In-depth Look at Tribes 2

Dynamix and Sierra stop by to show off the progress on Tribes 2.

At last year's E3, one of the most impressive games on the show floor was Tribes 2. Although far from complete, the demo being shown at the time looked very impressive, and it seemed from appearances that the standard set by the original game would likely be surpassed by the sequel. Since that time, a lot has changed at Dynamix and Sierra, and yet little has been revealed about the progress of Tribes 2. This morning, Tribes 2 lead programmer Mark Frohnmayer dropped by our offices with a copy of the game to give us an updated look at the game.

One of the features that Dynamix has been spending more time on recently is Tribes 2's new account system. Tribes 2 will ship with a complete suite of online features built directly into the game. This includes an integrated web browser, an instant messaging system, a forum, chat rooms, and other components that were external to the first Tribes. When players buy the game, they're assigned a unique user ID that identifies them on every single one of those components that make up the game's online community. According to Frohnmayer, this not only makes accessing, managing, and staying in touch with the Tribes 2 community a lot easier than the original game, but it also holds players accountable for their actions. This new ID system will let administrators running a Tribes 2 server ban offenders permanently, whereas before, players who were kicked out of a game could simply log off their ISP, obtain a new IP address, and rejoin the server that they were banned from. This entire interface is presented through an intuitive layout that mimics the toolbar and start menu of Windows.

Using the integrated online suite, players can also quickly form their own tribes by recruiting people from forums and chat rooms. When a new tribe is formed, Tribes II will automatically publish a customizable web site, designed specifically for that tribe. Players can then use that web site to attract other prospective tribesmen and promote upcoming matches. Frohnmayer says that this feature will be easy enough for any novice to use, while retaining enough robustness to let the more experienced web designers design their sites as they see fit.

Frohnmayer next moved on to Tribes 2's graphics and terrain engine, the most improved aspect of the game. The terrain in Tribes 2 is modeled using an editor that Dynamix built from the ground up. There are five terrain types in Tribes 2, one for each of the game's factions. They are: lush forest, desert, ice, volcanic, and alien. Each of the terrain types has its own unique set of textures, which are composed of a wide number of individual texture skins. Frohnmayer ran through a quick example of how long it would take a typical gamer to build his own levels using Tribes 2's in-game editor. He chose a fractal that determines the level's terrain type, chose its average height, and gave each height its corresponding texture, and before we knew it, a unique Tribes 2 level had been created. And since all the textures, fractals, and landscapes are local to the players' own computers, players who log onto a Tribes 2 server running a user-created map will only have to download the map heights - something that takes 10 seconds to do on a 28.8kbps connection. To create the buildings in Tribes 2, Dynamix is using Valve Software's Worldcraft editor. Due to licensing reasons, however, the building editor will not ship with the final game.And speaking of the final game, Tribes II will include a single player component made up of a number of bot-filled levels. They will be similar to those in Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament, but will have more mission-based goals. While Dynamix hasn't decided on a final number of single-player levels, the goal of these missions will be to introduce players to the dynamics of Tribes II. Frohnmayer told us that his team wasn't happy with the way the tutorials in the original Tribes came out, so a lot of effort is being made to perfect Tribes 2's single player levels. The multiplayer aspect of Tribes 2, easily the most anticipated feature, will contain over 50 levels across eight different modes of play, including king of the hill, team deathmatch, and capture the flag.

In addition to the new terrain engine and the introduction of a single-player game, Tribes 2 will feature a fifth faction called the BioDerms. These bear-like creatures were once slaves of the human race that have since been liberated, and are now seeking revenge. Tribes 2 will still retain light, medium, and heavy classes for all factions, and while the BioDerms might look different from their human counterparts, they'll behave exactly the same. Frohnmayer said the reasoning behind Dynamix's decision to keep the characteristics of all five factions identical was to prevent players from exploiting any possible weaknesses that could arise from having certain factions more powerful than others. In other words, all five of Tribes 2's factions will differ only in aesthetics.

Land-based vehicles will be another addition to Tribes 2. Like their air-based counterparts from Tribes, these vehicles will come in scout, assault, and transport variants. All three of these vehicles will come with a default loadout of weapons, but the assault buggy will have a turret with barrels that can be replaced with rocket launchers, grenade launchers, or chain guns, depending on what the situation. The air-based vehicles will remain intact in Tribes 2, and will boast a number of improvements from before. The light scout, for example, will lose its missile in favor of a pair of chain guns. Ardent Tribes players will remember the frustration caused by the missile's inaccuracy and inefficiency in combat. The heavier assault air vehicle will have bombing capabilities for an even deadlier punch. Dynamix will also be adding three new weapons to Tribe's original nine, which have been completely remodeled and thoroughly playtested for balance. While the team hasn't decided on the final three weapons, Frohnmayer did say that one of those is a new rocket launcher.

All the packs, generators, sensors, turrets, and stations from Tribes have been carried over into Tribes 2. Dynamix is enhancing the jamming pack to give it a complete stealth mode as well, although doing so drains it of energy at a much faster rate. The environmental pack, which lets players breath underwater, will also find its way into Tribes 2. Other new in-game features include bases with lights that turn off when their generators are destroyed, and the ability for players to pre-select their loadout away from the stations, in effect removing the long lines that typically plagued the original. Fans can also look forward to new environmental effects and hazards throughout Tribes 2. These include lightning strikes, lava lakes, quicksand, and slippery surfaces, all of which add a new twist to the gameplay of Tribes.

But Frohnmayer realizes that Tribes wasn't perfect. One of the biggest flaws in the original game was its command interface - players simply never took advantage of it, mainly because it was unintuitive. As a result, Dynamic has completely revamped the command control interface in Tribes 2. Now, instead of assigning a single field commander to issue orders, any player will be able to order the accomplishment of certain tasks. When a tribesman requests a task, an icon will appear over his head and the rest of the team will be prompted for action. Those who acknowledge the request will automatically be directed to their objectives, whether it's an escort or base defense, via waypoints displayed through an overhead map. Frohnmayer believes this new method will induce a lot of players to take advantage of Tribes 2's command interface.

As it stands now, Tribes II is scheduled to release later this summer. Sierra told us that it will be showing a much more complete build of the game at this year's E3. We'll be sure to take a closer look at the game then. In the meantime, take a look at six brand new shots of Tribes II taken from the build shown to us today.

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