Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War

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Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War
Freespace1box.jpg
Box cover art for Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War
Developer(s) Volition, Inc.
Hyperion Entertainment (Amiga version)
Publisher(s) Interplay Entertainment
Haage & Partner Computer (Amiga version)
Designer(s) Adam Pletcher
FreeSpace Team
Engine FreeSpace engine
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows, Amiga, AmigaOS 4
Release date(s) Microsoft Windows
  • NA March 19, 1998
  • EU 1998
Amiga
December 2001[1]
Genre(s) Space combat simulator
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer
Distribution 2 CD-ROMs

Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War is a 1998 space combat simulation IBM PC compatible computer game developed by Volition, Inc. when it was split off from Parallax Software. Published by Interplay Entertainment, it is also known as Conflict: FreeSpace – The Great War in Europe. In 2001, it was ported to the Amiga platform as FreeSpace – The Great War by Hyperion Entertainment.

The story places the player in the role of a human pilot in the Galactic Terran Alliance, as it engages in war with the alien Parliamentary Vasudan Empire. This war is interrupted by the appearance of the enigmatic and militant Shivans, who begin slaughtering Terrans and Vasudans alike. Putting aside their differences, the Terrans and Vasudans form an alliance, and the player is assigned to missions to stop the Shivans' genocidal advance. The player pilots a starfighter, and alongside competent AI wingmen, completes these missions to determine the fate of two races. Important battles in the story feature capital ships, which dwarf the fighters piloted by the player, and explode spectacularly when destroyed.

Descent: FreeSpace was well received as a single-player space simulation that integrated all the desired features of its genre, but its multiplayer mode was plagued by lag and inaccurate tracking of statistics. Its expansion, Silent Threat, which comprised additional missions, was also released in 1998. Its sequel, FreeSpace 2, was released a year later in 1999.

Gameplay[edit]

Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War puts the player in a starfighter flying out on missions to investigate, protect, or destroy certain targets. Some have categorized it as a flight simulator, since it has more controls and commands than a typical arcade game.[2] However, its flight model is simple, akin to that of the game TIE Fighter, though it incorporates some elements of Newtonian physics such as precise collision physics.[3][4] In the single-player mode, the player flies through a series of missions in a campaign.

The HUD-only interface of FreeSpace

Before flying a mission, the player goes through a briefing, which details relevant information and objectives. Ships and weapons are selected following the briefing, adding an element of strategy to the missions.[5] When flying, the game's perspective is a first-person view from within the cockpit, but the only visible interface is that of the head-up display (HUD). The player can customize the HUD by changing its color, or by toggling the information displays.[6][7]

Missions must be successfully completed for the campaign to advance.[8] However, not all objectives must be met for a mission to be considered successful.[3] Results of a mission can affect later missions; for example, an enemy capital ship allowed to flee in a particular mission may return in a later mission.[9] Completed missions can be replayed on the in-game mission simulator.[8] Training missions are mixed in with the regular missions (and can be skipped), gradually introducing players to advanced commands and techniques as the missions become more sophisticated.[7][8] The game has been said to be easily playable with the keyboard alone, or together with a mouse or joystick.[5][10]

The game features multiplayer matches online or over a local area network (LAN). Players can either band together to complete cooperative missions, or split up into teams to battle against one another.[11] Voice chat is available, although reviewers advised it to be used only on broadband or LAN.[12] Online gameplay was free over the services offered by Parallax Online, which also kept track of players' statistics and rankings.[10]

Plot and setting[edit]

FreeSpace takes place in the 23rd century where humanity has discovered interstellar travel by using interstellar subspace jump nodes which function the same way as wormholes, and have spread among the stars as the Galactic Terran Alliance (GTA).[13] The player character, a pilot in the GTA navy, is thrust into the game during the fourteenth year of war between the GTA and the alien Parliamentary Vasudan Empire (PVE).

