[[Back With a Vengeance]]
Tribes is back with a vengeance. Following the success of the franchise, Vivendi has decided to add the missing element to the Tribes universe, a full, story-driven single player campaign. One of the reasons we are getting excited over T:V is the fact that Irrational Games are developing this Tribes venture. Irrational is a developer with a proven track record that has titles such as System Shock 2 and Freedom Force, under its belt.
Set 300-500 years before Tribes, T:V will follow different members of a family. On a relentless quest for revenge, the warrior princess Julia must unravel a bloody mystery that threatens to destroy the Empire. Through the eyes of six different characters on multiple timelines, this exciting and new single-player campaign immerses you in all the violent history at the heart of the Tribes universe.
Fans of the Tribes series should not worry though, as the developers are not giving up multiplayer and are promising an extensive and well thought out online aspect to the game. According to Michael Johnston, Irrational Game's senior designer, huge amount of effort is going into the multiplayer half of Tribes: Vengeance, so in that sense we hope it'll be a larger multiplayer experience than Tribes 2.
Tribes : Vengeance is expected to ship to retail in October 2004 while beta testing has been going on since June 14th.
Let's have an in-depth look at Tribes : Vengeance and see what the new game promises to bring to the franchise.
The reason for Vengeance and the main difference to the previous Tribes titles is the existence of a comprehensive single player campaign. As a result the developer has been extra careful in order to give the game an in-depth single player mode which will not serve as a mere training ground for the multiplayer experience.
Irrational has placed the emphasis on character development and telling a story through different characters. This is particularly suitable for the Tribes universe since all these different types of characters exist; heavy armors, light armors and the different tribes, they all function very differently. T:V then, centres on a story about the Imperial family and their relationship not just with each other, but with the empire and the tribes that surround them.
This set-up and the choice to tell the story through different characters creates some interesting single player mission dynamics. Each character has a specific purpose and different motivation and goals. By playing as different characters the player has the chance to glimpse the same story through different viewpoints and with different objectives, adding an exciting twist to gameplay. So you may have missions where you see the same story from two different perspectives. According to Vivendi producer, Chris Mahnken ...Irrational took that a step further and said, 'We're going to have two different timelines, one happening twenty years before the other one,' so you'll not only be jumping from character to character, but from time to time. You might play a character when they're grown up, and also when they're younger but with totally different attributes and skills in a totally different part of the story.
The single player experience will be delivered through objective-based missions which will take place in a variety of outdoor and indoor environments. Although the single player mode promises to add a brand new gameplay element to the Tribes world, once the player has tried it out he will be ready to take on the multiplayer aspect of the game which will feature all of the characters present in the SP story.
The multiplayer aspect of any Tribes game is never taken lightly. The need to have a well thought out multiplayer mode and the desire to utilize community input, have been present during T:V development too. In order to ensure that the right chemistry was achieved, Michael Johnston Kinetic Poet was given the task of heading the design and creation of the multiplayer mode. Michael Johnston previously made Team Rabbit 2, a successful mod for Tribes 2. Giving someone from the community such a significant job was a sign by Vivendi and Irrational that they were taking the multiplayer component very seriously.
The developers have kept the multiplayer details a well-guarded secret but Megagames have managed to find out some things out. T:V's maps and game types support from 2 to 32 players and will feature some existing game types, such as CTF, and a couple of brand new game types. In total Irrational plan to ship T:V with around 5 polished game types that will all be quite different from each other. One of the developer objectives has been to allow the community to easily create and mix game objects to experiment with new ways of playing the game.
Each map in T:V will be able to support multiple game types. This will also help the community since once a map is created it will be pretty easy to add different game types to it.
The speculation on the new multiplayer modes has however, produced some of the most interesting and exciting information. Suggestions that many sport-like modes may be introduced may have been initially laughed off but recent developer comments seem to confirm their existence. Tony Oakden, Tribes producer, is reported to have stated : We think of it like Tony Hawk with spinfusors.
The rumours claim that race-like modes will definitely feature in T:V as well as full sporting events in arena settings.
[[Weapons and Vehicles]]
On the vehicle side of things, T:V will have two ground and two air vehicles. The easiest comparison to real-world vehicles would be Humvee, Tank, Fighter and Gunship. That should give you a rough idea of the roles they fill, but each one has at least one wrinkle that makes them a lot more interesting.
The Rover carries a mobile spawn-point and inventory station, allowing players to spawn at its location and gear up. This has big strategic implications, as you can imagine.
