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Descent is a 3D first-person shooter video game developed by Parallax Software and released by Interplay in Europe in 1995. The game features six degrees of freedom gameplay and was followed by several expansion packs, as well as a 1996 port to the PlayStation. Ports were also announced for the Sega Saturn and Panasonic M2, but these were later cancelled. The game is set out in the Solar System where the player is cast as the Material Defender, a mercenary hired by the PTMC.
Descent spawned two direct sequels: Descent II in 1996 and Descent 3 in 1999. In June 2016, a spiritual successor titled Overload was funded on Kickstarter, raising $306,537 USD through crowdfunding to bring "Descent" back to the PC and has been greenlit on Steam. On April 10, 2015, a prequel titled Descent: Underground was successfully funded on Kickstarter, raising over $600,000 USD through crowdfunding to bring Descent back to the PC with release expected in 2017.
On March 12, 2016 Matt Toschlog and Mike Kulas (designers of the original Descent games) successfully funded Overload on Kickstarter, describing it as a 'spiritual successor' to the Descent series. The game has entered development and is slated for a 2017 release.
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The game requires the player to navigate labyrinthine mines while fighting virus-infected robots. The player is given the clear objective to find and destroy each mine's reactor core and escape before the mine is destroyed by the meltdown. Occasionally, for some levels, the reactor core is replaced with a boss, changing the objective that the player must destroy the boss in order to trigger the meltdown and escape before the mine blows up. To obtain access to the reactor, the player must collect the blue, yellow, and/or red access keys for each level, which are required to open doors. As an optional objective, the player can also choose to rescue PTMC workers who were taken hostage by the infected robots.
Descent features a complementary points system. Players can score points by destroying enemy robots, picking up power-ups, and detonating the reactor. Bonus points are awarded upon completion of each level. These bonus points are based upon the player's shield and energy count, the skill level played, and a combination of picking up any hostages and safely rescuing them.
Descent demands that players keep their sense of orientation in a fully 3D environment with a flight model featuring six degrees of freedom in zero-gravity. Traditional first-person shooter games require the player to only control two axes and their heading. By employing six degrees of movement, the player is given additional control for vertical movement and banking, introducing more movement controls than traditional FPS games. Descent's unique movement controls also increase the possibility for players to experience motion sickness or nausea – a common complaint found in reviews for the game.
The player is given the choice to natively use a keyboard, mouse, joystick, or combinations of these devices. Use of a second input device with or without a keyboard provides a greater amount of control due to the additional degrees of movement. The game also supports the use of two independently configured joysticks. One of its many supported input methods was mouselook, which at the time had not yet become standard in first person games.
The game provides a navigational wire frame map that displays any area of the mine visited or seen by the player, which revolves around the player's position. Use of the slide controls (commonly the joystick "Hat" switch) allows the player to navigate to areas of the map away from their current location. The use of wire-frame models meant that areas at varying distances would appear to mix together when overlapping. This was overcome in Descent 3 with the use of opaque wall brushes and lighting closely matching that found in-game. Additionally, Descent 3's map system allowed the player the ability to move the viewpoint through the tunnels in map mode.
Descent features 30 levels, three of which are secret levels. Each level is based in a mine located in various locations in the Solar System. The shareware version comprises seven levels. In the full version, the player moves on through twenty more mines in an outward pattern from Earth.
The primary weapons in Descent use energy, with the exception of the Vulcan cannon, which uses traditional ammunition. The player's spacecraft has a maximum energy capacity of 200 units; energy is replenished from energy power-ups floating in the mines or ejected by destroyed enemies. Energy can also be topped up (to a maximum of 100 units) at "energy centers", permanent recharge locations.
Descent uses shield power as health. As with energy, the ship "maxes out" at 200 shield units; unlike energy, shields can only be restored by acquiring "shield orb" power-ups. If the player finishes a level with shield power or energy power below 100 units, the ship will be recharged to 100 units for the next level.
When the player's ship is destroyed, all acquired power-ups and weapons are strewn about the area as power-ups, any rescued hostages aboard are killed, and at a cost of a life, the player's ship is respawned at the original starting position. In multiplayer games, extra shield and energy pickups are also dropped upon death.
Descent offers competitive multiplayer game play for up to eight players over a LAN and is touted as being one of the first games to allow initiating sessions conveniently from a menu within the game as well as on-the-fly joining of multiplayer games, whereas in many similar games of the era, it is presumed that all players have to be queued prior to initiating the match.
With the advent of Internet IPX clients like Kali and Kahn, Descent and Descent II were increasingly played over the Internet. Kahn, for example supported game matchmaking for internet-based gaming on MS-DOS, Windows 95 and Windows 98.
Descent II was especially popular online due to its support for short packets and variable packet rate, which significantly improved quality of play over the slower Internet connections prevalent at the time.
Since then, Descent source ports have added UDP support.
The game begins with a briefing between a bald anonymous executive (in later games named Dravis) of the Post Terran Mining Corporation (PTMC) and the player, a "Material Defender" (revealed as MD1032 in the briefings, also using the callsign "Vertigo-1") hired on a mercenary basis to eliminate the threat of a mysterious computer virus infecting the machines and robots used for off-world mining operations. The game progresses through the Solar System, from the Moon to Mercury, then outbound towards Pluto's moon Charon. After defeating the boss robot on Charon, the Material Defender is informed he cannot return to the PTMC's headquarters in Earth orbit, as there is a chance his ship may be infected with the same virus as the defeated robots. His employer also mentions that PTMC has lost contact with their deep-space installations outside the Solar System, hinting at what is going to happen in the sequel.
