'of the family of'. The character in question starts as Kirha hrai Ralgha nar Hhallas (Kirha, of the family of Ralgha, who is from Hhallas), and after being ordered to serve the human pilot Ian 'Hunter' St John, renames himself Kirha hrai Hunter nar Aussie (Kirtha, of the family of Hunter, who is from Australia). This part doesn't come up anywhere else though.
  • 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 Conflict Counterpart: The series was conceived as a sci-fi version of World War II aircraft carrier operations in the Pacific Theatre (with some Top Gun mixed in).
  • 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 caste 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.
  • Fashionable Asymmetry: The Kilrathi are noted for their disinterest in symmetry and aesthetics in general. This is carried over subtly with their ship design, especially after Armada was released.note 
  • 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: Until Armada, the games used a series of sprites drawn at different angles, the exact sprite displayed depending on the orientation of objects in relation to the player's view.
  • The Federation: Terran Confederation is, in general, a benign association of planets built up by humanity, and for the most part the heroes of the series.
  • 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: From the first game on.
  • Final Death: either played straight or subverted, depending on the game. Some characters are plot-related deaths, but usually whether or not a shot down wingman survives depends on the specific circumstances.
  • 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 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.note 
  • Foreshadowing: Despite committing numerous atrocities with his Black Lance henchmen in order to prove that humanity was behind in intergalactic warfare, Tolwyn's admonition to Blair during the endgame of The Price of Freedom of an unknown race that will try to dominate mankind wasn't far off when in Prophecy, that particular race would indeed show up and attempt to do so, having already established their superiority over the remnants of the Kilrathi.
  • Four-Fingered Hands: The Kilrathi are shown (usually) as having 4 digits, and use Base 8 numbering.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams:
    • Played straight with most of the guns, none of which have bolts that travel at lightspeed.
    • The Tachyon cannon is a special case. According to tachyon theorynote , they're not capable of traveling slower than light, but the manuals mention that their greater damage potential is in part due to the gun mechanism bringing the particles down to sublight 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.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The manuals measure both the damage output of a weapon and the protection armor and shields provide in units of "ESK". This stands for Earth-Shattering Kaboom.
  • Game Level: The series includes a level lattice based on the success or failure of the campaign in each star system, each system composed of several missions.
  • Game Mod:
    • Hackers & programmers using Prophecy's VISION Engine have managed to produce their own campaigns. Others have employed the Freespace 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.
  • Gameplay Ally Immortality: For some reason the very last mission of Prophecy plays this completely straight: none of your wingmen can get shot down or need to eject, even if they're Redshirts with no plot significance.
  • 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.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Spirit, Angel, Maverick, Hobbes, and several others are genuinely nice, friendly, caring people. They are also ace fighter pilots who can and do get downright vicious.
  • 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.
  • Hard-Coded Hostility: In the Privateer game, the Retros. While the pirates and Kilrathi start off being enemies of the player, it's possible to get on better terms with them through the main storyline or talking enough of them down in random encounters. Only the Retros are truly irreconcilable regardless of the player's actions.
  • 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's Dead, Jim: Wing Commander IV, with Vagabond's death. However, the same guards who had just killed him were still shooting, so his companion not going to check is understandable.
  • He Who Fights Monsters:
    • The story of Tolwyn's life, and probably also that of many of the Black Lance in addition.
    • Hawk is well on his way down this path in Wing Commander IV, and falls off the slippery slope in Prophecy.
  • High-Altitude Battle: Inverted 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 prior to Prophecy), particularly when they get significantly more fatal in Wing Commander IV. Confusingly, the slow-ass, stock clunker of a Tarsus that you first fly 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.
  • Hitbox Dissonance: Ships in the first two games simulate 3D objects flying freely through space by using a series of sprites drawn at various angles, with the appropriate sprite angle displayed in relation to the player's ship. However, the hitboxes are rectangular, no matter what the actual sprite looks like. This is especially noticeable when you are firing at a flat-shaped enemy fighter that is aligned diagonally, and you can hit it at the "empty" corners of the hitbox.
  • 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.note 
      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.
    • Blair and Vagabond both are members of the Confederation Space Forces Reserves when Wing Commander IV starts, and the events of the game see them recalled to active duty.
  • 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, taunting him with made-up classified comments from Admiral Tolwyn.
  • If You Die, I Call Your Stuff: In Prophecy, one of the in-flight "flavor" communications:
    Zero: Hey Maestro. If you die, can I have your stereo?
