A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Impression – Privateer


Back in 1993, I was still coming into my own as a gamer. Mostly I played games on a 286 in the guest bedroom. Those games would shape my tastes and perceptions in the decades to come (well… nearly 2 decades now). My first flight sim was on that computer and it was actually Microprose’s F-19 Stealth Fighter. Such an awesome game. When we upgraded (to a 486), I was introduced to CD gaming and with it came a whole slew of other games. Back then we had a multiple boot system (meaning that when the computer was started up, we had to choose the configuration we wanted to continue with) and over time it eventually reached 5 different categories. I recall that category one was DOS games and it was for games that didn’t have CDs (because the configuration file didn’t recognize the CD drive at all). I don’t recall what Category two was, but Category three was Windows (back then 3.11), Category four was Wing Commander III (which came out in 1994 I think) and Category five was originally Privateer (later changed to Warcraft II as it had a very general configuration that allowed for the playing of MOST CD games that weren’t Wing Commander III or IV).

Anyways, both my Dad and I really enjoyed playing Privateer. I remember how my Dad actually made a copy of the system map on four sheets of printer paper and we kept it on hand so we could find our way around without having to actually leave the station we were on.

Fast forward to a few days ago. I’m sitting at my computer and I tell my Dad, “Hey, Privateer is up for digital download through this website for only 6 bucks!” At which point he turned to me and said, “Well, what the hell are you waiting for? Get it! Let me know how it is.” So, I downloaded it and proceeded to remember that I used to be a hell of a lot better at this game… because it is HARD.

Unlike most games today, Privateer doesn’t have a tutorial or a method of changing the controls in-game (or at all actually). The graphics are very low end, but still hold up after all these years. What makes it hard? Well… partly I was trying to remember how to play (READ THE FRICKIN’ MANUAL!) but also, I discovered very quickly that whereas I can handle ONE enemy with varying degrees of ease, handling TWO is like rolling the dice. Two enemies can rip you apart very easily in this game and after my hour or four of playing these last few days, I can tell you that most of the time I come out pretty banged up. Oh, yes, and I hate missiles. Hate them with a passion.

Anyways, this game is great. I just wish I could play for longer without my elbow hurting from using the joystick. That’s the downside of playing old flight sims nearly 20 years later… you have to have a stick (or at least, why would you do it without one since that’s part of the experience) and my elbow isn’t as young as it used to be. Other than that… well… I wish I could afford a better tracking system for my Tarsus because I’ve been spoiled by target leading software.

Aside from a few shortcomings that could only be addressed by rebuilding the game from scratch, it’s just as I remember it, only a bit harder I suppose. The game really does need a tutorial because the learning curve is pretty sharp in comparison to today’s games (compared to the games back in 1993, it was actually rather forgiving, which is shocking). Also, when purchasing things for your ship, there needs to be more details regarding the weapons and shields and so forth. Further, there’s never really any prices given for the other ships you could purchase (I remember growing up never knowing that the Centurion cost 100,000 credits and I would purchase it eventually when I had progressed far enough in the game). Something that Privateer 2 had that Privateer didn’t was the shifting commodities market. When Freelancer came out, they didn’t keep that mechanic (well, it was also made by a different company, but still, spiritual successor and all). Privateer still makes me smile and the only real reason my father and I could play it from the late 90’s until now is that the CD has (we still have it somewhere) a grievous scratch in it from the time the CD tray closed ON the disc. Alas, we hardly knew ye… well, I actually beat that game a lot, so I knew it well.

Go check out Privateer on GOG.com and grab it. It can be played with keyboard, mouse, and joystick (two buttons only though, which makes me look at my 12 button joystick and weep). Give it a try… unless you don’t think you can handle it, in which case, go play your pansy modern games… I hear those come with a tutorial.

Until next time!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Privateer takes you to the seamy side of the Wing Commander universe. In the far reaches of space, you live by no man’s rules but your own. The fringes are populated by a volatile mix of pirates, miners, mercs and Kilrathi, all struggling to make a quick buck. With advanced technology pioneered by Wing Commander and Strike Commander, Privateer gives you the excitement of head-to-head space combat and the challenge of survival in cutthroat trading circles on the frontiers of civilization.” – The Wing Commander: Privateer box.

P.P.S. All pictures stolen from Moby Games. I put the link up there somewhere.

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One response

  1. The heyday of PC games. They were deep. How fortunate was Chris Roberts to explore the “seedier” side of his Wing Commander universe.

    Well, 13 years later we decided to do a take on his movie. Here is our take with lots of pics and perhaps a little wit if you are interested:

    http://fortresstakes.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/wing-commander-1999/

    April 5, 2012 at 8:49 PM

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