The original Descent was developed by Parallax Software for the DOS platform. Like most games of its era, the game was developed with a software renderer, because mainstream 3D graphics accelerator cards did not exist at the time. However, while most of its contemporaries—Doom included—use sprites, to render enemies, Descent renders enemies in full 3D using polygon meshes, a technique employed by Quake one year later. Sprites are used only for power-ups and the hostages. Descent's graphics engine uses portal rendering, taking advantage of the game's use of collections of cubes to form rooms and tunnels, in contrast with Doom and Quake, which use BSP trees. This system was very efficient, and made possible one of the first true 3D textured environments in a video game. On lower-end systems, detail levels could be reduced to cut out some of the smaller polygons on robots and render solid color blocks in place of textures on distant walls and across passageways in the distance. Within the game, sides of cubes can be attached to other cubes, or display up to two texture maps. Cubes can be deformed so long as they remain convex. To create effects like doors and see-through grating, walls could be placed at the connected sides of two cubes. The game also introduced an elaborate static lighting scheme alongside its simple dynamic lighting, where the environment could be lit with flares—another advancement compared to Doom. Descent II later added more dynamic lighting effects, including the ability to shoot out light fixtures.
The original Descent uses indexed 8-bit color in DOS's display mode 13h with a 320 × 200 resolution. Unlike its sequel it uses only one 256-color set during gameplay rather than a unique set for each group of levels; these colors tinge red during damage and purple during fusion charging. The Macintosh and later PC versions allow higher resolutions, as well as 640 × 480.
The default engine uses a software rendering in which the perspective transformation for texture mapping is only performed once every 32 pixels, causing textures to appear to pop or shift when viewed from certain angles. The software renderer also uses nearest-neighbor texture filtering, as opposed to bilinear filtering or trilinear filtering used by modern video cards. Nearest-neighbor texture filtering causes aliasing artifacts, blocky textures. These rendering compromises allowed the game to be played on most PCs contemporary with it, while better rendering techniques would have prevented it from being run on any but the most powerful gaming PCs in 1994. Due to the game's CPU burdening software rendering, the game was playable on 386 CPUs at 33 MHz and for good-quality rendering with full-screen view and better than minimal render depth, a 486 running at least 66 MHz was required. With the release of the faster Pentium, the performance requirements were no longer an issue and maximum rendering quality was possible.
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Descent was originally released in Europe for MS-DOS in December 1994, and made it to North America on March 17, 1995. Initially it was released by Interplay as shareware, with the full version released three months later, just over a year after the December 1993 release of id Software's Doom. On that year came the Mac OS, Acorn Archimedes and PC-98releases as well, respectively exclusive to North America, Europe and Japan.
In 1995, a commercial Descent level editor called Descent Mission Builder, created by Bryan Aamot of Brainware was published by Interplay Productions. Users can create their own single-player and multiplayer levels with the program and then play them. Later that same year came Descent: Levels of the World, a popular add-on containing all of the entries from a level design competition held by Interplay in 1995, plus one level designed by Parallax Software. A viewer is included, allowing the player to see a preview of each map, as well as selecting ones that received a "Top 10" award or an honorable mention.
In 1996, Descent: Anniversary Edition was released on the one-year anniversary of the original game's debut. The Anniversary Edition featured Descent, the Levels Of The Worldadd-on, and several additional levels created by Parallax.
A version of Descent was produced for the PlayStation in 1996. It features all thirty levels, with five new anarchy levels, the remixed soundtrack from the Mac OS version (featuring extra tracks from Type O Negative and Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy), prerendered cinematics (using the same cinematic engine as Descent II), and radiosity colored lighting effects.
In 1997, Descent was bundled with its 1996 sequel Descent II in Descent 1 and 2 The Definitive Collection. This included Descent, the Levels Of The World add-on, and several additional levels created by Parallax. The various expansions for Descent II were also included, as was a preview of the upcoming Descent 3.
In February 1997, it was confirmed that Interplay was planning to release the game to the Nintendo 64 in time for the holiday season under the name "Ultra Descent", as it had done for the PlayStation the previous year. Throughout the next two years it was said that the game was still in development and release dates were scattered all over the place until it was silently canceled in late 1999.
In February 1996, Descent's official support ended with Parallax' last patch v1.5; therefore the game runs fine on PCs' using Windows 95, but has compatibility problems with the later released Windows XP.
In 1997 on the commercial end of life the source code of the original Descent was released, excluding the audio code, which was later replaced with the Allegro library. The source code to Descent II was subsequently released in 1999. Parallax Software released the source code to the original Descent and Descent II under the terms of a non-freesource code license in which that all commercial or revenue-generating distribution is restricted.
The source code availability led to the creation of Descent source ports for modern computer operating systems and hardware by the game's community. Notable examples are DXX-Rebirth and D2X-XL (with Oculus Rift support), as well as a homebrew Wii version.
In November 2007, Interplay announced that the company had plans to create a new Descent game if it could secure funding for the game's development.