Clockwise from top left: Vasudans, Shivans, Terrans

The story begins 14 years after the start of the Terran-Vasudan war, with a lone GTA pilot Lt. Ash, being chased by ships belonging to an unknown race of aliens, who promptly destroy his fighter and the nearby GTA space station Riviera. This new species is dubbed "Shivans", who proceed to attack both races indiscriminately utilizing advanced technologies that make both Terrans and Vasudans unable to target or even damage the Shivan fighters with their primary weapons. The player embarks on several missions for the new Terran-Vasudan alliance to catch up with the Shivans' technological superiority by capturing Shivan supply depots, acquiring Shivan shield generator technology in the process while fending off a Vasudan death cult, the Hammer of Light who worship the Shivans.[14] The player becomes instrumental in capturing the Shivan cruiser SC Taranis.[15] But its capture is only short as the Shivan ultimate warship, the super-destroyer SD Lucifer makes its entrance, destroying the captured Taranis and many other allied ships, spearheading an invasion into the Vasudan systems and Terran outer colonies, and utilizing a powerful shield to make itself immune to all conventional weaponry. Despite the player's best efforts, the Lucifer enters the Vasudan home system and bombards the species' homeworld into oblivion, killing 4 billion Vasudans in the process.

However a small Vasudan refugee fleet is forced to land on an uncharted planet in the Altair system where they discover the remnants of an extinct alien civilization dubbed "the Ancients" which were destroyed by the Shivans long ago. Their backstory being told through cutscenes at various points in the game. The Vasudans discover that the Ancients knew how to penetrate the Lucifer's shields, as shield systems do not work in subspace and the Ancients had devised a way to track vessels through and into subspace, but by then they did not have the means to destroy it and their civilization was wiped out.

The Lucifer begins heading for Earth, and the player leads a squadron of fighters and bombers on a desperate final attack to destroy the super-destroyer in subspace while its shields are offline. The plan works but destruction of the Lucifer in the Sol-Delta Serpentis jump node causes the node to collapse and Sol is cut off from the rest of the Terran colonies.

The expansion Silent Threat continues the story in a straightforward manner. The player joins the Galactic Terran Intelligence (GTI) while the Terran-Vasudan alliance is in a fragile state, and is told to preserve the alliance by ruthlessly pacifying rebellious elements and fending off remnants of the Shivan forces.[16] However, it all turns out to be a cover-up,[17] as the GTI is plotting a coup,[18] and has constructed a Terran-Shivan hybrid superdestroyer of their own, the GTD Hades, which the player must destroy.[19]

Development[edit]

FreeSpace was Volition's first project after the split from Parallax Software, which also spawned Outrage Entertainment.[20] It is not part of the canon of the Descent computer game series, and contained none of its ideas and only small portions of its code.[21][22] It was only prefixed with Descent to avoid trademark issues with Mijenix Corporation's "FreeSpace", a disk compression utility.[23][24] Volition also used the term "FreeSpace" in the game to initially describe what became later known as subspace.[25] The game was conceived by Adam Pletcher, with all the features of space simulator games his team had found to be fun. The games TIE Fighter and Wing Commander were their primary inspirations, and those influences made their way into the game's flight model,[20] along with the influence of historical WWII dogfights. Themes from the fiction of Star Wars, Space: Above and Beyond, and Ender's Game form a part in shaping the background and story of the FreeSpace world. The chaotic battles between masses of ships commonly found in science-fiction anime became one of the features of FreeSpace.[26]

Begun with a crew of five, the project grew to a staff of 17.[24] The game's code was built from scratch. Most of the software modules were interlinked with each other, increasing the job's complexity and difficulty. The code incorporated small portions of Descent's code for specific functions.[21] Kulas, who had worked on several versions of Flight Simulator and Descent, brought his experience into the game's artificial intelligence (AI). The game's difficulty levels are based on advancing the enemy AI, rather than simply increasing damage and "hit points" of enemies.[27] Some realism was incorporated into the game's physics, such that an impact on one part of a starfighter's body will send it spinning appropriately, unlike sphere-based collision detection, in which an impact would simply 'push' the starfighter in a particular direction. Due to time and budget constraints, many of the initially planned cutscenes and stories were cut from the final product.[28] Examples of such cuts include a campaign path where the Terran-Vasudan alliance goes on a retreat, and scenes of racial tension within the alliance.[29] Despite the promise of a deathmatch mode for multiplayer,[30] it was cut from the final product.[11] The expansion Silent Threat also suffered the same fate of cuts due to budgetary and time concerns.[23]

