Summary: Tribes II split the Tribes community the way Quake II split Quake fans. Rory was one of the naysayers though he still kept up with the game, hoping it might improve. A year ago, things looked bleak. But with the recent release of a huge 'T2 Classic' patch by Sierra, former Dynamix employees at Garage Games and select fans, things have taken a turn for the better. Rory explores the changes and their effects on the game in part 1.
Beginnings of disaster
As of March, it will be two years since Tribes 2ís official release. Players of the original Tribes had been long eager for a resurrection of their technologically outdated but profoundly fun addiction, and when Dynamix announced their intent to create a sequel the masses cheered. The cheering stopped however, when Dynamix finally did release Tribes 2. For the veteran of the Tribes franchise, Tribes 2 crept along at a turtleís pace. Cloud soaring heavy offense was no longer, and cappers reaching the atmosphere at break-neck speeds were a thing of the past. Moreover, Dynamix had increased the effectiveness of vehicles and turrets exponentially, and thus the man on man combat and gameplay was lost to shrikes and tanks. Initially the game was quite buggy and hostile to a number of video cards. The Voodoo series of cards, the choice for the original Tribes and what most veterans had, ran T2 at an average 15 frames per second. Even the Voodoo 5, then a technological marvel, ran T2 like Dom DeLuise runs a 10 kilometer marathon.
The veteran Tribes players almost whole-heartedly rejected Tribes 2, if not at release, then a few months later. The players new to Tribes, however, quickly became infatuated with what they perceived as speed, vehicles, and team-based gameplay. The game was sound on its own account, and those new to it latched onto it the same way Q2 players adored their game while the original Quake players were holding back bile, it was simply a matter of choice. Tribes 2 was slower, and some folks enjoyed it.
These new players would also become alienated over time, as each time Dynamix patched Tribes 2, they created more and more problems. An error called an unhandled exception began appearing with more and more frequency. It was the lucky players who experienced the unhandled exception, as a number of players couldnít even update their T2 client as numerous problems cropped up there as well. On top of that Dynamix was changing the physics almost weekly, speeding it up, slowing it down, doing both, reverting to prior patches and more. Stores began reporting returned copies of Tribes 2 in droves, and some altogether forsook the title, removing it from their shelves. Disaster finally struck when the Dynamix team was laid off by Sierra. Several months later, the average primetime population for Tribes 2 was several hundred players, down from a few thousand simultaneous players the game had enjoyed around release just a half year before.
The weasel arrives
A few months after the majority of the Tribes community said their R.I.P.s for Dynamix, and had given their D.O.A. opinions on the Tribes franchise, a fellow emerged known as Marweas, or Sierraís Tribes Brand Manager Alex Rodberg. Marweas, dubbed the Weasel, regularly posted to the cynical Tribalwar gathering information on what had left players with a bad taste in their mouths. Occasionally Marweas received a hearty ďSTFU no one caresĒ but after months of diligence, it became apparent he was dedicated to a future for the Tribes franchise.
Sierraís final patch for Tribes 2 was released a month or so ago, and after playing the ever loving crap out of it, weíve decided to put it in the scope. Considering how ubiquitous Tribes 2ís release was, and how significant the gameplay changes in the mods available in the latest patch, weíll be focusing mostly on changes.
SIDEBAR: Athlon/Pentium 300 mhz
64MB of RAM
800 meg install
700 mhz processor
256MB of RAM
A non-Voodoo video card, unless you have patience getting WickedGL operational
Particularly recommended are Geforce and Radeon
Soaring across the field
After a few short months, gameplay in Tribes 2 had reached a stagnation point. Your average pub game consisted of players not scoring, and competitive play usually consisted of players not scoring even when a teamís skill grossly outweighed the others. Only a small handful of maps lent themselves to interesting play at all, and those were rarely played in public games or competition.
The changes are not simply about the removal of the speed cap was. Friction, for example, is handled completely differently with Garage Gamesí code. Not only can players attain higher speeds, theyíre also more capable of accelerating to them, as ground friction isnít the noted force it once was. Players were also given back their disk jump, which as intrinsic to the earliest incarnation of the Tribes franchise as the rocket jump has been to Quake.
Classic has shattered the stagnant constraints of Tribes 2 base, bringing speed and gameplay en masse in a return to Tribes 1 style gameplay. Heavy offense is now actually a profound force to be reckoned with, as they are capable of traversing a map travelling at double or triple their prior speeds. As a result of heavy offense being able to move across a map, cappers now have a clearing force, and the days of public games going 0-0 for three maps straight are gone.
So what does all this mean? Offense has returned to Tribes. Players now roar across the field. As a result, offense is an absolute blast to play again, therefore a ton of players suit up and head to the enemyís generators or flag-stand. Does this make the game boring? Not at all, as players playing defense now are actually presented with a challenge - a heavy offense player soaring in at 300 KPH lobbing mortars isnít the easy shocklance bait that he was before when he was plodding along the ground. Cappers arenít stopped by a single ELF anymore; youíll have to work to bring that flag back home.
The changes to Classic were not made in a void however. Attention was paid to defense, and appropriate changes were made to boost the defense up to compensate for the incredible speeds offense players are capable of attaining. Heavy defense players for example, got a slight boost to their shield packs, giving them a much higher damage to energy lost ratio when hit.
The devil is in the details
Again, the main focus of Tribes 2 Classic and its changes has been speed in an attempt to restore the lauded gameplay of the first game. However, doubling or tripling movement speeds of the various armors will inevitably affect the game in numerous ways. How does it all boil down?