Descent was re-released on modern digital distribution services after being non-available for years in retail distribution: GOG.com, on September 9, 2008 (as part of Descent + Descent 2) and Steam on February 13, 2014, where it has met with high sales.
In December 2015, a representative of Parallax Software responded to speculation on the Good Old Games forums, regarding the withdrawal of Descent, Descent II and Descent 3from sale there. Parallax- still in existence- owned the copyrights to the first two games, but claimed not to have been paid royalties on them by publisher Interplay since 2007. As a result, they had terminated the 21 year sales agreement, meaning Interplay no longer had permission to distribute Descent or Descent II.
Descent and Descent II remained available through Steam as of 30 December 2015, despite Parallax's assertion that this should not be the case.
Interplay originally announced that a version of Descent was planned for release on the WiiWare for the holiday season of 2010; however, while not officially cancelled, no progress has been seen in 4 years, and it is considered vaporware[by whom?].
Descent was a critical and commercial success. GameSpot gave the PC version an 8 out of 10, remarking that "Only one 3-D shooter adds a whole new dimension to the field: Descent." They particularly noted the labyrinthine environments and free three-dimensional range of movement.
The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly called the PlayStation version an outstanding conversion due to its extremely fast rendering speed and improved lighting effects. However, two of them felt that the gameplay lacked excitement. Major Mike of GamePro also judged it "an excellent conversion" due to its complex but generally easy to master controls and impressive lighting effects, though he did complain of sometimes severe slowdown. Maximum stated it "is one of the greatest games to grace the PlayStation, and rates alongside WipeOut as one of the best ambassadors for the machine." They particularly applauded the labyrinthine level design, intelligent enemy AI, and lighting effects. Their subsequent feature on the game was more critical, saying that "the official PAL version of Descent features some of the most hideous letterbox PAL borders we've ever seen, with no sign of PAL optimisation whatsoever." However, it also praised the game's use of the PlayStation link up cable. Next Generation too praised the developers for adding lighting effects and a new industrial soundtrack to the PlayStation version rather than doing a straight port. Like Major Mike, they found the controls complex but intuitive and easy to master, and while criticizing that the game can be dry and repetitive, they concluded, "Overall, you still can't go wrong, and if you've got the ability to fly against someone else, it doesn't get much better."
The popularity of Descent brought about several similar six-degrees-of-freedom shooters. One of the most well-known "Descent clones" was Forsaken, which was released in 1998 for PC, PlayStation, and Nintendo 64. Forsaken had similar graphics to Descent, and almost identical gameplay.
Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War was released by Volition in 1998. It shared the Descent name, but otherwise had no connection to the series; it was given the "Descent" prefix to avoid trademark issues with "FreeSpace", a disk compression utility (in Europe, it was released as Conflict: FreeSpace – The Great War). FreeSpace was a space simulator, and while it was still technically a 3D shooter, it did not retain Descent's characteristic "six degrees of freedom" control scheme, save for a cheat code that would force the player's ship to loosely mimic Descent's physics. Some early drafts of the FreeSpace story had the pilot searching for Descent's "Material Defender", but the story of the finished game was unrelated.
Around that time, Volition also began work on Descent 4, but development was canceled in 2000, owing mostly to disappointing sales of Descent 3. Descent 4 may have been originally planned as a prequel to Descent, and reportedly served as a basis for the first-person shooter Red Faction. Similarities include a reference to a "humans first" strike in Descent's opening briefing, and plot points such as nanotechnology, an evil faceless corporation, and the virus they are attempting to harness. Mike Kulas (president of Volition) stated in an interview that the Red Faction and Descent universes are strictly separate, however he did admit that code intended for Descent 4 had been used in Red Faction.
Miner Wars 2081, a six degrees of freedom game released in 2012, features audio work by Dan Wentz, sound effects editor for Descent II.
In 1999 the Descent series also spawned a trilogy of novels written by Peter Telep and sold at several major booksellers. The titles are Descent, Descent: Stealing Thunder, and Descent: Equinox. The novels did not follow the games to the word, but expanded on the basic premise, and were very well received.
In November 2014, several former developers for the Star Citizen game, led by Eric "Wingman" Peterson announced that they were forming Descendent Studios to work on a multiplayer game similar to Descent in play style, and with the working title "Ships That Fight Underground". The company was approached by Interplay in December and a deal was struck to license the Descent name to Descendent Studios.
In October 2015 Sigtrap Games released Sublevel Zero, a first-person roguelike six-degree-of-freedom shooter. Inspired by gaming classics such as Descent and Forsaken as well as contemporary shooters like Teleglitch, Sublevel Zero's combat is driven by modern looting and crafting. The game started life as a jam entry for Ludum Dare 29, placing 21st of thousands of entries.
In March 2015, Descendent Studios announced a Kickstarter for Descent: Underground, a new prequel using Interplay's existing IP rights to the Descent franchise (with Volition owning the remaining properties, such as the original Pyro GX ship and music). It is powered by Unreal Engine 4 and has a planned release date of 2016.
In February 2016, Revival Productions announced a Kickstarter for Overload, a Descent-style "six degrees of freedom" tunnel shooter by a team containing many of the original Parallax developers who created the original Descent games to begin with. Overload will be a game with a story in an original world, but the developers will be able to include elements from Descent as bonuses, secrets, etc. Overload is being developed using Unity 5 ..
