No Downside: Modder Remaking Descent In UE3

By Nathan Grayson on November 1st, 2012 at 10:00 am.

Remakes are strange creatures. They come in all manner of breeds – from timely and lovable to completely mystifying to completely mystifying until you actually see it and go, “OK, sure. That actually doesn’t look half-bad” (Rise of the Triad). And then others, well, they’re just confusing. Emotionally confusing. I think a brand new Descent Unreal Engine 3 remake from particularly intrepid modder, er, Max fits that bill pretty well. On one hand, Descent seems conspicuously absent from cyberfuture 2012’s nostalgia-obsessed landscape, and this attempt at getting it back in its anti-grav groove looks quite nice. On the other, it does look and feel a bit odd seeing these topsy-turvy battles taking place in locations that my brain is now programmed to associate with tree-trunk-armed soldier men.

But then, that’s a small quibble in the face of all this remake stands to bring to the table. Descent, after all, hasn’t really had its torch taken up by a modern equivalent, and that’s a damn shame seeing as its level design and six-degrees-of-freedom control scheme were so interesting. Max wants to replicate all of that – and more, if he has things his way. Here’s what he’s hoping to have in the final product:

  • A retelling of the original story
  • Remakes of the original levels, with an emphasis on a thriller/horror atmosphere
  • Remodeled and animated original robots with advanced AI
  • All the weapons from Descent with potential new ones mixed in
  • High-detail Pyro-GX ship model with 3D cockpit view
  • More diverse gameplay, but with a strong focus on the basics that made Descent great

Which seems basically insane for a one-man team. Fortunately, he’s also more than willing to accept help, even going so far as to note that “there is no reason this could not become a Descent community project.” Apparently, he’s been flooded with emails about it, too, so things are looking up. Or down. Sideways? I need to lie down. Or up? Hgggggnnnrrrgggggghhhhh.

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43 Comments »

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  1. Cytrom says:

    I feel motion sickness just by thinking about Descent.

    • Sinky says:

      If this remake uses the UDK oculus rift support it could reach new levels of nausea.

  2. abigbat says:

    This is excites me far more than it probably should. Bring back unreadable maps.

  3. GallonOfAlan says:

    Picked Descent up off GOG last year. Hasn’t aged well.

    • Glen Moyes says:

      Use DXX Rebirth to play it. Once the resolution is there the game actually holds up pretty well. It plays well and is plenty challenging.

      • mechabuddha says:

        Beat me to it. I played Rebirth and no problems at all – just as good as when I played it years ago.

        • Caiman says:

          I’ve always been tempted to buy a Sidewinder joystick for Rebirth, and with Star Citizen on the distant horizon perhaps now is finally the time. Descent just isn’t the same without a joystick, although the 360 controller does a pretty decent job. I seem to recall Rebirth had a good mouse implementation as well.

          • Frosty840 says:

            I’ve had no real interest in Star Citizen because of its association with “mouse controls made me too sad to play it” Freelancer.

            Are they claiming there’ll be decent joystick controls in this one?

          • kaffis says:

            Frosty840, in a word: yes. Chris is aiming to support mouse/keyboard (along with gamepads and joysticks), but he demos the game using a 360 controller and has a HOTAS setup he likes. I wouldn’t worry about the control scheme.

          • Gaytard Fondue says:

            Real men use keyboard only. Jokes aside, I first played the Descent Demo back in 1995 when I was nine, the default controls were ctrl,alt,space,a,z + arrow keys. I played 2 and 3 the same way and haven’t encountered anyone so far who can beat me in mp. I tried different joysticks but nothing came close to the good old keyboard setup.

      • kalirion says:

        And by “Plenty Challenging” you of course mean “Utterly ridiculous, forcing you to memorize the location of every Driller (the vulcan cannon robots) and wear out the quicksave/quickload key.”

        Or at least that was my impression of the first game.

        • Dervish says:

          This is definitely true for the harder difficulties, but I’m glad they’re there for the Descent gods that just are that good (and some of them keyboard-only, no less). For anyone trying this game and getting frustrated: the lower difficulties let you play much “looser” without losing half your shields to a single bot that gets the drop on you.

          Descent 2 toned down the viciousness and frequency of vulcan bots / homing missile hulks. Of course, some of the bosses will still annihilate you in seconds.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Picked Descent up off GOG last year. Found it utterly brilliant.

      Great sense of movement, glorious music, good level of challenge, love the automap even if it’s a twisty beast.

      (It helps that I remapped it to WASD+mouse-ish; think I’ve got rotate on Q/E and up/down is on something like shift/space.)

      Yeah, it’s unabashedly ’90s “find the colour keys for the doors in order while fighting through the enemies”, but I’ll take a barely present text-screen plot over someone’s NaNoWriMo first draft being told through cutscenes every time the game’s just starting to build up momentum.

      Technically impressive, too. Co-op multiplayer, rejoins, netcode niceties that still go missing these days.