    Maestro: You can burn in hell.
  • Implacable Man: In Privateer, later in the game when you find and equip the discovered Steltek gun on your ship, a Steltek drone will appear at random and attack only you. Your weapons won't scratch it, and although you may give it the slip using jump points, it will eventually show up again. You only finally get the ability to kill the drone just before the final mission when an actual Steltek comes along and charges up the mounted Steltek gun to give it the ability to harm the drone.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum:
    • 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 The Secret Missions.
    • In Privateer, in the course of the Exploratory Service missions you come across a derelict Steltek carrier, and find a crashed fighter inside it. You can mount the gun on your fighter and use it, although it's not very powerful until you find a Steltek who agrees to boost the gun so it can destroy the Steltek drone that has been dogging the player since the gun was mounted.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • In Harm's Way: Despite claiming to be happy retiring to a quiet farm, Blair seems quite pleased to be recalled to active duty in Wing Commander IV. In fact, the player has the chance to come to someone's aid when a nasty fellow with a knife is threatening him in the same scene.
  • 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 are explicitly described as having evolved from felinoid predators, with much of that past shaping their behavior in the present: They often use pack tactics with one pilot serving as bait to lure potential prey into a trap, and see no problems with pouncing from concealment for a surprise attack.
  • Interface Screw:
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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 at a military trial, listening to a pilot claim he was standing a proper watch but impossibly sneaky 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.
    • One particular level early in Wing Commander III features a "Skipper" stealth torpedo, named for the way it fades in and out of cloak (to refresh its target lock) like a stone skipping across a pond. 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.
    • 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.
  • 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 By-the-Book Cop 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 cutscene.
  • 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.
  • Knowledge Broker: In Privateer Roman Lynch provides information to the protagonist to aid his quest in finding out about the mysterious artifact he's acquired, at the expense of performing missions for him.
  • Last Stand: The Unwinnable by Design Sol mission series in the losing ending of Wing Commander III consists of endless waves of enemy fighters along with a Kilrathi Dreadnought fighting a desperate (and failing) battle to hold off the triumphant Kilrathi armada.
  • 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 is declared missing and presumed dead 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 is truly an exercise in patience, requiring at least several minutes as the game loads data from the CD, leaving you looking at the start-up checklist shown on a display screen for a long time.
  • 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:
    • 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.note  Of course, being The Dragon, Thrakhath returns at the end anyway, even if you do kill him and get to land.
    • In Prophecy and it's sequel 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.
    • In general, Confed ships later in the timeline carry up to triple the missile compliment of their Kilrathi war equivalents. The standard issue Vampire, not counting Spec Ops variants, carry twelve missiles which fire from four MIRV warheads, and those are not the only missiles in its payload.
  • 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: Blair's old friend Hobbes 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, behaving in ways that would have even the most laid-back commander seeking firing squads for the offending parties.
  • 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. In Prophecy, his behavior did not translate well when he was chosen to become a squadron leader, as it cost him a few lives of his wingmen, and he later voluntarily stepped down as leader.
    • The Border Worlds Militia ups the ante on this trope by being a straight-up Rag Tag 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, it's not focused on nearly as much as the deaths pilots like 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.
  • Mis Guided 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 50 credit 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. A mole is working for an organization called the Society of Mandarins, which believes humanity should surrender to the Kilrathi, and change them from within, loosely similar to their historical counterpart from ancient China. They apparently didn't read the history of World War 2.
  • My Fist Forgives You: In Wing Commander III, when Blair finally finds out that his good friend and comrade Paladin has known about Angel's death for a while, and been lying to him, the player has the option to punch him in the face. If you do, he accepts it as deserved and the ship's morale is raised; if not, he dares you to, and the ship's morale is lowered.
  • 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, are cannister-delivered nanomachines that can be programmed to attack anyone that doesn't fit the user's "ideal" genetics, causing them to die a horrible death similar to that of Ebola, turned Up to Eleven.
  • National Stereotypes: The first games plays up your Japanese, Chinese, Australian, 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 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 the original Wing Commander, you see a message saying "With your carrier destroyed, you drift endlessly through the void..." and are sent back to the title screen.
    • "Lose" two consecutive systems in Wing Commander II, and you're sent back to your backwater station. The Concordia is destroyed six weeks later off-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.
