Tribes: Ascend is being lauded by many in the PC FPS gaming community as the “fastest” and most “skillful” FPS game released in years. I decided recently to give it a shot when some friends suggested installing it. I gave it a try for awhile and I figured I’d write up my thoughts on this game. For example gameplay, watch this video with terrible dubstep music:

My first exposure to Tribes: Ascend was actually during one of the Spoiler Warning hangouts where Josh fired up the game and Shamus lambasted it with the banal sexist criticism for being a militaristic fantasy game populated by mostly men. I don’t know much about the lore of the Tribes universe but I do know enough to understand that the premise of the game is that mankind has broken up into various warring “Tribes” spread out across the galaxy, and that the game’s flavor is intended to be a blend of futuristic technology and naturalistic social structure.

That aside, lets get down to the gameplay. Tribes: Ascend is a game about jetpack wearing soldiers who hop around large environments and can “ski” on frictionless fields that allow them to jet across landscapes at breakneck speeds. The primary weapon of these soldiers is a “Spinfusor” – An explosive disc that you’re intended to hit your target with mid-air. To me the spirit of Tribes comes down to two main elements: Mastering movement by skiing through terrain, and mastering aimed shots at high speeds with your ballistic weaponry. Tribes is definitely a game that requires a lot of skill to master, and both main elements of the game are rewarding — Mastering movement allows you to ski along the terrain at breakneck speeds, and mastering targeting rewards you with kills (and kills are not easy to come by in this game compared to other shooters).

The primary gametype of Tribes: Ascend is your basic Capture the Flag. The skiing mechanic of Tribes changes how the game is played: Flag captures are often at high speeds, with enemy players skiing down mountains in the rear of your base and then exploding out into the midfield breezing past stationary defense. This interaction creates a dynamic in Tribes where your best bet to actually return your flag is not to sit in your base and defend (as in many games) but to fly around the battlefield at high speeds until you can try to intercept a flag carrier. Tribes also includes different “classes” of soldiers, covering your basic archetypes like “Light” “Medium” “Heavy” and a variety of different niches in between.

Lets get to some real talk here. Tribes: Ascend is not the “fastest” FPS game released in years. People who make that claim are generally confusing “fast gameplay” with “fast movement.” Tribes: Ascend has fast movement, but this does not necessarily translate into fast gameplay. My time in Tribes: Ascend is best described as “meditative.” That’s not to say it’s not fun and engrossing — It is. But killing an enemy in Tribes takes a great deal more effort than in other casual-friendly games. That doesn’t mean Tribes: Ascend is unfriendly to casual gamers either, but it does mean that you won’t be getting that crazy Call of Duty experience where you can wave your gun in the general direction of an enemy and get a kill. Tribes: Ascend is an enjoyable game at all skill levels, but has a high skill cap.

Tribes: Ascend is a game I have had some fun with and look forward to playing. But it also has a number of missteps that just don’t make a whole lot of sense to me. If you start playing the game one of the first things you’ll notice is that there’s quite a few classes and pieces of equipment locked that you don’t have access to. The game, like many other games of this generation, has a progression system where you earn levels and can “unlock” certain weapons as you progress. I’ve seen this in other games and it’s not that big a deal in itself, but the big problem is that Tribes: Ascend is a so-called “Free to Play” game and the progression of unlocks is incredibly poor unless you want to pay real money. If you expect to unlock everything in this game, you’ll end up paying a few hundred dollars. Your alternative is to spend ages unlocking everything — Just to give you an idea, many of the weapons that you can unlock via in-game experience cost 88000 points. However you only gain a few hundred points from any game (this is based on a linear time-in-game to experience points valuation). I will probably never unlock any 88000 point item, and I have no desire to grind in a game like this which is supposed to be a competitive, high-skilled game.

