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Tribes Ascend - Eurogamer 10/10


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The first teaser trailer for Tribes Ascend has gone up on Youtube:

There isn't much there; however, it's really just to serve as an announcement. Still, as a big Tribes fan, I'm really interested to see further announcements about this.

(Also, Hi-Rez are still making Tribes Universe - this Tribes Ascend title is a separate game)

For a bit of explanation, after Dynamix, the team that made Tribes 1 and 2 went under several years ago, the licence passed to Sierra/Vivendi who published Tribes Vengeance. Following that being a failure (it wasn't the best of the series, despite some cool ideas) a company called InstantAction bought the licence and used it to make a browser-based Tribes game. That had a beta, which was OK, but InstantAction went bankrupt last year and Hi-Rez studios (who made the MMO title Global Agenda) bought the licence and are now working on two titles - Tribes Universe, which is to be an MMOFPS (which we've known about for some time), and this game, Tribes Ascend, which is a downloadable title for PC/XBLA.

This leads us to an interesting situation for Tribes fans, because following the wrap-up of Dynamix, the team were scattered, and went their different ways - the result of this is that there are now three teams that are making games that are carrying on the spirit of the Tribes games:

Hi-Rez are making Tribes Universe and Tribes Ascend

Sony Online Entertainment are making Planetside NEXT

Red5 are making FireFall

Personally I'm really excited about all four of these games, as I was a huge fan of Tribes 2 and Planetside, and the initial videos of FireFall are very impressive.

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Live Arcade version shelved - for now.

The Tribes series is primarily seen as a PC-based shooter due to its fast-paced action and twitch controls. This caused some consternation among some fans when Atlanta-based Hi-Rez Studios announced that they were bringing Tribes Ascend to both the PC and Xbox 360 as a downloadable title. The independent developer has put the Xbox LIVE version on the shelf for now and explains why.

Hi-Rez CEO Todd Harris made the announcement of focusing primarily on the PC version of Tribes Ascend during a podcast interview with the TribesNetwork. One reason why the Xbox LIVE version has been pushed off is because the developer felt that it would be fighting a lot of negative perception that sacrifices would be made to the PC version to dumb it down or consolize it for the Xbox 360.

Hi-Rez hopes that by solely focusing on the PC version as a first release and showing that the controls and user-interface will be designed with the PC in mind then that negative perception will go away.

An even bigger consideration is the need to update Tribes Ascend frequently. "Unforunately, the consoles are getting there but just not there yet," Harris said. "Even with the marketplace idea of XBLA or PSN, there is still a very kind of rigid certification process and you have to typically go through a publisher and the console provider before you can put out updates and we want to put out a lot of updates over time. So the PC is the best platform for that and the best platform for working directly with the players and kind of having a lot of middle men in the way. That's how we operate better as a studio."

Hi-Rez wouldn't be the first developer to voice this concern as others, including Valve, have lamented Microsoft's strict policies for Xbox LIVE updates and map pack releases in the past.

That's not to say that a release to Xbox LIVE is not possible but Hi-Rez will release Tribes Ascend to the PC first later this year and then look at bringing it to consoles.

Continue reading on Examiner.com Hi-Rez puts Xbox LIVE release of Tribes Ascend on the backburner - Atlanta Video Game News | Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/console-gaming-in-national/hi-rez-puts-xbox-live-release-of-tribes-ascend-on-the-backburner#ixzz1NrUAUkPt

Well that's disappointing, hopefully they'll start working on it again after the PC version is out.

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  • 4 weeks later...

The League of Legends approach

Hi-Rez Studios, the development team behind free-to-play MMO shooter Global Agenda, is all too aware of the difficulties of creating a good free-to-play game. But they're also acutely aware of the potential benefits. That's why Tribes: Ascend, the next game to come from the studio, is going to be free-to-play. Tribes: Ascend includes all the halmarks of the series. The setting is futuristic and colorful, players have jetpacks, and skiing -- where players glide along the surface of the terrain at great speeds -- is central to the gameplay. It's very fast-paced and a huge amount of fun, but making a game like Tribes: Ascend free-to-play and still financially viable may be a challenge.

