Alien Commander is a cancelled first person sci-fi adventure set in the Wing Commander universe, proposed by Warren Spector to Origin Systems while he was working at Looking Glass Studios. The team already developed Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss and UUII: Labyrinth of Worlds for Origin: now they wanted to work on something different than classic fantasy RPG. While Alien Commander was canned quite early, some of its ideas were merged into another game titled “Citadel” to create a different project known as “System Shock”. As we can read from an article and interview with Warren Spector published on Retro Gamer in January 2018:
“I was as sick of fantasy games as Paul having worked on several Ultima games and Underworld and Underworld II, I had a design spec for a game that was called Alien Commander, which was going to be a first-person science fiction game using the Wing Commander technology, and then along comes Paul with Citadel (System Shock’s original title) and I just dumped the Alien Commander proposal and System Shock went ahead.”
In PC Gamer magazine (May – June 1994) Spector also sadi:
“The game [System Shock] started off as something called Alien Commander (intended to be a Wing Commander tie-in) but soon moved completely away from that. Part of the fun for myself and project leader Doug Church was that we weren’t tied to the Ultima universe or to the Commander universe, so we could basically do whatever we liked“.
Since 2015 NightDive Studios announced they were working on a System Shock remake with the help of Warren Spector, and during one of their Twitch Streams they confirmed both Alien Commander and Citadel got merged to create the original System Shock.
Some more details on Alien Commander can be found in the pitch document Spector wrote in the early ‘90s, preserved in the “Warren Spector Papers” archive at the Briscoe Center for American History:
“This game combines Underworld technology with a Wing Commander storyline. The technology is strong and there have been very few first-person SF games (none of them successful to my knowledge). We all know the strength of the Wing Commander trademark. It’s been over a decade since the destruction of the Tiger’s Claw and a huge chunk of the old girl has been discovered in a backwater portion of the galaxy. Strange signals are being picked up from the derelict and the player has been sent to investigate.
[…] There are lots of creatures roaming around the ship, most of them dangerous. There are some people, too – a few survivors of the Claw’s explosion (some in suspended animation, some just recently awakened), a salvage crew that was drawn here by the same signals that attracted you, some folks, creatures you just can’t explain.
What the player doesn’t know (and must learn) is that members of the race known as the Double Helix (introduced in the Claw Marks magazine included in Wing Commander) had infiltrated the ship before it was blown up. They’ve spent the last ten+ years taking over the living creatures on the ship – most (but not all) of the people and creatures the player encounters are DH hybrids. […] The hybrids created by the merger are shape shifters. There’s no way to tell an enemy from a friend..
As the player explores the corridors of the ship, he must get the power on, find oxygen, repair life support and communications systems, acquire new components for his suit, new equipment he can fit to the suit or cart along with him for when he needs it. He must figure out that things are now what they seem, avoid being taken over by the DH, etc.
[…] When it appears the player is about to win, the DH pulls out their ace in the hole – they’re not just genetic manipulators, they can survive and thrive in electronic circuitry. They’ve infiltrated the ship’s computer system periodically and they duck in there now, intent on destroying the player even if it costs their lives. The last third (or so) of the game, takes place in cyberspace. In the Tigers Claw’s computers.
[…] In addition to your primary character, you start with a couple of sentries and drones. Sentries are like floating cameras. Set one up and it can survey an area. You can switch to its view at will. What it sees replaces your view or window or it appears alongside your view, in a smaller window. Drones can fly, but can’t interact with objects. Stopped by obstacles, but they’re small and can squak into / through places you can’t fit. Again, you can switch to drone view.
As the game goes on, you can acquire robots (and maybe other allies) you can switch to. Your character goes into stasis (so you better be someplace safe) and you then control a robot with different abilities than your main character. Maybe you can give a robot orders and have it carry them out without direct intervention from you. […] Even if you die, it should be possible to win using only robots.”
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