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FreeSpace Review: ogr.com - 01/28/98

 

In 1977, at the age of 9, I stood in line at my local movie theatre in order to witness the debut of little movie called Star Wars. I walked in one person...and emerged as something else. Through the course of two hours, something had happened. I was different. Something akin to a religious experience had just occurred. Never before, and seldom since, have I had the pleasure of watching an entire theatre erupt into applause at the end of a movie. It was a defining moment in my life and one that continues to stick with me to this day.

Of the many elements that mutated my consciousness, the idea of strapping myself into an X-Wing and battling the empire was perhaps the strongest. I remember buying a View-Master just so I could study the still shots of space combat from the movie. I remember buying a Movie-Master which had 30 seconds of Star Wars battle footage and sitting there for days, clicking through one frame at a time.

As time progressed and maturity slapped me upside the head, that sinking realization that I would never be a fighter pilot for the Rebellion became all to clear. I had been born too early in the scheme of things, missing out on the future of space combat by a few hundred years. Thank God they invented the computer...

Games like Space War and Star Raiders soon followed and with it a new passion for living vicariously through these digital realities. As computers continued to evolve, space combat titles came into their own. Wing Commander was released to great fanfare and finally allowed Star Wars fans to have a taste of what it was like. Thankfully, LucasArts, seeing someone move in on their territory, released X-Wing and, finally, gamers had the opportunity to fly an X-Wing...and it was good. Ever since, Origin and LucasArts have been fighting it out with little in the way of worthy competition.

This could be changing, very, very soon.

Enter Volition, a spin-off company from Parallax, creators of the immensely successful Descent titles. Their next offering is called Descent: FreeSpace - The Great War, and the hope is that this product will go straight for the throat of the competition, combing the strengths of Wing Commander Prophecy and X-Wing Vs. TIE-Fighter into one package.

I had the opportunity to sit with Jim Boone, producer of FreeSpace to get the goods on the upcoming game. I've seen many half-hearted attempts at creating space combat games that usually fall flat on their face. After seeing FreeSpace, I realized that Origin and LucasArts have reason to cringe. FreeSpace appears destined to deliver the goods...

 

Though the story details are still somewhat sketchy, Mr. Boone had this to offer: "There is a race called the Vasudans that you've been at war with for the last 15 years or so. Neither side really has an edge. Suddenly, in the middle of this war a new alien species arrives called the Shivans and they just start killing everyone. The Shivans have clearly superior technology. So what happens is, you decide to become allies with the Vasudans and take on the Shivans. There will be some interesting moments when you actually lead a wing of Vasudans into battle, interesting because they were recently your enemy."

From the outset, Volition wanted to deliver all of the options available with the competition, but bring it to the gamer in one package. Whereas Wing Commander Prophecy is a solid single player game, there is no multiplayer support. On the other hand, whereas XvT was created as a multiplayer experience, many people found the lack of a solid single-player environment less than acceptable. Well, FreeSpace promises both. Says Jim Boone, "I believe the strength of FreeSpace over X-Wing Vs. Tie Fighter lies in the single player aspect of our game. XvT proved the necessity of having a solid, engrossing single player element to your game. Even though Lucasarts never said XvT was going to be anything other than a multiplayer game, people still expected to be able to have a fun experience in a single player role."

"With FreeSpace, we provide a very entertaining single player experience for the player. As for Wing Commander Prophecy, the obvious difference here lies with the multiplayer aspect of the games. We all know how fun a multiplayer game can be, Descent is well known for this. So, from the beginning we have planned and worked on multiplayer functionality for FreeSpace. We have always felt that multiplay is an integral part of most any game that comes out at this point in time."

One element missing from both XvT and WC:P was a built-in editor. While not as important for WC:P, considering the absence of net play, XvT could have benefited from allowing players to create new missions. Of course, this hurts your profitability when an expansion pack is in the works. Why would anyone want it when they can just make new missions themselves? Well, Volition feels differently and this is excellent news.

Shipping with the game is FRED (FreeSpace Mission Editor) the same editor that the designers of FreeSpace use to make their missions. FRED gives you a great deal of flexibility when making missions, allowing everything from allowing specific ships and weapons to be available for each mission to setting complicated paths for the capital ships to travel. You will be able to make both single missions and campaigns. You will also be able to make multiplayer missions with the editor as well. This alone ensures that FreeSpace will have a long life indeed.

