You may not remember the Descent series. It involved a number of game that were part first-person shooter, part flight simulator. You controlled a ship making its way through an enclosed facility, shooting everything that moves and flying around with six degrees of freedom. Descent ended in 1999, when both forks of the series died.
Creators Mike Kulas and Matt Toschlog had separated, forming two different companies that tried their hands at different flavors of Descent. Toschlog's Outrage Entertainment made Descent 3, while Mike Kulas' Volition Entertainment created Freespace 2, which shifted the series towards a space simulator. And that was the end of the dream.
Almost 17 years later, Mike Kulas and Matt Toschlog are partnering again to bring back Descent's six degrees of freedom (6DOF). Their new title is called Overload, a spiritual successor to Descent planned for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One (with VR support). The duo have a new studio, Revival Productions, and are seeking $300,000 to develop Overload and get it out by a planned March 2017.
It's 2016 now and 17 years is a long time for a genre to be dormant. In an interview with USgamer, Matt Toschlog explained that Descent and the 6DOF genre died because PC games shifted away from the joystick. We haven't gone back to joysticks in any appreciable way, but something has changed.
"Around the time Descent 3 came out games were shifting away from 'joystick' games -- flight simulators, space games, Descent -- and more toward mouse-controlled first-person shooters. What's changed in the time since is that gamers have gotten used to playing console games on two-stick controllers -- and those make great controllers for 6DOF games. Of course, we'll be supporting joysticks too," Toschlog tells me.
He and Kulas believe 2016 is ripe for another Descent. It was serendipity, with the former partners both looking for something new to do.
"I think a lot of people who liked Descent in their youth have now grown up and are in a place to play or make those kinds of games again," he explains. "In the case of me and Mike Kulas, we were both looking for something new after being busy with other things for many years. We have such fond memories of creating Descent that doing another 6DOF game sounded like the most fun thing we could do."
Overload's level are being built from the same deformed-cube structure that made up Descent's levels. In Descent, it felt like you were floating through a science-fiction facility that stretched in every direction. It's why Descent has remained so unique. That design is carried over into Overload, though new "3D geometry decal" technology will allow the rooms and corridors to look more detailed and varied.
"The levels we've been creating stick pretty closely to the gameplay we pioneered twenty years ago. They've got a lot more detail -- especially the natural-looking cave areas -- but they feel familiar," says Toschlog. "We'll have some variety, but not just for variety's sake. We'll experiment with different types of areas, and keep the ones that work for the gameplay."
Of course, Overload is coming out for modern PC and in the modern PC community. Some PC gamers still have to hack at games to make their own content or change existing mechanics, but some developers offer gamers the tools to create their own levels and mods. I ask Toschlog about that possibly of official level editors and mod support for Overload.
"We'd very much like to release our editor, but it's going to require a bit of work to clean it up and document it. If we get enough funding we'll make that a priority, and probably release it soon after the game comes out," he says. "We don't have an answer yet on general mod support aside from custom levels. We'd like to do it, but we'll have to investigate the technical and schedule issues involved."
Finally, with the recent implosion of another major Kickstarter, I wanted to see if Toschlog and Kulas had a plan in place to make sure that this Kickstarter doesn't fail. Shadowrun developer Harebrained Schemes once told USgamer that physical rewards were the hardest part of the company's very first Kickstarter. The logistics required to manufacture and ship physical items is sometimes beyond the capabilities of game developers. XXX is offering physical rewards, so I ask if the studio is prepared for the cost of getting those items to backers.
"We've been pretty careful with our physical rewards, " says Toschlog. "We're not offering too many different ones, and we've limited the numbers. We've investigated the options for production and shipping of physical rewards and we've run the numbers. We think we've got it well in hand."
Revival is already offering a gameplay video for Overload, so the studio is farther along with the than most developers. Hopefully, they can deliver the game within its planned release date. If they can, Kickstarter will have revived another dead genre in gaming.