Descent 3 programmer releases the classic space shooter's source code, including a surprise patch developed 15 years ago but never released

Descent 3
(Image credit: Interplay)

The source code for Descent 3 has been released, and is available to download now on Github.

Spotted by Linux programmer Daniel Gibson on Mastodon, the code was released by Descent 3 programmer Kevin Bentley earlier this week. Described by Bentley as the "latest version" of the code, it includes an unreleased '1.5' patch codesigned by Bentley and another Descent 3 designer, Kevin Slutter, several years ago.

"The first thing I want to do is get everything compiling again," writes Bentley in the release announcement. "After that, the code needs to be cleaned up some, to remove the old version control comments." He notes that "a lot of this code was written by a really great team, but keep in mind we were much younger and less experienced back then."

Descent 3 originally launched back in 1999, and was the last entry in the series. Known for its "Six Degrees of Freedom" shooting, all three games in the series saw players piloting spacecraft through labyrinthine space-themed interiors (like asteroid mines and space stations), blasting enemies as they did so. If you imagine the Millennium Falcon's run through the Death Star's substructure in Return of the Jedi, that's basically what playing Descent is like.

Descent 3 introduced some larger outdoor environments alongside the twisting mazes, and was generally well received. But it sold poorly, and spelled the end of the series. A spiritual successor, Overload, was released in 2018, directed by Descent's creators. That too was pretty great, but also failed to catch much of an audience.

The game's available to buy on Steam, but as the user reviews reveal, whether or not the game will run can be a bit of a coin toss. With the source code released, it's possible the community could work together to create a more compatible version of the game on modern machines. There is one sticking point, however. Bentley notes that "Some proprietary sound and video libraries from Interplay have been stripped out" presumably due to potential licensing issues. So those would need to  be sorted out before a truly 'complete' rebuild could happen.

There's also some uncertainty over the license the code has been released under. In his Mastodon post, Gibson originally stated the code was released under an MIT license, but this proved just to be the default license file added by Github. Updating his post, Gibson stated that "the actual license of the code is currently unclear."

Nonetheless, Bentley's release of the source code has apparently caused a bit of a stir. In an update to his initial announcement post, Bentley writes he's "happy to see the amount of interest and participation here" before pointing other interested parties to the Descent Developer Discord. In another update, Bentley says the immediate roadmap remains focussed on "code cleanup" with the aim of reaching "a good baseline 'vanilla' source.