Descent II is a 1996 first-person shooter video game developed by Parallax Software and published by Interplay Productions. It is the second game in the Descent video game series and a sequel to the original Descent. Unlike standard first-person shooters, the player must control a flying ship that has a six degrees of freedom movement scheme, allowing the player to move in any 3D direction. The original soundtrack features industrial metal contributed by notable musicians such as Type O Negative, Ogre and Mark Walk of Skinny Puppy, and Brian Luzietti. The game received very positive reviews from video game critics. A sequel, Descent 3, was released in 1999.As of December 2015, Descent II has been withdrawn from sale via Good Old Games and Steam due to a dispute between Parallax Software and publisher Interplay.
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Screenshot featuring the new Guide-Bot. This Guide-Bot is guiding the player to the reactor to destroy.
Like its predecessor Descent, Descent II is a six degrees of freedom shooter wherein the player controls a flying ship from a first-person perspective in zero-gravity. It is differentiated from standard first-person shooters in that it allows the player to move and rotate in any 3D direction. Specifically, the player is free to move forward/backward, up/down, left/right, and rotate in three perpendicular axes, often termed pitch, yaw, and roll. Aboard the ship, the player can shoot enemies and fire flares to explore darkened areas.
In the game's single-player mode, the player must complete 24 levels where different types of AI-controlled robots will try to hinder the player's progress. In each level, the player must find and either destroy a reactor or defeat a boss, depending upon on which level the player is; each level that is a multiple of 4 has a boss instead of a reactor. Once the reactor (or boss) of a particular level has been destroyed (or defeated), the player must exit the level under a time limit, or else lose a life and all points earned on that level, before proceeding to the next level. Each level is composed of a set of rooms separated by white, blue, yellow, or red doors. White doors can be opened by simply firing weapons at them or bumping into them, however the other colored doors require a key of the corresponding color to be opened. Along the way, the player may also find and free a Guide-Bot, an assistant that shows the player the way to a specific target.
Within each level, the player may collect power-ups that enhance the ship's weaponry. Weapons are categorized into two different types: primary weapons and secondary weapons. Primary weapons range from a variety of laser weapons to the Plasma Cannon and the Vulcan Cannon, while secondary weapons include different types of missiles and mines. Most primary weapons consume energy in different rate, but some, such as the Vulcan Cannon, use their own type of ammunition. In contrast, all secondary weapons require their own ammunition suppliers. The player can also collect equipment items which grant special powers. For example, the Quad Laser modifies the laser weapons to fire four shots at once instead of the standard two, while the Afterburner allows the player to temporarily increase the acceleration and speed of the ship. Additionally, there may be human hostages hidden away in many of the stages, which can give an additional point bonus after completing a level if they are rescued.
The player's ship is protected by a shield which decreases when incurring damage from enemies, its own weapons, and collisions. If the shield is fully depleted, the player loses one life, all rescued hostages, and starts at the beginning of the level without any collected power-ups. Nevertheless, the player can reclaim the missing power-ups from the ruins of the destroyed ship. If a player loses all life points, the game will be over. Shield, energy, and ammunition suppliers are dispersed among the levels to help players increase their resources, while life points are gained by reaching a particular amount of the player's overall score. The player's score can be increased by either killing enemies or rescuing hidden human hostages.
Descent II also features a multiplayer mode wherein two to eight players can compete against each other in several game types. Notable game types include Anarchy, where the objective is to kill as many opponents as possible, and Capture the flag, in which two teams compete against each other to capture opposing flags. Aspects such as time limit, number of opponents killed to end a game, and map to play on, among others, can be customized to match player preference. The game also features a co-operative mode that allows players to work together to complete single-player levels. Multiplayer games support the IPX and UDP/IP protocols.
After the Material Defender has destroyed all of the mines in the solar system in the original Descent, he stops in the Asteroid belt for refueling. PTMC executive S. Dravis then contacts him and blackmails him to accept a new mission: "If you've studied your standard mercenary agreement, you would notice that PTMC reserves the right to keep you on retainer for up to 72 hours, post-mission. If you choose to decline further service, we may consider you in default of your contract, and your fee may be suspended, pending litigation. Good luck Material Defender. Dravis out."
The Material Defender's ship is fitted with a prototype warp core. He is then sent to clear out PTMC's deep space mines in planets beyond the Solar System. The planets are Zeta Aquilae, Quartzon, Brimspark, Limefrost Spiral, Baloris Prime, and Omega. The Omega system is subdivided into the Puuma Sphere and Tycho Brahe, with the latter being the final level of the game. The last mine on Tycho Brahe seems to run all through a planetoid, which is revealed in the final cutscene to be a large spaceship. After the planetoid/spaceship breaks apart, the Material Defender radios in to alert Dravis to his return home, but his warp drive malfunctions and he ends up in an unknown location. The camera then fades to that location and the ship appears, drifting towards the camera, heavily damaged and crackling with excess radiation.
