Manually Installing FreeSpace 2 Open

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This page covers installing FSO and associated mods by hand. It is strongly recommended to use the Knossos (mod manager) as it considerably streamlines and automates the whole process.

This guide assumes you already have a working copy of FreeSpace 2 installed. If not, see Installing FreeSpace 2.

Step One: Understanding what you need

There are three main components that you need to get the most out of fs2_open.

  • First, you need to install the retail data from FreeSpace 2
  • Second, the fs2_open build. This is the core game engine, a single executable file.
  • Next, the launcher. This lets you configure the fs2_open executable for your particular system, in much the same way the original FreeSpace 2 launcher is used to configure it.
  • Finally, the MediaVPs. These contain all sorts of graphical improvements and are highly recommended. Version numbers of mediaVPs generally agree with the fs2_open build that they're supposed to be used with.

Step Two: Getting the Launcher

Unless you are using an extremely old build, you will want to get the appropriate launcher for your OS. It may be bundled with your release but the direct download link is below.

Windows: wxLauncher

OS X: wxLauncher unless you are using Tiger or a PowerPC Mac, in which case use Soulstorm's OS X Launcher 3.0 (instructions)

Linux: wxLauncher (build it from source; see the readme for instructions)

Step Three: Choosing a build

There are two main types of fs2_open builds, at the time of this writing. A "build" is any executable built from source code. Any build may also be a debug build. (Debug builds usually have names that end with "_d" or "_dbg" or somesuch) If you don't know why you'd want to use a debug build, you're almost certainly better off not using one.

All builds should be extracted to your main FreeSpace 2 folder.

Official Releases

The first type is the "stable" release build. Additionally, some official release builds are available with installers. It's a good idea to get the most recent official release, even if you end up deciding to get a recent build anyway. Current official release is FreeSpace Open 3.8.0.

FreeSpace Open 3.8.0 release thread

Test Builds

Recent Builds are ones that individual coders release. Most of the time they're released to either test or showcase some particular new feature. If you're curious about how reliable a build is, your best bet is to check the original thread it was posted in and see what people's responses were.

Test builds forum

Cross Platform Development forum (for Linux/OS X builds)

Nightly Builds

In addition to recent builds, nightly builds are built every evening after any changes have been applied to the source code. These are put out so that the code base can be quickly verified for general stability. Testing nightly builds on a regular basis and reporting bugs helps ensure a stable code base is maintained.

Nightly builds forum

Step Four: MediaVPs

With the release of the 3.8 MediaVPs, there is once again only one set of recommended MediaVPs available. The detailed instructions for installing and the current links can currently be found in the MediaVPs Release Thread linked below.

MediaVPs should be installed in a new 'MediaVPs_38X' directory under the main FreeSpace directory (\freespace2\MediaVPs_38X) This preserves the possibility to play with either with retail FreeSpace 2 vp files if this is desired (for example in multiplayer) and using the retail FreeSpace 2 executive files and requires minimal extra time to set up. (See step six for further details).

3.8 MediaVPs Release Thread

Step Five: Configuring Everything

Basic setup

At this point, you have one final stage remaining before fs2_open is ready to go. Open up wxLauncher. Select the EXE you'd like to use from the dropdown menu in the "Basic Settings" tab. There are two types typically for any build release:

  • a debug build with the name containing 'd', 'debug' or 'FASTDBG' right after the version number. For example, fs2_open_3_8_0_x64_AVX-FASTDBG.exe.
  • a regular/release build with the name containing 'r' or nothing right after the version number. For example, fs2_open_3_8_0_x64_AVX.exe.

For normal play you will want to use a regular build but for any testing, development, or bug reporting you definitely want to use a debug build. For example, fs2_open_3_8_0_x64_AVX-FASTDBG.exe vs fs2_open_3_8_0_x64_AVX.exe.

Next, ensure that the "Audio/Joystick" and "Network" tabs have the proper settings.

Speech setup

If you are using Windows XP, or have the Speech API installed, fs2_open will be able to read briefings, techroom descriptions, and even ingame messages to you using computer-generated voices. Although no match for real voice acting, it is convenient when valid plot points are mentioned in the middle of combat. Speech in the various locations can be turned on and off by checking and unchecking the check boxes; you can choose which of the installed voices to use in fs2_open by changing the drop-down menu. As of this writing, fs2_open will only use the voice you choose for everything. Text to Speech is typically only available in stable release builds. Recent Builds from a coder's test branch will usually not have it, nor will Nightly Builds.

Video setup

In the "Video" section, you can choose choose various graphics options. Here, you can set the resolution as well as the colour depth. It is recommended to use a resolution greater or equal to 1024x768 at 32 bits of colour depth.

Mod setup

The "Mods" tab lets you easily switch between mods by clicking on them and hitting the "Activate" button.

This tab allow you to choose a mod directory to use; files in the mod directory will be given precedence over other files, so you can easily switch between mods by installing them to different directories.

Advanced setup

This tab is where most of fs2_open's options can be toggled on and off. At the bottom is a readout of your current command line; you should include this in any debugging reports you make.

The long list of checkboxes let you toggle the various new features in fs2_open, many of which are graphical improvements. Recommended options for midrange systems are "Enable post processing", "Enable soft particles" and "Enable FXAA anti-aliasing". There are many, many more options, but these should get you started.

"Custom flags" allows you to add any command line flags that don't show up in the Launcher. This may be because they require additional arguments, as is the case with the "-fov" command line argument. For more information, see the Command-Line Reference page.

line Flags

Language Setup

Freespace & Freespace 2 supported non-English languages such as French, German & Polish. Some mods (most notably Freespace Port) also support non-English languages. The steps required to change the language differ depending on which OS FSO is running on.

Note that due to pilot file limitations, pilots can only be used with one language. If you switch languages you need to have multiple pilots.

To set the language, modify the Language entry in the registry or the [Default] section of the .ini file.





Step Six: Cutscenes

Depending on how you installed the game, the cutscenes might not be in the proper location. If you bought your copy of FS2 from Good Old Games, the cutscenes (ten .mve files) are somewhere in \freespace2\data2\ or \freespace2\data3\ . You can get them working by moving them to \freespace2\data\movies\ . Create the directory if it does not exist. You can also download either the original MVE cutscenes or OGG-encoded versions from If you have the game CDs/DVD, you can copy the cutscenes from them to the FreeSpace2/data/movies/ folder. The OGG cutscenes are smaller but might not perform as well on older hardware that could run the MVEs without problem. Now you should have the full gamut of updated and retail content installed!

Note: If you've found the AVI versions of the cutscenes, do not use them. Support for AVI has been removed in FSO versions 3.6.10 and higher.