 

There are currently 50 single-player missions on the drawing board, though the player will generally only see about 25 of these through one campaign, as FreeSpace has two very different plot paths, depending on how well you fare from one mission to the next.

Jim Boone explains, "The way the missions work is, they're linear in fashion, but we do have two separate paths the player can potentially follow. You'll be able to weave between the two. Furthermore, the outcome of any given mission will affect future missions from the standpoint of resources and such. For example, if you're in a mission and one of your secondary goals is to destroy the cruiser and you bypass that, well, you can still complete the overall mission but don't be surprised if you see that Cruiser appear in later missions."

As for the multiplayer aspects, there are currently 5 mini-campaigns, each consisting of 3-5 missions. While Volition will have several deathmatch arenas for players to blast each other in, the emphasis will be heavily on cooperative play.

In a typical multiplayer campaign game there will be a leader of the wing, though this will be more of a figurehead role. It will be up the players to work as a group with one another. One element that can occasionally disrupt the flow of a game is the chatting and wing command process. Volition is promising some cool stuff here, as well. Says Jim Boone, "When you are inside the game the players will be able to type out what they want to say and send it to specific or all people. We will also have taunt hotkeys so that people be able to hit a key and have a message pop up. Furthermore, we are allowing people to substitute the speech in the game that your pilot will say. You will be able to put in your own brief wav file, which will be tied to a hotkey. Then people will hear your specific message in your own voice."

When people log onto the Volition server and enter a game, any wav files will immediately be uploaded to the other players. The only conern with this is the size of the wav file in question, something Volition will have no control over. As long as people don't go bonkers and keep their messages to a few seconds, it could work wonders. However, there will always be that one person that feels compelled to record a two-minute diatribe on how much you suck.

 

Chatting is one thing, but issuing orders to your wingmen is another thing entirely. For this, Volition has created a simple interface for calling out commands. Simply press the W key and a messaging window will pop-up, i.e., Wing Commander, and from here you will simply select the number of the ship you wish to address and/or the wing, followed by another key press denoting the order in question. Players will also be allowed to allocate hotkeys to wing commands for even quicker action.

Volition will be offering a Matchmaker service to support FreeSpace, allowing a game to comprise up to 16 players, though players will not actually be playing on the server. Think of it as a superior version of Microsoft's Internet Gaming Zone, wherein players can meet and initiate games. When players log-on to the master tracker they will be able to see all of the games currently being played and even get ping times for them. To take matters further, Volition will also have their own ranking system. There will be medals assigned to each deserving player, including some unique awards for special achievements. All of your pertinent combat stats will be constantly monitored by the Tracker and players will be in a constant struggle to crack the Top 100.

Graphically, FreeSpace is awesome, even at this early stage of development. In fact, when Jim began a game and I had my initial look at the graphics, the first words out of my mouth were, "Is this running under 3DFX?"

"No," he snickered. "This is all software based, though we will have 3DFX support, as well as D3D, MMX, and AGP. The 3DFX version will, of course, have a faster frame rate and we'll be adding a number of weapon effects that will look great."

Not only was I tricked into thinking I was watching a 3DFX version, but once the "software only" concept lodged into my brain, I was doubly stunned. It simply looks fantastic with a fast frame-rate, beautiful ship designs, and special-effects galore. The vapor trails from missiles looked awesome and the textures weren't even in place yet, quickly brining to mind the classic animated battles of Anime, Star Blazers in particular. I made this opinion known and Jim shook his head in agreement, exclaiming that Japanese Anime was a significant influence on the overall design of the game. "Anime was a huge influence. We love the look of having huge battles with tons of ships flying around. In a typical Anime, there are always bunches of ships that are attacking each other in something that looks like barely controlled chaos. This is the feel we wanted to provide with FreeSpace."

 

Matters simply intensified when I got my first glimpse of an alien Capital ship. To say this thing was huge would be a tremendous understatement. Massive, more like it, up to 3 kilometers, and what's more, it was alive with turrets, hangar doors, engine exhaust, etc. You can't help but be intimidated by it and it is easily the largest creation I've yet seen in a space-combat game. Of course, at some point, the player will have to take one of these bad boys down, which should prove to be a daunting experience.

