Star Wars: TIE Fighter 20th Anniversary Retrospective

Rebel scum.

The Star Wars movies are an excellent source of inspiration for game developers, and indeed, there have been dozens of games across the spectrum of genres since the original, Episode IV: A New Hope, hit the silver screen in 1977.

Thanks to games such as 1990's Wing Commander, the popularity of space combat sims spiked in the early '90s, and the Star Wars flight sims on PC are remembered as some of the very best of the day. X-Wing kicked things off in 1993, but it was 1994's TIE Fighter that moved the genre forward. LucasArts capitalized on the storage capacity and rising availability of CD-ROM drives, and after players fought for the familiar rebel forces in X-Wing, TIE Fighter gave them a refreshing glimpse through the eyes of the Galactic Empire.

Given that it's Video Game History Month at GameSpot, and TIE Fighter's 20th Anniversary is coming up, now's the perfect time to recollect what made it such a landmark game for the genre, not to mention one of the best games ever set in the Star Wars universe, space-sim or otherwise.

Carolyn Petit

In 1993, Star Wars: X-Wing was released. It was the best space combat simulator ever made, and not just because it let you live the dream of flying an X-Wing in the Star Wars universe, though that was certainly part of it. No hollow cash-in on the Star Wars license, the game made the most of the universe, throwing you into all kinds of gripping and believable combat scenarios rising out of the ongoing conflict between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. It also looked amazing, using polygonal models for spacecraft unlike most of its contemporaries. Seeing a TIE Fighter fly apart in pieces when you blasted it offered a sense of satisfaction that the non-polygonal graphics of the rival Wing Commander series just couldn't match. And the emphasis on power management--having to decide how much energy to allocate to lasers, shields, and engines--made your victories about more than just your skill in a dogfight.

X-Wing's excellence only made it that much more astounding when its sequel, TIE Fighter, somehow managed to improve upon it. But what I found most fascinating about TIE Fighter wasn't the improved gameplay or the great mission design or the shaded graphics. It was the way that the game made me think about the empire, and about portrayals of villainy in general, in a new way. In the Star Wars films, the empire is evil to the core. But TIE Fighter let you see the empire from a new perspective. The game didn't make you feel like a bad person doing bad things, but like a pilot who might reasonably have believed that what he was doing was in the galaxy's best interests.

Now, some 20 years later, it's extremely common for games to let you choose to be good or evil, but more often than not, I find that such choices lack any subtlety or nuance. Typically you end up feeling like either a paragon of virtue or a caricature of evil. TIE Fighter dared to put you on the side of the "bad guys" long before most games ventured into such territory, and it explored moral ambiguity better than most games that have come since. You weren't out to crush the forces of good. You were just trying to maintain order in a chaotic galaxy. Playing TIE Fighter didn't change my feeling that the empire was an evil entity. In fact, the power of its propaganda only made the empire a more terrifying regime in my eyes. And I never saw the individual cogs in its machine--the deluded stormtroopers and TIE Fighter pilots and other rank-and-file officers--quite the same way again.

TIE Fighter dared to put you on the side of the "bad guys" long before most games ventured into such territory.

Randolph Ramsay

X-Wing may have had you flying for the good guys, but TIE Fighter was always the cooler game for a variety of reasons. Despite using the same engine as X-Wing, TIE Fighter was hands-down the best looking, featuring impressive details on ships both small and large. It also had a 3D model of the ship you were currently targeting right in the middle of your cockpit console, which rotated depending on your angle to your opponent. Not to overstate it, but that was pretty mind-blowing for me at the time. The game also boasted an impressive array of ships to fly in and against, giving TIE Fighter an excellent variety of space dogfighting experiences.

But by far the most indelible thing for me was those missions piloting a standard TIE Fighter. After flying ships with shields in X-Wing, suddenly being thrust into the midst of battle without any external protection was wholly intimidating. Each mission I flew in the TIE fighter was white-knuckle, and I can still feel the thrill of having survived many intense battles, not fully aware of how exactly I managed to avoid being blown to bits. If I were a superstitious Jedi, I'd say the Force was guiding my hand. But I wasn't. I was on the dark side, and I loved it.

Space pirates should know better than to mess with the Empire!

Peter Brown

I wasn't around for the theatrical release of the original Star Wars trilogy, but I grew up watching the movies from the comfort of my parents' basement on a regular basis. I reveled in Luke's transformation from an eager young farmer into a plucky, adventurous rebel, and yearned for the sort of excitement embodied in scenes like the speeder bike chase in Return of the Jedi.