  • Not What I Signed On For: Dallas in Prophecy signed up for a tour in the military, but it had been over a decade since the last war with no new enemies in sight, and he was only there because having military service his resume would help his future career prospects.
  • Numbered Sequels: Until Prophecy the sequel games all were numbered.
  • Old-School Dogfight: 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, taking out numerous waves of enemies.
  • Oral Fixation:
    • Captain Ian "Hunter" St. John is always seen with a partly burned cigar in his mouth.
    • Robert "Pliers" Sykes' regular use of chewing tobacco, spitting out the juice wherever he wishes while in the hangar areas aboard the Intrepid.
  • Outlaw Town: In Privateer, Space Pirates often operate out of abandoned mining stations, which are often located in an Asteroid Thicket to make things even worse if you're not friendly with the pirates operating out of those stations. However, gameplay-wise their operation isn't really all that different from "legitimate" stations, with the only real exceptions being that you can find illegal commodities to purchase in the market note  and the lack of Merchant's or Mercenary's Guild offices.
  • Palette Swap: Due to cartridge 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 (unknown 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 begins his investigation by dropping 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, proton torpedoes...
  • 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 Prophecy
  • Point Defenseless: Played straight and averted in the series:
    • Averted in Armada, where quite accurate flak cannons will rip the hell out of even heavy fighters in a few hits.
    • 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.
    • Anti-matter guns in Wing Commander III will result in a horde of dead pilots, both human and Kilrathi, if not taken seriously. Cruisers like the Ajax can shred anything up to a heavy fighter or bomb wing by themselves.
    • In Prophecy, the rear gun turret on the Triton transports isn't necessarily fatal to the player's fighter, but it is quite good at shooting down torpedoes launched at the engine, required to kill them. The positioning also makes the turret difficult to destroy so that it won't interfere with an attack.
    • In Secret Ops, the Cerberus and Plunkett class cruiser have heavy guns which can be as dangerous to you as to the enemy if you don't pay attention to their firing arcs.
  • Portal Network: the jump-point system, at least in the games.
  • Practical Taunt: The series has a special keyboard command for taunting enemies, which can make the target of the taunt redirect their attack to you from whatever they were previously shooting at. This is particularly useful when the enemy is targeting the subject of your escort mission, which usually has the defensive strength of wet tissue paper.
  • 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. In fact, the game uses the following high score screen as a way for you to input the callsign of your choice.
  • Previous Player-Character Cameo: In the first four games, your Player Character is Christopher Blair. Then comes Prophecy, where Blair is an NPC, and you take on the role of a rookie pilot.
  • 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.
  • Ramscoop: In the main series of games, some fighters — notably the Excalibur and Dragon — use experimental antimatter drives that refuel via "Bussard intakes"; the same type of power system utilized by capital ships.
  • Random Encounters: Privateer and its add-on Righteous Fire, and from Wing Commander III onwards in the "main line" games.
  • Recycled INSPACE: The Kilrathi war overall is very much WW2 Pacific theater IN SPACE! There's focus on carriers and flights from those. The enemy culture revolves around warrior virtues, respect for strict hierarchy and is led by an emperor. The Behemoth and Temblor bomb can be viewed analogous to dropping the atomic bomb on Japan. The signing of the peace treaty between humans and Kilrathi is deliberately staged the same way as it was between Japan and USA.
  • 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:
    • In the original game, the Fighter Launching Sequence included a shot of pilots running down a passageway to their ships while red lights were flashing for a red alert, even with missions that weren't thrown out in an emergency but were previously planned.
    • In Wing Commander IV, Blair's Oh, Crap moment about the heavy carrier Vesuvius turning around to engage the light carrier Intrepid is immediately followed by him calling "Battlestations!", and rushing off to his fighter to launch in defense of the Intrepid.
  • 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.
    • 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. Affected by your choices on missions and by your dialogue choices with different characters. Amusingly, if you take the chance to punch a General who happens to be a long-time friend withholding information from you, then the morale of the entire ship's crew goes up by one point.
  • The Remnant: The Kilrathi are this in Prophecy. Subverted in that they aren't the antagonists and actually are willing to help their former enemies, the Terrans.
  • 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 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.
  • Retirony: In Wing Commander II, Elizabeth "Shadow" Norwood talks of soon retiring from active service, just before being killed in a Kilrathi ambush.
  • 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.note 
  • 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!
  • 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.
    • The TCS Concordia, the carrier our heroes fly off of in Wing Commander II, is named for Concordia University Texas, which happens to share a hometown with the studio that produced the games.
