Tag Archives: Starsiege: Tribes

Trying to Remember Starsiege: Tribes

The launch of Overwatch got me thinking about first person shooters that I have enjoyed over the years, a list that is pretty short relative the number of titles in the genre.  In fact, I can only really come up with four titles that I was ever really into in any significant way.

At the far end of the list is Marathon, the classic from Bungie, now more than 20 years old, which we used to play on the network at the office after hours… back when companies let you play video games after hours and issued employees machines capable of running them.

Maybe I just work for the wrong company these days.

At the near end is the Desert Combat, which isn’t even a game, just a mod for Battlefield 1942, which is more than a decade away in time.  Yet it was a hell of a mod.  Just listening to the music from the opening credits brings back memories.  That is not the last FPS I played, but the last one I really enjoyed.

And then there were two just about in the middle of that range.  One was Nova Logic’s Delta Force, which I have written about already.

And the other was Starsiege: Tribes.

Tribes

Tribes

The problem is that Tribes came out during a time when I was playing a lot of memorable games.  Diablo and Civilization II were still hot properties, while their successors were being actively discussed.  I loved me some Total Annihilation back then.  We were playing StarCraft and Age of Empires at the office a lot.  Sojourn MUD had become TorilMUD and was about at its peak.  The aforementioned Delta Force was on the scene and we were trying to play that using Roger Wilco, and early gaming voice coms package.  And, of course, EverQuest was looming, soon to launch and steal away all my play time for a year or two.

And in the midst of all of this, I played Tribes.

I cannot recall considering buying it or having somebody suggest it to me.  Some part of me thinks I must have read about it over at Firing Squad, the gaming site of Dennis Fong, who later went on the create XFire and then Raptr, but only because I used to read the site regularly.  I could have heard about it on GameSpot for all I know.

I cannot even remember if I actually bought the game.  I don’t have the box any more, but I have tossed most of my game boxes over the years.  I have an old Memorex CD-R with “Starsiege Tribes” written on it in Sharpie, so I suppose I could have pirated it.  But that would have been unlike me at the time as I had a good job and the mortgage on my soon-to-be wife’s condo was what one would call laughably cheap these days, so I wasn’t skimping on expenses.  That would come later when my wife stopped working and we bought a house in a good school district.

Besides which, I used to make backup copies of most of my game CDs back then.  I still have copies for StarCraft and Diablo II along with the original disks still in the jewel cases.

And I can barely remember the game itself.  On the list of things I don’t have left from the game is any screen shots.  Looking at the Wikipedia linked article above yielded several, “Oh yeah, I remember that!” moments.

At one point I was convinced that Tribes was the reason that I bought that Voodoo2 3D graphics acceleration card for my computer.  I had the card when I bought EverQuest at Fry’s back on March 16, 1999 (that disk I still have, along with the receipt) so something prompted me to buy it.

But then I found the specs online and saw that it didn’t actually require that.  Plus the name “3dfx” sparked a memory about Blizzard’s early announcements about Diablo II saying that to get the full graphical experience, players would need a card that supported 3dfx’s Glide API.  I am pretty sure that is the reason I got the Voodoo2 card, though by the time Diablo II came out 3dfx had ceased to be the dominate player in the 3D accelerated video card market and Blizz was obliged to support a more universal API. (Open GL if I recall right.)  That is all pretty fuzzy though, and I could have bought the card to speed up Delta Force, only to find out that its voxel based engine could not/would not take advantage of 3D acceleration.  Maybe.  Or maybe that was something that annoyed me later, when Delta Force 2 came out.  Getting old and the persistent march of time sucks.

So what the hell do I remember then?

I remember the rattle of the Gatling gun as it spun up when you tapped the trigger.

I remember the 3D terrain with low res texture mapping, though that memory starts to bleed in with EverQuest memories a bit.  Am I imagining Tribes or West Karana in my mind?

I remember shooting the disk launcher into the fog where I had just seen somebody disappear, hoping for a lucky hit.

