Descent logo

Nick Veitch lowers himself to review another PC conversion...

We've had Doom, we've had Myst, we've had Quake. We've even had Abuse, so it's hardly surprising that we now have a conversion of that other high-profile PC game, Descent.

A few years ago the PC world went crazy over this game. There were competitions, websites full of home-made levels, it got onto the TV and radio and it was nearly as big as Quake. So how does it translate?

Well, the first thing that really needs to be said is that if your Amiga can't handle Quake, it won't be able to handle Descent too well. Although it will theoretically run on an '030, you might as well save yourself the effort.

On an '030 with no graphics card you'll be talking seconds per frame rather than the other way around - you might as well be watching a slideshow. However, we'll come back to speed later...

You'll also need the full PC version of Descent 1.1 as, like Doom and Quake, the conversion needs the original game files in order to work.

Down a tunnel
The basic plot behind Descent is that you have been contracted by a mining corporation to clear out their mines of robots who have gone wrong. You are to rescue any workers and eliminate the threat these metallic monsters pose by blowing up the main reactor at each mine. You basically fly down tunnels and blow things up.

In this respect it's rather similar to a game like Doom, only in a 3D spatial environment. In the ultra-low gravity of the mines there's effectively no up or down, no floors or ceilings and, consequently, a disorienting sense of not knowing where you are or where you're going.

The enemies you'll encounter vary from small, nippy little spacecraft to huge, slow-moving but devastatingly powerful behemoths. The reactors themselves will also fire streams of unpleasant-looking orange plasma orbs at you. even after they have gone critical.

Once you've located the reactor and given it a taste of your lasers, a countdown will begin. Once the clock starts ticking you've got to head directly for the emergency mine exit (which hopefully you made a mental note of when you discovered it earlier in the level) and get out of there before the whole thing blows up.

You are to rescue any workers and eliminate the threat these metallic monsters pose by blowing up the main reactor...

In a tube
In the traditional way of these games, weapons and power ups are left lying around, carelessly distributed through the mines. More powerful lasers, different missiles and shield and energy boosts will be gained by flying over the appropriate objects. There are also, rather predictably, keys to be found in order to open certain doors.

An automapping feature is available, which will open a new screen on the Amiga. You can rotate the view of the map using the flight controls, but given that the mines are normally complex, sprawling structures which have no up or down it isn't that helpful. They mostly look like wireframe plans of Embankment tube station without any hidden line removal.

It's hard enough to find your way around, but a lot of the tunnels are cunningly concealed so you whizz by without noticing them. And, of course, you have to watch out for all the stuff that's concealed in the ceiling and on the floor too.

On the floor
As usual, a great deal of time has been spent on creating textures and rendering subroutines to make the mines look realistic and atmospheric, as well as to help conceal entrances. It's just unfortunate that the Amiga versions have problems with the texture mapping.

The Virge version allows various different routines to be used, but you mostly have a choice of the textures swimming and giving you a headache when you get too close to them, or having varying amounts of corruption.

All versions suffer from the close-up problem to varying degrees, which only makes things even more confusing when you're stuck in a corner with several enemies shooting at you. This isn't to undermine the efforts of the programmers, it's simply, for the most part, a fairly severe hardware limitation.

What is a programming flaw is the PPC version's inability to use third party levels. Like Doom and Quake, a level creation system exists (on the PC) and many people have designed their own devilishly complicated levels, most of which are freely available.

Knocked out
The box shows the version of the Amiga loaders we based this review on. There are some differences between them in terms of options and features. Most unfortunately, the current version of ADescent for PPC won't work with any of the third party levels we tried.

However, these versions are still very much early incarnations. it was several months before the fastest and best Doom ports became available, and the likelihood is that Descent will take just as long to mature. In the beginning, the fact that it works at all is more important than how well it works.

Without a PPC, or at the very least a CyberVision 3D card, I reckon the game is pretty much unplayable, at least in the way it was intended to be played. Even with an '060 it becomes rather difficult to aim accurately because the frames chug slowly past.

