Starsiege: Tribes

Chibi Tribes

I quite like Tribes 1, although it was more fun just after release when there were more amateurs and less scripts around. People would really experiment with all of the deployables and features put into the game. Eventually the matches became more focused on skiing at extreme speeds, precision sniping and mine-discing. I'm sure veterans are generally nice to new players, the expected skill level can act as a form of gate-keeping making the game inaccessible.

In theory I don't mind the skill range being like... 1-50 rather than the 1-10 of most FPS games. In practice it might be a problem. I guess the solution is to play with friends. Matching won't work with Tribes' small player base. Back in the day there was a server for beginners, and people seemed to respect it most of the time.

It might be possible to tackle the meta game problem by using a mode with random gear availability (and maybe even random nerfs or buffs). This would force players to adapt to new circumstances each match. To control randomness, I'm imagining a slider with three points: common, min, max. Starting armour/weapons/backpack could vary too. I remember standing on the bunker roof on raindance listening to the silly pre-game chat. It added a nice pause to the game. It might be suitable to present the gear modifications here, so players can chat about it. A visual change on the view-model for e.g. buffs would be very helpful as a reminder during play. It could be a colour change (red discs), or an added submodel like a barrel extension or a bobbin.

Anyways, I decided to draw some chibi-style Tribes men and women, but didn't get very far.

Chibi Tribes

I looked into a few other Dynamix games ( Hunter Hunted, EarthSiege 1-2, CyberStorm 1-2, StarSiege ) for inspiration. Tribes Ascend has no story that I know of, but I imagine it being set before Tribes 1 (like Vengeance), as there are more weapons and structure to the armour. By the time of Tribes 1, the armours look a bit patched up and asymmetrical, so my own theory is that things are getting harder to maintain. However, Tribes 2 takes place soon after Tribes 1 and there the armours look new (and symmetrical), so that's a contradiction unless they began mass production for the escalating conflict.

Blood Eagles - These Imperial Knights degenerated into a Tribe faction. According to the story, they were more or less cut off from the distant Empire. Tribes have smaller populations, which, along with the near isolation could explain why they lost the ability to maintain technology like Hercs. Also, the fluff artwork depicts the tribes-people as more ragtag in appearance.

Diamond Sword - Some kind of medieval ornamented mystery knight dudes.

Cybrid & Metagens - The sniper guy in Vengeance is apparently a Cybrid, which suits me because I drew them that way before knowing about it. The Cybrids have been all over the place, designwise. First they were boxy grey mechs. In Cyberstorm there were more buglike, and black. In Starsiege they looked vaguely Gigeresque. Might have had something to do with the alien tech which was found. Most Cybrids hunted down after Prometheus' defeat, but maybe not all? Cybrid "Metagens" were rogues with their own goals (like conquering the stars), and some may have managed to hide and rebuild. C I was thinking that the Tribes expand into Cybrid territory and start using their bases and stuff, so I used the brown-blue vehicle color scheme on my Cybrids to suggest some kind of relation there. The Scout vehicle has a strange organic skull thing going on, reminding me a bit about the Starsiege Cybrid variant. The later Cybrids had strong personalities and morbid hobbies, and almost reminds me of Chaos gods from 40K. Maybe the surviving Cybrids splintered into something like that, and will reemerge soon?

Emperor Petresun - Could be alive, in theory... in some form... maybe? He's immortal and we never really see him die. The Empire is busy fighting some "Scourge" (edit: Bioderms) at the time of Tribes. What happened to the "Masters" from Hunter Hunted anyways?

Kullrathu - The minotaurs from Hunter Hunted. I like their 'angler fish' mouth. Kind of crazy that these guys belong to the Tribes universe, but I like crazy.

Bioderm - I think these guys are introduced in the Cyberstorm series. From what I gather, they are engineered soldiers (not necessarily human) who have a limited life span. They rebelled some time before Tribes 2, where they look like beasts. I'm not sure what the ones Luis Royo drew (on the tribeswoman concept/painting) are supposed to be. They must have defeated the mechanism which limits their lifespan. I imagine them being a conglomerate of strange beings now.

There's also the Griefers who were pirates and boogeymen in the cancelled expansion.

