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Starsiege: Tribes
Developer(s) Dynamix
Publisher(s) Sierra On-Line
Designer(s) Scott Youngblood
License Freeware
Engine Darkstar
Version 1.11
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows
Release date(s) November 30, 1998
2004 (freeware)
Genre(s) First-person shooter
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer
Rating(s) ESRB: Teen (T)
ELSPA: 12+
Media CD-ROM
System requirements Windows 95/98/NT, Pentium 166 MHz or equivalent, 32 MB RAM 3D accelerator video card, 4x CD-ROM, DirectX compatible sound card, mouse and keyboard

Starsiege: Tribes screenshot

Starsiege: Tribes (commonly referred to simply as Tribes) is a sci-fi first-person shooter video game. It is the first of the Tribes video game series and follows the story from Earthsiege and Starsiege. It was developed by Dynamix and published by the company now known as Sierra Entertainment in 1998.

Tribes was one of the first online-only games of its kind and sported several multiplayer features that other games have only recently included (32+ player support, 128 players max, troop transport vehicles, several different player classes). Most of the standard maps were outdoors in a variety of climates, from sunshine to snow and hail. In general, bases were scattered throughout the map depending on the gametype. The outdoor environments were and still are relatively huge, extending for several kilometers in any direction, but “jetting” and “skiing” gave Tribes a fast-paced feel.

On July 16, 2007, Sierra Entertainment announced that they would cease online support of Tribes starting on August 16, 2007. However, the master server was still active after this date. As of November 2007, the Sierra Master Server is no longer active, and has been replaced by a community-run master server.

March 17, 2009, GarageGames announced[1] they have purchased the IP and source code for Starsiege: Tribes and will be releasing an update through the browser based game service, InstantAction. It was announced on May 14th, 2009, that they would soon be accepting email addresses for beta invites.




Each player has armor, the amount depending on armor type. When damage is dealt to the player (by falling or being hurt by a weapon), armor is lost. Loss of all armor results in the player’s death. After dying, the player “respawns” at the team’s base (or somewhere in the field). Players also have an energy cell, which is drawn on for jetting, firing some kinds of weapons, and activating packs. Mods have expanded these basic capabilities by adding various features that did not come with the basic game. An example of basic functionality that has been built upon is the turret. The basic turret that came with the game was easily destroyable, and only deployable in the upright position. There was only one turret that was available with the original “base mod”. With the addition of mods to the Tribes community an almost innumerable number of turrets have been added. These turrets ranging in functions such as targeting incoming enemies, deployable in any position, various sizes & functions, some remain hidden underground or cloaked until a player comes near. Many of these following pieces of information vary by the different mods.

Three armor types are available, and can be accessed at an inventory station. Heavier armors supply larger amounts of armor, energy, and ammunition as well as more weapons and equipment.

There are eight weapons available in Tribes.


A very important aspect of Tribes is the ability to wear “packs”, which alter the abilities of the player. Only one can be worn at a time, so it is important to know what advantage the player will need in order to succeed. Packs can be dropped and recovered by other players on the field.


Tribes was one of the first games with team-oriented vehicles. They normally are not the focus of the game (unlike the sequel), but just a convenient feature. It is possible to use the vehicles in kamikaze fashion often to great effect, although this is looked down upon by many players.

The scout, while initially overlooked due to its stiff flying controls, was reborn with Writer’s scout sensitivity script. This allowed for switching of mouse sensitivity in-game, providing a super-sensitive setting for flying.

There were numerous bugs related to scouts, and the most famous “skipping flag” bug was never completely corrected.

Base equipment

In some gametypes and on certain maps, bases include various defense mechanisms and other tools to assist the team.


Generators provide power to systems. Destroying them can disable an entire team’s defense by deactivating turrets and stations. They were also among the objectives in the game’s “Defend & Destroy” gametype.


There are five kinds of permanent turrets. They can all be destroyed by sustained fire, but their shields are very strong, so mortars are often the fastest way to destroy them. Their shields can also be drained by an ELF.


These are where players get equipment or monitor the base.


Sensors are often overlooked in Tribes. They scan a radius for enemies and allow players to view troop movements in the PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). There are large and small varieties.


