I've always wondered why the VGA DOS version of many Wing Commander games uses a dark blue background for space, even though in real life it is pitch black.

A palette limitation was my first thought, but most early Wing Commander games were released for the 320x200 pixel VGA mode with 256 colors and there are deep black screens in the cockpits of the spaceships. Thus the black color was still available in the palette.

So there must be another reason. Was perhaps the 3D/sprite software rendering engine somehow limited to its own palette with fewer colors even though VGA mode could do more and the overlay 2D Cockpit used all colors?

Or did the limitation come from the format for the 2d sprites in order to save space on the floppy disks? If you used fewer colors for the 2d sprites, e.g. only 16 or 32 colors instead of 256, then you could actually save storage space. Because each spaceship required sprite graphics from multiple angles. If you were to use all 256 colors for the sprites, you would need 1 byte of storage space per pixel. And with multiple sprites for the same spaceship from multiple angles, that quickly becomes a lot of bytes. If, on the other hand, you only use 16 colors, then 2 pixels would fit into 1 byte. And with 32 colors you would only need 5 bytes for 8 pixels.This explanation only makes no sense for Wind Commander 3, as it uses a real 3D engine and not a pseudo 3D sprite engine. Furthermore, it was only released on CD-ROM.

I also noticed that in Wing Commander 2, for example, the cutscenes again have a black background for space.

The Wing Commander games where space has a dark blue color in the VGA DOS version are:

Honorable exceptions where this is not the case and space is actually black, as it should be, are:

By the way, Wing Commander V: Prophecy (1997) also has a black background for space, but this game was never released for DOS.

  • 2
    You practically answered your own question - I can’t proof it but I think it’s because of, said textually by you, “If you used fewer colors for the 2d sprites, e.g. only 16 or 32 colors instead of 256, then you could actually save storage space.”
    – BotW_LoNk
    Commented Mar 12 at 20:10
  • And with Wing Commander III, space could be blue to get a similitude with the other two games.
    – BotW_LoNk
    Commented Mar 12 at 20:15
  • Well, I just made some assumptions. The storage space might be the most likely one, but I wouldn't rule out the other one and maybe I missed something.
    – Coder
    Commented Mar 12 at 22:32


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