Descent II

Descent II
Descent II
DescentII DOS.jpg
Developer(s) Parallax Software
Publisher(s) Interplay Productions
Engine Portal Rendering System
Platform(s) PC (Linux, Mac OS, Mac OS X, MS-DOS, RISC OS, Solaris, Windows), PlayStation, Windows CE, AmigaOS 4.0, MorphOS
Release date(s) March 13, 1996
Genre(s) First-person shooter
Mode(s) Single-player, Multiplayer
Media/distribution CD-ROM
System requirements


  • IBM/Tandy or 100% compatible 486 DX-50 or faster
  • 8 MB RAM (16 MB required if running under Win95)
  • Hard drive
  • DOS 5.0 or later
  • CD-ROM drive

Descent II is a 3D first-person shooter video game noted for popularizing the use of true 3D rendering technology and providing the player with six full degrees of freedom (often abbreviated "6DOF") to move and to look around.

Originally planned as an expansion (and not a sequel) to Descent, Descent II added more weapon types, vastly improved robot types and AI. It was followed by Descent 3.

The trademark for Descent was allowed to lapse by Interplay in 2002,[1] but was re-registered by the company in 2008.[2]



After the player has destroyed all of the mines in the solar system in the original Descent, he stops in the Asteroid belt for refueling. Dravis then contacts him and blackmails him to accept a new mission:

"If you've studied your standard mercenary agreement, you would notice that PTMC reserves the right to keep you on retainer for up to 72 hours, post-mission. If you choose to decline further service, we may consider you in default of your contract, and your fee may be suspended, pending litigation. Good luck Material Defender. Dravis out."

The player's ship is fitted with a prototype warp core. The player is then sent to clear out all of PTMC's thirty deep space mines, the last of which seems to run all through a planetoid, which is revealed in the final cutscene to be a large spaceship.

After it breaks apart, the Material Defender radios in to alert Dravis to his return home, but his warp drive malfunctions and he ends up in an unknown location. The camera then fades to that location and the ship appears, drifting towards the camera while it zaps itself with bolts of electricity.


Originally planned as an expansion (and not a sequel) to Descent, Descent II added more weapon types, different enemy types, different mines, laser-reflecting force field walls, and transporter areas.

In response to complaints that Descent's levels were mostly dull and lacked creativity, Descent II's levels were designed with a theme in mind; as an example, Level 2 "Turnabout Bore" lives up to its name since the map resembles a figure-8. There is the inclusion of difficult puzzles; most to hide valuable powerups, but some are required to complete the level.

A notable addition was the Guide-Bot, a companion robot the player could use to aid in navigation and other tasks. Another major improvement was the enemy robot AI with allows some robots to do hit-and-run attacks or roam through the level. Most infamous was the Bandit or Thief-Bot which was a fast-moving and hard-to-kill enemy that attempted to steal the player's weapons and equipment; the similar E-Bandit will drain the player's energy.

The game may have also shown limited "learning" abilities (not to be confused with AI) where the targeting algorithms for the robots adjusted their fire patterns to take into account the avoidance pattern of the player. IE if a player always moved to the left to avoid robot shots the robot seemed to start to fire at the player, and then start to fire to their left, in the "hope" the player would "move to the left." This in anecdotal, and has no basis in research or evidence.


Like Doom, Descent offers excellent competitive multiplayer game play over a LAN. Descent is also touted as being one of the first games that allowed on-the-fly joining of multiplayer games, whereas in Doom it is presumed that all players have to be queued prior to initiating the match. With the advent of the Internet, IPX emulators such as Kali and Kahn, which actually combined better compression for IPX games with its own IRC network for users to meet in a standalone client, more and more people began to play Descent and Descent II over the Internet. Descent II was especially popular online due to its support for short packets and variable packet rate—options which were crucial for smooth Internet play.


Many new enemies were presented in Descent II, but the most prominent feature is a friendly robot: Guide-Bot. Guide-Bot is present on every level of the game, but has to be found and freed from a chamber with a destructible wall. Guide-Bot can shoot illuminating projectiles, open doors and follow various commands (like "seek energy/shield energy/enemies/hostages", etc.). By default Guide-Bot guides the player through the level step by step, showing them the necessary keycards, then the reactor to be destroyed and the exit door. Guide-Bot will come back if the player does not follow and can even hit them with illuminating projectiles, damaging them for 1 shield point. Guide-Bot is not solid and can be damaged only by radius damage which some weapons have, but its great durability ensures virtual invincibility (although Guide-Bot can be destroyed on purpose by the player).

A new and very unusual robot is the Bandit: it can only fire illuminating projectiles, but it can rob the player's ship of items, energy, ammunition and even weapons. It always attacks suddenly and then flees. When destroyed, Bandit explodes and leaves all stolen items behind, along with a few extra shield and energy power-ups.