  • Significant Anagram: In Star*Soldier, the manual for 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 the original Wing Commander has a reputation for shooting ejection pods. This doesn't seem to come up if you eject when flying against him, though.
  • Something We Forgot: In the Expansion Pack Special Operations II for Wing Commander II, at the very end of the closing cinematics, after Blair has defeated Jazz and returns for praise from everyone, there's a scene of Maniac's fighter, stranded by a broken jump drive that kept him from assisting in the final fight, drifting in the void while calling for help.
  • Space Amish: The Church of Man ("Retros") from Privateer and its addon Righteous Fire are 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 Cadet Academy: The Terran Confederation Academy. The animation Wing Commander Academy in particular features Academy cadets as the main characters.
  • Space Clouds: Wing Commander III featured one mission inside a nebula that obscured vision, but otherwise didn't really have any effect on the mission.
  • 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 planetnote .
  • Space Flecks: In the games prior to Wing Commander III in particular they're quite noticeable, given the resolution of the earlier games.
  • Space Is Air: The Wing Commander series plays this trope mostly straight for the sake of the Old School Dogfights, 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 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: While Old School Dogfighting is the focus of the series, pretty much all of the standard ship classes are seen at one point or another in the series, save for the battleships depicted in the novels.
  • Standard Starship Scuffle: Although most of the combat in the series are Old School Dogfights, there are a few exceptions:
    • In one mission in Wing Commander III, you're escorting a pair of human destroyers that will engage Kilrathi destroyers in the area if given the opportunity.
    • One cutscene in the successful mission tree of Secret Ops shows an engagement between a Plunkett heavy cruiser and a Hydra cruiser. The losing mission branch version of the scene shows the Plunkett being swarmed by Nephilim fighters, however.
  • Starfish Language: In 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:
    • After the ending credits of Special Operations II, there's a scene of Maniac's fighter, stranded by a broken jump drive that kept him from assisting in the final fight, drifting in the void while calling for help.
    • Watch the WCIII credits all the way to the end. Maniac has a fun little bit.
  • Story Branching: In the first game, the success or failure of your missions determines the next system you go to. Downplayed in its expansion packs, as a "failure" in any system after the first has you play through your Wonderful Failure. The second mainline game has a set sequence of systems, but the even-numbered systems have different missions depending on whether you are on the "winning" or "losing" path.
  • 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: The series apparently 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.
  • Taps: The theme that accompanies funeral scenes ends with a full playing of Taps.
  • 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 Confusion: Prophecy is sometimes referred to by fans as "Wing Commander 5", as the fifth "main line" Wing Commander game, even though it's never been used outside the fandom using it as a working title, when almost nothing of the game was yet known to anyone not involved with production of the game.
  • Title Drop: several times in the games.
    • Used in Wing Commander III both as the nickname given by the Kilrathi to Blair and as The Mole's Trigger Phrase.
    • 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: Even when discussing amongst themselves when only others of their race are around, the Kilrathi use English, for the sake of the audience's understanding.
  • Twenty One Gun Salute: In some games you get a twenty-one laser-rifle salute at your funeral after your death.
  • 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 II feel. Later games were somewhat more spit-and-polish, though the Victory and Intrepid were still pretty duct-tape-and-prayers kinds of ships.
  • Videogame 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. note  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.
  • 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: In addition to the Behemoth (and its predecessor the Sivar) and the Temblor Bomb, there's the bioweapon 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]
  • Winged Humanoid: The Firekkans from the add-on The Secret Missions 2: Crusade are only seen in cutscenes, but are pictured as winged humans with avian traits, like beaks and talon-like hands.
  • Wing Man: Given the genre, this should go without saying. Given the media, it should also go without saying that they're occasionallyuseless, especially in the older games.
  • Wretched Hive: Just look at the cutscene in The Darkening that introduces the very first bar.
  • 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 Got Spunk: At the end of a mission briefing for a mission in Wing Commander III, after Blair enthusiastically says to consider an enemy transport convoy destroyed and leaves to go to his fighter, Captain Eisen comments to "Radio" Rollins, "God I love that boy's spunk!" The sound clip is also used for the sound test, when configuring the original DOS version of the game for digital sound.
  • 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.note 
  • Zerg Rush: Despite Confed's general superiority with individual pilots and ships, the Kilrathi and later the Nephilim were very nearly able to win using sheer numbers.

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