FreeSpace, an awesome space simulator game for the PC

For a review of FreeSpace 2 written in Italian, click here.

Click here for the HLP thread linked to this article.

Not actual interview, but rather a very long answer to the question “what do you think about FreeSpace?”

When I was in high school, I owned a game called Descent 3 and saw a game advertised in the back called FreeSpace. So I found and purchased the original FreeSpace at the mall thinking it was a sequel to Descent 3 since the title was ‘Descent FreeSpace’ and I also realize there was a FreeSpace 2 in existence since it was also advertised. So I purchased FreeSpace 2 as well around the same time. I then discovered it likely was not connected to the Descent storyline. However, I wasn’t entirely sure if it was connected to the Descent series for several years, but now I realize it was not connected and the 1st FreeSpace game was only titled ‘Descent’ because it was made by Interplay, just as the Descent series was. Anyways, I purchased the games and was quickly drawn into them since they had excellent gameplay, indepth storylines and descriptions for every weapon and ship in the game, wide variety of ships, briefings and debriefings, objectives to accomplish on top of staying alive, creative ways to play a mission, ability to earn medals and record all your kills and other stats, cutscenes, a lot of different functional keys (controls) that perform actions in the game, and even voice acting. It is an action-packed 3D space simulator with decent effects, military terms and strategy, the ability to give orders to wingmen, as well as the ability to disable or disarm warships or subsystems, and even scan cargo and information gathering.

FS_Storming

Ready for some action?

FreeSpace starts off in the year 2335 in a war where the Terrans (humans) within a military called the Galactic Terran Alliance (GTA) fights against a species called the Vasudans, and their military is called the PVN (Parliamentary Vasudan Navy) in the 1st part of the game. One notable part of the FreeSpace series is that you fight against an enigma of a species known as the Shivans which cause the Terrans and Vasudans to put their differences aside and join forces in hopes of mutual survival against this technologically superior race that just appeared out of nowhere and starts wiping out anything that isn’t Shivan. Their motives and origins remain a mystery throughout the entire series, though there are clues given during the cutscenes and events of the series that give you an idea of what possible motives and origins that the Shivans have. Throughout the series, communication between the Shivans and the Terrans and Vasudans is never officially established, though the rogue Galactic Terran Intelligence in FS1 (GTI) and the Neo Terran Front in FS2 (NTF) have communicated with them. Though the findings are classified at the highest level and it is never known to the player or most Terrans and Vasudans what communication was exchanged. Nevertheless, it ended badly and the Shivans clearly have no interest in diplomacy since they are so alien, and appear xenophobic and only seem interested in wiping out all species and blowing up stars possibly to open up new subspace nodes (like portals between stars systems) to connect whatever star they blew up to their home system (if they have a home system). So for the most part, they remain an enigma, but we do find out that the Shivans are vastly superior to the GTA /PVN and later the GTVA (Galactic Terran/Vasudan Alliance) in FS2, both in technology and in numbers, even after the Terrans and Vasudans stole technology (including shield generators) from the Shivans in FS1 and developed energy shield systems and better ships and weapons as a result in order to combat the threat. But the GTVA is hopelessly outnumbered. The Shivans have likely been at it for millions of years and it is known that 8,000 years ago, an empire known as the Ancients was wiped out by the Shivans. Study of  Ancient tech within ruins also helped the Terrans and Vasudans save themselves once.

FS_Shivan

A Shivan.

About a year later when I started college and was required to create an email address for the 1st time at the end of 2001, I created an email address with the words ‘freespace’ and ‘fanatic’ since I considered myself a fanatic of the games. I even drew artwork of made up ships on my subject folders for the games since I envisioned larger ships that could potentially be used in fan-made addons of FreeSpace 2 and was always hoping for a FreeSpace 3, though there still isn’t an FS3 and there probably won’t be at this point.

Later, I discovered that fans made their own missions and campaigns since the instruction manual told me about the fact you could select fan-made missions within the tech database under ‘mission simulator’ or make your own. So I downloaded and played some campaigns. This increased replay value and fun factor quite a bit, especially in campaigns where people included custom ship models and new weapons.

Around 2004, I discovered the Source Code Project (SCP). I realized it was a project that improved the graphics and features of FS2. This added further replay value and increased the fun factor even more. FreeSpace 1 has been remade by the fans to be played in FreeSpace 2 SCP and is called the FreeSpace Port.

Even to this day, I play FS2 campaigns using the SCP builds and graphical enhancements created by the fans of FS. Though I don’t play it as much as I used to, I monitor the FS forum known as HLP (Hard Light Productions) for new information, campaigns, and improved models and graphical enhancements. Newer graphical features for the SCP include shadows, deferred lighting, and modeled thrusters along with heat trails. This is on top of older yet fairly new graphical enhancements such as normal maps, higher poly redone models, flaming debris, and much better lighting, to name a few. Ingame cutscenes, being able to land in fighterbays on larger warships, being able to jump through subspace in-mission without the mission ending, and even new and improved huds are possible with the SCP nowadays. Maybe even first person missions in the future could be done. There are also some total conversions available for the SCP, including Wing Commander Saga, The Babylon Project, Star Fox, Diaspora, and a few more. Perhaps one day the SCP will even include geo-mod – destruction of parts of a ship will be similar to real life destruction of objects, such as holes and marks being left behind, pieces flying off, etc. As it stands now, if you shoot at a larger ship or fire a missile at it, no holes or indents are created, even if hull integrity drops quite a bit. This element is unrealistic as it stands, but the future holds many possibilities for improvement. I hope that in the future, they will reintroduce animated glowmaps for Shivan ships. Since they improved the polycount of many Shivan ships recently and included normal maps for them, the animated glowmaps for those particular ships are gone. Obviously they would have to take the textures, make brighter and dimmer versions of those textures, and splice them in such a way that it gives an animated effect. Perhaps it isn’t too hard to do, I’m guessing, but I guess performance costs are a concern from what I remember a forum member saying in the past. Something about it being troublesome with 4096 resolution textures, but more recently, another forum member saying people can start making them if they wanted, IIRC. The idea of animated glowmap normal maps combined with deferred lighting (the glow being a light source and can reflect off of nearby objects) sounds intriguing.

