FreeSpace specific programs
Here's a list of tools developed just for FreeSpace (or closely related games like Descent etc). They're all free and some of them are open-source too.
Descent Manger Tools
As you can guess from the name the Descent Manager Tools were originally created for use with Descent. Many of them work well with FreeSpace however. Many of the tools require a DLL pack to work correctly. This is available at the download link so make sure you grab it if you intend to use VPView or any of the other programs that need it.
- AniBuilder - Whether you are making new command briefing animations or a new talking head for in-game message you'll need a program to stitch the individual frames together into an ani file if you want it to work with retail FS2.
- AniViewer - Allows you to playback ani files without running the game.
- CampEdit - Retail Only - Allows you edit your players progress within an FS2 campaign. Changes to the pilot file in FS2_Open mean that this program will not work for pilots created with FS2_Open.
- FSMView - Allows you to look at a mission. FSMView is very limited in scope and won't even let you view some important parts of the mission like the briefings or debriefings. FRED2 is still the best program to look at missions with. I find that even notepad is more useful than FSM but if you want it, here it is.
- ModelView - One of the most useful and versatile programs you can get. Unlike all the other programs that will let you see the FS2 ships without running the game ModelView will allow you open a VP file and browse through all the ships inside without the need to extract and open them up in a separate program. In addition to this ModelView also has some quite powerful pof editing functions (including the ability to change FS1 pofs into ones suitable for FS2) and even has a built in cob to pof converter. If you're getting into ship modding of any sort ModelView is pretty much a must have.
- ModelView High Limits - A version of ModelView that has been fixed to deal with the high poly models that FS2_Open can use. Download and install the standard version first and then copy this new exe over the top.
- PilotView - Retail Only - Allows you view your pilot and see how many points he needs to reach the next rank. Changes to the pilot file in FS2_Open mean that this program will not work for pilots created with FS2_Open.
- VPView - For any kind of serious modding or FREDding work the ability to get into the VP files that contain the FS2 missions and ships is vital. VPView is probably the most popular of the tools you can use for this. The existence of other VP tools means that this isn't quite the must have that it used to be but it is still probably my favourite way of accessing VP files still.
- VPView 2.0 - A newer version of VPView. There have been some reports of it struggling with some bigger user created VP files but despite this it is still a useful tool as a lot more of the abilities of other DM tools have been integrated into V2.0.
Non DM General FS2 tools
There are a few tools that do similar jobs to the Descent Manager range of tools. Some of these exist because FS2_Open has rendered the DM tools unusable for anything except retail.
- Polonius - A cross-platform VP management tool. More features than VPView. At time of writing you're probably better off with VPView if you're using Windows but if you're on Linux or MacOS this is your best bet if you want something with a GUI. At time of writing only the source was available from the link but ask nicely and someone might compile it for you if you don't know how to do it yourself.
- Caligari True Space 3.2 - You WILL need True space for ship modding unless you have access to 3DS Max. Many people use nothing else apart from True space. I myself have upgraded from TS3.2 to the commercial version but you can still make fantastic ships with TS3.2. You can buy more recent versions from Caligari
- Blender 3D - Blender is the other big free modeller. Some users swear by it.
- GMax - GMax is a cut down version of 3DS Max q.v The rendering options were removed and it was released as a tool for making models for games. Although it won't save in the .cob format there is a method of converting to .cob by saving in quake format and then using a program like LithUnwrap to convert. Although this is a rather complicated way of doing things some people find it worth it considering that 3DS Max costs more than a couple of thousand dollars while GMax is virtually the same modeller for free.
GMax will not use the 3DS Max plug-in however so you will still need a copy of True space to convert the model.
- Wings 3D - I've never tried wings and I can only think of one modder who uses it regularly but it does seem like a fairly nice program.
- LithUnwrap - Although not actually a modelling program Lith is very useful when it comes to texturing a model. It is also useful for converting since it will load many different file formats. LithUnwrap was freeware but the newer versions are now shareware. You can get the last free version at the link above along with an excellent tutorial on how to use it.
Shareware and Commercial
- MilkShape 3D - An inexpensive (~$25) 3D modeller. I've heard a few recommendations for it but have hardly touched it myself.
- Lightwave - Getting into the big leagues here. Lightwave can cost over $1,500 unless you can get a student deal. It is however a very good rendering and animation program (and none to shabby at modelling either!).
- Rhino 3D - Supposedly an excellent modeller but due to its cost not hugely used by the community.
- 3DS Max - The other expensive program commonly used in the community. [V] used 3DS Max for the ships you see in FS2 and several modders also use it. 3DS Max is also very good at rendering and animations too
- 3D Exploration - Another converter that can be used to swap between file formats. 3D Exploration is a dedicated converter unlike Lith. It offers several file formats that Lith doesn't. The company who made it have now moved on to make Deep Exploration and probably don't even support it anymore. The link is to an older shareware version of 3D Exploration which should still be more than enough to carry out most of the conversions you may need to do as a modder.
Image editing tools
- The Gimp - The Gimp is a completely free Open Source art package. It allows you to do similar things to Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro for free. If you don't have access to either of those two and want to make textures there are worse places to start than here.
- IrfanView - Probably the best picture viewer for the windows platform but I'm recommending it for the excellent batch conversion and renaming functions.
- Bright - Although the newer EFF format is vastly superior to the .ani format FreeSpace also uses there are places where the .ani format is used. Bright allows you to convert files to the pcx format that the various ani making tools use while remapping them all to a single palette. It is more complicated to use than IrfanView but it gets much better results.
Shareware and Commercial
- Adobe Photoshop - Probably the most commonly used texturing program. Heavily used by people in the FreeSpace community. It's expensive though.