Developed by Dynamix , Starsiege: Tribes is a multipayer-only sci-fi first-person shooter part of the Tribes series, and continues the stories from both Earthsiege and Starsiege. It was released in 1998 under the publisher Sierra Entertainment.
Tribes was far ahead of its time, having many multiplayer features that did not become widely available for years after its release. Squad vehicles, every map supporting 32 players, and some maps supporting up to 128 players were just a few of the games’ impressive pieces. The most influential feature, which began as an exploit, was the ability to ski across the gigantic outdoor maps. Skiing made capture the flag matches incredibly fast-paced, as skilled players could reach speeds exceeding 100km/h.
In the 29th century, humans were in the midst of their third and final war with a robotic race called the Cybrids, who the humans created. Centuries after completing the genocide, humans discovered a network of Interstellar Transfer Conduits. These conduits, as their name suggest, acted as teleports through space. This networks’ discovery began a traveling revolution called Diaspora among many humans. Communities that traveled together were almost always completely isolated from all other humankind. With this, the communities began to recognize themselves as “tribes.” The Children of the Phoenix, named for Harabec “Phoenix” Weathers, a hero in the Cybrid wars, and the Great Human Empire’s Imperial tribe called the Blood Eagles were by far the largest and most powerful tribes in the universe. The two sides found themselves in an incessant time of war, causing many renegades to form “splinter tribes.”
The Children of the Phoenix attempted to bring peace to the universe with a rule book of sorts. They also held regular conventions called “Firetruces,” where ambassadors from each tribe would meet to discuss peace. There was even a regular Olympic-like series of events that tribes could participate in during Firetruces, but this soon became yet another point of contention between tribes.
Now, in the 3940’s, the Blood Eagle and Star Wolf tribes are the two most contrasting sides of the universe-wide war. Countless have died, and there is no end in sight. Hundreds of smaller tribes have decided to join the larger tribes, wanting to end this thousand-year war once and for all.
Players have an armor gauge on their HUD, functioning as a life bar. When a player’s armor is depleted, they die. After dying, players respawn somewhere on their team’s side of the map (usually near or in the base.) Players also have a bar devoted to energy. This energy recharges quickly when not being used by the jet pack or energy-fueled weapons.
- Peltast (Light) – Leaves the wearer almost completely unprotected, but allows them to move with unmatched quickness. Every match begins with all players wearing Peltast armor. Only those wearing Peltast armor can equip the LASER Rifle.
- Hoplite (Medium) – Rarely used in matches, the Hoplite armor has no specialty. Sometimes used by teams that use turrets, as it is the lightest armor that can deploy equipment.
- Myrmidon (Heavy) – Very slow, but very durable. Only class that can use the Mortar weapon.
There are eight weapons available in Tribes:
- Blaster – A weapon that uses the players energy cell power as ammunition, giving an endless supply of weak projectiles.
- Plasma rifle – As the name suggest, a rifle that fires balls of hot plasma. While powerful, the plasma travels very slowly. Even with its splash damage, it’s hard to hit a moving target with it.
- Chaingun – A short-range, high rate of fire, low-accuracy weapon. The Chaingun is useful for quickly taking down players or turrets with lots of armor.
- Spinfusor – More commonly known as the Disc Launcher, the Spinfusor launches explosive blue discs, and is the bread-and-butter weapon for all classes. Skilled players can accomplish what is called a “Mid-air,” or MA, where a flying enemy is taken out with a perfectly timed disc launch.
- Grenade launcher – A grenade lobbing weapon, widely used when chasing and enemy with a flag. The shell-for-shell most powerful weapon a person wearing Peltast armor can equip (not considering headshots.)
- LASER rifle – The games’ sniper rifle. When fired, all players can see the laser. The LASER Rifle can only be equipped by players with Peltast armor, and an energy pack. Like the Blaster, the LASER Rifle draws from the player’s energy cell, and the damage done to the target is directly proportional to the energy drawn.
- ELF (Electron Flux Gun) – The ELF draws from the user’s energy cell, and it’s purpose is to deplete the target’s energy cell, disallowing them to jet away.
- Heavy mortar – Only able to be equipped by those wearing Myrmidon armor, the heavy mortar lobs volatile explosives great distances. The mortar leaves a trail of green fumes when fired.
Vital to all players, packs increase one’s abilities. There’s a right and a wrong pack for every position on the field, so choosing the correct one is extremely important.
- Energy pack – By far the most common pack, the energy pack makes the player’s energy cell larger, and allows the cell to recharge faster. This gives the player more of a cushion while jetting, and increases the damage your LASER Rifle can do.
- Repair pack – This pack can repair the wearer or an ally’s armor, and can also repair any damaged equipment in your base or on the field.