Leaving aside the pros and cons of the various different loaders, how does the game itself measure up? The confusing 3D environment isn't as much of a new experience as you might think, it's still very much like Doom, but in one more dimension, which I suppose makes it trickier.

In practice it becomes very frustrating, and the map is very hard to follow, no matter how long you spend spinning it around. A head to head game might be more interesting, but this is because of the extra competition that's derived from playing another human being, not through any intrinsic merits of the game itself.

Even if you have an extremely fast machine, this is little more than a mixture of Wing Commander and Doom, a mixture which has no great depth of its own. It might be technically proficient, but it lacks the spark which would make it a really great game.

Versions tested
ADescent 0.7 8-18fps '020, 8Mb Slow, but it works
ADescent 0.7v 10-25fps As above, plus CV64/3D Pretty fast, even on slow processors
ADescentPPC   30-42fps PPC, 12Mb Really flies
All versions were tested on 320x240 screens (though the PPC version's screen is slightly smaller) with a graphics card (CV64/3D).

Descent logo

Available from Aminet:

Hot on the heels of Doom, another big 3D PC hit is now available in a number of Amiga variants since the source code of Descent was released...

It's the done thing at the moment: release the source code of your back catalogue classics and invite the world's programmers to recompile it for new platforms. Id Software started the ball rolling with Doom and now Parallax Software have followed that up by giving Descent the same treatment.

While nowhere near the phenomenon that Doom was, Descent was still a very big and influential step in the evolution of 3D games. Whereas Doom used 2D sprites for enemies and only allowed movement in two axes (walking up stars doesn't count), Descent took things on another stage to incorporate total 3D movement and rotation backed up with polygon objects.

That's the way the story goes at least. Of course, flight simulations had been doing this for years previously, but as far as 3D shoot 'em ups were concerned it was quite a big step.

As for the game itself, there's a bit more to it than the disturbingly realistic mirror of reality that is Doom's insane bloodfest. The object of the game is to rescue miners who have been taken hostage by aliens whilst working at the seam in tunnel networks beneath the surface of some far flung planets.

To add a bit of pace and spice, you also have to set off the nuclear reactors in each mine and escape to safety before you're reduced to a microwaved TV dinner for the enemy.

Here's the rub...
As with Doom, the entire game has not been made freely available. The source code for the game engine has now been converted into two Amiga incarnations, but to play the game you'll still need a registered version of the original PC game (v1.5 to be precise). You should be able to get it from the main game suppliers currently advertising in CU Amiga.

Descent is a more resource-intensive game than Doom. In theory, Amiga Descent will run on an 020 and Adescent on an 030, but the reality of the situation is that an 040 is the practical minimum. 10 Mb of RAM is recommended, and OS 3.0 and AGA or a graphics card are required for display. Keep it here for the latest on future revisions.


This port does not offer sound or music, but is expected to get Virge 3D support for CyberVision 3D cards in the near future. Of the two ports, it performs relatively better under AGA than CyberGraphX, including a special 320x100 mode for gameplay which, despite taking a little getting used to, is quite fast and comfortable.

If you have a fast enough machine, moving up to 320x200 (NTSC) is advisable. On an '060, a very respectable 15-20 frames per second can be achieved. Modes as large as 640x480 are available but are totally impractical even on an 060.

This port has some wild code in the texture routines, which make floors and ceilings appear bubbly and curving as you travel neart to them. For a game like Descent which induces vertigo in a lot of people, this glitch unfortunately makes the effect worse. This, too, is pencilled in for improvement.


ADescent, on the other hand, does provide sound effects, which are quite welcome. I would suggest that CyberGraphX/Picasso 96 users start here - rather than Descent's hard-coded resolutions, you can customize the display using a requester. The "floor wobbling" is present but doesn't seem to be as bad in this version.

Sound is faithfully recreated, and adds a whole new world to gameplay. The speed performance is a bit disappointing, though, especially through AGA. It would have been nice to be able to shut off sund entirely - ADescent uses AHI, which is very convenient but not the most CPU efficient method.

There's still work to be done before the ultimate Descent is available for the Amiga. PPC support, 3D hardware, and more options are just the beginning. See you in the mines of Pluto!