One of the defining elements of the Tribes series is the jetpack. With a press of a button, the player is accelerated upwards (or in whatever direction is pressed), “jetting” into the air until the armor’s energy is used up. This ability is absent from nearly any other popular first-person shooter to date (with the notable exceptions of 1996’s Duke Nukem 3D and April 1998’s Outwars). The incorporation of this third dimension gives some Tribes players the satisfaction of believing that they are playing one of the only truly 3-D computer game. Use of the jetpack is crucial to crossing large amounts of terrain when vehicles are scarce or unavailable. Jumping an instant before firing the jetpack is crucial to getting the most height out of the boosted jump before the armor’s energy is drained. Without jumping, firing the jets with heavy armor will not even boost the player off the ground.


During beta testing of Tribes, several players seemed to cheat in order to slide down hills without slowing and picked up enormous speed. The players had in fact discovered “skiing”, the act of rapidly pressing the jump button to avoid friction. (Later on scripts were introduced that automated this action simply by holding down the jump button.) This technique may have been adapted from Bunny hopping in Quake.

This was originally an unintended side effect of the physics system implementation that caused players to encounter less friction with the ground when going down hillsides than on level terrain. The reduced friction was put in to make it harder for snipers to take out enemies. The reduction of friction was proportional to the slope of the hill; this meant that the steeper the terrain, the faster players could travel. Skiing allowed players to traverse Tribes‘ massive game maps in under 15 seconds in some cases instead of minutes.

Skiing, although somewhat angering to new players and to purists (initially), has become an integral part of the game. Both sequels (Tribes 2 and Tribes: Vengeance) have made special arrangements to allow for easier skiing by modifying the physics and providing tutorials for new players. Skiing has also passed onto a few other multiplayer games; including Enemy Territory: Quake Wars [1].

Other features

Tribes includes too many team-oriented features to number. These are buried deep within the game and are difficult to use. In fact, most players can play without even realizing the entire command system (called the PDA or Personal Digital Assistant in game) exists. The PDA is intended to provide information to commanders and give detailed information on the team’s situation. Among other things, players can issue commands to teammates, view equipment status, monitor enemy activity (with sensors or hidden cameras), watch teammates in a miniature screen, and control turrets (although this must be done at a command station [Unless the Command Laptop is used. Thereby allowing the control of turrets on the field.]).

HUDs, Scripts

HUDs, or head-up displays, and their associated scripts have added additional features that were not available with the original game. The above screen shot shows a Flag caps hud, and a simple stats hud showing the number of mines and grenades the player has left. Huds and scripting can also be used maliciously; there have been several huds/scripts released that allow players to cheat in various ways.

Some scripts change the look and feel of the game. Unlike mods which are server side and usually makes changes to gameplay, scripts are client side and allow players to perform a variety of tasks such as bunny-hopping. Voice packs allow players to execute additional sounds with optional animations that were not included with the game. Voice Packs usually include custom sounds from a variety of sources such as movies, music, television, or even recorded audio.


Please help improve this section by expanding it. Further information might be found on the talk page. (October 2008)
[hide] Reception
Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 84%[2]
Review scores
Publication Score
GamePro 8 out of 10[2]
GameSpot 8.6 out of 10[3]
GameZone 9 out of 10[2]

Community Support

Since the initial release of Tribes, and even more so since the closing of Dynamix, the many members of the community have made mods, maps, scripts, HUDs, new interfaces, and external programs to support the game and provide various other useful functions. Programs like Hudbot[4] give Tribes support for 8/24/32-bit TGA textures, a substantial improvement over the game’s existing texture color limit. (In the area of 128 colors per texture) Another program, Tribes Live[5], provides players a way of supplementing Tribes with updates provided by the community.


CTF gained great popularity in both public recreational servers and competitive servers. Dynamix ran several servers located in New Jersey and California. operated “east” and “west” servers as well. Since broadband was in its early stages in the US, players tended to play on servers that offered them the best ping times. As a result, tribes tended to have members who were located in the same timezone. Players sought to compete in a ladder environment, and in the first year, the clear ladder of choice was There were roughly 100 active tribes on the OGL from all over the country, with a few overseas tribes as well. One tribe’s primary playerbase hailed from Hawaii. Match scheduling was a touchy subject for many reasons. Lower pings and minimal packetloss made a significant difference in gameplay. Logistics of organizing teams of 10 players on opposing coastlines meant that matches could start at 9 pm EST/6 pm PST and end anywhere from 2-4hours later. After about a year of competitive play, the Tribes playerbase had outgrown and OGL’s servers were going through a streak of unreliability. A new ladder emerged from This ladder would later be replaced by Today’s (9/2007) and do not resemble their predecessors.