- Shield pack – A pack that makes the player invulnerable until energy is depleted, functionally increasing the player’s armor.
- Jammer pack – Rarely used, the jammer pack jams the enemy’s radar for a 20 meter radius around you. Most matches did not use radar, so the pack was useless.
- Ammo pack – This pack gives players extra ammunition for their weapons. The amount of extra ammunition varies from weapon to weapon.
- Deployable inventory station – Gives players the ability to heal and refill ammunition on the field. However, it does not allow players to change armor. This station has a limited number of uses.
- Deployable ammo station – Only offers ammunition to the user, but can be used an unlimited number of times.
- Remote turret – A mini base turret that fires balls of plasma.
- Sensors – Rarely used, players can deploy a number of sensors to keep track of the enemy. There is an exploit in the game that allows players to place motion sensors directly on top of deployable turrets, rendering the turret indestructible.
- Cameras – Players can place cameras anywhere on the map and then view them from the command screen.
With a prolonged right-click, Tribes’ players can fly. A defining characteristic of the Tribes franchise, jet packs make this series unlike any other. Only a handful of other games have implemented jet packs as an elemental mechanic, with the upcoming Dark Void being most notable. With the combination of jet packs and skiing, players could achieve ridiculous speeds when traveling or capturing flags.
While beta testing, players discovered that tapping the jump button rapidly while going down hills caused friction to disappear. This phenomenon is now referred to as “ skiing.”
Though it was originally an exploit, the subsequent installments in the Tribes franchise were designed around skiing. Tutorials were even provided in the games to teach new players how to ski. Skiing has been adapted for several later games, such as Counter-Strike: Source and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, in the form of “surfing.”
- Scout - A one-man vehicle, flies fast and fires rockets. Used for rapid flag snatching and flag capturing.
- LPC (Light Personnel Carrier) - An APC capable of carrying a pilot and two passengers, moving faster than the HPC. The passengers can fire from inside the vehicle, making them very dangerous to base defenders.
- HPC (Heavy Personnel Carrier) - An APC capable of carrying a pilot and four passengers, moving slower than the LPC. Like in the LPC, passengers can fire while in transit.
The development team originally planned to include at least one ground-based vehicle but due to technical and/or schedule issues it was cut out. An image of one of the "tanks" can be seen on the original packaging for the game beneath the large outer flap. It looks to have been added to the scene by way of Photoshop.
Tribes-Specific Gameplay Terminology
Given that Tribes is such a unique game, it garnered it's own lingo for acts that could be achieved in it. These slang terms were often positive in nature, and used to more quickly describe how awesome they are to the other players.
Short for midair, an MA is a shot landed on an opponent that is flying in the air, usually with the Spinfusor weapon. Not exactly the greatest feat when accomplished in other first-person shooters, but in Tribes this takes great skill or luck. Not only does the opponent have the ability to accelerate in three dimensions with their jet pack, but the relatively slow speed of the Spinfusor's projectile requires the player to lead their opponent far more than in games with bullets.
Short for "mine and disc," an MD is a deadly combination that required the player to throw a mine with the appropriate velocity, then shoot a disc from their Spinfusor. The result, if done correctly, is both the mine and disc exploding on or near the opponent. For the MD to be successful, the explosive disc must cause the mine to detonate by striking one of three surfaces: the ground, the target, or the mine itself. A single successful MD will usually kill an opponent wearing light armor. There are variations on the MD, most common of which is the MP, which involves using the plasma rifle instead of the Spinfusor.
As you can probably put together, an MAMD is short for "mid air mine and disc." One of the prettiest things to be seen in the world of Tribes, a MAMD is a feat only the very skilled can pull off. While having the option of striking either the target or the mine in mid air may make the act seem easier, the timing required to launch the mine at the correct time and with the correct velocity for the relative position of the opponent is completely ridiculous.
The Tribes community was small in comparison to its competition, most notably the original Counter-Strike, but their passion was just as strong. When Sierra announced on July 26, 2007 that they would be shutting down the master servers for the game, the community quickly came together to support their own servers. Not only are people still playing Tribes today, but there are mods and community-released patches still being made.
Whether or not Sierra meant to, the demo servers that were launched before the game's release were still active until the day the master servers shut down. Those that downloaded the demo years after release would initially be greeted by an empty server called "Tribes DEMO Server," but if that user treated the program file as a full game and patched it, they would find the impossibly underground Tribes Demo community. There were usually only 5-10 dedicated servers at any given day, much less than the hundreds that populated the full release, but the matches were similarly competitive. Many demo players played the full release as well, but often came back to the demo for the close-knit demo group.