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Descent II was developed by Parallax Software. The game was originally planned as an expansion pack to the original Descent. Both Descent and Descent II use a software renderer, but Descent II is also able to take advantage of the widening selection of 3D graphics accelerator video cards. Graphics were still 8-bit, but due to the additional CD storage space available, instead of using a single palette set during gameplay, each of the six four-level sets had its own 256-color set, and there were effectively six texture sets, each of which had basically the same textures but optimized them specifically for those colors and textures most used in the four-level set. Furthermore, multiple resolutions were supported. The original Descent uses indexed 8-bit color in DOS's display mode 13h, using 320 × 200 resolution. The Macintosh and later PC versions allow higher resolutions, such as 640 × 480. Descent II allows the resolution maximum to be stretched to 800 × 600, or 1280 × 1024 with the -superhires option.
Like Descent, Descent II operates on the premise of interconnected cubes. Sides of cubes can be attached to other cubes, or display up to two texture maps. Cubes can be deformed so long as they remain convex. To create effects like doors and see-through grating, walls could be placed at the connected sides of two cubes. Descent introduced an elaborate static lighting scheme as well as simple dynamic lighting, another advancement compared to Doom. The environment could be lit with flares, lights could flicker. Newly added for Descent II is that the environment can be darkened by shooting out the lights. The environment is also highly destructable and very interactive. Shooting out certain props, such as control panels and gate switches, would cause for secret doors to be opened.
After its release, a patch was issued to add support for early 3D accelerators running the S3 ViRGE chipset. Patches (also from Parallax) added Rendition Vérité and 3Dfx Voodoo support further down the line, and the Macintosh version could use RAVE-compatible 3D acceleration as well. The Descent II source code, like that of Descent before it, has been released to the general public.
The base Descent II game was released for MS-DOS, Mac OS and the Acorn Archimedes in 1996. Windows support was also made available. Later in 1996 came Descent Mission Builder 2, a Descent and Descent II level editor from third party developer Brainware. It is also capable of converting Descent levels into Descent II levels.
On November 15, 1996  came Descent II: Vertigo Series, an add-on for Descent II. It contains 22 new levels, two new multiplayer game types, new music, enemies, boss AI and Descent Mission Builder 2. Vertigo series was also released on the same day as a bundle including the base game, known as Descent II: The Infinite Abyss.
On April 30 in the U.S. and May 1, 1997 in the UK, the PlayStation version of Descent II, known as Descent Maximum was released. Instead of a straight port, it included new levels (for a total of 30), textures and FMV over the PC version of Descent II. On October 29, 1997 Descent I and II: The Definitive Collection was released. A compilation, it contains the full version of Descent, Descent II and Descent II: Vertigo Series. In 1998, Descent II was released in a standalone jewel case (as opposed to a box) by SoftKey, with an AOL trial offered on-disc.
Digital distribution Edit
In January 2007, Descent II was re-released in downloadable form on GameTap. On September 9, 2008, it was bundled with Descent on GOG.com (then known as Good Old Games) as Descent + Descent 2. On February 19, 2014, Descent II was re-released on Valve's Steam digital distribution service.
In December 2015, a representative of Parallax Software responded to speculation regarding the removal of Descent, Descent II and Descent 3 from sale on Good Old Games. It was claimed that Parallax- still in existence- owned the copyrights to the first two games, but had not been paid royalties on their sale since 2007 by publisher Interplay. As a result, Parallax had terminated the 21 year sales agreement, meaning Interplay no longer had permission to distribute Descent or Descent II. (This post did not touch on the reasons for Descent 3's removal). Descent and Descent II remained available through Steam as of 30 December 2015, despite Parallax's assertion that this should not be the case. It has been removed from Steam as of 23 July 2016.
Upon release, Descent II received very positive reviews from video game critics. Chris Hudak, writing for GameSpot, commented: "If you don't like Descent at least a little bit, make no mistake, there is something wrong with you." Todd Vaughn of PC Gamer praised the game's graphics and improved multiplayer features. In a very positive review, Michael E. Ryan of PC Magazine considered the Guide-Bot to be a valuable addition to the game "because the automap is just as confusing as it was in the original game". Geoff Keighley of Computer Games Magazine highlighted positively the enemy AI, but expressed concerns about the lack of outdoor levels (a feature later added in its sequel). Stephen Hill of TotalGames.net concluded: "If you don't own Descent, you'd be a fool to pass this sequel over. If you've played the first game to death and are looking for another challenge, then it is still worth a long, hard look." A reviewer for Maximum assessed that while Descent 2 is not a major advance over the original game, it has a much less frustrating difficulty and a Guide-Bot to make up for the confusion of the wire frame map, while retaining the 3D sensations and "ingenious structural design". A Next Generation critic opined that "When it comes to sequels, few can boast the improvements like those made on Descent II." He gave as examples the increase in resolution up to 800x600, the story sequences in full motion video, and the new items. While he remarked that it still follows the same mission formula as the original (find the key, open the door, blow up the reactor, then escape), he found the improvements to be more than sufficient. Next Generation made similar comments of the Macintosh version, and noted it as a then-unusual case of a Macintosh port arriving very shortly after the DOS version.
Descent 3 (stylized as Descent³) is a first-person shooter video game developed by Outrage Entertainment and published by Interplay Productions. It was originally released for Microsoft Windows in North America on June 17, 1999. Descent 3 is the third game in the Descent video game series and a sequel to Descent II. The game takes place in a science fiction setting of the Solar System where the player is cast as Material Defender, a mercenary who must help an organization known as the Red Acropolis Research Team to stop robots infected by an alien virus.
