Descent: FreeSpace 2 is a space simulation computer game developed by Volition, Inc.. After THQ acquired Volition Inc., the source code for the game was released to the fan community and the FreeSpace engine has continued to develop under the FreeSpace Source Code Project.
FreeSpace 2 takes place 32 years after the events of Descent: FreeSpace. The alliance between the Terrans and Vasudans is sealed with the foundation of the Galactic Terran-Vasudan Alliance (GTVA). The GTVA campaign in this game is threefold. The first priority is stopping the Neo-Terran Front (NTF) led by Admiral Aken Bosch. Bosch, a former Admiral of the GTVA, who flew for the Galactic Terran Intelligence (GTI) as a pilot, united a group of rogue Terrans under the banner of hatred of Vasudans. Initially, he threatened to destabilize the Alliance and destroy the Vasudan race. The second priority was the discovery of the Knossos Device, a massive, ring-shaped device believed to have been constructed by the Ancients. In essence, the Knossos appeared to be an artificial portal generator. This obviously interested the Terrans, who were still searching for a way to return to their homeworld Earth. The third, and most dangerous, was the return of the Shivans. This time, the Shivans have a fearsome new array of ships, including the Sathanas-class juggernaut that exceeds 5.5 kilometers in length.
During the course of the campaign, the player learns about the truth behind the Neo-Terran Front and the nature of the Knossos Device. The NTF insurgency is quelled near the beginning of the campaign when the Knossos Device is activated; this opens access to a nebula that is discovered to be filled with Shivan forces. Inside this nebula is discovered a second Knossos portal. As a result of this second portal, the eventual GTVA retreat and destruction of the first portal is not enough to stop a second Shivan incursion, and as hopes for victory slowly disappear, humanity takes desperate measures in order to secure its survival. The most daring of these include the introduction of the GTVA Colossus, a 6-kilometre long capital ship. The GTVA also detonates the GTD Bastion (one of the player’s base of operations from the original game) loaded with meson bombs in the threshold of a jump node in order to seal it from Shivans in the same manner that the Lucifer’s destruction sealed off the Sol jump node at the end of the First War.
Despite these desperate measures, the Shivans continue their assault and show no signs of stopping. The Colossus plays an integral role in many of the missions, especially those quelling the NTF insurgency, where it proves to be an unstoppable force going against the NTF’s weaker Orion class destroyers. The Colossus meets its match with the Shivan Sathanas-class ship. Though the first Sathanas is destroyed by the Colossus and the player’s wing of bombers at great effort, the Shivans unleash over eighty more of these juggernauts. As the GTVA retreat from the Capella system, the Colossus is providing support when it is attacked by a Ravana Shivan destroyer. Victorious but weakened, the Colossus is then finished off by one of many Sathanas ships in the system. The destruction of the Colossus causes GTVA morale to plummet, as the Shivans grow closer and closer to finishing the genocide they started 32 years before.
In a cutscene near the end of the game, the player is shown the last recorded log entry of Admiral Aken Bosch. By this point in the game, it is already known that Bosch has been attempting to make first contact with the Shivan forces; up until then, contact had never been successfully made with Shivan forces. While listening to the log entry, it is revealed that Bosch was apparently successful in his attempts. Furthermore, he and several of his crew were actually brought on board a Shivan transport for reasons unknown, while most of its crew had been slain by the time Bosch’s flagship was discovered. It is never revealed whether the Shivans are actually interested in contact with the Terrans, or if their communications with Bosch were further attempts to destroy the Terrans, or for some other unknown reason.
In the final mission of FreeSpace 2, the player is tasked with evacuating Terran civilian and military personnel from the Capella system, where the Shivans were inexplicably congregating. At least eighty Shivan Sathanas class juggernauts surrounded the Capella sun. In the final minute of the game, the Capella star goes supernova and the player is presented with a choice: stay behind to help the last civilians escape (which will invariably result in the player’s death from the blast of the sun), or flee to the jump node and escape. Both options are acceptable, and the game will be completed either way, with different final cutscenes for each.
The final cutscene displays the Sathanas fleet in the process of detonating the Capella star. Just before it goes supernova, most of the juggernaut fleet enters subspace and flee to an unknown location, with the remaining juggernauts going completely dark just before the star explodes. Why the Shivans caused the supernova is one of the major questions still on fans’ minds.
A possible hint at the reason for detonating the sun is given in one of the two ending cutscenes. Should the player escape the supernova on the last mission, Admiral Petrarch, captain of the warship which the player is stationed on, hypothesizes in a following cutscene that the Shivans may be exiles themselves, and that the supernova is a long-range subspace gate through which the Shivans are returning to their homeworld, which would explain why many of the Sathanas juggernauts entered subspace soon before the Capella star exploded. Such an exodus of the Shivans may be considered an effective end to the storyline.
FreeSpace 2 license agreement
FreeSpace 2 was notable for allowing users to make and distribute copies of the game to friends and acquaintances. This, along with the open source engine, are a few of the main reasons why the game is so easily available years after it was released.
