You could say that first-person shooters, the fast-paced games that let you run around blasting everything that isn't you, have evolved over the years to emphasize teamwork over simple run-and-gun gameplay. You could also say that Sierra's Tribes series has contributed greatly to this change of focus. The Tribes games let you play as a futuristic soldier armed with heavy-duty weapons and the ability to "ski" (quickly gliding down hills and ridges) as part of a squadron tasked with capturing an enemy base or flag. Tribes 2 added new gameplay modes and drivable vehicles, and the next game, Tribes: Vengeance, will feature a comprehensive single-player campaign with a complex story. It will also feature plenty of new toys to play with in multiplayer.
We're fortunate enough to be able to reveal some of these new toys to you now. Tribes: Vengeance features an all-new infantry weapon that is tentatively called the rocket pod. It's a handheld weapon that fires a cluster of rockets that can then be guided manually by using mouse-look. These rockets spread out slightly from one another and deal a significant amount of damage to a targeted area, which makes it especially dangerous against large targets, like vehicles and enemy base fixtures.
Tribes: Vengeance also introduces an all-new vehicle: the rover. This armored land vehicle serves an important support function as a mobile spawn point for your allies, who can, with some clever driving, be dropped behind enemy lines. It's not an offensive vehicle, but it can move quickly when it has to.
For more information on these new additions to the Tribes universe, as well as a general update on Tribes: Vengeance's development, we spoke with two key members of the team: designer Michael Johnston, from Irrational Games' Australian studio in Canberra, and Alex "Marweas" Rodberg, brand manager of the Tribes series at Vivendi Universal Games Northwest (also known as Sierra).
GameSpot: Thanks for taking the time for this interview. How far along is the game at this point, or is that even a fair question? It seems like Tribes: Vengeance is practically being developed as two separate games. So we'll ask, how far along is the game's single-player mode, and how far along is multiplayer? What aspects of the game are the team members working on now?
Michael Johnston: Tribes: Vengeance is about 65 percent complete, which means we're on target for a release in Q4 2004. Although the game does feature plenty of single-player and multiplayer content, a great deal of the content and code is shared. For example, all of the player models and map assets are the same in the single-player and multiplayer games. All of the weapons, equipment, vehicles, and physics are also the same. This is deliberate. One of the goals of the single-player experience is to ease players into the multiplayer experience by gradually teaching them about the game in an interesting, story-driven way.
The main difference between single-player and multiplayer development is the maps themselves. Single-player-specific features [include] AI and mission scripting, [while] multiplayer-specific features [include] server administration and gameplay balancing. Currently, the team has nearly finished its first pass on a bunch of stuff, including all our single-player missions, all character models, all player physics, and most weapons and base equipment. We're constantly cranking out multiplayer maps as well--testing them and discarding a fairly large percentage of them as part of a learning process.
Alex Rodberg: While the team in Australia is continuing to build and script the single-player levels, we spent some time, recently, working with some Hollywood writers to polish up the dialogue in the game. We're taking storytelling very seriously in Tribes, and Ken Levine and Irrational are cooking up something truly sublime.
Vengeance: A Dish Best Served With Many Rockets
GS: Tell us about the new weapon in Vengeance. What are its uses, and how does it fit in with the other classic Tribes weapons, such as the chaingun and the disc launcher?
MJ: The first new weapon we're announcing is tentatively called a rocket pod. It fires a cluster of spiraling rockets that constantly move in the direction you're aiming, which lets you control them while they're in the air. Tribes 2 had a missile launcher, but it was an auto-aim weapon that we didn't really like. The rocket pod is a replacement for that weapon. It's designed to be particularly effective against larger targets, such as vehicles, because you can potentially hit them with every rocket in the cluster. It can be used against players, too, but you might end up hitting them with only a few rockets.
Currently, the rocket pod is a bit tricky to use. We're exploring ways of making it fun while ensuring it remains a skill-based weapon. I should mention that, unlike Tribes 2, Tribes: Vengeance doesn't have flares to counter rockets. Your only defense is to be aware and dodge accordingly.
AR: For us, this is a period of trial--to see if the weapons are as fun to play with as they might sound on paper. We're bringing back the popular weapons from earlier Tribes games, but we're also innovating. It's nice to see hallmark weapons, like the disc launcher, return. Because it deals tremendous splash damage, it's the bread-and-butter weapon of any Tribes player. Tribes veterans will notice that the new disc launcher uses clips that eject when empty, and [it] has a reload animation. This helps you stay aware of when the gun is ready to fire or when you're out of ammo, without having to refer to an HUD. Also, the chaingun generates a lot of heat and will lock up briefly if you're just spraying bullets willy-nilly.
GS: Tell us about the new vehicle in Vengeance. Is it available in both the single-player and multiplayer games? How does it fit in with the rest of Tribes' land and air vehicles?
MJ: The first new vehicle we're announcing is tentatively called the rover, and it's available in both single-player and multiplayer games. It's a reasonably fast ground vehicle that can carry a driver and a gunner. It's not heavily armored.
GS: While the addition of a new weapon and a new vehicle might not sound like all that much to a casual player, we imagine that the game's loyal community would think otherwise. How will these additions fit into the game, and how will they be balanced in multiplayer?
MJ: Hopefully, the rocket pod and rover will spark the interest of both casual players and the loyal community. The additions might not be revolutionary. Indeed, we freely admit being inspired by other games in this respect--in the same way that other games have been inspired by the Tribes series in the past--but both of these additions bring brand-new features to Tribes. Most importantly, we're doing our best to ensure that these additions have a unique Tribes flavor. They're designed to work in a game that is more fast-paced, freely flowing, and improvisational than games like Battlefield 1942 and Counter-Strike.
In terms of balance, the rocket pod can be tweaked by adjusting the number of rockets in a cluster, the damage per rocket, the initial and final spread, initial rocket velocity, rocket acceleration, the spiraling pattern of the rockets, the amount of ammo you can carry, and so on. It also can't be used by players in light armor.
The rover can be balanced by adjusting its physics and controls, its mounted weapon, how much damage it can take, and the time it takes to respawn after it has been destroyed. It also can't be driven by players in heavy armor.
GS: Is there anything else you'd like to add about these new additions or the progress of Tribes: Vengeance in general?
MJ: With all new features, we're prepared to do what it takes to make sure these additions are fun and interesting. Although we're doing our best to balance everything internally, we anticipate making changes based on player feedback during our open beta period next year.
GS: We look forward to it. Thanks for your time.