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By: Stephen 'WaterDog' Waits [04.24.01]

April 24, 2001 - Tribes 2

Another week, another bitch. This time it's Tribes 2 up on the block, but not so much the game itself, but everything surrounding its release.

We all know what Tribes is, if we didn't know the original, the sheer volume of hype surrounding its sequel has surely caught our eye at some point. This was really where the problem begins I think. The Tribes 2 hype engine came in just short of Daikatana in terms of impact, and annoyance. While there wasn't nearly as much arrogance surrounding Tribes 2 (let's be honest, it's hard to compete with The Romero), the seemingly endless stream of screenshots was enough on its own.

But let's face it, the original Tribes was a bit of a sleeper hit on its own. There really wasn't much hype, it was one of the first multiplayer-only titles and people at the time didn't have much faith in its success. To the surprise of many, Tribes was a huge hit, almost inventing, at least on a retail level, the squad-based online first person shooter. The expectations for Tribes' sequel were of course going to be high, especially with the popularity of the genre it helped to spawn, but the hype engine really didn't need to kick into high gear like it did.

"Since its release, there have been at least 5 patches... in less than a month!"

With every week it seemed there was another batch of screenshots, another interview, another something related to Tribes 2. Personally I just got kinda sick of it all, with the game being released late (sure they always say "when it's done," but Tribes 2 should have been out for the holiday season), only exacerbating the situation. A game being late or over hyped is nothing new in this industry, so we really can't call 'Bitch' on Tribes 2 for these infractions alone; but wait, there's more.

So, after all the months of waiting, Tribes 2 finally went gold and made its way to store shelves. Fans of the game eagerly snapped up copies, but when many tried to log on and play, they were unable to connect to the game's servers. Sierra/Dynamix was totally unprepared for hammering their servers experienced leading to a few hacks just to get everyone able to play the game. They were forced to kill all of the community features for the game while they implemented a fix for the problem.

A problem like this simply shouldn't have happened. While the mass of traffic indicated the release was a smash success (at least more of one than anticipated), these are things a company should be planning for so when a gamer first installs the product, they can actually play it. To their credit, they've managed to get things working, and you'd think that would have been the end of it.

Now Tribes 2 has a lovely updating feature that makes patching the game much easier, a great idea, but one that ideally should see little use. Tribes 2 shipped broken, very broken. Since its release, there have been at least 5 patches, this is all in the matter of less than a month. These are bug fixes, it's not like they're adding any substantial new content, they're fixing problems.

Granted the pace of patching has been rapid, and the patches have been relatively small in size. However, they're still patches, I though we were past this kind of thing. I understand the incredible diversity the PC market has in terms of configurations, but they had a beta test program, they had Q&A, they even had a meta test, and still there have been all these patches. I remember somewhere along the line in one of the countless interviews a programmer or some other member of the Tribes 2 team saying they would rather release a game late that wasn't buggy, than on time and full of bugs. Well, Tribes 2 was late and it was full of bugs, looks like they lost the battle on both fronts.

I've got to give the guys some credit for the ease of patching Tribes 2, but that doesn't make it alright to have that many patches in such a small span of time, and have them all be fixes for various issues. Is it really asking too much to have a product that's stable and relatively bug-free at its release?

So we've got an over hyped game with plenty of bugs, what else could go wrong? How about weak performance, even on systems that fall well within suggested specs? We all know that increases in game complexity and graphical enhancements come at a price, but the sheer volume of problems people with significantly less than modest systems have been having getting reasonable performance is staggering. You should not have to make the game look like crap to get a decent frame rate from a system that cranks out other games with similar visuals without a problem.

Yes the nature of Tribes 2 having that many people on the screen at once in large games makes things hard for a graphics card, but shouldn't someone have considered this during development? When designing a game to have massive numbers of players on a server at any given time, one would think that the engine would be optimized and tweaked to make this playable on mid-range to high-end systems. A lot of the problems with performance seem rather unique in nature as well, people with similar configs can't get similar performance, and so on. All this points, at least in as humble an opinion as I can have while ranting, to a rush job to get the game out the door - not cool.

Speaking of rushing something out the door, that's just what happened to the Tribes 2 team after the game's release (with of course the exception of programmers that are necessary to keep patching the game until all the bugs are fixed). How's that for a thank you eh? "Congratulations, you just shipped a game that's selling really well, we're done with you, goodbye."

From the grumbling I've been hearing no one was really surprised by this, and a lot of the team did get moved to other Sierra projects so they weren't totally left out to dry, but some people got really screwed over here, and at the worst possible time. Nothing like milking someone dry in crunch mode and then thanking them for their dedicated service by giving them the boot. It's not like these people are grossly incompetent, at least not the artists, it's certainly not their textures or models causing the various patches to be necessary. I kind of fell sorry for the programmers that are left there patching the game, not only do they inevitably feel some level of guilt over still being employed while everyone else has been given the shaft, they have to know their useful days are numbered as well.

So who's the bitch here? Tribes 2? Sierra? Dynamix? All of the above? The though of each of them leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth so let's just say they can all share the bitch title for the week. At this point I have to hope that someone's going to license the Tribes 2 engine (formally the V12 engine) from Garage Games and make something that totally blows Tribes 2 out of the water. I want a game without bugs, without initial problems, without patches, without the tedious hype engine, and with the people that worked hard to get the game out the door receiving a pat on the back rather than a boot in the ass. Until then, Tribes 2/Sierra/Dynamix is a bitch.

A thread and poll have been started in the forum on this topic, join the discussion!

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