You’ll also notice that a lot of the things you can unlock in Tribes: Ascend don’t fit the core gameplay. Tribes: Ascend is a game about playing Capture the Flag while skiing along with your jetpack and shooting people with explosive discs. But each of the bases in Tribes: Ascend features automated base-defense turrets, radar, and vehicle manufacturing posts, and ammo stations powered by a base generator. But none of the base elements aside from the ammo stations are useful — And even the ammo stations can be completely obviated by killing yourself and respawning seconds later. These features in Tribes: Ascend are part of an entirely pointless minigame of generator offense/defense that distracts and detracts from the core Capture the Flag gameplay.

The question you have to ask when you look at many of the things is “Do these additions make for a better game?” And the result in most cases is no. Almost all of the most irritating elements in Tribes: Ascend don’t meaningfully contribute to the game’s Capture the Flag gameplay. They’re there just because they can be. One of the classes you can unlock in the game is the Technician, who has an improved repair gun (it shoots electrical healing at mechanical stuff), can place turrets, and has some other abilities. But the primary role of this class is just to stand around holding left mouse button repairing defenses and covering the base. Why? Why, in a game that’s about high speed chases and awesome high-accuracy shots with ballistic weapons? And even though I don’t claim to be a huge Tribes fanatic, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. A quick trip over to the HiRez Tribes forums revealed high-level players promoting a “new” gametype focusing specifically on one class (Pathfinder) and limited weapon selection (Spinfusor and Rifle). It doesn’t surprise me at all to see this type of limited ruleset evolve because the actual core gameplay of Tribes is entirely encapsulated by the ruleset — The other 90% of the stuff in the game is a distraction.

The ironic thing is, for all of the distracting, detracting elements added to Tribes: Ascend, there’s a striking lack of the thing the game really needs: Maps. There are four official CTF maps, with two more being playable on custom servers. Unfortunately, of these six maps, only two are really what I’d consider good. Ultimately there just aren’t enough good maps for this game to remain compelling over a long term. Even the maps that are good have problems because other areas of the gameplay have poor design. What’s really hard to understand is why mapping is a big bottleneck for a game when the maps themselves are primarily heightmap terrain with isolated small bases placed down. With three other Tribes games already made, there’s no shortage of map ideas that have been tested and refined over the years. There’s no real excuse for this paucity of maps.

There are other problems I would like to mention, such as Physics, and maybe I will in another time. Still though, despite its problems Tribes: Ascend is a fun game to play every once in awhile if you’re craving a quick casual game of capture the flag in a high-flying sci-fi setting.

Diablo 3′s Storyline is so bad it ruins the franchise. That’s all. Diablo has never been a story heavy game. The first game featured more of a premise than a storyline. The town of Tristram was suffering the ill effects of having a cathedral full of undead nearby. You were a silent protagonist, committed to destroying the source of this evil — Eventually it’s revealed that the origin of this evil was the corruption from Diablo.

Probably the most unique action in the Diablo universe was the ending of the first game. Having defeated Diablo, your character then takes the soulstone and plunges it into himself. Every player who defeated Diablo was expecting some idyllic ending, the evil finally vanquished. But the ending of Diablo sidestepped the expected and set the tone of this universe — Evil cannot be destroyed forever, it can only be contained and delayed. The game, oddly enough, actually turned your character into a hero, one whose act of self-sacrifice would save Tristram. Given the game’s backstory is formed in Christian mythology, pitting the “High Heavens” against the “Burning Hells” and envisioning a semi-Miltonian battle of good and evil in the mortal realm, the game’s ideas about the corrupting influence of evil, and the heroism of self-sacrifice led to a uniquely compelling setting.