Unlike in standard first-person shooters, the player must control a flying ship that has a six degrees of freedom movement scheme, allowing the player to move and rotate in any 3D direction. In addition to a single-player campaign mode, Descent 3 features an onlinemultiplayer mode where numerous players can compete against each other in eight different game types. The game features both indoor and outdoor environments, made possible with the use of a hybrid engine that combines the capabilities of a portal rendering engine with those of a flight simulator-like terrain engine.
Descent 3 received positive reviews from critics, holding a score of 89 out of 100 at review aggregate website Metacritic. The most praised aspects of the game were its graphics, artificial intelligence of enemies, and outdoor environments. An official expansion pack, Descent 3: Mercenary, was released on December 3, 1999. The expansion pack includes a new series of missions, multiplayer maps, and a level editor. After its release on Microsoft Windows, the game was subsequently ported to Mac OS and Linux platforms.
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The player, piloting a ship from a first-person perspective, shoots enemies with the Plasma Cannon. The left frame depicts the currently selected primary weapon, the middle panel shows the ship's status, and the right frame displays the currently selected secondary weapon.
Like its predecessors Descent and Descent II, Descent 3 is a six degrees of freedomshooter where the player controls a flying ship from a first-person perspective in zero-gravity. It is differentiated from standard first-person shooters in that it allows the player to move and rotate in any 3D direction. Specifically, the player is free to move forward/backward, up/down, left/right, and rotate in three perpendicular axes, often termed pitch, yaw, and roll. Aboard the ship, the player can shoot enemies, turn on the ship's afterburners to temporarily increase its acceleration and speed, and fire flares or turn on the ship's headlight to explore darkened areas.
In the game's single-player mode, the player must complete a series of levels where different types of AI-controlled enemies will try to hinder the player's progress. The game primarily takes place inside labyrinthine underground facilities, but the player can occasionally travel over the surface of the planets where the facilities are buried to reach other nearby areas. The underground facilities are composed of a set of tunnels and rooms separated by doors. Most of them can be opened by either firing weapons at them or bumping into them, but others require special actions to be performed first before entry is allowed. For instance, some doors require special keys to open them. To finish a level and proceed to the next one, the player must complete a certain set of objectives, ranging from collecting items to activating switches, defeating enemies, and destroying objects, among others. Some levels also feature optional objectives that are not critical but add to the player's overall completion score.
As the player progresses throughout the game, two additional ships become available for use. Each of the game's three ships offers a different balance of speed, weapons, and maneuverability. Within the levels, the player may collect power-ups that enhance the ship's weaponry. Weapons are categorized into three different types: primary weapons, secondary weapons, and countermeasures. Primary weapons range from a variety of laserweapons to the Plasma Cannon and the Napalm Cannon, which projects a stream of burning fuel. Secondary weapons include different types of missiles, while countermeasures range from proximity mines to portable turrets. Most primary weapons consume energy in different rate, but some, such as the Napalm Cannon, use their own type of ammunition. In contrast, all secondary weapons and countermeasures require their own ammunition suppliers.
The player's ship is protected by a shield which decreases when attacked by enemies. If the shield is fully depleted, the player dies and must start the game again from a previous section of the fight without any collected power-ups. Nevertheless, the player can reclaim the missing power-ups from the ruins of the destroyed ship. Shield, energy, and ammunition suppliers are dispersed among the levels to help players increase their resources. The player can also collect equipment items which grant special powers. For example, the Quad Laser modifies the laser weapons to fire four shots at once instead of the standard two, while the Cloaking Device renders the player invisible to enemies for 30 seconds.During the game, the player may also deploy the Guide-Bot, an assistant that keeps track of the next objective and shows the player the way to a specific target.
In addition to the single-player campaign mode, Descent 3 features an online multiplayer mode where numerous players can compete against each other in eight different game types. Notable game types include Anarchy, where the objective is to kill as many opponents as possible, Capture the Flag, where two to four teams compete against each other to capture opposing flags, and Monsterball, in which players must shoot and guide a ball into their opponents' goal. Aspects such as time limit, number of players, map to play on, and selection of what weapons are allowed, among others, can be customized to match player preference. The game also features an observer mode which allows players to watch a multiplayer game as a spectator and a co-operative mode that allows players to work together to complete campaign missions. Multiplayer games support the DirectPlay, IPX, and TCP/IP protocols. Online gameplay was also possible over Parallax Online, an online gaming service which kept track of players' statistics and rankings.
Descent 3 takes place in a science fiction setting of the Solar System where the player is cast as Material Defender MD1032, a mercenary working for a corporation called the Post Terran Mining Corporation (PTMC). The game begins moments after the events of Descent II, with the Material Defender escaping the destruction of a planetoid where he was clearing PTMC's robots infected by an alien virus. He was about to return to Earth to collect his reward, but a malfunction occurred with the prototype warp drive in the ship he was piloting, making it drift towards the Sun's atmosphere. At the very last moment, the Material Defender is rescued via a tractor beam by an organization known as the Red Acropolis Research Team.
