Stories of an XBLA addict: Wing Commander Arena, the original party chat
On July 25th, 2007 Wing Commander Arena released on XBLA. It was never the greatest game in the world, but it’s far from a terrible game. It’s heavy reliance on online multiplayer carrying the torch for any sense of value in the title was ultimately the reason behind its swift downfall for most gamers. Single player was extremely lacking and four players were required for any online games to actually start. Unfortunately, even on release day it was a fairly tall order to find four players in any game modes. But a very niche community of gamers managed to make Wing Commander Arena possess one of the best communities that any XBLA game had seen at that point and make the four player requirement a non-issue.
Where this title lacked was also where the game managed to make its most cherished contribution to XBLA. Wing Commander Arena was the first XBLA title to allow up to 16-player online matches. And with that also came one of the first achievements that brought a wide range of competitive XBLA players together. The achievement was called TCS Tiger’s Claw and all it required was to compete in a 16-player Capital Ship game. Back then achievements like that were fairly unheard of and it took some serious scheduling on the Xbox.com forums to set up the boosting sessions in order to unlock this achievement.
In those 16-player Capital Ship games shined quite possibly the greatest feature to date in any XBLA game. 16-player simultaneous chat sessions were born and the value in that feature alone made Wing Commander Arena boosting sessions one of my favorite memories during my time in XBLA competition. Keep in mind that when this game released, Xbox LIVE was still operating on the Blades dashboard where private chat was the best way to communicate with other gamers. Due to this, most competitive XBLA gamers had split off in to teams of two. There was Lucas & Zerium, Smally & Johnny, Karnage & myself and many more duos present at each boosting session. We all had our partners, but Wing Commander Arena brought those teams together and helped foster a better sense of community among competitive XBLA gamers. Friendships were born.
Mix the 16-player boosting sessions along with the grind of a few other achievements in Wing Commander Arena and you now have late night chat sessions for months after the game released. There was a point where I would get excited to jump in to an open game of Wing Commander Arena just to chat with other gamers as opposed to getting back to my daily grind of pumping out another 200/200. I spent so much time waiting in Bearpit lobbies that I could still probably do the Hot Dog achievement in my sleep. Sometimes we were productive and other times we were not. But none of that mattered. We still managed to have fun just getting together and talking about XBLA.
For this memory alone, I salute you Wing Commander Arena as one of finer games in early XBLA history. You might not have provided a great experience from a gameplay perspective but you did foster a community that needed a place to meet each night. You helped introduce me to gamers that have made up the majority of my friends list for the past five years. People who I had only known before by their gamertag listed in the forums for various gaming sites. People who I now consider close friends. You were party chat in its beta stage and for that I salute you. Well done Wing Commander Arena, well done.