Apogee Software announced on December 12, 1997 that they would be exclusively publishing FreeSpace for the first three months before handing the publishing rights back to Interplay Entertainment.[31] This was part of their agreement with Interplay for the latter's purchase of the rights to Descent, and Apogee decided to release FreeSpace as shareware, with themselves as the merchant of the registered version. Interplay, however, bought the full rights to FreeSpace from Apogee in late April, 1998, keeping the ownership of the game solely to themselves.[32]

Volition aimed for a quality release, and promised to deliver a product without major bugs. Minor bugs would be fixed in a prompt manner.[20] The shipped game, however, had deficiencies admitted by the team, such as problems with the multiplayer code, and a few design issues.[23] The game underwent four patches, which resolved most of the bugs, and improved the multiplayer performance.[33] Complaints about an online mission giving unfair scores led to Volition removing the mission from scoring play.[34] Another patch allowed EAX capability to be enabled for Creative Sound Blaster sound cards.[35] Interplay played its part in drumming up the community's interest by holding contests, and expanding material for the FreeSpace universe.[33] Meanwhile, Volition created official star maps, and released Vasudan voice clips and story development notes. Interplay hired science-fiction writers such as Fred Saberhagen, Simon Hawke, and Jeff Grubb to write weekly FreeSpace stories for two months.[36] Preparing for Silent Threat '​s release, Interplay held a contest from July 28 to August 25, 1998, in which the submitted fan-designed missions could win their authors prizes such as free copies of Silent Threat, FreeSpace apparel, and gaming hardware.[37] Entries were judged by a panel from PC Gamer, and qualified entries constituted half of the missions in Silent Threat.[16][38]

On December 14, 1999, Hyperion Entertainment announced their acquisition of the license to port FreeSpace to the Amiga system.[39] The publisher was changed to Haage & Partner Computer on October 18, 2001.[40] Despite the game's official release being announced for December 2001,[1] the approval to do so could only be gotten on January 7, 2002.[41] The game was shipped without a printed manual,[8] but had additional German and French language support.[42] Hyperion had stated they would port over Silent Threat if the FreeSpace port sold well. To date, Silent Threat has yet to be ported over to the Amiga platform.

Reception[edit]

Reception
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 82.0%[45]
Review scores
Publication Score
AllGame 4 / 5[6]
Computer and Video Games 8.9 / 10[43]
GamePro 4.5 / 5[44]
Game Revolution A-[12]
GameSpot 8.9 / 10[11]
Total Amiga 5 / 5[42]

FreeSpace - which was placed 20th in PC Gamer UK '​s 1999 Top 100 Awards[46] - was frequently compared to Wing Commander: Prophecy and X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter in its reviews, and stood up well against them. It has been said to be a combination of the two games, possessing the better qualities of each; the plot is fairly epic, but the player is still just a pilot caught up in it all, fighting amongst fleets of starships.[6][9] As the game took inspiration from space simulation classics and offered comparatively little of its own innovation, it was called unoriginal by a few reviewers.[2][5]

Most reviewers glossed over the game's story, but a few found it lacking the depth needed to captivate the player.[6][7] Some suggested that the game would have been better if the player had a greater role in controlling the outcome of the story. Without this impetus, these reviewers found themselves simply playing a "very sweet looking arcade title",[7] and felt detached from their wingmen and environment.[4] This feeling was made worse in Silent Threat with its "cold and inhuman" briefings and non-player characters.[16]

The explosions in the game impressed many reviewers.

Several reviewers praised FreeSpace '​s graphics, claiming asteroids are realistically rendered against softly glowing nebulae, while galaxies and stars of varying colors lay in the background.[7][10][12][42] Others felt differently, stating the 3D effects were less spectacular than those of the software rendered version, the nebulae were unconvincing, and the ships' textures were blurry and lacking detail.[2][3][47] However, reviewers unanimously agreed the explosions in FreeSpace were the most spectacular they had ever seen, and were impressed with the many small details of capital ships breaking up. Sharky Extreme was dismayed by the game's inability to go beyond 640x480 screen size.[5] The game's AI also received praise from reviewers,[43] as the player's wingmen were competent on their own and could be trusted with orders, even to the extent of co-ordinating attacks on capital ships.[3][8][9] Likewise, the player's enemies acted in concert with each other to achieve their squadron's objectives.[7][10][48]