FreeSpace will arrive with 8 flyable ships, three bombers and five fighters. These ships will slowly become available throughout the course of the game. You'll be able to capture enemy vessels and reverse-engineer the components and apply it to your own. Though a final number has yet to be determined, Volition is promising all kinds of interesting weapons for the player to attach to their ship, including a Cluster Bomb with a shockwave effect and bombers with turret gunners that independently attack the enemy. In addition, there will be a weapon they call Swarming Missiles that look extremely cool when launched as they snake across the screen leaving visible vapor trails in their path.

Before the outset of each mission, players will be able to outfit their ship with available weapons through a simple drag-and-drop interface. In fact, the single-player aspect of the game will allow you to outfit the rest of your wing as you see fit, including two other wings that are at your disposal. From this interface, the player can easily determine who has what, what is available, and pertinent statistical information pertaining to each weapon.

Volition obviously has something special on their hands, a product that borrows liberally from the classics to create a brand new game that sports the best features from the competition, all wrapped into a single product with plenty of new ideas to keep it fresh. With the powerful editor, matchmaking service, brilliant space-combat graphics, solid single and multiplayer environment, it's everything you'd expect from the people that brought you Descent. Prepare to enter combat duty when Descent: FreeSpace is released within the next few months.

 

Ships

The following data is subject to change by the time FreeSpace is released. Also, you should note that ship and weapon names have yet to be finalized.

Terrans:

Terran Fighter

  • Max. Velocity: 70
  • Forward Acceleration: 3.0
  • Allowed PBanks: Light Laser; Disruptor; Flail
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser; Disruptor
  • Allowed SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Mag-pulse Missile
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile
  • Hit Points: 200

Terran Fighter 4

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 3.0
  • Allowed PBanks: Light Laser; Disruptor; Flail
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser; Disruptor
  • Allowed SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Mag-pulse Missile; Fury Missile
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Fury Missile
  • Hit Points: 200

Terran Fighter 5

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 1.5
  • Allowed PBanks: Light Laser; Flail
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser
  • Allowed SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Mag-pulse Missile
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile
  • Hit Points: 200

Terran Fighter 6

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 3.0
  • Allowed PBanks: Light Laser; Disruptor; Flail
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser; Disruptor
  • Allowed SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Mag-pulse Missile; Fury Missile
  • Default SBanks: Mag-Pulse Missile; Fury Missile
  • Hit Points: 200

Bomber 1

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 4.0
  • Allowed PBanks: Light Laser; Disruptor; Mass Driver
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser; Disruptor
  • Allowed SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Mag-pulse Missile; AngelFire Missile; Cluster Bomb
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile; AngelFire Missile
  • Hit Points: 300

Bomber 4

  • Max Velocity: 50
  • Forward Acceleration: 4.0
  • Allowed PBanks: Light Laser; Mass Driver; Neutron Flux
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser
  • Allowed SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Mag-pulse Missile; AngelFire Missile; Cluster Bomb; Tsunami Bomb
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Mag-Pulse Missile; Tsunami Bomb
  • Hit Points: 300

Bomber 5

  • Max Velocity: 50
  • Forward Acceleration: 4.0
  • Allowed PBanks: Light Laser; Disruptor; Mass Driver; Neutron Flux
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser; Disruptor
  • Allowed SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Mag-pulse Missile; AngelFire Missile; Cluster Bomb; Tsunami Bomb; Harbinger Fusion Bomb
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Mag-Pulse Missile; AngelFire Missile
  • Hit Points: 300

Terran Drone

  • Max Velocity: 70
  • Forward Acceleration: 3.0
  • Allowed PBanks: Light Laser
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser
  • Hit Points: 400

Terran Support

  • Max Velocity: 70
  • Forward Acceleration: 2.0
  • Hit Points: 1500
  • Role: Repair & Rearm

Vasudan Fighter 1

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 3.0
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile
  • Hit Points: 200

Vasudan Fighter 7

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 3.0
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser; Disruptor
  • Default SBanks: Fury Missile; Rockeye Missile
  • Hit Points: 200

