Thursday, 9 April 2015

Chapter XXIII: Wings

Going to college must be one of the most exciting times in the life on any man. Gone are the embarrassing stories from high school which we had to carry for so long, and all the episodes of heartbreak and drunken stupidity we all had to endure. Sure, getting to college meant much more heavy drinking was on its way, but at least we could do things right this time, and for at least a short while, pretend to be much cooler than what our past showed. But best of all, it was time to meet new girls which weren’t attached to the small town mentality that I was used to.

At least on that front I was quite successful in college. Much more than in high school, I might add. On the first freshmen party, just a few weeks after classes started, I got to meet a Swedish girl. She was the stereotypical Scandinavian beauty: a blue eyed blonde with pointy nose and a beautiful smile. Not only she was gorgeous but she was also into the same things as I, like punk rock. She even mentioned some Swedish bands that I used love that she knew personally, as if I wasn’t already impressed enough. I’ll call her from now on “Kitten”.

In a very un-freshmen way of partying we spent all the night just talking to each other, and it felt really good. By the time I left, which was already at dawn, we briefly kissed, but she said to me “Not yet, it’s too soon”. Well, it was quite a disappointment, as I was expecting these Norse folk to be more progressive, but it was a wonderful night either way.

She gave me her home phone number, but without the effect of booze it was quite hard for me to gather the courage to call her. One week later, on a Friday night, shortly after dinner she called my home. I was playing video games when I heard my mom yelling from downstairs “Ricky, come pick the phone. There’s a girl speaking foreign that wants to talk with you!”. Not only I was quite embarrassed to pick the phone from my mom’s hands while she grinned to me, but my heart was pumping so fast that I thought it could come out of my mouth at any second.

It was weird talking to her, not only because my English speaking skills are dependent on my alcoholic level but also because I was so nervous. I didn’t understand much of what Kitten said, but I do remember she was speaking very fast. Somewhere along the conversation she asked me “I’m going to Jamaica tonight. Want to come with me?”. Jesus Christ! I had my share of crazy girls in high school and I was fed of all the drama and ridiculousness that comes attached with them. Pretty face or not, I’m not going to endure any more of it. I kindly refused her invitation of going to Jamaica. I’m sure that there are less crazy girls at college that I can meet. I never seen her or heard from her again. In fact, I barely remember details of her facial features at all.

Sometime after that phone call, maybe a half a year later, I learned that Jamaica was the name of a famous night club in Lisbon. Well, there’s even a possibility she told me, but I was too busy trying to not freak out to keep attention to everything she was saying.

Why am I bothering you with this story? When my mom called to pick the phone I was messing with Amiga emulators on the PC. It was my first time doing so, and the first game I tried immediately was my beloved Wings. I think it shows that even while I was so eager to kick start a new chapter of my life in a blank state, I just couldn’t leave behind what I always was. At that moment it had passed 5 or 6 years since my Amiga broke, and I was already missing my old friend. I guess the cosiness of my bedroom coupled with the joy of playing Wings was always a better prospect for me than any daft party.

There are many reasons why Wings is one of the most revered Amiga games of all time. The cinematic top-notch presentation combined with the simple, but slick action of the mini games were the most important. The diary entries between each mission which were accompanied by some wonderful sad music gave a rich flavour and atmosphere of that time period of WWI that wasn’t common at the time. Now that I think about it, it was an incredibly mature game that while showing the horrors of war in a way that few games had, it didn’t forget what it was at the core. A videogame that delivered satisfying gameplay.

Even though it’s a very important game for me, the last time I played it was at least 10 years ago, so let’s see if it holds up.

Wings, like most Cinemaware games, is much more than the sum of its parts. This American game studio was famed for this formula, where arcade sub-games are intercalated with a strong theme and narrative. In this case the three existent sub-games, Dogfighting, Strafing and Bombing, wouldn’t hold up as standalone games. They’re fine, but don’t have enough depth to stand out. All my memories of the rich WWI atmosphere are kept, and not even an inch was lost during these last 25 years.

While I do remember how the great music of the diary entries that separate each mission was, I never gave that much thought to the text itself. And it’s very good, since it highlights all the fears and anxieties of a common man when facing the horrors of war. Not all is grim though, since there are some fun interludes, where the main character describes some of his colleagues, superiors and situations in a humorous way.

As for the game itself, the dogfighting sessions are the most common, and are probably the most intense. One of the main flaws that I can point to the game is that sometimes is terribly unfair, like when in some missions we face insurmountable odds and our plane gets shot right away. Not to mention when the machine guns get jammed arbitrarily. I suppose it’s a good representation of the war itself, but it doesn’t make for a pleasant experience when it happens.

Strafing is quite fun, and it’s a shame that it doesn’t happen more often. In these levels the usual quality of Cinemaware graphics stands out, and its very fun to wreak havoc on German convoys and watch everything in flames. On the other hand, bombing runs might be the dullest levels, but fortunately they’re the rarest ones.

There’s no way to lose in Wings, in the bigger sense. In 1918 the war is won by the allies anyway, which I suppose makes sense, since it would be very depressing if we could lose just because of the incompetence of a few air pilots. The main goal of the game is mostly to stay alive, kill Germans and win promotions. I haven’t experienced that because it’s still a hard game, and my senses got dulled after all these years from playing so many easy games.

This is definitely a game that is the epitome of a tradition that is long lost. Unfortunately, this way of having a game deal with its war theme in a mature way, that humanizes the conflict and doesn’t glorify it is very rare today, among the countless Call of Duty sequels and clones. Fortunately, the game was remade recently and it’s being sold on Steam, and this experience made it go straight up to the top of my wishlist. Long live Wings!


  1. A new post - finally :-) ! I enjoyed your personal background connecting you with the game. Did you regret the misunderstanding concerning "Jamaica"?

    1. I regret it so deeply that I ended up writing about it on a gaming blog 15 years later. :)

      Otherwise I would probably forget about it.