The traditional microtransaction model that a lot of F2P MMORPGs have used, where potions and convenience items can be bought and used, doesn't work so well for a first-person-shooters. With Team Fortress 2's recent switch to free-to-play, the approach was to give players alternate weapons. For Tribes: Ascend, Hi-Rez is talking inspiration from one of the most successful games in the free-to-play market -- League of Legends.

For League of Legends, Riot develops brand new champions and releases them on a two-week cycle. These champions can be bought using in-game currency (the standard new champ requires about 40-60 games worth of in-game currency to buy) or can be bought using actual cash for five to ten US dollars. There's a roster of freely usable champions that rotates every week, so even if you don't buy any champions you can still have a lot of fun, but getting really good at a few particular champions typically requires a purchase.

It's a model that has worked extremely well for Riot, and with Tribes: Ascend, Hi-Rez hopes to emulate that success. Naturally, there are some differences, though. Instead of buying champions, Tribes players will be buying loadouts. A loadout determines the characteristics of your character in battle -- specifically, their armor type (light, medium or heavy) which also affects movement (heavy units move slowly, light very quicky), the two weapons they will be carrying, the type of explosive they will wield, and what their pack (which can change the dynamic of a character) does.

As an example, one loadout gave my character medium armor, an explosive-disk-shooting gun, a decent rapid-firing handgun, a set of grenades, and 20% more energy for my standard jetpack. It was a sort of all-rounder loadout that allowed me to assault the enemy's base or defend my own depending on what was needed.

A different loadout gave me heavy armor, a repair tool to fix structures with, a basic rifle, the ability to throw down mines (instead of grenades), and the ability to drop turrets. This was a much more defensive build, letting me patch up base structures like generators and cover key areas with my turrets.

There were loadouts designed for stealth and infiltration, for long-range siege, and for straight-up killing too. Like League of Legends, Hi-Rez wants to be able to push new loadouts out regularly, providing new ways for players to take on the enemy, as well as make available cosmetic buyables like skins. There will also likely be ways to increase the rate of your character growth, as an experience and leveling system of sorts will provide customization options and perks.

The question is, will a model that worked for League of Legends still work for a completely different style of game? I have concerns about giving players customization options in a game where the distinction between friend and enemy at a glance is so important. I'm also not sure how desirable owning different loadouts will be. With LoL, it's simply a case of being facerolled by someone in a different champion to make you want to own that champion. With Tribes: Ascend, the ability to tell what loadout a person is using is much tougher, and it is likely that you will be able to switch between a limited set of loadouts during a match, making the distinction even tougher. Even if each loadout was visually distinct, the pace of the game means that by the time you're close enough to identify another player, you might already be dead.

The core game is very strong -- I played it for a couple hours and thoroughly enjoyed it -- so that may be enough to ensure its success critically, but whether it will be successful commercially will depend on how well Hi-Rez can make one player want to fill a dozen roles. I'm not 100% certain that a FPS like Tribes is where something like that can happen, but I probably would have said the same about DotA a few years ago.



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That explains the cancellation of the XBLA version then. Sooner or later Microsoft is going to have to abandon their carefully cultured ecosystem of price tiers and let F2P stuff on there.


As an example, one loadout gave my character medium armor, an explosive-disk-shooting gun
an explosive-disk-shooting gun


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IGN - The Basics. Skiing is in!


Q&A from HiRez,

Why make the game free-to-play?

1. So our success depends upon the gameplay itself (more than marketing).

Players have a lot of gaming choices. Convincing people to pay $50, $30, or even $20 for a title requires a very large marketing budget and even then there is no guarantee that people will buy. You recognize "Tribes" as a great brand, and we recognize "Tribes" as great brand, but the majority of today's gamers do not necessarily recognize the Tribes franchise. We'd honestly rather put more of our resources on game development and ongoing updates versus a huge marketing campaign. At the same time our Dev Team is working incredibly hard on the title and we DO want a large number of people to become aware of the game, to try the game, and hopefully enjoy the game for many years. We bought the franchise because we think the gameplay deserves a much larger audience than it's ever found before. And we believe the most effective way to build a large community is a fun & balanced core game, with strong word-of-mouth combined with a low barrier of entry. In terms of low barrier of entry it is simply hard to beat "FREE". By offering a AAA game as free-to-play we'll have the largest number of people exposed to the game and trying the game. After that the game can succeed or fail on its own merits.