Despite one reviewer's glowing praise for the FreeSpace '​s online multiplayer over cable modems,[10] the majority at that time were on dial-up access and roundly condemned the online multiplayer mode. The chief complaint was lag.[49] GameSpot's Desslock was amazed the game dared to advertise as being able to support 16 players online when it could not even support two players on 56k modems. Combatsim.com's Fitzgerald called the multiplayer "bug ridden" after experiencing many of his shots not registering hits or kills on enemy ships after over 40 minutes of play; all of it due to lag.[7] Other reviewers found their situations similar with their guns only firing seconds after depressing the trigger, and their ships randomly jumping over the playing area.[4][9]

Silent Threat was judged to be a decent but uninspired add-on. The campaign missions were either standard escort or destroy missions, and offered no new equipment which were unable to compete against the older equipment.[16][50] The stand-alone missions, however, were toasted for the way they were conceived. The contest-winning entries gave breadth to the game's variety of missions. This was made possible with the free editor FreeSpace Editor, or FRED for short. With the ability to import personal audio and 3D animation files, the editor allows users the same capability as Volition to create their own missions.[4] The possibilities offered by the editor resulted in a call to the community to stop the flood of "Battle of Endor"-type missions, and to design missions following Volition's Jason Hoffoss' Zen philosophy of accomplishing more with less.[51]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Amiga Flame staff (n.d.). "Released Games of 2001". Amiga Flame. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  2. ^ a b c Greg Miller (n.d.). "Review of:Descent: FREESPACE (The Great War)". PC Alamode. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  3. ^ a b c d Stoo (November 2002). "A Force for Good — review of Conflict: Freespace". A Force for Good. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  4. ^ a b c d Warren Liu (1998-09-20). "Review: Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War". GamersWanted.com. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  5. ^ a b c d Anders Hammervald (1999-04-26). "Conflict: Freespace Review". Sharky Extreme. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  6. ^ a b c d Beth Wasden (n.d.). "Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War". Allgame. Retrieved 2007-10-26. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Maurice Fitzgerald (1998-07-17). "Descent Freespace". Combatsim.com. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  8. ^ a b c d e Seppo Typpö (n.d.). "FreeSpace – The Great War". The Amiga Games Database. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
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  10. ^ a b c d e TraderX (1998-06-07). "Review: Descent: Freespace". Game Over Online Magazine. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  11. ^ a b c Stefan "Desslock" Janicki (1998-07-22). "Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War". GameSpot. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  12. ^ a b c Mark Cooke (2004-06-05). "Descent: Freespace — PC". Game Revolution. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  13. ^ Volition staff (1998-02-26). "FreeSpace Reference Bible" (Word 97). Volition, Inc. p. 4. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  14. ^ Hammer of Light: We are the Hammer of Light. The prophecy is your doom. Volition, Inc. (1998-03-19). "Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War" PC. Interplay Entertainment. 
  15. ^ Admiral Wolf: Congratulations, Alpha 1. You were instrumental in the first capture of a major Shivan vessel! Volition, Inc. (1998-03-19). "Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War" PC. Interplay Entertainment. 
  16. ^ a b c d Warren Liu (1998-10-14). "Review: Descent: Freespace - Silent Threat". GamersWanted.com. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  17. ^ Admiral Scott: Therefore, we suspect the Loki-class fighters were engaged in a GTI cover up. The attack on your wing in the Beta Aquilae system may have been a botched attempt to cover up the Einstein's existence. Volition, Inc. (1998-10-01). "Descent: FreeSpace — Silent Threat" PC. Interplay Entertainment. 
  18. ^ GTA Commander: The conspiracy is not confined to a rogue element within the GTI, but involves officers in the highest echelon of the intelligence directorate. Although their objectives remain unclear, command believes the conspirators intend to overthrow the GTA government and dissolve the GTA treaty. Volition, Inc. (1998-10-01). "Descent: FreeSpace — Silent Threat" PC. Interplay Entertainment. 