Due to the anonymity of the Tribes engine, “smurfing” was hard to detect and likely prevalent in match play. Smurfing is when one player plays as another. Tribes allowed players to create as many character profiles as they desired. High profile players would often play under a number of different callsigns, and some would even play for other tribes in competitive matches. Ladder competition was fierce, and for a while, it was all that the community desired. After some time, the community developed individual player ranks based on server records and fantasy draft leagues.

Game Types

There are five distinct “default” gametypes:

  • Capture the flag (CTF) – Each team (up to eight, normally less than three on any given mission) has one or more bases and a single flag. Each team tries to take an opposing team’s flag and touch it to their own, which “captures” the flag and awards the capturing team a point. If a flag carrier is killed, the flag is dropped; the flag can be picked up by a teammate to finish the capture, instantly returned to its base by a member of the flag’s team, or returned after a certain interval of time. Stalemates often occur when multiple teams’ flags are taken at the same time; a team’s flag must be at its base to accomplish a “cap”. Games have been known to last hours until one of the flags is returned. Server time limits can be set to avoid these prolonged games.
  • Deathmatch (DM) – It can be played with or without teams; in both cases players must get the highest number of kills to win.
  • Capture and hold (C&H) – Teams must seek out capturable bases or other assets, sometimes complete with turrets and stations, throughout the map. Points are given based on the amount of time an asset is “owned”.
  • Defend and destroy (D&D) – Players on a team must destroy certain items in an enemy’s base before the enemy does the same to their base. Subsequent team-based First-person shooter games, however, did use variations of the concept (such as with Unreal Tournament and its “assault” game type).
  • Find and retrieve (F&R) – A number of flags are scattered across the mission area. Team members must find and bring them back to their base. The flags can be captured from the enemy as well. The team to capture all the flags wins.
  • Practice (Practice) – These types of maps have some of the most creative themes and gameplay which are often linked with teleports to get to various areas of these maps. A practice map can range from the fun to play where there is no specific objective. An example of such a map is VV-3Three which is known for its obstacle course. It is about 2 km high (measurable by an in-game weapon called a target laser). Climbing this course can take an experienced player hours (literally) depending on what armor that is used. Another such example is a map called BotPracticeMKiV which has various areas for a player using a sniper class weapon to hone their sniping skills. BotPractiveMKiV also includes an indoor free for all area, and some duel area set high in the sky. Other such examples are Duel maps that are more frequently falling into this category because they include other areas that include bots and other things to do.
  • Arena – These usually start the two teams in an enclosed area. The teams fight and when a player dies they are forced into observer mode. The teams fight until there are no players left on one of the teams. When this happens, the team who still has players left wins. This type of map is very exciting and forces teams to try different strategies.

Note that Tribes features a scripting language that allows creation of customized mission types. Dozens of new mission types have been released by players. Arena is a good example of this. Tribes also features an internal mission editor that allows anyone with a desire to make their own playable mission or modify an existing mission.

AI / Offline Gameplay

Tribes was one of the first games to cater exclusively to online multiplayer gameplay. As such, there are only a handful of offline training missions available. This made the game much less enticing for players without internet connectivity. One of the first community-based AI opponents was Spoonbot[6], which is a Bot capable of using most of the game’s weapons and vehicles. However, since it has been written entirely in the game’s scripting language and hence has to work within several technical limits, this bot is no real substitute for human opponents. It is possible to enrich online multiplayer games with a number of AI opponents. Spoonbot reached v1.0 in 2001[7], the last version was released in 2003. The Spoonbot codebase can also be found within several other gameplay mods.


Starsiege: Tribes comes with built-in mod support. While the game has never been directly packaged with any kind of SDK, a number of websites offer or have offered downloadable tools to modify existing game scripts, textures and models. A Tribes server can be set to run a mod simply by adding an extra parameter to the command line.

