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?