Polygon recently wrote an excellent article examining why developers (specifically EA-based) don’t really want to make games based off the Star Wars franchise, and it made me think: I used to love Star Wars games.
Specifically, I loved X-Wing and TIE Fighter, which were big deals back in the ‘90s. Those 2 games (plus the expansion packs that LucasArts released for each of them) captured my imagination and arguably instilled a geeky interest in space travel that I still retain to this day.
It probably goes back further than that. My earliest gaming memory, or at least my earliest memory of a video game, is watching my father play the original Elite on whatever home computer we had at the time. As a child, I tried to play Elite on the Commodore 64, but it was punishingly difficult; I could rarely land and jumping to another system would invariably end up with me being murdered by pirates. Later, I played Frontier: Elite 2, which prided itself on a level of physics realism unseen in other so-called space sims. I got pretty far in Frontier, mostly by gaming combat and landings with an autopilot.
TIE Fighter was better than X-Wing; it was faster, more advanced. It was a big game, but split into relatively short, distinct campaigns. It pushed a genuinely thrilling story where you were an Imperial pilot—nominally a bad guy—within an enormous military machine, fighting for peace in the galaxy. And you could, by completing secondary and secret objectives in missions, join the Emperor’s secret order.
It felt like a proper sim, too, by which I mean there were a lot of buttons you had to remember: you had to manage your energy levels and there were about 100 different ways of targeting other ships. But it was never overwhelming and it was always exciting.
I played other, similar games at the time: the Wing Commander series came closest to matching the TIE Fighter experience, especially when Mark Hamill himself starred in the 3rd game. But no other games seemed to have the creativity shown in the missions of TIE Fighter. With just a few ship models, LucasArts created incredible variety in their level design. Even the later games by LucasArts, X-Wing vs TIE Fighter and X-Wing Alliance, never recaptured the brilliance of the TIE Fighter experience.
Space sims—and, indeed, actual flight sims—died a death for a few years, probably due to the growth of the console market and the unmarketability of proper joysticks. The genre is slowly picking up again, a trend that arguably began with the astounding Kickstarter success of Star Citizen (touted as a spiritual successor to Wing Commander, and somehow still not finished). EA threw together a VR level for Star Wars Battlefront where you could fly an X-Wing and blow up a Star Destroyer, which was every bit as amazing as that sounds. But there haven’t been any big budget space sims for a while—a bunch of smaller, occasionally awesome efforts such as Everspace, EVE Valkyrie or End Space sure, but no new TIE Fighter.
With the current trend for reskins and reimaginings, TIE Fighter strikes me as an easy win for Disney, who now own the brand. The original game can be bought from GOG.com, complete with the slightly upgraded graphics and sounds from the later CD release. It would be worth adjusting the control scheme and flight model for more modern sensibilities. The console releases of Elite: Dangerous managed to compress complicated controls onto a single gamepad; no reason the same functionality could not be added here. The game balance might need adjusting, to take the edge of the difficulty curve. If Disney are feeling adventurous, there could even be a few bonus missions that take place around the prequels or the new trilogy.
Mostly, TIE Fighter needs a lick of paint: the menu graphics and cutscenes, impressive though they were at the time, look dated now, and the actual ships and environments could be completely remade with modern 3D graphics. That sounds more intensive than it would actually be, given that there were no missions over planet surfaces. The core of the game, the levels themselves, the story, the characters, could be kept largely the same.
And, once TIE Fighter has been re-released, let’s talk about remaking X-Wing.