The most common type of mod for Tribes is the “server-side” mod: a mod which requires no content download on the part of the connecting player. These mods can dramatically alter gameplay elements without forcing the mod to lose “server-side” status. Mods can add, remove or alter weapons, turrets, armors, deployables, gameplay mechanics, station behaviors, jetpack energy, even the very game rules themselves and still remain “server-side”. It is only with the addition of new models, textures, sounds or other such resources to a mod that the player is required to download anything in order to successfully connect to a server running it.

A number of the mods for Tribes were created by members of the Tribes development team. The Flag Hunters mod was created by game dev Kidney Thief, and was sufficiently well-received that the Hunter gametype was included in the release of Tribes 2. The Base++ mod, created by game dev Mark Frohnmayer (alias Got Milk?), included a number of additional features, bug fixes, weapon adjustments, and controversially a significant limit on skiing speed. While the Base++ mod was not explicitly included as part of Tribes 2, many of its features and “adjustments” can be found in the game’s “Base” mod.

Few client-side total-conversion have been released for Tribes. One of the few examples is the Star Wars Mod, which featured custom vehicles, weapons and deployables set in the Star Wars universe. Such mods never gathered a significant playerbase.

The sequel to Tribes, Tribes 2, includes mod support similar to that of Tribes, though some types of gameplay modifications are much more difficult to accomplish than in its predecessor, while the subsequent game, Tribes: Vengeance, has no official mod support.

Tribes RPG

Tribes is a very moddable game, as evidenced by mods such as Tribes RPG. Tribes RPG is a mod that completely remade Tribes into a hack and slash multiplayer adventure game, in which players could create one of several player classes and level up gaining new skills, armor, and magic. The Tribes RPG mod also included a feature known as “Remorting” by which a player at level 100-110 could begin again as a level one character with more power than possible on the first playthrough and access to the “Uber Dungeon.” Tribes RPG was such a successful mod that it was also modded, creating entirely different worlds, character classes, enemies, and leveling systems depending on the server.

Game Firsts

Mods to the original game made Tribes one of the most innovative games for years to come. Most of the mods done to the game would be copied later on by other software titles. Some of the most memorable mods would give users items that were mimicked later by other software titles:

  • Grav Gun- Made popular by Half Life 2 and thought of as revolutionary, yet was created in Tribes many years earlier
  • Ability to build bases and place base items- A first for a 1st person shooter game. Players can deploy things like doors, wall, force fields, turrets, inventory stations, supply stations, sensors, missile launchers, turret control stations, teleporters, jails, amongst many other items.
  • The SEX Mod had machine guns that launched self deploying laser turrets, allowing the user to deploy hundreds of automated turrets anywhere on the map, even while fighting
  • The original Warzone mod would let the players build their base from scratch (building, turrets, and stations) and then let the players play with their custom bases.
  • T-Mail- A serverside mail system which automatically gave connected players a MailBox/InBox/OutBox/SentBox/Contact List/SaveBox and many other options that popular e-mail systems have all within the games Score TAB Menu.
  • Demo Drop- Feature that allowed the game to record a first person game play with an automated format type to save it, convert it, store it, watch through the Tribes gaming client, but moreso it made it to where Fraps, or Gamecam or any third party screen capture were not needed to record games. The feature also did not diminish fps or gameplay, making it very easy to run and perform on all systems.


Tribes was subject to rampant piracy shortly after release. The game lacked strong authentication for online play, allowing pirated clients to join and participate alongside legitimate users. Creating illegal copies or distributions of the game for this purpose was an almost trivial matter, as the game also lacked any real form of copy protection.

One of the most widely used illegal distributions was dubbed DaJackal. New players with this release (who had neglected to properly configure the game before going online) could be easily identified by the altered default player name “DaJackal”. A few mods (notably Shifter and sub-variants) even included code which would automatically kick any player with this name attempting to connect to a server running the mod. Similar code was included in one of the later official game patches, which would kick the player and then send the following message: “The FBI has been notified. You better buy a legit copy before they get to your house.”

The game’s developer clearly learned from this experience: Tribes 2 is noted for its integration of authentication for online play.