Vasudan Fighter 8

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 3.0
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser; Disruptor
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Fury Missile
  • Hit Points: 200

Vasudan Fighter 9

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 3.0
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile
  • Hit Points: 200

Vasudan Bomber 6

  • Max Velocity: 50
  • Forward Acceleration: 4.0
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Fury Missile; Angelfire Missile
  • Hit Points: 300

Vasudan Bomber 7

  • Max Velocity: 50
  • Forward Acceleration: 4.0
  • Default PBanks: Light Laser; Disruptor
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Fury Missile; Cluster Bomb
  • Hit Points: 100

Shivan Fighter 1

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 3.0
  • Default PBanks: Shivan Light Laser; Shivan Heavy Laser
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile
  • Hit Points: 200

Shivan Fighter 10

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 3.0
  • Default PBanks: Shivan Light Laser; Shivan Heavy Laser
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Fury Missile
  • Hit Points: 200

Shivan Fighter 11

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 3.0
  • Default PBanks: Shivan Light Laser
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Fury Missile
  • Hit Points: 200

Shivan Fighter 12

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 3.0
  • Default PBanks: Shivan Light Laser; Shivan Heavy Laser
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile
  • Hit Points: 200

Shivan Bomber 1

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 2.0
  • Default PBanks: Shivan Light Laser; Shivan Heavy Laser
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile
  • Hit Points: 300

Shivan Bomber 8

  • Max Velocity: 60
  • Forward Acceleration: 4.0
  • Default PBanks: Flail
  • Default SBanks: Rockeye Missile; Cluster Bomb; Angelfire Missile; Rockeye Missile
  • Hit Points: 300

 

The following data is subject to change by the time FreeSpace is released. Also, you should note that ship and weapon names have yet to be finalized.

Weapons

Light Laser Cannon: Much like Descent lasers. Less powerful than Heavies.

Heavy Laser Cannon: Self-explanatory. Fires slightly slower.

Mass Driver Cannon: Fires shells, but uses energy, since it's a cannon.

Flail Cannon: Rapid-fire energy-based weapon. Shoots many smaller, rapid lasers.

Neutron Flux Cannon: Similar to Heavy Lasers, but more punch.

Primary Weapons

Light Laser

  • Damage: 10
  • Velocity: 300
  • Fire Wait: .175

Disruptor

  • Damage: 16
  • Velocity: 275
  • Fire Wait: .3

Mass Driver

  • Damage: 40
  • Velocity: 240
  • Fire Wait: .15

Flail

  • Damage: 5
  • Velocity: 530
  • Fire Wait: .15

Neutron Flux

  • Damage: 30
  • Velocity: 300
  • Fire Wait: 30

Shivan Light Laser

  • Damage: 8
  • Velocity: 300
  • Fire Wait: .15

Shivan Heavy Laser

  • Damage: 12
  • Velocity: 275
  • Fire Wait: .3

Secondary Weapons

Rockeye Missile

  • Damage: 15
  • Velocity: 140
  • Fire Wait: .75

Mag Pulse Missile

  • Damage: 10
  • Velocity: 200
  • Fire Wait: 1.00

Fury Missile

  • Damage: 15
  • Velocity: 300
  • Fire Wait: .10

Swarm Missile

  • Damage: 15
  • Velocity: 200
  • Fire Wait: 1.0

Shrike Missile

  • Damage: 45
  • Velocity: 130
  • Fire Wait: 1.0

Angelfire Missile

  • Damage: 60
  • Velocity: 100
  • Fire Wait: 1.0

Fusion Mortar

  • Damage: 100
  • Velocity: 250
  • Fire Wait: 1.0

Cluster Bomb

  • Damage: 60
  • Velocity: 50
  • Fire Wait: 2.0

Cluster Baby

  • Damage: 25
  • Velocity: 120
  • Fire Wait: .5

Stilleto Bomb

  • Damage: 60
  • Velocity: 75
  • Fire Wait: 1.0

Tsunami Bomb

  • Damage: 100
  • Velocity: 50
  • Fire Wait: 3.0

Harbinger Fusion Bomb

  • Damage: 200
  • Velocity: 40
  • Fire Wait: 3.0

 

Chris Jensen
cjensen@ogr.com

taken from www.ogr.com

 

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