A portion of the license agreement, with the relevant part bolded, follows.
- The Software, including, without limitation, all code, data structures, characters, images, sounds, text, screens, game play, derivative works and all other elements of the Software may not be copied (except as provided below), resold, rented, leased, distributed (electronically or otherwise), used on pay-per-play, coin-op or other for-charge basis, or for any commercial purpose. You may make copies of the Software for your personal noncommercial home entertainment use and to give to friends and acquaintances on a no cost noncommercial basis. This limited right to copy the Software expressly excludes any copying or distribution of the Software on a commercial basis, including, without limitation, bundling the product with any other product or service and any give away of the Software in connection with another product or service. Any permissions granted herein are provided on a temporary basis and can be withdrawn by Interplay Productions at any time. All rights not expressly granted are reserved.
In comparison, authentic copies of FreeSpace 1 are increasingly difficult to obtain; however, the FreeSpace 1 missions, including the Silent Threat expansion pack, have been remade for the FreeSpace 2 engine under the name of FSPort.
The FreeSpace 2 Source Code Project
In April of 2002, Volition released the source code for the FreeSpace 2 engine. This allowed coders to modify the game in unprecedented ways. However, because the source code is under a noncommercial license, it does not qualify as free software.
To prevent a plethora of different versions of the game from appearing, a single ‘umbrella’ project (with the unified goal of enhancing the game) was formed. The resultant FreeSpace 2 engine has many advantages over the old engine, including (but not limited to):
- Transform, clipping, and lighting, allowing models of considerably greater complexity.
- Detail boxing, allowing models of greater complexity. It is an extremely efficient LOD-ing (level-of-detail) method, allowing real-time rendering of models in the several 100.000-polygon range.
- Non-vertical turret axis allowing turrets (and other animated subobjects) to be mounted on the sides or non-flat surfaces of ships/models.
- Extended animation support allowing complex subobject animations.
- Jpeg and TGA texture compatibility, to eliminate the engine’s dependence on 256 colour pcx files.
- DDS texture compatibility, to utilise efficient video memory usage.
- EFF container format, for animated effects with the ability to optimise the animation frame-by-frame, can use DDS, Jpeg, TGA texture formats; the only requirement is for the frames to be of the same dimensions.
- Glow, Shine and Environmental Reflectivity maps; all in with 8-bit RGB channels, that allow giving a specific sheen and rougness to a surface, essentially a rudimentary material system. (FS_SCP 3.7 promises a true material system with pixel-shader support.)
- Dozens of additional Sexps for controlling the game.
- Multiple docking (the original only allowed 2 ships to be docked) to model complex cargo/rescue/capture scenarios.
- Persistent variables for complex campaign management, allowing carrying over data from one mission to another mission.
- Scripting in the Lua language.
- OpenGL Support (now a standard feature)
- Linux and Mac OS X support
- OpenAL positional audio support
- OGG support for Vorbis compressed audio files
In addition, content update packs have been developed which take advantage of the upgraded game engine. These packs include higher-poly models and higher resolution textures. The end result of this project is to create a graphically superior (and far more flexible) game engine, while still retaining all of the gameplay elements that made FreeSpace 2 successful.
Screenshots of FreeSpace 2 upgraded with the FreeSpace 2 Source Code Project
A Terran corvette in an asteroid field. Various changes on capital ships include more details on their exterior.
A recreation of the box art in-game, where a Shivan corvette fires a beam that pierces through a Terran corvette. Note the beam reflection off the fighter, as well as the detail of the ‘spherical light’ from which the beam came from.
A convoy of transports flying past an asteroid field. High-detail asteroids in FreeSpace 2 are now made possible by the upgraded engine.
A Vasudan corvette firing off its flak cannons. Note the engine trail off the corvette, as well as the level of detail of the explosions.
Notable total conversions
- Beyond the Red Line Based on the Battlestar Galactica (re-imagining) TV Show
- The Babylon Project Based on the Babylon 5 TV Show
- Imperial Alliance Based on the X-Wing and TIE Fighter computer games in the Star Wars universe
- Shadows of Lylat Based on the Star Fox universe
- Wing Commander Saga Based on the Wing Commander universe
There are several user made campaigns which rival the complexity of the original campaigns that came with the game. Some of them are mentioned below.
- Derelict is one of the longest user created campaigns.
- Transcend another FreeSpace 2 Open Campaign.
- Deus Ex Machina another FreeSpace 2 Open Campaign.
- BRShivans a set of two mini campaigns involving the Shivans. Note: If you are downloading this, then you should also download 2 files by Cobra also available in the same forum which fixes a glitch in the campaign, namely inability to choose any primary weapon other than disruptor. You should put them in the data/missions folder of the BRShivans mod.
- FSPort is a port of the FreeSpace 1 campaigns to the FS2Open platform.
- Awakenings a FreeSpace 1 campaign requiring FSPort to be installed. You may download it with voice here or without voice here.