  4. Caiman says:

    Descent (well, Descent 2 anyway) remains my favourite game ever. Multiplayer D2 over kali95 represented the pinnacle of gaming for me. I’ve always mourned the loss of this type of game, although Miner Wars and that other one… er… the failed Kickstarter 6dof game, damn my memory… anyway, they might be able to rekindle interest if they turn out well.

    This Mod? Awesome, although I fear a) he won’t be able to finish it (it’s pretty ambitious!) and b) some kind of cease and desist is going to ruin the party.

    By the way, I feel sad for people who got motion sickness from playing Descent. I mean, talk about missing out on something awesome.

    • Kinsha says:

      By the way, I feel sad for people who got motion sickness from playing Descent. I mean, talk about missing out on something awesome.

      There wasn’t anything “awesome” in Descent series except for flight system and weird robot fights inside corridors (and outside in D3). Well, D3 had great music and good visuals as well but still, nothing amazing. Motion sickness could be easily avoided by better level design (which even Valve hasn’t mastered yet) but somehow I doubt it that a modder will fix that.

      • Caiman says:

        Well we’ll just have to disagree on that one then, won’t we? Motion sickness and disorientation had nothing to do with level design, unless you’re referring to the fact it had a z-axis unlike Doom (which was really its only rival for our attention at the time). Some of the levels, particularly the multiplayer arenas in Descent 2, had excellent level design – asymmetrical but balanced, great for large multiplayer matches. People got confused by their orientation, which is why there was an “autoleveling” system to try and help, although you needed to take the training wheels off if you were to stand any chance in multiplayer arenas. It was so much more dynamic than Doom multiplayer it wasn’t funny, and even Quake seemed antiquated next to Descent’s tech. The robot AI in single player as well was excellent, with robots dodging and weaving, sneaking around the back, working in packs, and generally being smart. It was an excellent piece of work.

        But hey, if everyone thought it was great we’d be playing Call of Descent now, instead of man shooters.

      • InternetBatman says:

        Descent was pretty much only weird robot fights in corridors and the flight system. So if that’s good, they’re doing a pretty good job.

        • Sorth_31 says:

          I kinda get what you’re saying but really there aren’t any games that can’t be so simplified. Doom was just “shoot odd coloured humans and demons in corridors”, Thief was just “Avoid humans and odd coloured humans in corridors”, Deus Ex was just “avoid or shoot polygonal messes in corridors and very occasionally a 6 foot by 6 foot box”, and even the most open world things devolve between shoot/stab and avoid. Take story away from any game and try to explain mechanics and it just sounds hollow.

          That’s part of what made descent (and probably ANY game) for me and, I think, many others. It felt different or unique, yes there were corridors but you felt free when it came to movement. If a bit sick. There was that sense of immersion and involvement that frankly nobody that really connects with a game can explain to people that don’t, even if those others are also gamers.

          It’s the same reason people that love the Half Life series get so annoyed with someone like me that even at release saw them as nothing other than average corridor shooters. But for the people that had never seen a story in games or perhaps never in first person, they were a massive leap.

          Maybe descent wasn’t a massive leap, but at the time it seemed so much like a glimpse of the future and of what games could offer control wise that it left me astounded.

          And I don’t even really like FPS games.

    • Glen Moyes says:

      I played the beta for Miner Wars. Ehh…I’ll wait until it matures a bit more (constant crashing, etc.). I just hope that Miner Wars doesn’t go the way of Descent 3. The problem I had with Descent 3 is that they got rid of part of what made Descent 1 and 2 fun: pacing.

      The pacing for Descent 1 basically went like this. Navigate the mine, be careful, find the exit, then find the reactor (but not necessarily in that order), plan for the inevitable escape, and then GTFO! That building of tension and transitioning from being careful to flying like a bat out of hell made the game awesome. Descent 3 took that out. The pacing was pretty flat. Sure there was more story, setting, etc. I guess that’s interesting and all, but it didn’t get my adrenalin pumping the same way Descent 1 and 2 did. I need to replay Descent 3 to figure out if this was the case, but looking back I think this is the reason why I didn’t like Descent 3 even though it was technically better. Anyone else feel this way about it?

      • Caiman says:

        Yeah, I felt that way too, blowing up the reactor and having to race for the exit while the level was collapsing around you, sirens blaring, was pretty memorable stuff. I still liked Descent 3 as a single player game. Never got into multi with D3 though, it didn’t feel as immediate as D2. The sense of scale worked far better for a single player game.

      • Sorth_31 says:

        My main memories for the escape sequences in Descent tended to go like this:

        Right, I’ve memorized the map and my escape route, now to blow up the core! NOW RUN!

        OH GOD WHERE AM I!? I TOOK A WRONG TURN!

        Ok, ok, look at the map…

        THAT WAS NO HELP OH GOD I’M GONNA DIE! KEEP RUNNING.

        Hmmm…..

        WHY AM I BACK AT THE CORE!?