Old (old) notes

I made a few notes about a Tribes game a few years ago.

First, I tried to come up with a way to make the terrain easy to read, understand and memorise. The textures used by tribes 1 are already quite effective, due to the patterns of dirt and grass. Maybe it can be taken further, suggesting angles and topography.

Tribes design notes

Tribes 1 - Raindance.

Then, I obsessed a bit about character customisation. Generally I prefer simulation over abstraction (which could be seen as 'baked in' simulation + game balancing). Maybe this is taking it too far.

Tribes design notes

Misc

Random: A StarSiege (EarthSiege 3) Emancipator texture/skin. I like the idea of cameras and screens rather than windows, but perhaps canon has it that 'crys' is used as a window material. I managed to produce a beveled look (using just the texture) thanks to the models being rather flat shaded. Unfortunately a lot of the pieces on the UV map overlap, so I had to make some texture bits work on different locations. WIP, I haven't cleaned it up on a pixel level.

I wonder how X-COM Earthsiege would play... i.e. you have a a world map, base, invading Cybrids, a squad which goes (drops) on missions. You have to decide what to invest in, like the base, tech development, espionage, construction... Some kind of skeletal lifter would have to carry the Hercs to their mission areas though, whereas in the original games I think you're pretty contained to certain bases and do a lot of walking. The lifter would have to fly pretty low as obviously a crash from high altitude would be deadly. Hercs have no jump jets. Perhaps the player force the lifters down with the little fighter things.

I changed the Rhino quite a bit so maybe it's something else. Red bot is my own. Opaque cockpit windows with multiple/redundant camera ports. I don't quite like obscured cockpit views, or floaty HUDs. Maybe I have a preference for the bar solution used by Elite Frontier, and Quake1/Doom1.

Asset-wise a bar is easy to implement and I can imagine that a universal lift-in cockpit module being a practical solution. Cameras could be vulnerable to EMP unless they used a form of enhanced optical/projection system. Cockpits are opaque in ES and transparent in SS iirc.

Installing

Dynamix is no longer around and the rights has somehow moved between various companies. Hi-Rez studios seem to be the owners in 2018 and they've uploaded some ISOs for free on tribesuniverse.com. I've been told there are/were problems with a few of the releases though. Before this when Irrational Games/Vivendi Universal Games released Tribes Vengeance they also gave away copies of the first Tribes, which I managed to install on Linux. On Windows 7, mouse apparently does not work unless patched to v1.41.

This Earthsiege ISO was 50 something MB (I guess it was initially released on floppy disks and they had problems filling the CD version later on). I failed to make it run under Linux (Wine) using sierrahelp.com's (no-CD) "EarthsiegeForDOSBox" installer, but it did seemingly work on Windows 7 (in DOSBox).

I have not played it much. The missions are quite a monotonous trudge, with nav-points, and shooting stuff appearing out of the fog. Back in the early '90s, controlling a big stompy mech in 3D was quite novel but now there's a strong preference for MOBAs and the associated game mechanics. However, as others have pointed out, the charm of ES/SS is not the gameplay, but the setting which was developed with Starsiege. Specifically, it is the micro-stories which makes the (somewhat generic) overarching plot spicy. Tackling the franchise from a this angle with a great writer may be the correct choice. The setting was probably hurt a little bit with the addition of Tribes because MOBA plots are kinda... inherently sabotaging and nonsensical (no matter how amazing the character shorts are). But, the Starsiege setting at least has something substantial to fall back on. Maybe Tribes and Starsiege were developed together with story in mind.

Hmm, a random map mode could be interesting. It's more doable in a game like Tribes, with the outdoor terrain heightmap and the scattered structures/modules. Anyways, I had some half-baked idea about globally removing or "buffing" a weapon or two randomly every other match (if the server option is selected). A visual indication of a weapon being buffed could be shown on the view-model, using extra add-on greeble/bits. For consistency's sake, it would be best if the buff was something simple like damage, or firing rate. The idea is that occasional, and random changes to the weapons (deployables, backpacks?) can perhaps make joining a new game feel interesting. It's also a way to combat meta-gaming.