I remember the idea of “skiing” as a scout, using your jet pack to essentially glide at very high speed if done right.

I remember that map with the bridge overhead between the two bases, the distance being shrouded in mist.  Though, if I concentrate, I can’t really tell you if that was Tribes or Tribes 2, which I remember even less of, aside from the vague sense that I owned and played that as well.

Mostly though I just have this feeling that it was a really good game for its time.  But then EverQuest came out and eclipsed it.  Was it as good as I remember it, as good for the time?

I suppose I could grab the game and find out.  Hi-Rez Studio made it and its companion games available for free on their Tribes Universe site.

However, I suspect that doing so would burst the bubble.  It is difficult to bring your 2016 sensibilities back in time to look at an older game.

Delta Force – A Memory of Voxels

I wish I could have seen the expression on my own face when, at the EverQuest Next reveal, they first said the word “Voxels.”

I am pretty sure it would have been a dubious frown, that serious look I get when things do not add up.  My lips disappear as my mouth forms a tight, inverted U.

And that is all related to a game called Delta Force.

Delta Force

Delta Force

NovaLogic brought out Delta Force back in the late 90s and it was something of the pinnacle of pre-3D accelerated shooters.  It had a single player campaign, not terrible computer AI, and offered online mulitplayer matches that we have come to expect from shooters.  But its big bragging point was terrain.

It launched at around the same time as Starsiege: Tribes, another game I loved, and which became something of a cult classic that got played for years beyond what one might expect.  Tribes, building on the ideas of Quake, attempted to create an outdoor multiplayer shooter using the 3D technology of the time, which was giant polygons with textures that looked like you laid bad linoleum in the forest.

Cyclops Attack! Run!

Not Tribes, but you get the idea

So its world was often a lot of flat planes laid out.  And, of course, you needed a 3D accelerated video card of some sort… probably a 3dfx model if you were like most people… in order to play.  And such cards were reasonably rare at that point.

Meanwhile Delta Force used a voxel based engine that used all those volumetric pixels, from which the word “voxel” is derived, to create an ugly (by today’s standards) but much more realistic terrain.  There were all sorts of places to hide, shallow depressions, rises, outcrops and such which, when combined with the positional abilities of the game… you could stand, crouch, or go prone, which was also somewhat uncommon at the time… allowed all sorts of tactical flexibility.  Plus the environments were huge compared to other games.

Looking out on an Uzbek land

Looking out on an Uzbek land

But the key to the whole package was that NovaLogic’s engine gave you all of this without requiring a 3D accelerated video card.  Absolutely the right move in 1998 when the game shipped and undoubtedly one of the factors leading to its popularity.

One of out IT guys brought a copy into work to show us and I am pretty sure that most of us bought a copy of the game on the way home that night.  There were some attempts to play as a group from home, which lead to my first voice coms experience when we tried using Roger Wilco.  That went okay.  But it was when we all brought a copy into the office and found that it played well enough on the standard 200MHz Pentium Pros that were common at the time that the real fun began.  Over the local network, using the phone system for coms, battles ranged.

NovaLogic followed success with more success, bringing out Delta Force 2 and so forth, creating a whole series of games.

But time was not on their side.

While ignoring 3D video cards was a good plan in 1998, by 2000 things had changed.  The introduction of nVidia’s TNT2 chipset, made reasonably priced and performing accelerated 3D video card readily available.   This alone pretty much killed 3dfx, marginalized Matrox and S3 in the consumer market, and could be said to have started the trend that eventually sent ATi into the arms of AMD.  It also made 3D configurations so common that the NovaLogic forums were often full of questions and complaints about why somebody’s brand new TNT2 card did not improve Delta Force‘s performance.  No 3D support became a burden.

That was the end of NovaLogic’s dominance.  They did okay with Joint Operations, which continued their traditions of lots of players on big battlegrounds, but other franchises did better.  MODs on Battlefield 1942 made it more exciting.  And other titles stepped in, so that every year we hear about another Call of Duty when it comes to shooters, but nobody mentions NovaLogic.