2. We're in this for the long-term.... And, we like to iterate along the way.

If you are looking for a game that will remain exactly the same from Open Beta for the next few years, Tribes: Ascend will likely not be for you. As a studio we experiment and innovate and we think the best games are the results of constant iteration and update. In fact, for us launching the game is more like the beginning than the end. But constant updates require a development team well past launch. And maintaining that development team means continued revenue from the game to pay their salaries. Based on Global Agenda, and other F2P games, we have seen that a meaningful percentage of players will gladly pay for optional items and services if they enjoy the game. We've also seen that the majority of players may never spend a dime. And that is fine. Because those paying players fund ongoing updates and support for the entire population. So, we believe this model gives us the best opportunity to grow both the game and the community over time; by players who pay only when they choose to.

3. Free and Balanced.

Two years ago I don't think you could have found a Hi-Rez employee playing a free-to-play game. The games we tried were too grindy, or too old-looking, or too 'pay2win' to too something-else-bad. But the times they are changing. There are now free-to-play games where the gameplay is not unbalanced by purchases, including, but definitely not limited to, our own Global Agenda. With Tribes: Ascend we intend to support balanced and very competitive gameplay while also supporting micro-transactions.

Can I 'pay-2-win'?

No. Even as a 'free-to-play' game our general philosophy is to make all gameplay affecting items and loadouts earnable thru gameplay.

However we will allow players a path to earn loadouts and items more quickly by spending their money rather than their time. And we will offer a variety of cosmetic/prestige items for sale that do not affect game balance.

We will not be using the same exact system as Global Agenda, but you can see that general philosophy in place within Global Agenda. When speaking with IGN we described our intent to have load-outs earnable thru gameplay or purchasable, but to also maintain balance between all the load-outs. The writer found that analogous to League of Legends in that their champions are earn-able or purchasable but without any power discrepancy between the free ones, earned ones, or bought ones. And it is a model/game that has been embraced by the e-sports/competitive community. The writer's analogy is fitting but only goes so far since the Tribes: Ascend gameplay is so different.

Why introduce 'load-outs'? Why limit the number of in-hand weapons?

We are testing defined load-outs because we believe that makes Tribes: Ascend most interesting for the seasoned/competitive player. It has a side-benefit benefit of being more accessible for new players but that was a secondary consideration. We arrived at this gameplay design decision independent of the free-to-play business model decision.

In our experience the best, most intense Tribes matches feel more like a team sport than just an FPS. In sports there are various roles and specializations and that is what we are emulating. (In basketball I get to specialize as power-forward; i'm not just a guy chasing the ball). Tribes 2 offered similar 'template' roles for starting players. And additional roles developed organically from Tribes competitive play on objective-based maps. We are building on both of these role/load-out concepts and testing constraints around the number of 'load-outs' each individual player could choose to take into a match; adding a strategic and team-coordination element at least at the competitive level. With Constraints comes Creativity.

We'll be communicating more detail on load-outs in the future. And almost certainly some of the specifics we are currently testing within Closed Alpha will change based on testing and feedback.



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Beta out in a month! :)

I know I really never heard of tribes until this was announced and I never took interest until a couple of minutes ago when I stumbled across some Quakecon footage... I've go to say this looks like the greatest game ever! From having different classes TF2 style, team based missions and big massive levels UT2004 style and just the most amazing travelling mechanic; this is going to be something special!

I'm really, really hyped for this and I think it'll be the FPS to finally tear me away from TF2. Can't wait.

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That it does indeed. I'm really pleasantly surprised with how they've handled it; it already looks like a far more faithful sequel than Tribes: Vengeance. T:V wasn't all bad, but it wasn't a patch on Tribes 2. One of the good things about it being F2P is that it will almost certainly have robust community features - this is something Tribes 2 did years before, well - actually most games STILL don't do it as well as Tribes 2 tried to.