Maybe one game the grenade launcher will be more viable, another, it's not even available. In Sim City, the problem of shaping your city is affected by the terrain (landscape), so here I'm thinking of a technology landscape in that sense. This is how Master of Orion 1 tech availability (successfully) worked.

Traditional FPS games can rely more on map design. We might have a claustrophobic map, with a Railgun, two easy shotguns, and no RL/GL, and this naturally affects play. The Railgun will be less effective in a maze than the shotgun. As contrast, maps in Tribes (and Tribes-likes) always feature large open areas, and the player can buy any weapon instantly at the inventory stations. So in Tribes you have two "landscapes" which remain static, which can be problematic if the game is not impossibly well balanced, and even so, it might get old. The randomness I have suggested will not result in balance, but variation, which is the goal of balance anyways...?

* There were a few maps like Scarabrae/Massive_Sides(?) where the flag was placed well inside the base, and I think this resulted in more varied play. A Light would not survive long in tight corridors with turrets and Heavies blocking the way. Skiing with a heavy was difficult, so you had to use troop transports. These could get shot down by missile turrets, so you needed people to deal with those, etc, etc.

However, I don't think these kind of maps are popular in Tribes/Tribes-likes nowadays. Speed-captures of exposed flags and fancy snipes/midairs seem to be the only items on the menu, and that's a shame because the original Tribes had so much more to offer. (T.T)

I'm not much for competitive games nowadays. Maybe the setting could host a Mass Effect type of game? You'd play as some Tribe (maybe not even one of the main ones) trying to recover old technology from the Diaspora. Along the way, you'd encounter the other tribes, Griefers, Cybrids, Imperial outposts (afaik, it's unclear what the state of the Empire is), Bioderms and maybe even Minotaurs. The "Normandy" equiv. could be a monolithic flying pyramid thing (Goa'uld Ha'tak -like). I think the bases on the planet are "anchored" in space rather than hovering using a drive. The "Mako" equiv. is in the style of the LPC/HPC, lightly armoured but enclosed. Maybe later a powerful and heavily armoured Herc is pieced together. It might be strange to shift the surface exploration play towards mech combat though, as their power level is very different. Or maybe it would just be variation. Companion skiing AI is another obstacle. Less of a problem in a Herc type game.

Older thing.

I'm thinking that the big floating bases are carved out of iron asteroids (maybe in pieces and assembled like Japanese woodworking). They can't be hard to come by, to a spacefaring civilisation. Perhaps iron has the advantage of being easy to anchor gravitically. The engineers carefully drop the barren bases from space (glowing red hot) and then, uh, trigger a sudden phase shift in the iron which locks the base in a static position with a massive gravitic thump. Yeah. Also, iron is fairly tough and it explains at least a little bit why the bases aren't damaged by weapons fire, but the generators and stations are.

Record fragments pertaining to:
<underpants-gnome: godseed>>godhead>

----------------------------------------------------------------

Filetype: Cybrid data core dump, damaged
Last updated: 2832.4788

Name: <underpants-gnome>
Bootdate: ??? (Corrupt data. Likely 2830 or 2831.)
Affiliation\\ Sect: Inquisitor
Assessment: Chooser>>>Calculating\\exact.  

----------------------------------------------------------------
Record:
<Unit> displays exceptional tactical aptitude as well as ability
to subvert experimental human\\bioderm technology.
<Unit> records all data <it> perceives as somehow related to
subset of human\\animal fashion. <Unit> demonstrates//shares
data frequently with dismayed\\puzzled hubmates.

Primary Redactor concern:
<Unit> pursues futile\\suspicious\\heretical program. Drift to
full metagenic\\heretic status likely imminent.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Imperial Navy intel report, VOID incident, summary.
Date: 2834:Q4

TDF cruisers Styx, Merrybun and Salkas intercepted damaged
Cybrid Cruiser "VOID" burning on an outsystem vector near
Saturn. Intel had suggested that the following notable Cybrids
(all suspected Metagens) were onboard:
 
 <death-ripper-4>
 <black-organ>
 <there-goes-your-head>
 <face-eater>
 <bookworm>
 <back-to-basics>
 <nuclear-paradise>
 <underpants-gnome>
 <noname-newboot-copy-6>
 <humans-are-bad>
 <millipede-genocide>
 <eternal-lamentations>
 

When the cruiser offered no resistance the Salkas attempted
capture. The boarding party was lost when the VOID suddenly
detonated, but it was discovered that the ship had been stripped
for parts and was likely a diversion to draw our ships out of 
position. Without mass-reduction drives, an outsystem 
destination can be decades or centuries away for the Cybrid 
escapees, so it's unclear what the strategy might have been.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Filetype: Unitech database entry.
Date: 3256.Q2

[...] unfortunately lead to several Bioderms being captured by a
Cybrid entity calling itself <underpants-gnome: godseed> [...]