I loved the tense conflicts that brought acts to an exciting head. Of course, lightsaber battles are the most iconic, but for as much joy as I got out of watching two Jedi clash, mano a mano, I was doubly drawn into the heated battles between X-Wings and TIE Fighters. This was partially due to my affinity for spacecraft design, but I think what really struck me was that piloting fighter craft was something I could theoretically do. Not just anybody could become a mystical warrior, but pilots were average people with daring and quick reflexes. That could be me.

For a time, I lived out this fantasy in LucasArts' space-combat sim X-Wing, but its sequel, TIE Fighter, was the more impressive and captivating game. The CD-ROM version of TIE Fighter came with enhanced, high-resolution graphics (640x480), and new voice-overs that added to my sense of immersion. Granted, nowadays these elements are less impressive, but at the time, TIE Fighter was all I needed to feel like a space pilot in the Star Wars universe, and ultimately, it's the game that I credit with my current love of space combat games.

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122 comments
lindallison
lindallison

And going even beyond space sims, the Souls series have revealed gamers who fetishize difficulty, Alien Isolation will show there's an audience for 'the look' of clunky 80's sci fi, the recent glut and success of turn based CRPG's have shown that there's a crowd out there hungering for old school encounter complexity.

I mean if ever there was a time for a return of classic Holland/Kilham original trilogy military sim its gotta be now.

lindallison
lindallison

I'm sure I'm not alone when I say Star Wars is probably the reason I game at all.  Those Space battles in IV and VI man, I wanted to do THAT.


Now we have the tech to visualize those encounters perfectly - they could look exactly like what's on film.  But no sign of life from the Star Wars game IP's.  


With the resurgence of thorny complicated space sims, with detailed cockpits to facilitate Rift and Track IR usage THIS IS THE TIME for another entry in the X-Wing series.  What space sim fan doesn't love Star Wars, I mean come on guys get with it. 

Hell the mechanics of X-Wing and Tie Fighter are SIMPLE compared to Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen, there is no need for stakeholders to fear the release of a new Star Wars combat sim!

zodiacprime
zodiacprime

Anticipation for X-wing was the reason I purchased a 486DX266 with 2MB VESA graphics card and 8MB RAM in mid-'92. A few months later when the game was released I was totally ready. I had a CH Products Flight Stick (later got the Pro model) and I was off, completely lost within the Star Wars universe. Good times. For me, and perhaps it's the nostalgia talking, the original X-wing game is the one I remember most fondly. But that's not taking anything away from the glorious follow up to it that was Tie Fighter.

lindallison
lindallison

@zodiacprime 

I remember X-Wing the most fondly too, - also played it and Tie Fighter with a CH FlightStick 2-button.

Having played through both X-Wing and Tie Fighter + Expansions recently I'd say Tie Fighter definitely holds up better.  X-Wing is rather spare and easy due to the limited number of ships that could be on screen at the same time.  

Tie is more populated and the objectives much more complicated, particularly the bonus ones. 

Crush_Project
Crush_Project

ah the age where the word 'quality' actually meant something.

Really cant help but feel sorry for the kids today.

circles26
circles26

I don't care if it's star wars. I remember playing these games, and dreaming how much smarter the games in the future would be. The advanced in computer processing power have dwarfed my wildest dreams...still there has not been a smarter game made than this one. This is why some of you couldn't complete 2 missions. You had to think, plan, execute, strategize, and that was with 640k base memory.

Brakkyn
Brakkyn

The only older Star Wars game I ever played was X-Wing Alliance.  Old, but good.  Never could finish two missions, though...

Alecmrhand
Alecmrhand

Tie Fighter was possibly my favorite video game of all time.  Its ability to put you in the pilot's seat of various fighter ships and guts to place you on the side of the Empire was ahead of its time. If i had the ability to play it today i probably would.


Its a travesty that Tie Fighter and its game brethren, such as Rogue Squadron, havent been given a new coat of paint and rereleased for modern computers. Considering the dearth of mediocre titles that have, its actually quite puzzling.


Tie fighter is a classic and a game worthy of revisiting even today.

mechag2
mechag2

I played the hell out of the old X-wing, TIE Fighter, and XvT games. And then some. :P Good times, good times. ^_^

I remember back when I discovered the ability to access X-wing's game files, I was trying to figure out how to modify them so the specs for all the ships were canonically accurate. lol

GarGx1
GarGx1

Ah the memories, one of my all time favourite games :)

MrJoltz
MrJoltz

No longer canon since it's EU... :/

gameroutlawzz
gameroutlawzz

I just want a HD remake of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 2.

mechag2
mechag2

@gameroutlawzz Oh, for the love of God, YES PLEASE!

