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Getting Started: FreeSpace in a Nutshell

Hello and welcome! You've arrived at "FreeSpace in a Nutshell", an article for people new to FreeSpace. This article will provide information about the FreeSpace game series, FreeSpace Open and Hard Light Productions. There are also instructions for getting the games and installing FreeSpace Open.

What is FreeSpace?

FreeSpace is a series of space combat simulation games developed by Volition, Inc. and published by Interplay Entertainment. The games take place in the 24th century. Mankind, referred to as Terrans, has developed means for space traveling, further fueled by the discovery of subspace which makes interstellar travel not only possible but also fast and easy. As a result the Terrans have expanded their territory, eventually encountering another bipedal, sentient species; the Vasudans. However, due to cultural differences and difficulties in communicating with each other, the Galactic Terran Alliance (GTA) and the Parliamentary Vasudan Empire (PVE) end up fighting a war that lasts for 14 years.

FreeSpace 1

Descent: FreeSpace — The Great War (also known as Conflict: FreeSpace — The Great War) is the first part of the series, released in 1998. The player is a pilot for the Galactic Terran Alliance. The GTA and the PVN have waged a war for 14 years and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. However, suddenly a third race appears. These aliens, designated Shivans, are technologically superior, do not respond to diplomacy, and stage attacks against both the Terrans and the Vasudans. As a result, the GTA and PVN forge a truce and join forces in order to stop these alien invaders.

FreeSpace 1 was well-received in its time by critics and players. Though it didn't offer much innovation in terms of gameplay and story, all aspects of the game worked well. The controls were easy to assume and the plot was quite compelling, as well as leaving a few questions in the air. Also crucial to the success of FS1 was the excellent mod support. Mod tools were released for the use of players and the game itself shipped with FreeSpace Editor (FRED) that allowed every player to design and create their own missions.

It is good to note that although in certain regions the full title of the game is Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War, FS1 has very little to do with the Descent game series. The prefixes "Descent" and "Conflict" were used in some titles because there was already an archive tool called FreeSpace on the market.

Silent Threat

Silent Threat is an expansion for FreeSpace 1, also released in 1998. It offered a few new ships and weapons and a campaign regarding a rogue faction within the intelligence branch of the GTA. Silent Threat was considered as a decent expansion pack. The main campaign suffered from bugs, weird plot development and generic mission designs, but was compensated by the selected user-made mission that were also included.

FreeSpace 2

FreeSpace 2 was released in 1999 and continued the story 32 years after the events of FS1. The Terrans and Vasudans have increased their cooperation that started during the events of FS1, eventually culminating in the formation of the Galactic Terran-Vasudan Alliance (GTVA). However, not everyone appreciates the situation. A rebel group known as the Neo-Terran Front wages a war against the GTVA, because they do not see a future for the Terran race with the Vasudans.

In terms of gameplay and contents, FreeSpace 2 improved upon what FreeSpace 1 had offered. The gameplay as such remained the same, but new features were added. Among these were beam weapons for capital ships and missions taking place in nebula environments.

Though critically appraised, FreeSpace 2 was not a commercial success, largely because of the poor advertisement. Many fans of FreeSpace 1 were actually surprised to hear that FreeSpace 2 had been published because the only real source for this information was through game reviews.

FreeSpace 3?

There is no FreeSpace 3. Volition was bought by THQ in 2000, with the licenses remaining with Interplay. Volition couldn't create a new game in the series, and Interplay was not interested in publishing space simulation games because the genre was deemed dead. Volition was recently sold to Koch Media after THQ filed for bankruptcy. More information about FreeSpace 3 and related things can be read from Karajorma's FreeSpace FAQ.

Buying the Games

Although the FreeSpace games are old, they are far from lost. Good Old Games (GOG) sells numerous old classic games, including FreeSpace 1 and Silent Threat, and FreeSpace 2. People who do not yet own these games are recommended to buy them from Good Old Games because GOG's games are cheap ($5.99 or $9.99), DRM-free, and completely legal.

The FreeSpace Source Code Project

After Volition was bought by THQ, they no longer had any use for the game engine, since they couldn't develop new FreeSpace games. Volition released the source code of the FS2 game engine in 2002 so that FreeSpace fans could do what they wanted with it. A group of coders joined forces and formed the FreeSpace 2 Source Code Project (SCP) that began to, and still continues to, improve the game engine. The new open source game engine, known as FreeSpace Open (FSO), has several distingushing features including:

  • Linux and Mac OS X support
  • OpenGL support
  • OpenAL audio support
  • Easy mod installation
  • OGG support
  • Hardware transform, clipping, and lighting

The FreeSpace Upgrade Project

While the SCP improve the code of the game engine to enable new and exciting features, the FreeSpace Upgrade Project (FSU) creates material that takes advantage of the improved game engine. The FSU improves the ships, effects, and background elements of FreeSpace 2. Every now and then these improvements are released as a pack called MediaVPs. These assorted improvements enhance the graphics of the game. While screenshots give some idea of what the MediaVPs can do, the best way is to experience them in-game.