----------------------------------------------------------------

Filetype: Diamond Sword intel intercept.
Date: 3948.Q1

[...] it is the conclusion of [...] The Blades of UPG are
actually Bioderms [...] worshipping a "lost god" we suspect is
or was the Cybrid <underpants-gnome: godhead> [...] 

----------------------------------------------------------------


Tried to run some of the "Tribes tools" with little success in DOSBox, VirtualBox and Wine. Thinking. A Win9xPi appeared. Price point between a Raspberry Pi and cheap thin client: $50-125? This would be for the PC gamer equivalent of the NES Classic customer. Yes, you can emulate a NES, or buy the original, but some just prefer the form factor, ease of use and price point of the NES Classic. This means my system here would need to come ready for use, with a working OS install. A popular machine might become a standard and get community patches for edge cases. The case is smaller than a thin client... under 15cm. It comes with a sticker-sheet. I'm not sure about what exact specs to go for, but something which targets Win95 - early XP. I find that DOSBox generally works well for older games so that's not the main focus.

Hmm. A legacy support machine is "never obsolete" in a sense :-) Emulation, Wine & VirtualBoxes can be confusing and Win95/98 software can be especially cranky. Emulation is also no solution for interfacing with certain real hardware. One can of course buy an old machine, but those are unwieldy, noisy, dying, and might get thrown out next spring cleaning. Vintage hardware is going up in price too.

I suppose a smaller PCI card might fit in the case using a riser/cable for rotation. Two slots might not be needed if GPU and SB is included in SoC or some chipset thingy. If discrete chips, one PCI slot would have to go. The big (ATX) PSU connector is likely overkill, but is compatible with e.g. the nimble Pico-PSU. I guess some PCI cards might need more fancy power delivery. I didn't include an AGP port or removable memory just to keep things really compact. SCSI might be useful but I didn't go for it.

The BIOS would need to support some fancy stuff for "Turbo" underclocking. It would be great if it was more analog'ish. DOS gamers usually have problems controlling granularity there. A MAX7219 driver ic (5-6 wires) can drive an LED display and keep state. An 8x8 display (maybe cropped to 8x6) could show graphical error messages (^o^, T_T, UwU).

Apparently AMD made a ("fully compatible") x86 SoC called Geode. Wikipedia doesn't list 95/98 in supported OSes but some other pages do. Unsure what the graphical capabilities of these boards are (has a "Graphics Processor"). An alix1e is <70 euro. The Termtek TK-3772 might work too (<30 euro). These thin clients are Mini-ITX size whilst my concept is closer to Nano-ITX.

The product box design is based on the old Gfx card boxes. Commercial idea: Slow macro shot pans over the motherboard components. It's gently put into the case which is being assembled. Then SLAP SLAP SLAP cheesy stickers and an obnoxious 90's kid is playing some roaring fast fragfest shooter. It's not fast enough, so the turbo button is pressed, and the game drops to 3 fps. Shucks. That's enough of that. A guy in a suit pushes kid off and does a general product presentation.

Gloom

I have never played Gloom. It's slightly related to Tribes in the sense that it's a first person shooter game with a strategy element (deployable, bases), so I'm gonna put it here. I gave the bugs six legs since eight is too crowded - it's like trying to draw five fingers on a cartoon character. Still, I put in a pair of extra mandibles which could count as devolved legs.

Gloom chibi Quake redesigns


- by Niklas Jansson, Mars 2010. - The rights to Tribes now belong to Garage Games (run by Dynamix guys) if I'm not mistaken. I'm not sure if they also bought back rights to the Starsiege universe. Anyways, Sierra published the Dynamix games back in the day.