But the speed also has a few impacts in some areas that werenít given as much detail. For example, if you fail to stop a capper at your stand, or the second or two thereafter, the only way youíre going to stop him nine out of ten times is via the laser rifle or let him slow down back at his base and off him there. This has to do with two crucial details, the chaingun, though serving its purpose in Tribes 2 Base against slower targets, simply canít keep up with the average capper in T2: Classic. Therefore, chasing a capper with a chaingun is more a matter of attrition than a surefire way to stop a cap. Secondly, the air mobility given to players, while boosted several times as this point, still isnít as concise as it was in the first Tribes with the same speed conditions. As a result, cappers donít have the necessary air control to make them difficult to hit by laser rifles.
These details, though appearing minor are what capture the flag and Classic are centered around. Only a small handful of options are given to stop a capper. If you fail to stop a capper at your base, the best method of stopping him thereafter is having a teammate pluck the flag off their stand, allowing allied flag chasers to return the flag. The flag chase in the field, with a few exceptions, is largely a thing of the past.
Itís not impossible to disk jump after a capper and keep up with him, but the chase isnít half as effective as the above scenarios. Caps in Classic, nine times out of ten, are stopped 200 meters from your base or theirs.
SIDEBAR: Rory seems to have a fetish for abnormally long pages! -ed
Teamplay without throat shoving
Many an opinion was that Tribes 2 emphasized teamplay, but did it to the point where in your average public game fundamental game features like capturing a flag or destroying a generator required an act of god and three Havocs fully of heavies to pull off. Moreover, when those three Havocs of heavies take off, a lone Shrike could, and usually did, take all three down in seconds. Tribes 2 emphasized teamplay, but for most players who enjoyed achieving objectives and playing the game, it was far too much. The team-play model behind Classic is to return to Tribes 1, where a team benefits from working together, but it isnít required to do so to play the game.
One of the most impressive changes to Classic is the fact that it ships with somewhere around 25 new maps, almost 42 megs (zipped!) of content. Some of these maps, 10 or so, are remakes of original Tribes 1 maps, another 15 are entirely unique maps made specifically for the patch with Classic in mind. Some of the most impressive mappers Tribes 2 have seen assembled to pitch in, and with maps like White Dwarf, Surreal, and Gorgon it shows. Moreover, z0dd, one of the lead coders of Classic also re-released an earlier map pack he had edited with 3 new maps by one of the most popular T2 mappers, Rilke. This brings the total CTF maps alone somewhere well above 60 if a server has these various patches and map-packs installed.
The maps are broad in their scope, ranging from Ramparts featuring two monstrous bases situated like fortresses atop hills, accompanied by rivers acting as moats. Or there is White Dwarf, a visual powerhouse, featuring futuristic small bases, a unique generator set-up and an entirely exposed flag stand. Prefer the more deliberate vehicle oriented gameplay? Thereís Sandstorm, with a vehicle pad situated deep underground, where purchasing a shrike has the player rising through the ground. Touting new graphics, but more importantly terrain designed for flowing gameplay, had these maps shipped with the original Tribes 2 the game would have been infinitely more playable. When coupled with the speed changes in Classic, itís an entirely different game.
SIDEBAR: The third installment in the Tribes series is now officially in the works.
So they sped up the game, and lessened friction and offered a few gimmicky goodies right? Wrong. Almost every single variable in the Tribes franchised has been re-examined and tweaked with Classic. The delay on the mortar detonation for example has been reduced a half second while its blast has been lessened. This is to combat light armors in close quarters, making the mortar more of a man to man weapon, though its range and spamming capability remain the same. Tanks have significant more booster power, the grav bike got a chaingun on its nose while the bomberís knockback has been increased. Given the increased state of offense, the repair pack will repair items a little faster and the plasma has been given a slightly faster projectile.
Itís important to mention, that though the resurrection of heavily man on man gameplay has been made, vehicles are not entirely outdated. Almost all of the vehicles have enjoyed palpable changes, and not one has been hit by the nerf bat. Vehicles still play an important role in Classic, but not the dominating role as they did in base. A shriker canít control an entire map, as decent players on the ground will be able to keep up with shrikes, and incredible players will be able to leave them in the dust. The shrike still has its place in taking down other vehicles, and the tank and the bomber can still wreak havoc if they go unchecked.
Garage Games, involved in the original creation of the Torque engine powering Tribes 2, came in to fix up the mess that they had been left with. Unhandled exceptions (UEs) and significant frame-rate hits had plagued almost every patch of the Tribes 2 engine. For example the Radeon, one of the best cards to run Tribes 2 for six months, miraculously got its framerate cut in half with Dynamixís last patch.
The new crop
With the latest patch there are also a few new bugs as well. In Classic, the no friction skiing will occasionally give players a dead stop when skiing across perfectly flat ground.
This isnít just in the numbers either, it shows, if youíre an avid FPS player you will feel the slight, though noticeable difference in ping, and feel some of the strange changes in netcode. Another unfortunate repercussion from the change to the netcode, though not a bug, is that demos have now become outdated. Tribes 2 demos are a recording of netcode, therefore any change to the netcode makes prior demos obsolete. If you want to watch your old demos, or some of the demos from top players before the patch, youíll have to do a separate install.
SIDEBAR: Penny-Arcade seems to be just about the only source not rabidly looking forward to a Tribes 3.
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