Living Outside The Box Born-Again Techo-Geek Renaissance Man


Do You Remember Descent?

Posted by Jeff Hendricks

(NOTE: this article is a repost of the original I wrote back in 2005. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of Descent. This article still holds a lot of truth to it. Links have been updated where possible.)

What is Descent,

and Why Should I be Playing it?

If you're a video game fanatic, you've probably at least heard of the game series called Descent. It was first introduced in 1995, and became widely known as one of the first truly 3-D computer games ever made. It was ahead of its time in almost every aspect, including full 6-degree motion, and fairly advanced AI.

So now it's 2005 2014. What does that have to do with us today?
Good question. Why do people play video games? One, for simple entertainment, two, for a challenge, and three, for community. So why play the Descent series?


Because Descent can still fill those needs...
In a way that most games since cannot.

Descent 1, running in LinuxHow? Pure Entertainment!
Let's start with entertainment value. This has to do with how much you enjoy playing the game, which consists of several parts, including graphics and gameplay. With the exception of D3, Descent's graphics are dated, to say the least. However, there's several examples of games with poor graphics that still get tons of play. Do a search for "ROMS" and you'll find thousands of old Nintendo and Sega games that still get played, because they have great gameplay value.

Playing the Game
Gameplay is one of Descent's strong points. It has a good balance of weapons and powerups, and the single player mode has very strong and fairly smart enemies. However, since it has such a complex movement range, no two people play it with the exact same control setup, unlike most first-person shooter games that all use "mouse-and-WASD" controls. Descent is much harder than point-and-click gaming. It's akin to flying a helicopter while trying to memorize card patterns, to music, while robots are trying to kill you. It's fun, but it's hard, which is probably a big reason why it isn't as popular as most other FPS games.

Much better graphics in D3How Hard Could it Be?
This brings us into the next part, which is how Descent is still a challenge to modern gamers. There are few games (even today) that have as many facets to them as Descent. Not only do you have to figure out how to control the ship, but you have to evade robots and traps, keep track of ammo, rescue hostages, figure out puzzles, find secret doors and switches, and eventually (in D1 and D2) blow the reactor and escape alive and (in D3) accomplish several goals in order, none of which are very easy. In multiplayer mode, you get a half dozen really good pilots instead of robots and puzzles, which makes things even tougher. And of course in multiplayer, there are several other things to consider like ammo control, setting traps, and predicting where other players will be.

So Who Can I Play With?
This leads us into the last part, which is the Descent community. Generally speaking, Descent players are mostly older, more mature gamers (the original game is over ten years old at this point). Though there are always exceptions, most Descent players are simply glad to help anybody who is brave enough to try the game out, or come back after a long hiatus.

A reactor, which blows up when you shoot itThe Descent multiplayer experience is by far one of the most hectic, nerve-wracking, and technical things you can do with a video game. The game also sports several features tailored to multi-play that are just now beginning to be re-incorporated into games as "new features." Cooperative play hasn't been seen in years, until Doom 3 decided to bring it back. The feel of "deuling" is rarely seen, with the notable exception of Jedi Knight 2. Overall, the game still has a lot to offer the modern gamer as far as gameplay and difficulty. Descent 3 has about nine different multiplayer modes, from racing mods to CTF to a version of "soccer" using lasers and missles. There's a lot to be experienced here.

One of several D3 config screensWill It Run On My Computer?
One of the last arguments about playing Descent is that there's no reason not to play. Versions of all three Descent games are available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, with an active mapping community that still cranks out new and exciting levels (including single-player) there's nothing stopping you from trying it out. Even the newest USB joysticks will work with Descent, which is almost 100% configurable, unlike most other games that only let you choose certain premade joystick axis configs (the Mechwarrior 4 series comes to mind). In short, if you can dream up some crazy controller setup, Descent probably supports it as long as the OS recognizes it. Twin joysticks? Not a problem. Keyboard, mouse, and joystick? It'll do it. Full flight sim setup? Check. Playstation controller? Ditto. This is yet another area that Descent was miles ahead of almost everyone else in (and in some cases, even today). Some people I know still play with just the keyboard!

My controller setup
Here's a picture of what I play Descent with. This is an older, discontinued Playstation controller designed specifically for the Playstation version of Descent, not by a small coincidence. To use it on my computer, I bought a $15 adapter that turns it into a USB joystick. It does have a large deadzone which I don't like, but more importantly, it just "feels right."

Just for fun, here's a screenshot of my computer running all three Descent games... at the same time!

Links to Check it Out!

These are all places I've been to in my quest to rediscover the phenomenon known as "Descent." No paid plugs here.