Descent: Underground - a PC classic resurrected

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20 years since the original Descent came to North America, the six-degrees-of-freedom first-person shooter is returning as Descent: Underground. A modern take on the series' space combat, strategy, and resource-gathering formula, the project launched a Kickstarter project today to revive the classic cockpit franchise.

In late 2014, Eric "Wingman" Peterson left his role as president of production on the massively funded Star Citizen to form a small team with the goal of developing a new, modern version of Descent, the popular '90s first-person space shooter.

If you haven’t played Descent, “six degrees of freedom” refers to the six methods of control you have over your ship—three for movement: forward/backward, left/right, up/down; three for rotation: pitch (forward/backward tilt), yaw (left/right rotation), and roll (side to side tilt)—that give you total freedom of movement through the game's 3D space. True to the Descent we played two decades ago, you’ll have the option of using a joystick or a mouse and keyboard to perform these maneuvers.

In 2315, Earth is overpopulated and megacorporations vie for control. Players take command of small, nimble ships in the Mars-Jupiter asteroid belt tasked with mining the rocks for precious metals, defending their operations (while sabotaging others'), or competing in the deathmatch-style "Underground Games" for the entertainment of the masses.

"It's the perfect time for this."

Peterson is a 30-year veteran of the games industry, having worked on space games such as Wing Commander 4, Starlancer, and Conquest: Frontier Wars in addition to Chris Roberts’ project. "A lot has changed over the years," Peterson said. "Now we can do lots of stuff, like with voxels, and VR. It's the perfect time for this."

Descent: Underground's development is divided up into five phases, Peterson says. Phase one, the objective of the Kickstarter, will focus on these multiplayer matches. Gametypes feature multiple teams of up to sixteen players apiece: Capture the Asteroid, a territory-control gametype; Capture the Ore, where you mine resources and ferry them to your harvester; Mining for Minerals, which sounds like a single-flag CTF variant; and traditional Deathmatch Destruction.


Matches can take the form of quick, five- to 30-minute skirmishes or longer (~hour-length) battles. All eight of the game's ship variants can be unlocked with in-game currency (or purchased) as well as customized to suit players' individual playstyles. Underground is being developed in Unreal Engine 4, with some maps using voxel-based technology to allow for tunnel-able and destructible environments.

Assuming all goes to plan, this multiplayer version of the game will launch on PC in March 2016, with an alpha and beta launching as soon as six and nine months from now. (There are currently no plans for release on other platforms, but it could be a possibility if the community asks for it.) Along the way, Peterson wants Descent: Underground to have an extremely open development. Design meetings will be broadcast live on the Internet, with community members able to chime in and affect development in real-time.

The structural similarities to Star Citizen don’t end there. If Underground is well received (or the Kickstarter massively overfunds), then it’ll will move into additional phases. A single-player story campaign is phase two, followed by a mode where players move planetside, introducing internal mining and gravity. Phase four would bring an alien race into the mix, while finally phase five would go interstellar, taking players to another solar system entirely.

"It's hard to come from Star Citizen, where they're sitting on $73 million," Peterson said. "But that's a lot of pressure. I'm looking for a more focused, smaller game. I want millions of players. Think Counter-Strike, or World of Tanks—session-based combat."

Read more over on the Descent: Underground Kickstarter page.

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