Diablo 2 expanded the universe of Diablo. The interesting aspect of Diablo 2 is that the story, primarily told through cinematics, actually focuses on an NPC. This character, Marius, accompanies “The Dark Wanderer” — The tormented main character from Diablo 1 on a quest to free his brothers Baal and Mephisto, reconquer Hell, and then the mortal realm. The genius of focusing the main story on an NPC is that in presenting the story from the perspective of a weak, crazy old man, the narrative is able to convey to the player a range of human emotions. Playing the game of Diablo 2 will probably never send chills up your spine, but the scene where Marius watches as the three prime evils open the gate to Hell certainly does. We identify with Marius and understand he is weak, a mere mortal in the presence of supernatural evils. In a sense, Diablo 2′s storyline is about our POV-character’s descent into madness, and the faltering of his courage in the face of unspeakable evil. Although these are not quite the same themes we saw in Diablo 1, they do emphasize the malevolence of the evils we face and set the tone for the world in a way that complements the gameplay.

Although Diablo 2 does expand the world and introduce us to some new characters, there isn’t a whole lot of new things that need to be learned to understand the storyline. Diablo, Baal, and Mephisto are the three Prime Evils, all of whom have corrupted the soulstones they were imprisoned in. Tal Rasha was a mage who used his body and a chamber of magic to help him contain Baal’s evil. Kurast is an ancient holy civilization now corrupted by Mephisto’s evil. Everywhere we go, evil is breaking free as the ancient safeguards against evil are forgotten and neglected. But we are not alone, the angel Tyrael appears to help combat with The Dark Wanderer. The game’s narrative is minimalist but works perfectly fine to establish a mood and reinforce the grim nature of this Manichean world.

In contrast, Diablo 3′s story essentially required rewriting all of the backstory of the Diablo universe. Now, instead of a straightforward Christian/Miltonian mythos where Angels fight Demons, and Humans are occasionally caught somewhere in between, now we must know that there was once a pairing of Angels and Demons who together created “Nephalem.” The Nephalem were the first generation of humans. However it turns out that Nephalem were actually more powerful than Angels and Demons combined, so one of the Angels created a big “power limiter” on Nephalem which was supposedly destroyed in the Diablo 2 Expansion. Because of this “power limiter,” humans were born powerless and mortal. Diablo 3′s storyline is essentially about how our hero learns he is part of this special race of super powerful people, Nephalem/Saiyan, and how now that Tyrael rolled back the nerfs, our Nephalem/Saiyan broskis can level up to Super Saiyan 4 Fusion and defeat Diablo/Buu/Cell.

Does that sound a little confusing? Because it is. The worst part is simply that the Diablo universe was largely easily comprehensible by looking at any number of real world mythologies. There’s a good side and a bad side, light and dark, and humans lie in between, able to side with either. It tapped into basic mythic themes. In Diablo 3, that’s all undermined. Instead of a narrative that emphasizes themes of self-sacrifice or courage and persistence in the face of evil, the narrative of Diablo 3 is entirely about how it’s your birthright to be more powerful than these Angel and Demon chumps who act all high-and-mighty, and if you level up enough you can give them their comeuppance. Entirely absent is any moral dimension to the struggle between Angels, men, and Demons, any of the themes or ideas the previous games utilized. Instead we get wisecracks from our heroes and monologues from our villains. Not only is the story itself an inept mess of juvenile power fantasy, but the storytelling is in-your-face bad.

Instead of riffing off of the existing lore, Diablo 3 adds all this new lore that we’re supposed to accept, and does away with stuffy notions like “Good,” “Evil,” and tosses away the silly idea that humans are weak and corruptible but might triumph for a time over evil through dedication, and self-sacrifice. Having a bad story and having bad storytelling isn’t an insurmountable problem for a game like Diablo. But what Diablo 3 does to justify its bad story, by rewriting the lore of the world, is not forgivable and the bad storytelling used throughout is not ignorable. What Diablo 3 does is very similar to the flub Star Wars encountered in Episode I where “midichlorians” are introduced to explain the Force, quantifying and undermining the mystical philosophy that draws people to the concept in the first place. Unlike Star Wars, Diablo 3 is intent on shoving this new background lore in your face at every opportunity. It’s not just bad, but shockingly bad that one of the most anticipated games ever created has made a misstep of this magnitude on its storyline.