Total Conversions

In addition to improving the original FS2, the FSO engine has also made it possible for people to create new space sim games (Total conversions). Note that all of these games are standalone, which means that they are completely free do not require the original FS2.

Hard Light Productions

Hard Light Productions (HLP) is the most active online FreeSpace community. HLP consists of hundreds of dedicated FreeSpace fans, with everyone contributing to the community in one or more ways. Members of HLP are

  • Coders, who continuously improve the FSO game engine to include new and exciting features, as well as fix bugs in the game engine
  • Modellers, who create new ship models and improve old ones
  • Texture artists, who make textures for new and old ships
  • Effect artists, who create effects such as weapons fire and afterburner trails
  • FREDders, who use the FreeSpace Editor to create new missions and campaigns for people to play
  • Support people, who help players with any problems regarding FreeSpace
  • Players, who keep FreeSpace alive by playing the game year after year.

HLP has boards for the Source Code Project, where new versions of the FSO game engine are released. People can also request new features and post their contributions in the FSO code. HLP also has a board for the FreeSpace Upgrade project. This board has release threads for the latest MediaVPs and other graphical updates.

In addition to these two important sections, HLP has boards for the following aspects:

  • FreeSpace & FreeSpace Open Support - for any technical problems and questions related to FreeSpace
  • FS2 Open Mission Design - discussion about the FreeSpace Editor
  • FS2 Open Modding- discussion about creating various modifications
  • Multiplayer - discussion about FS2 multiplayer, accompanied by schedules
  • Mods and Total Conversions

Registering on HLPs is free and highly recommended. Though viewing the forums is possible as a guest, only registered members can post in the forums and ask any questions they might have.

Installing FreeSpace Open

Installing FreeSpace Open is not rocket science as long as you follow the proper guidelines.


The Knossos installer and launcher can be found at and can both install and launch FS2, total conversions and mods.


The FSO installer can be found at and requires Java to run, but automatically handles downloading and extracting the mods that it knows about (it can even extract FS2 itself from the GOG installer file on non-Windows systems). You can read more about it on its own page.

Manual installation

If you want to set things up yourself and possibly learn some things about the game in the process, you can install FSO manually. There are manual installation instructions for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X among the stickied threads in the General FreeSpace Discussion board, as well as a vast amount of troubleshooting help and some additional information on this page. Don't think about manual installation as a 1337 h4x0r thing: there's more work involved, but none of it is hard.

Post-installation instructions for wxLauncher

After you've installed FSO, there are some things you need to do in order to enjoy FSO to its fullest (these steps are also mentioned in the manual installation instructions mentioned earlier):

  • Open wxLauncher and click over to the Basic Settings tab.
  • Set the game root folder and select FS2 Open 3.8.0 (do not use a debug build) from the dropdown list.
  • In the Audio section, make sure that Generic Software is selected.
  • In the Video section, make sure that 32-bit depth is selected.
  • If you installed the MediaVPs (the graphical updates):
    • Open the Mods tab.
      • Click on "MediaVPs 2014"
    • Open the Advanced Settings tab of the Launcher.
      • In the Graphics section:
        • Tick at least "Enable post processing", "Enable soft particles" and "Enable FXAA anti-aliasing".
        • Shadows provide a graphical upgrade but degrade performance significantly.
      • In the Gameplay section:
        • Tick "Use 3D models for ship selection" and "Use 3D models for weapon selection".
  • Save the changes by clicking "Apply" at the bottom of the Launcher.
  • Start the game by clicking "Play" (it is easiest to always use the Launcher to start FSO, so you may want to create a shortcut of it to your desktop or Start Menu).
    • If this is your very first time running the game, you'll be asked for a "callsign", that is, a name for your pilot/profile. Type it and press Enter. In subsequent runs, a list of pilots is shown here and you can select the one you like.
    • When you get to the main hall, press F2, then select "Detail" from the top of the screen.
      • Max all the settings in the "Detail" screen, unless you know what you're doing and have some compelling reason to do otherwise. These settings affect the quality of the graphics even when you are using everything the MediaVPs and the FSO engine provide.

Related links

Here are a few useful FreeSpace-related links.

  • FreeSpace 2 at Good Old Games - The best place to buy FreeSpace 2 from.
  • The FreeSpace Troubleshooting FAQ - A FAQ that includes solutions to all the most common problems with FreeSpace, FreeSpace 2 and FreeSpace Open. If you have any problems with the games, start here.
  • - A site that hosts a ton of FreeSpace-related things, including campaigns, mods and total conversions.
  • Hard-Light - The largest FreeSpace community on the web, where most modders and coders are available to provide help.