Monthly Mod Focus: The Babylon Project
This month we look at the superb space sim mod: The Babylon Project
Date: Monday, December 15, 2008
Author: Dave VanDyk

  • Mod Name: The Babylon Project
  • Game Engine: Freespace 2
  • Orientation: Singleplayer / Multiplayer
  • Website: http://http://babylon.hard-light.net/



  • There have been numerous tragedies in the gaming industry, particularly with respect to game projects that were terminated just before release. One particularly painful example of this that stands out in my mind to this day is Babylon 5: Into The Fire, a daring venture into the space sim genre that was being published by Sierra. This ambitious space game was just a few scant months from release, promising progressive gameplay that started you out in a basic fighter, and eventually worked you into commanding one of the hallmark cruisers from the hit TV series – they even had all-new video footage filmed and ready to go. Despite this, Sierra pulled the plug for an unknown reason just prior to release, and all attempts (oh boy, the attempts) to convince them to complete development on the game or release the license for others to pick up eventually failed.

    Despite this, the game’s legacy lives on – its cancelation triggered a staggering drive to create independent spin-offs of the Babylon 5 franchise using any game engine in reach. Soon, projects began popping up all over the place, with one of the most noteworthy and complete releases being The Babylon Project. Based on the Freespace 2 engine and drawing heavily on the possibilities unlocked by the game’s source code release, there are a lot of things going for this mod – not the least being the fact that this is a completely free, independent release that doesn’t even require a copy of the game it’s based on (meaning anybody can hop on and download it without having to install Freespace 2) first. Though this total conversion has been out since May, my recent opportunity to jump in and give it a good work-out made me feel this release deserved some additional recognition.

    What’s so appealing about this mod is how well put-together it is. As mentioned, TBP makes good use of the tweaks and gameplay options assembled by the community from the source code release, which provides the presence of some cool new features like engine-rendered cutscenes, an insanely upgraded graphics engine that can go toe-to-toe with modern-day releases, and limited Newtonian physics (enabled by hitting a “Slide” button toggle, or by using the various vector-thrust controls available). On top of that, the team has baked in a new intro movie, a new graphical style (user-interface graphics, ship sprites, etc), and dozens upon dozens of new ship models.

    The only aspect that comes up short is in the number of included missions; the first set is a short (but gloomy) campaign focusing on the “Earth-Minbari War” predating the TV series, while the second is an extended conflict against the Raider groups seen in the show’s first few episodes. This latter campaign has some clever plot twists and really nice mission scripting (along with voice-overs of mixed quality), but is over all-too-quickly. Fortunately, procuring more missions and campaigns is as trivial as a quick visit to the mod’s official forums , and there are plenty of unique and exciting releases to choose from. The mod also does provide multiplayer support, with sets of co-operative and versus missions alike to keep the action coming.

    The choice to use the Freespace 2 engine for this mod was definitely a wise one, given how capital ship-oriented the Babylon 5 series is. Many of the available missions pit fleets of capital ships against each other in slugging matches, with beam weapons and pulse cannons firing off from all directions. The average scene of combat can be hauntingly beautiful from a distance, and the mod makes excellent use of Freespace 2’s trademark overwhelming ship scale to really make you feel insignificant in some of these larger battles. That said, success or defeat often depends on your ability to maneuver between the barrages of fire to knock out subsystems on enemy targets or deflect enemy fighters trying to do the same to your ships, so there’s no shortage of challenge to keep things interesting.

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