Here’s a cool video discussing some of the problems with Diablo 3′s storytelling:

Choosing regenerating or non-regenerating health has a lot of game consequences.

Regenerating health ostensibly makes it so that players can’t find themselves in an unwinnable situation. However my experience with Halo on Legendary disagrees with that — While you might go into an encounter with full shields and some health, if you have no grenades, low ammo, or a poor weapon setup you will encounter the same difficulties as any game where the player has expendable resources. You might die ten times before you’re able to complete a tough scenario — Regenerating health doesn’t change this. What it does do is push the design towards allowing fewer degrees of success — If health simply regenerates after every encounter, then the player is going to pass or going to fail, and there is less of a middle ground. You can’t whittle a player down with surprise attacks, and if you want them to be cautious you have to kill them outright a few times.

Regenerating health also ostensibly makes it so that players don’t need to hunt for health items. True to a certain extent, but I probably spent more time in Halo running around managing my weapons — “I want to go into this next encounter with the Pistol/Rocket Launcher/Sniper, but I don’t want to use up my last few shots on this previous encounter, so let me kill a grunt and use his plasma pistol here, then when I’m done I can run back and get my gun…” — than I did in any other game I can think of. One thing that did change is that a game that features health pickups usually uses these as a way to entice the player to explore levels and fill out areas in between major combats. I don’t think it’s surprising that people deride Halo’s interior sections as lazy copy-paste environments there only to pad out the game — Because without the incentive to explore and accumulate resources, these places do just turn into filler.

So while Regenerating Health doesn’t live up to its stated goal (removing the ability of players to find themselves in unwinnable situations), and in fact works against playability by removing degrees of success and elements of pacing and exploration, it does have some benefits. I tend to think that Regenerating Health is a fairly decent choice if your game revolves around big set-piece combat environments. If you’re mostly going to be a one-man-army against tons of foes, then you need large spaces for enemies and you probably don’t want to throw down a medpack on the ground every 50ft. If your game isn’t going to include exploration as a substantial feature and face it — a lot of the bigger budget titles are all about providing spectacle constantly. Exploration is for the hardcore fans on their 10th playthrough, not a focus of the gameplay. The other alternative is to have enemies drop health resources, e.g. the batteries that Combine foes in HL2 drop.

Numbers and all that are more suggestions for the feel of the character

Version 1

Weylon the Twilight Priest
Autoattack Range: Melee
Intended Role: Support

Passive: Baptism of Moonlight
Every third prayer invoked by Weylon is infused with holy might. The following additional effects are applied to the prayer, depending on its target.
Targeting Ally: The prayer cleanses the target of crowd control effects.
Targeting Enemy: The prayer burns a brand into the target, reducing healing effects on the target by 50% and slows the target by 35% for 5 seconds.

Q (Skill): Tenebrous Zeal
Weylon chants a prayer, blessing himself or an ally with holy fervor to strike down enemies.
Range: 125
Ally: Target ally attacks 25/30/35/40/45% faster and gains 10/11/12/13/14% vampirism for 5 seconds.
Enemy: Weylon strikes randomly three times at nearby enemies, dealing 8/10/12/14/16 (+ 0.25 AD) bonus damage each subsequent strike. If Weylon's attacks all hit different targets he deals an additional 25/50/75/100/125 (+0.25 AP) damage to each target.

W (Skill): Blessing of Shadow
Shadows swirl down from the sky and converge upon the target deemed by Weylon to receive their blessing.
Range: 625
Ally: Target ally dodges the next 1/2/3/4/5 enemy hero attacks over the next 5 seconds and the targeted ally's attacks cannot miss for this duration.
Enemy: Target enemy takes 50/75/100/125/150 (+0.25 AP) damage and is stunned for 1.5 seconds.
Mana cost for this spell is halved when used on minions.