  19. ^ GTA Commander: Reconnaissance also has evidence of a large-scale prototype construction involving Shivan technology, but no data regarding the configuration and capability of this vessel could be gathered. Volition, Inc. (1998-10-01). "Descent: FreeSpace — Silent Threat" PC. Interplay Entertainment. 
  20. ^ a b c Mike Fine (1998-05-01). "Descent: Free "Speech". An Interview with Adam Pletcher". 3D Gamers. Retrieved 2007-10-31. 
  21. ^ a b Asrale (2000-09-11). "Volition Interview". PlanetDescent. Archived from the original on October 28, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-31. 
  22. ^ Tom Chick (1998-01-29). "FreeSpace Preview". GamePower. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  23. ^ a b c Michael Diedrich (Zarathud) (1998-11-20). "Chat with Volition". FreeSpace Watch. Retrieved 2007-10-30. 
  24. ^ a b Gwar (1998-01-03). "Interview with Dan Wentz". Descentia. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  25. ^ Volition staff (1998-02-26). "FreeSpace Reference Bible" (Word 97). Volition, Inc. p. 2. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  26. ^ Chris Jensen (1998-01-28). "FreeSpace Preview". Ogr.com. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  27. ^ Jason Ocampo (1998-01-03). "FreeSpace Preview". Strategy Plus. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  28. ^ Volition staff (1998-02-26). "FreeSpace Reference Bible" (Word 97). Volition, Inc. p. 7. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  29. ^ Volition staff (1998-02-26). "FreeSpace Reference Bible" (Word 97). Volition, Inc. pp. 19–21. Retrieved 2007-11-09. 
  30. ^ GamePower staff (1998-01-29). "GamePower talks to FreeSpace producer". GamePower. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  31. ^ PC Gamer staff (1997-12-12). "Apogee has rights on FreeSpace". PC Gamer. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 
  32. ^ Samuel Stoddard (2005-09-30). "The Apogee FAQ". Hall of Light Amiga database. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  33. ^ a b Michael Diedrich (Zarathud) (1999-09-13). "FreeSpace Chronicled - The First Three Months". FreeSpace Watch. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  34. ^ Volition staff (1999-01-15). "The Meeting". Volition, Inc. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  35. ^ GameSpot staff (1999-02-25). "Descent Freespace v1.06 EAX Sound Patch". GameSpot. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  36. ^ Interplay staff (1998-11-17). "FreeSpace Stories". Interplay Entertainment. Archived from the original on 2001-03-06. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
  37. ^ Interplay staff (1998-11-18). "Descent: FreeSpace Mission Design Contest". Interplay Entertainment. Archived from the original on 2001-03-07. Retrieved 2007-11-14. 
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  39. ^ "Hyperion licences "Freespace: The Great War" for Amiga" (Press release). Hyperion Entertainment. 1999-12-14. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  40. ^ Haage & Partner Computer staff (2001-12-31). "News Archive 2001". Haage & Partner Computer. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  41. ^ Haage & Partner Computer staff (2002-07-10). "News Archive 2002". Haage & Partner Computer. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
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  43. ^ a b Richie Shoemaker (2001-08-13). "Conflict: FreeSpace – The Great War". Computer and Video Games. Archived from the original on 2007-12-03. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  44. ^ Michael E. Ryan (2000-11-24). "Review: Descent: Freespace". GamePro. Archived from the original on 2011-06-07. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  45. ^ "Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War Reviews". Game Rankings. Retrieved 2007-11-12. 
  46. ^ PC Gamer UK staff (June 1999). "The Top 100 Awards". PC Gamer UK. 
  47. ^ Randy Widell (n.d.). "Descent: FreeSpace". GameGenie.com. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  48. ^ Stephen Fulljames (2001-08-15). "Descent: Freespace". Computer and Video Games. Archived from the original on 2007-12-03. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  49. ^ Joe Koenig (Elemental) (1998-06-10). "The Major Problem: LAG!". FreeSpace Watch. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  50. ^ Reevus (n.d.). "Descent: Freespace Silent Threat". SKOAR!. Retrieved 2007-11-13. [dead link]
  51. ^ Michael Diedrich (Zarathud) (1998-08-05). "FRED and the Battle of Endor Syndrome". FreeSpace Watch. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 

External links[edit]