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Some of my friends and I used to do 2 player co-op Descent and Hexen over direct modem connections, and those were probably the best multiplayer experiences I’ve ever had. A game as large as Descent was a blast with another person, especially when they took out the reactor and you were on the entire other side of the map.

    • Dervish says:

      The reason people get motion sickness in Descent doesn’t have much to do with the level design.

      If anything, “good” Descent level design plays to its 6DoF strengths, being very non-flat and non-orthogonal, which is more likely to require the sort of maneuvers that cause sickness.

      • PleasingFungus says:

        I like how your second sentence directly contradicts the first.

        Smooth!

        • Dervish says:

          “Doesn’t have much” and “if anything.”

          As I said, it is ultimately the maneuvers that cause motion sickness. A lot of people that get sick from Descent would get sick just flying around an empty cube. The fact that certain types of levels might encourage a particular kind of nauseating movement does not contradict this. It also doesn’t make that kind of level design bad, which is the real point I was making.

  5. olemars says:

    I didn’t get motion sickness from Descent, but I have limited sense of direction at the best of times and would just end up going in circles until the reactor blew up (or whatever it was you had to trigger).

    Also:
    “A retelling of the original story”
    There was a story? Must have been about as deep as the Doom narrative.

    • Caiman says:

      Pretty much. You’re a mercenary that’s employed by a large corporation to deal with a mysterious virus that’s infected all their mining robots… by destroying them all and then blowing up the mine for good measure! Never really made much sense at the time. Eventually the corporation informs you that you can’t return to Earth because you might be infected, so you deal with another set of mines in the sequel, and finally your warp core malfunctions and sends you into the unknown. Turns out the corporation was actually behind the nanovirus in the first place, then tried to kill you, and eventually you go after the head of the corporation in D3. I might be blanking out some of the details that actually make the story make sense, but no – it’s not exactly very deep.

      • Gaytard Fondue says:

        I re-read some D2 reviews a while ago and one thing stood out to me. There was one reviewer who wrote that the ending in D2 was the best he had ever seen in a game or movie and I was like “Come on, it’s a fucking deus-ex-machina ending”

  6. Quatlo says:

    How is Volition standing with cash? Saints Row was a success right? So it is about time to make goddamned Freespace 3, my life feels empty without new Freespace. Pleaaaase

    • sebmojo says:

      Plleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaassssssssssssseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

    • Jason Moyer says:

      If Interplay were serious about making a comeback, they would throw a large pile of cash Volition’s way to make this happen.

      • DPB says:

        Volition are part of THQ (another struggling publisher), so I’d say the chances of that happening are very slim.

  7. zeroskill says:

    It’s good to see more modding (and modding news on RPS for that mather) in a time where companies like EA actively disencourage you from activities such as this so they can feed you more payed for downloadable content.

    Still love Descent, one of the first games (besides Doom) I played on a Lan.

  8. Jason Moyer says:

    “Descent seems conspicuously absent from cyberfuture 2012′s nostalgia-obsessed landscape”

    Pretty much the only games from that period I have any nostalgia for whatsoever are Descent, Indycar Racing, and Hexen.

  9. Berzee says:

    alafalafel!

  10. Singularity says:

    Wow, finally registered, anyways… I was on Chris Roberts live Q&A chat when I brought up Descent 3 and someone told me about this mod, very strange that this news popped up afterword. D3 got me into internet multi-player gaming.

  11. grundus says:

    I bought Descent 1, 2 and 3 not long ago on GOG and so far have only toe-dipped into the first (I used to play the Mac demo years and years and years ago), got an X52 Pro lately and gave it another quick go… One of these days I will get round to it, but what I really want is an up-to-date sim-style Descent-like. Like DCS Pyro-GX. The 3D cockpit is an awesome start.

  12. InsanityBringer says:

    whoever’s doing this, I wish them luck.

    Someone was making a Descent game for Doom 3, but as I recall that never got anywhere. Hopefully this one will get a bit further.

  13. Phantoon says:

    YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

    I am probably the biggest fan of Descent here.

  14. Premium User Badge

    BathroomCitizen says:

    Well, isn’t Miner Wars the modern equivalent of Descent?

  15. derbefrier says:

    Loved those gamed when I was a kid. This is awesome news.

  16. fooga44 says:

    Descent was not a very good single player game that’s why it’s missing from the nostalgia obsessed landscape. It doesn’t help that Descent 3 was botched by the developers, D3 was missing the “feel” of descent 2. Descent peaked with Descent 2. It would be great if someone rebooted the first two games with all the lessons learned about how to make a single player game.

    People who remember descent remember it for its magic multiplayer over Kahn and kali and we were a minority in first person “ground pounding” sea.

    First person shooters overwhelmed Descent, most people just can’t handle how complex it is to move in the third dimension. Only a tiny elite of gamers can manage battle in true 360 degrees without motion sickness or frustration.

    It’s one of the few reasons games like Descent and Freespace were pushed to niche status – most gamers suck at videogames, and Descent and Freespace are reflex demanding games.