The player assumes the role of a pilot who must fly into a series of mines in order to achieve mission goals. Games in this series not only give the player the ability to move in any direction, they require the player to use all three axes of movement to progress through each level. The control scheme for moving and rotating in full 3D space is easily learned, but new players can initially become disoriented, or even nauseouted without any kind of artificial horizon or a designated up and down.
Descent was originally created by Parallax Software for Interplay, the team consisting of ex-Looking Glass Studios employees using a new engine based on concepts they had learned by working on Ultima Underworld.
The first game was developed over 21 months with a budget of $450.000 and was originally supposed to be published by Apogee, but who pulled out as the development turned too lenghty and expensive. A deal was eventually signed with Interplay to publish the game and helped them hire additional 3D artists and level designers. It was released as a shareware title on December 24, 1994 featuring 7 maps, followed by a full retail release in March 1995 and enhanced ports for Mac and PlayStation some months later.
Descent II followed in 1996 using the same engine with some enhancements, new enemy types and a Guide-Bot to help new players navigate the 3D environments.
Parallax split into Volition and Outrage Entertainment after the release of Descent II's Vertigo expansion, with Volition's next project being a larger scale, traditional space combat sim, Freespace. The first Freespace, released in 1997, got Descent branding in some territories, though aside from some minor references, had a completely unrelated story line.
Meanwhile, Outrage developed Descent 3, with a new engine capable of handling 3D acceleration and outdoor environments. It was released to critical acclaim in June 1999, but was not commercially successful.
After Descent 3 the franchise was dropped for over a decade. Volition made occasional references to it in their Red Faction and Saints Row games, but no new games were made up until the 2015 Kickstarter by Descendent Studios (consisting mostly of former Freespace developers). The campaign for Descent: Underground (later renamed Descent) hit its funding goal, but a conflict between the developers and the publishers Little Orbit put the game on indefinite hold in 2018.
Another kickstarter by Revival Production, consisting of former Parallax founders Matt Toschlog and Mike Kulas, launched in February 2016 for their spiritual Descent successor Overload. After two years in Steam Early Access, the full game was released on March 31st 2018.