Taking my knowledge of the FreeSpace and FreeSpace 2 storylines and combining it with logical assumptions and with the knowledge I learned from reading an interview with the lead writer of a company called Volition, the game designers who worked for Interplay and were directly responsible for creating the FreeSpace series, I am able to make logical assumptions on the origins and motives of the Shivans to a degree. In FS1, the Shivans were focused on wiping out any species capable of subspace travel in the vicinity of Terran/Vasudan space and looking for a star suitable for blowing up, while in FS2, they didn’t care much about the GTVA and was focused on blowing up the Capella star. So it is obviously that overall, their primary motivation is blowing up stars (making them supernova) for the likely purpose of creating new subspace nodes to link those regions of space to their home system or systems. After all, all species want to spread their territories, consume more resources, reproduce, and repeat the process.

FS_Supernova

The Shivans do the unthinkable: blowing a star up.

As for the reasons why the Shivans seem intent on eliminating any space-faring subspace-capable species, I can think of 3 reasons… 1) To completely secure the systems around the stars they suspect are suitable for blowing up in order to prevent any species from interfering with their goal. 2) To prevent any species from following them back to their systems and causing them issues or harm. 3) To prevent any species from becoming technologically and numerically powerful enough to genuinely threaten the Shivans. So the Alliance trying to collapse the nodes in the events of FS2 may have been pointless because the supernova would no doubt collapse them anyway, as evident that the nebula system beyond Gamma Draconis and the unstable nodes linked to that nebula system required stabilizing by the Ancients’ Knossos devices were no doubt the result of a past supernova created by the Shivans long before the Ancients encountered the Shivans after creating the portals to temporarily stabilize the nodes leading to that system and the ones beyond. So it is likely that the 3rd Knossos device in the system beyond the nebula also leads to some nebula, since I assume that most nodes becoming collapsed are the result of the system beyond having its star destroyed. This is speculation, but it is a logical assumption. I even recall a campaign a while ago where you go beyond the 3rd Knossos and a yellow nebula awaited you. At the time, I thought it was uncreative and lame, but maybe it makes sense.

I also believe that the Shivans were in fact created long ago by some unknown master species. This is even speculated in the tech database in FS2 in the Shivans’ entry.

I personally feel that the fan-made campaign that would come closest to an FS3 would be Inferno, especially once the updated version is available. In my opinion, there are not very many Post Capella era campaigns out there that are heavy on new ships and content that feel like what an FS3 would feel like. I think the story of Inferno and its version of the Shivans feels closest to what an FS3 would be like, especially when knowing what the lead writer had in mind for the Shivans. I sure hope Inferno can pull off more than just 2 parts and it can feature incursions into Shivan space with even larger ships than the super juggernauts to contend with. Heck, with the SCP these days, many possibilities can be implemented including the concept of  ‘destroy the core’ of a big ship that would be better pulled off with the features of the SCP compared to Retail; kind of like in the Gradius space shooter games of old but in 3D and FreeSpace style. Maybe even like in ‘Return of the Jedi‘ when the fighters enter the Death Star. I recall the older Wings of Dawn campaign doing that, though it was not part of the FS universe and is still a rarity in FS, 1 mission in War in Heaven: Part 3 also did that as an alternative to stopping a massive asteroid base on a collision course to Earth. So even if these ships would otherwise be too large for a player to normally have an affect or interact with them in a practical manner, the player and perhaps his wingmates and backup could enter the massive ship and destroy its core or some other vital components, warp out from inside it, reappear many clicks away (since SCP allows this without ending the mission), and watch it slowly blow up, slowly shattering off flaming debris in some geo-mod fashion. So much was planned for Inferno back in 2003, so I hope there are still high ambitions for it since it seems to be the only remaining campaign in production closest to what an FS3 would be like, especially after older campaigns like Over the Top, The Apocalypse Project, and End War seem to have been cancelled and could have been on similar ground and scale with Inferno and being like an FS3.

More importantly, I look forward to what will become of FS in the future and always look forward to improvements of the engine, and I await a stable and optimized version of a build containing shadows and deferred lighting, though it did not make it into the mediavps-2014.

 Gary Daniel

The Hard Light Productions community forums: http://www.hard-light.net/forums/

Interview with Volition’s lead writer: http://www.hard-light.net/forums/index.php?topic=74745.0

Wikipedia description of the original FreeSpace: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Descent:_FreeSpace_%E2%80%93_The_Great_War

Wikipedia description of FreeSpace 2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Descent:_FreeSpace_%E2%80%93_The_Great_War

A place you can buy Freespace 2: http://www.gog.com/game/freespace_2

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