The Death of Tribes

On November 1st Vivendi Universal shut down the Authentication Server, the server players logged in through, of Tribes 2, effectively sounding the death knell for the game, which was released in 2001.

I consider myself to have been among the elite players of Tribes 2 during its heyday. My brother, who played the first Tribes game before I did, was at least as good as I was.  I only played for a fraction of the time that he did, but for a short period we frequently played on the same server, and ended up having many of the same online-friends. It was a challenging game and its steep learning curve, while incredibly rewarding once surmounted, was probably its downfall.

In games like Warcraft 2, Age of Empires, Heroes of Might & Magic, and especially Starcraft, players could contribute significant content.  Counter-Strike was a player made modification that eventually became more popular than the game it was originally constructed from, Half-Life. It also spawned a catch-phrase – “BOOM Head Shot,” popularized by a character named FPS Doug. In Tribes 2, the method of creating new content was not as user-friendly as in games like Starcraft and Half-Life, and it required a skill held by a rather small few. The most popular maps were the ones originally bundled with the game, with Katabatic remaining wildly popular until the end. In a classic example of one of my gamer traits, I ended up frequenting the server run by one of the most popular map makers. I can even recall playing one of his maps not too long before the end of Tribes’ run.

He had a reliable server capable of hosting medium and medium-large sized games, which were the types of games most skilled players were looking for.  Any larger and the likelihood of lag and sheer mass of players made any concentrated and sustained play much more difficult, and small servers couldn’t tolerate the sort of domination the hardcore players wanted to bring. My brother and I were regulars on this server. A game where there may be numerous easy targets was ideal, so that one could cycle through them and not drive them away.

This map-making host was also a member of a competitive team, which became the de facto house-tribe. He wasn’t the leader, but a somewhat less-active and more-symbolic officer who provided us with a nice home base. And this arrangement, combined with a level of choosiness in the administrative members, allowed the team the luxury to recruit by invitation only.  I was invited after a lengthy stretch of play where I was consistently engaging one of the high-performing officers and a non-guild member (who would actually later end up joining the guild too), often at the same time and them on the same side. They probably got the best of me most of the time, but there was at least one instance where I was able to beat them both with a number of good shots.

My brother was involved with a number of active and skilled teams, and when he came to join mine he was one of the best offensive players I have ever seen. I had advanced in the tribe by then, and I was given the responsibility of directing the defense during our practices and matches. Our strategy was based on a system of Offensive, Defensive, and what we termed “Midfield” players.  Tribes was really a capture the flag game with some elements of a more traditional shooter, but was most definitely first-person in a way that I don’t think existed anywhere else at the time. The game had a system of automated and semi-automated defense, vehicles, bases and repairable equipment, and personal flight, all of which contributed to an incredibly rich experience. And the rapidly expanding bandwidth of most gamers enabled those who were good enough to shoot well and compensate for the uncertainty of the network to shine.

It was the breadth of the game that made it unique and difficult to master. And in the weeks leading up to the authentication server’s demise, it was these skilled, devoted, and intelligent lovers of the freedom and precision of the game that remained. The casual players had all been driven out.  I can recall leading many matches in points and sheer force, but most of them occurred when new players were still coming to the game.  A few months before it closed I managed to eek out another first place of (probably) a game of Katabatic, and I felt like I had really accomplished something.  There are so many tricks to the game I couldn’t use anymore, because they simply wouldn’t work on players as good as these. I wonder how many were playing as they took the server down.


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