Both Descent and Descent II use a software renderer. Descent II however was also able to take advantage of the widening selection of 3D graphics accelerator video cards. Graphics were still 8-bit, but due to the additional CD storage space available, instead of using a single palette set during gameplay, each of the six four-level sets had its own 256-color set, and there were effectively six texture sets, each of which had basically the same textures but optimized them specifically for those colors and textures most used in the four-level set. Furthermore, multiple resolutions were supported. After its release, a patch was issued to add support for early 3D accelerators running the S3 ViRGE chipset. A patch (also from Parallax) added 3Dfx Voodoo support further down the line, and the Macintosh version could use RAVE-compatible 3D acceleration as well.

The original Descent uses indexed 8-bit color in DOS's display mode 13h, using 320 × 200 resolution. The Macintosh and later PC versions allow higher resolutions, such as 640 × 480. Descent II allows the resolution maximum to be stretched to 800 × 600, or 1280 × 1024 with the -superhires option.

Like Descent, Descent II operates on the premise of interconnected cubes. Sides of cubes can be attached to other cubes, or display up to two texture maps. Cubes can be deformed so long as they remain convex. To create effects like doors and see-through grating, walls could be placed at the connected sides of two cubes. Descent introduced an elaborate static lighting scheme as well as simple dynamic lighting, another advancement compared to Doom. The environment could be lit with flares, lights could flicker. Newly added for Descent II is that the environment can be darkened by shooting out the lights.

Descent II releases

Descent II (1996)

The original story campaign of Descent II is known as "Counterstrike", while the campaign of the first Descent has been retroactively called "The First Strike". Descent II: Counterstrike consists of six "planets", each with four regular and one secret level, for a total of thirty levels. The fourth level contains a boss robot in lieu of the reactor. This version was also ported to the Macintosh. There are also pre-rendered cut scenes, one being when the player destroys the reactor and reaches the exit, showing their ship flying through the tunnel and narrowly escaping the destruction of the mine (in a similar fashion to the Millennium Falcon as it flees the Second Death Star's explosion), replacing the sequence from the first Descent that used the game engine.

The soundtrack was composed by range of musicians, from Type O Negative to Mark Walk and Skinny Puppy's Nivek Ogre. An expansion pack featured remixes of some tracks from the original score.

While the first Descent had been released as shareware with 7 levels, Descent II was released as a shorter 3 level demo. Due to size restrictions, as well as the game design not finalized, the demo uses stills for the cut scenes (the text story shows a sarcastic Material Defender requesting a dental plan from the PTMC company that he works for, which was later cut from the full game as the Material Defender is involved in a contract dispute with S. Dravis). A cutscene shows after the third level where the Material Defender has finished with the Zeta Aquilae system and is headed to another planet, however for the full game the content was then reorganized to give each system four levels instead of three. The demo also uses the game engine to render the tunnel escape sequence (similar to the first Descent). The teleporter to the secret level has been disabled.

Another truncated version of Descent II was "Destination Quartzon" which featured the first 8 levels and was bundled with the Logitech Wingman Extreme joystick or with the S3 ViRGE chipset that also included the promotional game Terminal Velocity.

Descent Mission Builder 2 (1996)

An authorized, commercial Descent and Descent II level editor created by Bryan Aamot and published by Interplay Productions. It gives users the tools necessary to design, create and implement levels for the commercial versions of Descent and Descent II. It is also capable of converting Descent levels into Descent II levels.

Descent II: The Vertigo Series (1997)

An add-on for Descent II containing twenty additional levels (and three secret levels), two new multiplayer modes (Hoard and Team Hoard), plus the officially licensed Descent Mission Builder 2. Remixed versions of some music tracks from the original Descent II were also included on the CD in Redbook CD-audio format, an interesting addition to what is a simple level pack. It was lauded for its creative level design and the introduction of many exotic robots and two new bosses (briefing sessions had them in motion in contrast to static images in Descent II), though some levels also borrowed robots from Descent. "Flickering" lights were also a new feature to visual effects (this was also available in the free V1.2 patch for the original game).

Descent II: The Infinite Abyss (1997)

A 2-CD special release of Descent II. The first disc contains Descent II with the latest patch applied (providing support for 3dfx and Rendition video cards), while the second disc is the original "Vertigo Series" add-on (with remixed versions of original music tracks from the first CD in Redbook CD-audio format).

Descent Maximum (PlayStation)

Descent Maximum is the PlayStation counterpart of Descent II on the PlayStation. Unlike the first PlayStation Descent which was considered mostly a direct port, Descent Maximum was designed to better accommodate the console and contained 30 entirely new levels. These maps had similar themes to those in Descent II, but were generally smaller than their PC cousins.

Descent II (GameTap) (2007)

In 2007, Descent II made its debut on Time Warner's GameTap broadband game service, the full version of Descent II can be downloaded and played on Windows XP using GameTap.

Descent novels

The Descent series also spawned a trilogy of novels written by Peter Telep and sold at several major booksellers. The titles are Descent, Descent: Stealing Thunder, and Descent: Equinox. The novels did not follow the games to the word, but expanded on the basic premise, and were very well received.[citation needed]

Source code

The Descent II source code, like that of Descent before it, has been released to the general public.


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.