I personally don't want just an HD remake of Rogue Leader though, but also of the original and Rebel Strike. Something more along the lines of a Star Wars: Rogue Squadron Trilogy HD compilation - with a completely new game engine, full online 4 player co-op & 32 player versus modes, a better sense of speed and scale, lots of additional content from the rest of the saga and the Clone Wars, more refined gameplay mechanics, optional 360 degree true free flight controls for us flight combat vets, and more lore accurate ship/weapon specs. Man, I would KILL for this. lol

Vojtass
Vojtass

@gameroutlawzz Rogue Squadron 3D was just arcade space shooter. We're talkin here about space combat sims.

CruiserCaptain
CruiserCaptain

I remember that period of time, it was great. Finally moving away from the default side-scroller of almost all games on consoles, and started to see the future showin up on pc. You knew that things were changing and it was great.

Yeah aging!

klugenbeel
klugenbeel

Tie Fighter....my childhood...Dad getting tired of me switching between Tie Fighter, Doom, and Full Throttle made me start learning DOS commands...

CruiserCaptain
CruiserCaptain

@klugenbeel  I remember watching my father try to figure out DOS commands to put on my first games. Then I just figured it out on my own. Went faster.


"Ah the slow and clunky old days!"

tomservo51
tomservo51

I wonder how this would play with a DS4 or if it could even be done. I was looking at downloading Tie Fighter the other day and trying to get it working.

mruizinho
mruizinho

Last time i have used a joystick was in Tie fighter.

gamist
gamist

Lost two flight sticks and many hours to X-Wing... Oh, the memories....

mruizinho
mruizinho

Such great memories, for me its the best game of all time.

prodigy_69
prodigy_69

for a second there I thought it was going to be an announcement for a X wing  Vs Tie Fighter reboot  :)

lovren15
lovren15

Absolutely great read guys, brought back tons of memories playing this game with friends. My family couldn't afford a decent PC until a few years later, so I never was able to play this as much as I wanted--but when I could, it was a great experience.  But http://bit.ly/1jKGsM4

DocSanchez
DocSanchez

This was amazingly cool back then.

teg
teg

I've got the collector's edition on CD ROM, but it's hard to find some way to play it now... it won't start anymore in recent Windows versions.

tomservo51
tomservo51

@teg dosbox? Or just download the digital version for free on the internet.

holenjd
holenjd

I don't think I could play this again nowadays.  It probably wouldn't hold up.  I'll stick with the great memories.

youre_a_sheep
youre_a_sheep

The opening is very amusing with its pro-Empire propaganda, especially use of exclamation points.  Then come the CD-Rom based visuals, that might as well have a "mid-90's" watermark across the screen.

hornspiller
hornspiller

It sounds like the voice actor is the same as Deckard Cain in Diablo. Try listen to the first phrase. Hehe.

vadagar1
vadagar1

HAAAAAAAAAAAA

as if they would make a GOOD game for a change, now a days its all about the COD and the Acreed crowds 

StormyJoe
StormyJoe

I don't understand why Disney won't spend the few bucks it would cost to remake this game (or X-Wing Vs TIE Fighter) as a $10-$20 title.  I just played TIE Fighter a few years ago before I discarded an old Mac, and it still plays better than most cockpit based games today.

bdiddytampa
bdiddytampa

Did anyone else sit here and watch like 4 or 5 of those gameplay vids? lol One of my favorite games of all time, without a doubt.  Thanks for the trip down memory lane Carol and crew :-D 

tomservo51
tomservo51

I wish someone would make a HD edition of Tie Fighter! Kickstarter anyone?

Vojtass
Vojtass

X-Wing and TIE Fighter games were one of the finest titles of the 90's. It was just pure gaming experience, with great atmosphere, music and engaging story in the background. 

Also joystick! I love it!

Coren_Larken
Coren_Larken

@olddadgamer @Vojtass Cheater? No waaaayyyy. My first X-Wing experience was with a trackball. That was not the easiest way to go about things.

Coren_Larken
Coren_Larken

@olddadgamer @Coren_Larken @Vojtass I bet you're right on that--flying with a mouse isn't easy. That's why I saved up and bought the Sidewinder to play XvT when my family got a PC later.

Try to get me playing without a controller, and you'd think I'd never heard of video games before.

I'm such a scrub.

Vojtass
Vojtass

@olddadgamer @Vojtass  XW/TF Collector's Edition and X-Wing Alliance haven't launch without joystick. :) It's all about experience and fun. Joystick is the way it's meant to be played. At least in space combat sims.