The Tank is the armored beast you'd expect, with the main gun under the pilot's control and a support weapon for a gunner. Taking a page out of the infantry's book, it's also got jets mounted on it's back that launch it into the air for short durations, giving it more flexibility when it comes to moving around the map.
The Fighter is a single-man flying machine with almost perfect maneuverability. It's essentially a hovering weapons platform, allowing the pilot to position it wherever they want and bombard ground and air targets.
The Assault Ship sees the pilot armed with a forward firing explosive projectile, and the two gunners with anti aircraft guns. It's heavily armored and capable of vertical take off and landing.
With the weapons, many of the Tribes standards are back in a re-imagined form, but all tuned up for the pace of play of Vengeance.
The Buckler is both offensive and defensive. When held, it provides the user with protection by deflecting projectiles within a limited arc, but it also deflects other people so it can be used to knock your enemies out of the way. When it's thrown, it flies out and then returns, and it can be controlled while in flight. So far it's proved tricky to master but deadly when used right.
The Rocket Pod is primarily an anti-vehicular weapon. It fires a cluster of rockets that spread out, so it's easier to hit one large target with all of the rockets than a small target. While they're in the air, they can be directed by the firer, but they never lock on to a target, so there's plenty of skill involved.
The Burner fires out a projectile which blossoms into a fireball after a short arming period. Then it sets fire to anything it strikes. It's a lot of fun to clip somebody with it and see them trailing flame behind them as they try to get away.
The Grappler is pretty much what you'd expect. It fires out a cable that attaches to any surface, and allows for all sorts of additions to movement, from sling-shot turns around corners to swinging across the map.
Gameplay is the most important aspect of a game but beautiful visuals are also important so let's see how the Unreal engine will be tweaked in order to deliver Irrational's gameplay ideas in the best way possible.
In order for the Unreal engine to accommodate a new game, a lot of tweaking had to be involved. According to Rowan Wyborn, project lead programmer: We have essentially re-written the renderer for this game. Enhancements include:
- bump mapped characters and scenery and bump light mapping
- a full screen HDR glow effect
- pixel shaded water
- improved terrain texturing and lightmapping
- highly optimized terrain detail mesh renderer (lots of grass etc)
We also take advantage of floating point pixel shaders and some other high end stuff. Finally we've just been doing alot of optimization... Tribes places some very big demands on the renderer because you can get up real high in these big levels, and see quite a long way. We found that the original Unreal engine was not really optimized particularly well for these cases.
Although the original Unreal engine does provide features such as static meshes, vast outdoor areas, cool lighting, high detail and ragdoll physics, Irrational will be adding volumetric shadows and normal mapping, a technique made popular by FarCry, Halo 2 and DOOM III. This was thought by irrational to be an important part of making the single player mode as exciting as possible.
Another important Tribes feature is the freedom of movement and the developers have modified the physics so that Jetpacking and skiing through the maps will provide the high-speed adrenaline-fueled experience they should. In fact modified doesn't quite describe the magnitude of the physics changes since Irrational have replaced Karma physics with the very popular Havok engine, of H-L 2 fame. T:V makes extensive use of Havok for the vehicles and other miscellaneous objects used to populate the game worlds. It is also used for ragdoll deaths.
Other technological improvements include new high-detail facial animations, particle effects and weather effects.
Most of the people involved in any of the Tribes projects and the community agree that the main purpose of technology is to allow complete freedom of movement in the game maps. To this end everything mentioned above will help make Tribes : Vengeance a ...a celebration of 3D movement.
As the release date, October 2004, approaches, T:V seems to be well on its way to becoming a game worthy of the Tribes title. This time around however, the stakes are higher. The use of Irrational games, the vast budget and the inclusion of a strong single player element, suggest that Vivendi is planning on creating a game that will appeal to a far wider audience than the Tribes community. The question raised then is can T:V stand on its own two feet as a standalone title?
The innovative storyline and gameplay, the extensively refurbished graphics and the commitment of the team behind it would suggest that the answer is a resounding Yes.
The only doubt that remains is how Irrational hopes to get the chemistry right between a strong FPS game with mass-market appeal and a community focused multiplayer title.
On paper it would seem that Irrational may be trying to have their cake and eat it but it may not be an impossible target to achieve. After all a variety of games have managed to reach the gaming masses and to raise community support, titles such as Half-Life, Max Payne and Battlefield have done so, the only difference being that Tribes already has a strong community going.
Creating a game that does not disappoint the fans but also appeals to the newcomer to Tribes may prove a harder task than initially thought.