E (Skill): Dusk's Touch
Weylon's body is constantly shrouded by darkness, and even bright light does not seem to penetrate the gloom.
Passive: Weylon is shrouded by a cloak of shadow (Radius: 50/75/100/125/150). Enemy heroes lose their allies' vision into the shadows.
Explanation: Enemy heroes must be within personal vision range of Weylon to see him.
Active Range: 525
Active (Ally): Weylon dashes to the target ally, granting bonus 5/10/15/20/25 (+0.25 AP) Armor and Magic Resistance for 5 seconds.
Active (Enemy): Weylon dashes to target enemy, dealing 75/125/175/225/275(+0.25 AP) damage and revealing the target for 5 seconds.

R (Ultimate): Symbol of Faith
Range: 525
A large holy symbol coalesces at the target location, protecting Weylon's allies and punishing his foes.
The holy symbol blocks collision as Pillar of Filth. It is not directly targetable.
The symbol has 300/400/500 health (+0.5 AP) and utilizes Weylon's Armor and Magic Resistance values.
Allies within the radius of the holy symbol take no damage for the duration of the holy symbol. Instead, damage is applied to the symbol. If the symbol is reduced to zero HP it explodes with righteous wrath, striking enemies in its radius for 100/200/300 (+0.25 AP) damage before crumbling into ash.

Lately I’ve been playing on the PWC Gaming Trials server. I’m not particularly good at Trials (though I’m improving!) but I enjoy seeing some of the ideas that go into a Trials map. Although Trials maps have a reputation for being boring, just cubes with random blocks to jump on — There are really some imaginative and unique Trials maps out there.

In any case, I spoke with PWC Sgt. Muffin about creating some new skins and effects for players on the server. He sent me some of the code necessary, and later that night I worked on it. All told, I ended up making 36 new player skins for the PWC Trials server. The skins are now up and available for purchase on the PWC Trials store, check them out!

PWC Gaming
Visit PWC Gaming Trials

Small map made as a joke for April Fool’s Day. Little did anyone know that the joke was that it was a real map.

Current Release: DM-Heat-B1

Current Release: DM-Shine-B4
DM-Shine -B4

DM-Shine-B4 Demo

Current Release: DM-Siren Beta 3.
Screenshot of DM-Siren

Discussion thread, including bugs, suggestions for improvement, performance issues, or anything else related to MarathonMOD.u and MarathonCreature.u.

My own list:


Spht Projectiles are not “Destroyed” after detonation in lava zone.

Wasp Projectile, lower explosion radius.
WaspGoo.uc, Line 43: HurtRadius(damage * Drawscale, FMin(250, DrawScale * 75), MyDamageType, MomentumTransfer * Drawscale, Location);
Change FMin(125, DrawScale * 75)

Hunters are immune to lava since TOZT and Lava share the same damage type (burned?).
(Same applies to Pfhor troopers? Tycho indicated that Troopers were not dying in the lava in Fire!Fire!Fire!)

Possible changes: Change TOZT to a different (custom) damage type than burned, alter Hunters/Troopers not to be immune to the TOZT damage type, or trigger deaths for any scriptedpawns who enter lava zones.

Wasps export a ton of errors to log: Investigate and attempt to fix?
Assimilated Bobs are not aggressive and do not detonate unless they take damage — Take a look at Looker/Tick stuff and copy over?

Assault Rifle grenade velocity.

Discussion thread, including bugs, suggestions for improvement, performance issues, or anything else related to Revolution.

My notes:

-General Monster behavior (Fidelity to Original & Spht going Hostile once hit)
-General slowdown issues in Winding Lava Room & other areas (Several Cargo Areas, etc.)

-Had a difficult time getting this to build without having one or more rooms randomly becoming a lava zone.
-Final jumping puzzle not entirely faithful to the original, due to physics differences.

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