(it's worth noting that Tribes 2 didn't actually achieve a great deal in terms of its "community browser" - it just had some serious vision)

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Good grief, I didn't know anyone was moaning about this game. It looks just like a tribes game, and I was a MASSIVE fan of tribes 2 back in the day. Sure the whole load out system is a slight "dumbing down", but it's no TFC->TF2 change.

I personally can't wait!

I share this sentiment. Tribes 2 had loads of equipment, but in reality you tended to use a narrower range of stuff for each armour class. I'm willing to bet that if there are 12 loadouts to choose from, that they'll have pretty much every combination that people would be likely to use. It certainly doesn't negatively impact Team Fortress 2.

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Yeah, got my key 10pm last night.

Meh, don't think much of it to be honest. it's a bit dull. One of those bouncing around and shooting where you think people might land games. I'll play it a bit more, see if I can get into it. Not very exciting.

It might seem like that now, as many people you'll be playing will be new to it. However, Tribes traditionally is actually quite strategic. Generally, in a 1v1 scenario, the player who is higher has an advantage, but maintaining that height requires very careful management of your boost bar. Then, there are some weapons that are quite useful for a standing still player, but less useful for a moving player, so they're more defence-orientated - then, when you get good enough, you'll start connecting more consistently with weapons like the Spinfusor air-to-air. Then, 3/4/5-person battles get more complex. Really, there's a LOT to it (if it's anything like Tribes 2).

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Tried this out this morning for about half an hour. It really is a lot like Tribes 2, in most of the ways that count. The only major feature its missing from my perspective is the orders system (Tribes 2 had a system where a player could go into an RTS-style view and give "orders" to other players like units in an RTS) - but then again, players never really used to follow orders anyway so I suppose that's moot.

The skiing seems to work in exactly the same way, the weapons work in a very similar way - even the Shrike vehicle works in a similar way (though it needs to be a little more nimble).

The only major changes I've so far seen are that they've got rid of the jump button, just having a combined jet+jump key (like in Tribes Vengeance) which doesn't really make any difference to the gameplay other than making it easier for beginners, and they've added a melee key - which again, makes no difference as you never get a chance to use it anyway (I assume it'll be insta-kill from behind like Halo, so it's for punishing snipers who've got careless). You can also call out the positions of enemies like in Battlefield Bad Company 2 by mouse-overing them and pressing ALT, which works really well.

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After a few games, I have to say that it isn't all rosy. Whilst the gameplay in this is very much Tribes/Tribes 2, and it looks superb (it really does look good), the unlock system is a bit of a pain.

It seems that as the game is free-to-play, you unlock new weapons, armour and perks really slowly - but you can pay to be a "VIP" which speeds the process up significantly. Nothing wrong with that on a fundamental level. However, the issue I had just now is that you start off with very basic equipment - medium armour and a couple of weapons.

We just lost a match where the enemy team had a player inside our base, who was wearing heavy armour. The interiors are really cramped, giving very little room to maneuver, and try as we might, we simply couldn't kill this heavy - and every time he killed one of us, he got health back by picking up the equipment we dropped. If I had been able to pick heavy armour, or something different like a stealth pack, I would have been able to take him out - but due to the unlock system none of us were high enough level to use equipment we could use to beat him.

The other problem, though this is very minor, is that it shares an issue that Tribes 2 had (that's how closely it translates the formula) - namely that many players don't really understand how to win at CTF in Tribes. Very few players repair equipment or turrets when they get damaged, or assist in driving enemies out of the base - they seem to just spawn, try to cap the enemy flag, die, spawn, try to cap the enemy flag... Defensive turrets and the like make an enormous difference to your success in Tribes - I think the deep defensive game that exists in the Tribes series (apart from Vengeance) is one of the things that makes it different to many other titles. There needs to be some tutorial stuff that can explain not just the "how" to do things but also the "why" you should do them.

I kinda don't want to criticise it too much though, because I'm sure you'll unlock a kind of "baseline" level of kit within a few hours' play. It's not the best start though.

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