Years passed.

Then there was the EverQuest Next reveal this past weekend, and the word “voxel” and a flood of memories.  Included in that was “voxels = bad,” which was entirely built on my distant memories of the Delta Force franchise aging badly.  Voxels are good, or good if you want to create landscapes that are not made up of polygons.  It was NovaLogic’s engine that did not stand the test of time.  Or such is my memory.  As usual, the freshness, accuracy, and reliability of all memories older than 30 seconds on this blog are not guaranteed.

So I decided to see if NovaLogic was even around still.  First I looked at Steam.  There I found that not only did NovaLogic appear to still exist, but all of the Delta Force games were apparently up for sale on Steam.  Delta Force alone was listed for $19.99, which was too much for me to spend on nostalgia, but it made me go check out NovaLogic’s site.  There I found I could get Delta Force for just $4.99.

That was a nostalgia compatible price, so I bought a copy, downloaded it, installed it, and much to my surprise, it actually ran.

Of course, I was immediately reminded of how far we have come.  The game wanted to play at 640×480, which on my 1600×1200 monitor ends up being very blocky in full screen or a very small in windowed mode.

Shooting a distant tower guard

Shooting a distant tower guard

And there were even tinier settings.

Delta Force Settings

Delta Force Minimal Settings

I recall there being a school of thought for the game that had you play at the minimum setting with the minimum color because your responsiveness was greatly improved.  You ended up just shooting at what amounted to single pixels when sniping, but it worked for some.

So I loaded up the game and played a bit.  And it played quite well.  I had to go fix the controls.  I have raged in the past about EverQuest at launch having not grasped the WASD movement standard, something the went back as least as far as Lode Runner.  But here was Delta Force thinking I would use the arrow keys for movement.  I had to swap that over to WASD first thing.  But after that it was fun.

I ran some missions, which were harder than I recalled.  The AI did well enough to make me keep my head down.  I have memories of completely broken AI, but I think that came in with later installments of the series.

Then I downloaded and installed the latest patch for Delta Force, which promptly broke the game so that it would no longer let me play single player.  And the likelihood of playing multiplayer seemed faint at best.  As much as I would like another such opportunity, I don’t think there are any more internet hosted games out there.

So I uninstalled the game, cleared out the folder, and then installed it again and was off and shooting.

The default weapon is fun, the M4 with a scope.  But the real good times come with the big sniper rifle, the Barrett Light .50.

The game itself holds up pretty well after all these years.  Graphics, not so much.  What was described as sacrificing “looks for game play” makes the screen hard to look at some times.  And playing sniper at long ranges, even with the video cranked up to 800×600, you still end up shooting at stacks of pixels.  But it gave me an evening of fun and I might go finish out the campaign just for kicks.

And I found that, while the individual game price on Steam is pretty outrageous, they do have a bundle that seems reasonable if I feel like a full round of nostalgia.

Prices calculated in 1950s dollars

Prices calculated in 1950s dollars

Save $260 on that bundle!  Such a deal!

If you are interested in pictures of the game in action, there are more after the cut.

Unless you have a tiny monitor, they will all show as full size in the gallery viewer.

Included are some of the game screens and me using a few of the different weapons.  You will see the scope mode over and over, which is interesting in this day and age.  They tried to combine the scope view while keeping your wider vision available.  The “two eyes open” scope method.  It can be confusing at time to have two aim points.

Also, in a few of the pictures, you can see the tracers.  Red tracers are the bad guys, blue tracers are friendly.  Though they all hit just the same.  In open multiplayer a lot of people favored games with tracers turned off, as they were very obvious pointers right at your position as soon as you opened fire.

And the terrain itself.  It looks blocky.  In fact, it looks like I am playing on oatmeal world when full screen on my monitor.  But it works as advertised, being huge with lots of varied features in and around which to hide and shoot.  We shall see how EQN fares with its voxel based engine.

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