Getting started

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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 innovations in terms of gameplay and story, all aspects of the game worked well. The contols, though at first confusing with their complexity, were easy to assume and the plot offered more than enough motivation for the player, 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.


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 concidered 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 unsurprisingly 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. Storywise FreeSpace 2 was somewhat different from FS1. Sometimes compared to The Empire Strikes Back, it didn't have a clear and happy ending, but instead left a number of questions floating in the air, puzzling and frustrating the fans.

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. More information about FreeSpace 3 and related things can be read from Karajorma's FreeSpace FAQ.


Where to get the games?

Though the FreeSpace games are old, they are far from lost. Good Old Games (GOG) sells numerous old classic games, including FreeSpace, 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.


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 that include:

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


Games based on the FSO engine

In addition to improving the original FS2, the FSO engine has also made it possible for people to create new space sim games. for a list of FSO-based games, see Total_conversions. Note that all of these games are standalone, which means that they 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 ore 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 forums for the SCP, where new versions of the FSO game engine are released. People can also request new features, as well as post their contributions in the FSO code.

Also an important part of HLP is the FreeSpace Upgrade Project. The FSU improves the ships, effects and background elements of FreeSpace 2 continuously. Every now and then these improvements are released as a pack. Known as MediaVPs, these assorted improvements enhance the graphics of the game drastically. Though screenshots give some idea of what the MediaVPs can do, the best way is to experience them in-game.

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
  • FREDding - discussion about the FreeSpace Editor
  • Modding - discussion about creating various modifications
  • Multiplayer - discussion about FS2 multiplayer, accompanied by schedules
  • Several mods and total conversions.

Registering to HLP is free and highly recommended. Though viewing the forums is possible as a guest, registered members can post in the forums and ask any questions they might have. And HLP is notorious for responding to questions quickly, sometimes within minutes.


Installing FreeSpace Open

Installing FreeSpace Open is no rocket science. The first step is to install FreeSpace 2. If you do not own FreeSpace 2 yet, buy it from Good Old Games. After that, install OpenAL. OpenAL is a 3D audio API and is required by FSO. After these two steps, there are three methods for installing FSO.


Turey's FSO Installer

Turey's FSO Installer is an easy-to-use tool for installing FSO. Download it, point it at your \freespace2\ folder, select the components you want and start it. Turey's Installer downloads all the contents using your Internet connection, so aa decent connection is recommended, especially when downloading everything the Installer offers.


ShivanSPS's SCP Update Pack

ShivanSPS's SCP Update Pack is another simple tool for installing FSO. Instead of downloading various materials, the pack contains all the data, so once you've downloaded it, you can run it without an Internet connection. Point the update pack at your \freespace2\ folder and run it.

NOTE: At the moment, ShivanSPS's Update Pack has a minor flaw: it places an old version of OpenAL32.dll to the \freespace2\ folder. After installation, remove this file and the game will run properly.


Manual Installation

If you want to do things yourself and possibly learn some things about the game in the process, you can install FSO manually. There are instructions on manual installation for Windows as well as Mac OS X and Linux.


Important links

Here are a few useful FreeSpace-related links.