While the Material Defender recovers in the Red Acropolis station on Mars, the director of the team informs him that they have been investigating PTMC, and have uncovered a conspiracy: one of her acquaintances in the PTMC was killed by a robot, and when she contacted PTMC about it, they denied having ever employed such acquaintance, even though he had worked with them for years. The Red Acropolis had tried to notify the Collective Earth Defense (CED), a large police group, of the PTMC's actions, but they took no action, not daring to interfere with such a powerful corporation. The director also tells the Material Defender that, while he was clearing the mines during the events of Descent II, PTMC executive Samuel Dravis was actually testing and modifying the virus and deliberately tried to kill him by overloading the warp drive on his ship. After some persuasion and offers from the director, including a new ship and an AI assistant known as the Guide-Bot, the Material Defender accepts to help the Red Acropolis stop the virus.
The Material Defender is first sent to Deimos to obtain information about the location of a scientist named Dr. Sweitzer who has evidence of the PTMC's actions. He is then rescued in the Novak Corporate Prison on Phobos. After recovering the evidence, the Material Defender delivers it to PTMC President Suzuki in Seoul before leaving with his reward. When the Material Defender arrives at the Red Acropolis Research Station, the director tells him that the PTMC president has been killed and that the Red Acropolis Research Team are now accused of being terrorists, resulting in the destruction of the then-abandoned station. After a series of missions, the Material Defender and the Red Acropolis Research Team manage to develop an antivirus and convince the CED that they are not terrorists. The CED suggest to broadcast the antivirus through their strategic platform orbiting Earth, but the results are unsuccessful. The Material Defender is then sent to Venus, where Dravis has been tracked by the Red Acropolis. In the ensuing confrontation in his stronghold, Dravis is mortally wounded by the Guide-Bot's flares and the Material Defender deactivates the virus, which disables all of the PTMC's robots. The game ends with the CED destroying the PTMC's orbital headquarters while the Material Defender returns to Earth.
Descent 3 is the first project developed by Outrage Entertainment. The company was founded when Parallax Software, creators of previous Descent games, decided to split in two: Outrage Entertainment and Volition. Volition would focus on creating the combat space simulator FreeSpace games, while Outrage would continue with the Descent series.Development on Descent 3 began in November 1996 with a team of eight people. According to programmer Jason Leighton, one of the major problems during the game's development cycle was a lack of direction and control. He explained that the team had "No code reviews, no art reviews, [and] no way of saying, 'This is bad and we should be going in a different direction'". This "anarchistic" development environment worked for Descent and Descent II because they were developed by small groups that worked closely together and often in the same room. However, as Outrage started to grow from eight people to almost 20 by the end of the project, the developers did not introduce enough management to control the process. As Leighton recalls, "we literally had to build the team and company at the same time we started production on the game".
Originally, Descent 3 was intended to support both a software and a hardware renderer, implying that the rendering process of the game could take place either in the CPU or dedicated hardware like a video card. However, about six months after starting development, the team decided to go with a hardware-only renderer because it allowed them to create "visually stunning" graphics and maintain a solid frame rate without worrying about the limitations imposed by the software renderer. This was a difficult decision since the team had to scrap many tools and software rendering technology that were already developed. In addition, computers with hardware acceleration were not common at the time the decision was made. As the developers noted, "We knew just by looking at our progress on the game under acceleration that we had a beautiful looking game with all the latest technologies — but would anyone actually be able to play it?" Fortunately, as development progressed, hardware acceleration became more popular with each passing year.The game natively supports the Direct3D, Glide and OpenGL rendering APIs for graphics, and the A3D and DirectSound3D technologies for sound.
The new technology also allowed the developers to create both indoor and outdoor environments; one of the biggest complaints of Descent II was the fact that it was considered too "tunnely". To this end, the developers created a new technology which featured an indoor portal rendering engine "hooked to a flight-sim-like terrain" engine, collectively called the Fusion Engine. The portal engine permitted designers to create small rooms with complex geometry. These rooms would later be linked together via shared dividing polygonscalled portals to create a portalized world for the player to fly through. In contrast, the terrain engine, which was initially planned for another game and whose function is to create more polygonal detail as players get closer to the ground and decrease polygons when they are farther away, gave designers the ability to create expansive outdoor terrains. Transitions between both engines were achieved using an external room (with its normal vectors inverted) that could be placed anywhere on the terrain map. With this technique, developers could create hybrid levels where the player could transit from indoor to outdoor areas in real-time and without loading screens. Leighton commented that whenever one of these transitions occurs, "the game code [switches] collision detection, rendering, and so on, to use the terrain engine".
The company had no standardization of level design tools. Leighton said, "Some people used 3D Studio Max, some used Lightwave, and one designer even wrote his own custom modeler from scratch". This practice led to an inconsistent quality across the game's levels. For example, one designer would create structures with great geometry but bad texturing, while another would create the opposite. Once the structures were modeled individually, they were all imported into a custom editor, called D3Edit, so that the designers could "glue everything together". The D3Edit editor received constant updates because it initially did not feature an intuitive interface for designers. It was not until the last third of the development period that the editor improved significantly. As Leighton notes, "Even in the shipped game you can tell which levels were made early on and which were made near the end of the production cycle. The later levels are much better looking, have better frame rates, and generally have better scripts". Developers also considered the idea of shipping the game with a level editor based on the one they used to create the game's levels. However, due to the constant changes the developers made to their own editor, it was hard for them to design a more user-friendly one from the start.
