Becoming an X-Wing pilot: The first time LucasArts invited you to join the Rebel Alliance

Star Wars: X-Wing, the first LucasArts video game based on the popular movie series, debuted in 1993. Set in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, the game put you in the pilot’s seat of an X-wing fighter going up against the dreaded Galactic Empire. I didn’t begin to play it until a few years after it came out, but considering it has been 20 years since it was released, I figure it’s fair to give it some thought.

The thing I enjoyed most about playing X-Wing was the sense of openness and possibility. It seems strange to see that in a video game, especially one from so many years ago, there was a clear effort on the part of the designers to create a non-linear feeling.

For example, you could continue flying for as long as you wanted, getting further and further away from the main objectives. If you flew for two hours, it would take you a full two hours to get back. The game conveyed the vastness and desolation of space, something that is rarely done in games today.

Additionally, the game involved strategic decision making. This may not seem likely since it was a space combat game, but it wasn’t a button masher – some thinking was definitely involved. You had to select how much power to allocate to shields, lasers, and engines. Devote power to one, and you had less for the others. The game was surprisingly deep, especially for its time.

Another aspect that made X-Wing so great was that it ensured its entertainment value was based on the fact it focused on gameplay, rather than a few big cinematic moments or a shocking story. Back in 1993, graphical capabilities were obviously much less impressive than they are now. So, to create an entertaining game, designers had to strengthen the gameplay itself, since they couldn’t fall back on big flashy graphics.

Of course, not everything was perfect. The fact that your ship would stop moving if you shut off your engine doesn’t make much sense, but it didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the game.

What the designers seemed to focus on was delivering a very simple yet consistent
gameplay experience. The game was built around that, and I think this is why it holds up so well, even many years later.

For fans of the Star Wars universe I would still recommend checking out Star Wars: X-Wing. It has been slightly updated, and can likely be found either for free or a very low cost. It also inspired some follow-up games, like TIE Fighter (not ties fighting each other, mind you), X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, and X-Wing Alliance.

Star Wars: X-Wing was an example of a simple concept being executed well, and 20 years from its debut, that’s something that is as important now as ever when it comes to enjoyable entertainment.