Although sales figures were relatively poor, Tribes established a large cult following. Dynamix decided to try to make the gameplay more easily accessible and improve upon the game’s graphics, releasing Tribes 2 in March 2001. Together, sales totaled almost one million copies.

Since Dynamix was shut down shortly after Tribes 2 was released, Sierra licensed the franchise to Irrational Games for a third installment; Tribes: Vengeance was released in October 2004. Tentatively referred to as Tribes: Story during development, this sequel promised a full single-player campaign as well as a full-featured multiplayer experience. By March 2005, however, Irrational had abandoned plans for further work on Tribes: Vengeance at Vivendi’s behest in favor of future projects, such as the tactical shooter SWAT 4. A combination of poor sales and a gameplay style that did not please hardcore Tribes fans led to the release of only one patch that fixed minor bugs. Retail copies of the game have since been liquidated and the game retains many gameplay balance issues and bugs.


On April 9, 2004, Vivendi Universal announced that they would release Tribes and Tribes 2 for free on May 4, 2004 on a DVD-ROM with Computer Gaming World magazine and on This was to promote the release of the upcoming sequel, Tribes: Vengeance. It can also be downloaded directly from Vivendi Universal’s web-site. However, the installed version of the game is only patched to 1.8, not the most current version, 1.11. The patch can be found in varying locations online, including the official website[8] and FilePlanet[9], though the patch program has been known to fail completely on certain systems. There also exists an unofficial “1.30 Last Hope” patch[10] which makes the game compatible with all 1.11 (and previous) servers, as well as special “Last Hope” servers which employ certain anti-cheat measures. Since the “patch” is simply a replacement of the Tribes executable it can be used in instances where the official patch fails.

The re-release can easily be turned into a portable application by the user. After installation and application of the patch, the whole directory can then be moved or copied for use as a portable app without having to install the game on individual computers the game is played on. Several individuals offered pre-packaged versions containing the game in this installed and patched form[11]. Since Sierra Entertainment’s master servers have been deactivated, players need to either manually update a configuration file with the new master server data, or download a ready-to-play[12] game archive that already contains the new master server addresses to be able to play online.

2009 Revival – 1998 is Back

After the March announcement of GarageGames purchase of the Tribes IP, the website appeared with the Tribes logo and subtitle stating 1998 is Back with links to GarageGames sites. GG’s intention is to update, re-release and revive the game utilizing their InstantAction web gaming technology as a platform, though players can opt to play via a client side application. Beta testing of version 1.40 is currently underway.


One of the voicechat options in Tribes to voice frustration is “Shazbot!”: which is an allusion to the situation comedy Mork & Mindy, in which Mork says the expression during the opening credits. The phrase carried over into the sequels, Tribes 2 and Tribes: Vengeance. It is possible to chain up voice chats, if you selected them faster than the sample played. This led to many interesting variants on the voice chat broadcast function such as the request “I need a shazbot” which was usually complied with by many players.

Alvy Elna

Scott Youngblood, the Lead Designer of Starsiege: Tribes, created a tribute to his grandparents, who died during the development of the game. He put their names in the terrain of a game level called Broadside. On a hillside it says “Alvy Elna.” (This is most easily seen while flying.)

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c “Starsiege Tribes Reviews”. Game Rankings. Retrieved 2008-10-13.
  3. ^ Michael E. Ryan (1999-01-22). “Starsiege Tribes Review”. GameSpot. Retrieved 2008-10-13.
  4. ^ “HudBot Website”. Retrieved 2009-01-06.
  5. ^ “TribesLive Website”. Retrieved 2009-01-06.
  6. ^ “Spoonbot”. Retrieved 2009-01-06.
  7. ^ “Spoonbot 1.0 news on”. 2001-06-02.
  8. ^ “Tribes Patch 1.8 to 1.11 from Vivendi Universal”. Retrieved 2009-01-06.
  9. ^ “Tribes Patch 1.8 to 1.11 from FilePlanet”. Retrieved 2009-01-06.
  10. ^ “v1.30 LastHope Patch”. Retrieved 2009-01-06.
  11. ^ “Ayavaron’s Portable Tribes”. Retrieved 2009-01-06.
  12. ^ “Tribes Ready-To-Play”. Retrieved 2009-01-06.

External links

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