In addition to the changes in the game's engine, the developers decided to improve the artificial intelligence to give each enemy a distinct behavior. According to Matt Toschlog, president of Outrage Entertainment and lead programmer of Descent 3, "It's very rewarding for the player to meet a new enemy, get to know him, learn his quirks, and figure out the best way to kill him. It's great when a game requires both thinking and quick reactions". Originally, the developers planned to add weather effects that would disorient the player's ship during gameplay, but this feature was ultimately not implemented due to time and technology constraints. Multiplayer games were heavily tested to ensure their network stability and support IPX, TCP, and DirectPlay. The actual development of the game took 31 months to complete, with the developers describing it as both a joyful and painful process due to in part of the almost nonexistent management and the rapidly evolving technology at the time.
Marketing and release Edit
Descent 3 was presented at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 1998, where developers showed off a demonstration of the game. In the months leading to the game's release, the game's publisher, Interplay Productions, ran a program that allowed Descent fans to submit a digital photo of themselves along with a pilot name to the company. These photos would later be included in the game so that players could use them as their multiplayer profiles. Outrage also released two game demos that allowed customers to try the game before purchasing it. The second demo included a single-player level and several multiplayer matches which could be played through a matchmaking service provided by Outrage. From March to August 1999, Interplay also held a Descent 3 tournament in the United States consisting of three phases where numerous players could compete against each other in multiplayer matches. The winner was awarded a prize of US$50,000.
Descent 3 was initially released for Microsoft Windows on June 17, 1999. A level editor was released shortly afterwards and allows users to create both single and multiplayer maps for the game. A Mac OS version of the game was released in November 1999. The Mac OS version was ported by programmer Duane Johnson, who previously worked on the 3dfx versions of the original Descent and Descent II. In the United States, the game only sold 52,294 copies by April 2000. Descent 3 was also ported to Linux platforms by Loki Entertainment Software after an agreement with the game's publisher. The port, which features a multiplayer mode optimized for 16 players, was released in July 2000. In 2014, the game was made available on the Steam digital distribution service.
Descent 3 received positive reviews from video game critics. Erik Wolpaw, writing for GameSpot, felt that the game "improves in almost every conceivable way on its predecessors and reestablishes the series as the premier example of the play style it single-handedly pioneered". The most praised aspects of the game were its graphics, artificial intelligence of enemies, and outdoor environments. IGN reviewer Jay Boor lauded the game's new engine, noting that the transition between indoor and outdoor environments is seamless. Game Revolution remarked that the addition of outdoor environments "allows for an even greater use of the maneuvering capabilities, adds variety to the levels, and ensures that the game never gets dull or boring". The reviewer also acknowledged that the game's six degrees of freedom movement scheme may be difficult to master for some players, stating that the game "can be confusing, dizzying, and even nauseating. This is a game for the pro's".
The music and sound effects received similar praise. GameSpot pointed out that "explosions erupt with lots of satisfying, floor-rattling bass, lasers ping nicely, flamethrowers emit appropriate rumbling whooshes, and there's plenty of ambient beeping, hissing, and mechanical humming". Game Revolution praised the graphics for their "modeling, colored lighting, incredible special effects, wonderful animation, [and] sheer overall feel". Victor Lucas of Electric Playground stated similar pros, but also admitted that the game's hardware requirements were relatively high. Criticism was leveled at the game's story. GameSpot considered it not compelling, while Jason Cross, writing for Computer Games Magazine, felt that it "really doesn't have much to do with actual gameplay". PC Gamer reviewer Stephen Poole also criticized the Guide-Bot's efficiency, remarking that sometimes it can get lost or trapped while leading the player to a destination.
The gameplay was praised for its variety of weapons and enemies. Game Revolution said that each enemy is "unique both in ability, structure, and behavior so that each requires a specific combat approach". Maximum PC reviewer Josh Norem praised the levels for their interesting objectives, stating that the missions "vary widely, ranging from finding lost colleagues to defending strategic structures against enemy assaults". Computer Games Magazine praised the fact that the developers replaced the wire-frameautomaps of previous Descent games with flat-shaded polygons because they "provide more detail and make it easier to recognize where you are and how to get where you want to go". The multiplayer was highlighted positively due to its replay value and variety of game types. Computer Games Magazine also credited its "rock-solid performance on standard dialup modems and easy connectivity", while GameSpot praised it for being "fun and stable". The game was a runner-up for GameSpy's Action Game of the Year and a nominee for GameSpot's PC Action Game of the Year. Despite the positive reviews, the game did not perform well in sales. As a result, Daily Radar awarded the game a "System Shock Award", named after the Looking Glass Studios 1994 game of the same name, implying that Descent 3 is a "game that the critics loved but is over-shadowed by lesser or greater games".
Expansion pack EditDescent 3 features an official expansion pack developed by Outrage and released for Microsoft Windows on December 3, 1999. The expansion, entitled Descent 3: Mercenary, introduces new features, a seven-level campaign, a fourth ship, and several multiplayer maps. It also includes the game's level editor. The expansion received mixed to positive reviews from critics. IGN reviewer Rich Rouse gave Mercenary a rating of 8.8 out of 10 and praised it for its lasting appeal, stating: "With hordes of new missions and battlefields on the CD, as well as the included level creation package, you won't be uninstalling for a long time". In contrast, GameSpot editor Erik Wolpaw, giving the expansion a rating of 6 out of 10, criticized the expansion for its bland level design and lack of new features. A compilation that includes both Descent 3 and its expansion pack was released on June 14, 2001.
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