Terminal Velocity Was So Far Ahead Of Its Time

Terminal Velocity Was So Far Ahead Of Its Time
Image: 3D Realms

There’s a lot of games that owe a lot to Descent. One that comes to mind is Sublevel Zero, a six-degrees-of-freedom roguelike from SIGTRAP Games. There’s Descent: Underground, a sequel to the series that’s sadly stuck in legal limbo. And we’ve even been fortunate enough to get some great remasters, like Forsaken. But fondly remembered as those games were, the claustrophobic setting and gameplay didn’t quite work for everyone. But there was one game in 1995 that did: Terminal Velocity.

Terminal Velocity was the first game from 3D Realms after the developer/publisher reformed from Apogee Software. And what a game to kick off with: by the time the game was released on CDs, the game had support for 8-player dogfights, four planets (at least in the GOG release) and a large enough environment to turbo through and destroy.

I mentioned Descent at the start, but the truth is Terminal Velocity doesn’t provide six degrees of freedom. There’s no inertia either: your ship can change direction instantaneously, and the difficulty curve and map design are very generous. It’s really more of a straight arcade shooter, with just enough freedom to whet the appetite without bogging players down in mechanics so many find grating.

It actually wasn’t until this afternoon, searching for a 720p appropriate image, that I discovered TV had been re-released on iOS and Android to celebrate the game’s 20th anniversary. It’s $4.29 on Android; the iOS version doesn’t seem to be available anymore, unfortunately.

It’s kind of stunning how faithfully it plays with the mobile controls, and it helps that the frame rate is as smooth as butter. It’s surprisingly clear, considering the blocky nature of gaming in 1995. And it’s a lot easier to roll and dodge than you’d think, although the simplified flight model is mostly to thank for that.

The programmers behind the model had an interesting career too. Mark Randel was the lead coder on Terminal Velocity, but before that he was the head programmer for Microsoft Flight Simulator. Tom Hall was also the lead designer, having worked on Rise of the Triad beforehand.

Hall went on to help developer some of the first iterations of the Prey engine. Randel’s company Terminal Reality, meanwhile, continued developing engines that were later used in games such as Monster Truck Madness, Fly!, BloodRayne 2, the Nocturne and Blair Witch games, and more.

But nothing the two men worked on, at least for me, captured the imagination quite so much as Terminal Velocity. It’s worth pointing out that TV was re-packaged for Windows 95 in the form of Fury3 and received a sequel in Hellbender, but otherwise that brand of action was subsumed by games like G-Police and more serious sims like Hardwar and Freespace.

What are your memories of Terminal Velocity like — and why do you think the industry lost interest in that style of action?


    • Saw this, couldn’t work it out, went home, loaded up the pages hours later, still couldn’t work it out. :'(

      • The (very much under-rated) multiplayer game mode of original TV had some voice-comms that you could intimidate the other players with, these are quotes from them. They were all in some pretty strange muppett-like voices

  • I loved Terminal Velocity back in the day. Tried it again a few years ago. Gameplay is still surprisingly fun as well, though simple. The music was rad. Unfortunately the graphics gave me eyestrain pretty fast. Doesn’t play nicely with a modern high-res monitor.

  • Terminal Velocity is an absolute favourite of mine. Found the Android version a few months back, and have been playing it since – it’s a brilliant port, and better than the GOG version for me. I’ve had trouble with mouse sensitivity in the GOG version, and the mobile version doesn’t have that problem.

    TV is a PC classic. It still looks really nice, the music is insanely good, and it’s unpretentious fun.

    Clocked it many times as a youngster, and I’m still loving plowing through it now 🙂

  • i remember the first scrrent shots of prey back in 96 using the marathon engine from bungie. good times

  • I can’t be the only person who just went ‘oh my god that’s what that game was called!?’

    I swear I had a demo of this and monster truck rally on one of those cheap as $5 windows compilation demo disks that you used to be able to get in the 90’s.

    What the heck were they called? Dammit now look what you’ve done, I’m stuck in a black hole of nostalgia!

  • You mean the same Terminal Velocity you can still get on Steam 3D Realms pack?. Hell I played it through sooo many times. Loved it , ans sorta still do sometimes.
    What, hey wait, you mentioned Monster Truck Madness too, why did you do that? Dam I loved this game so much, couldnt stop playing it for years as I challenged every poor sucker I could find. Dammit, I wish Steam would get their hands on this one.
    My biggest memory of Terminal Velocity was being a pilot that could actually fly the dam aircraft and that made it so much fun.

    • Same one. You can buy it separately on Good Old Games as well (which I did).

      Would really like to get my hands on a copy of Monster Truck Madness too, and the original Motorcross Madness. Cracking pair of games, those.

  • I loved TV back in the day, but it wasnt much after that I had a long-lasting love affair with Hi-Octane. Magic carpet, death-race style. So many memories with my brother doing 200 lap races.


    • Dont forget to ad Whiplash to that list!!!! LOL
      OMG that game was awesome. And the tracks where to die for. haha
      So much fun and carnage

    • Hi Octane was awesome. As was Extreme G. Mid to late 90’s was heaven for futuristic racers. F Zero X and Wipout as well. What a time to be a gamer.

  • I LOOOOOOVED Terminal Velocity. I used to play it all the time back in my primary school days.

    My favourite thing to do was going through those tunnels at full speed and not crashing, it was always such a thrill! I also remember being pro at keyboard controls, I never used a controller. Played it multiplayer at a High School LAN and was unbeatable!

  • Terminal Velocity was okay but I was too busy playing the other other 1995 ship combat game Radix.

  • Terminal Velocity was one of the first video games I ever played.
    Mum wouldn’t let us play games as she thought they led to violence… so I had to buy one of those multi-game disks on the quiet to run on our windows 95 machine, playing only when the house was empty and keeping one spare eye on the driveway.

    I friggin loved Terminal Velocity…. in the way you love anything you’re not allowed to have.
    Then I found TIE Fighter and I dropped her like a bad habit.

  • God I loved motocross madness. I swear I feigned illness as a kid to stay home and play it.

  • Didn’t work for me. Descent ran sweetly on my 486 DX2 66MHz with 8MB of RAM, but Terminal Velocity was too much for it.

    Those were the days, when men were men, and a 3 year old PC was not worth a knob of goat shit.

  • Fury3 was where it began for me. That shit was the bomb. Pretty much the same thing from what I remember though so definitely picking this up for nostalgia.

  • I loved this game back in the late 90’s! Had it on my family computer. I remember it had a sweet soundtrack.

  • Oh man. <3 TV.
    Mark Randel was the lead coder on Terminal Velocity, but before that he was the head programmer for Microsoft Flight Simulator. Tom Hall was also the lead designer, having worked on Rise of the Triad before.
    That makes… so much sense.

    I have fond memories of Terminal Velocity and the little game within a game I created for myself out of it. Getting boosts or cheats or whatever to aim for near-infinite afterburner and just going one direction, hugging the ground as tight as possible. Such a rush trying not to crash.

    Unrelated: Now, Nocturne is a game I wouldn’t mind seeing get a reboot… I really liked that aesthetic and theme.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!