Tribes: Ascend lacked mod support, which made it the black sheep of the family. However, a leaked developer build allowed one user to implement what the developers didn’t. He goes by the name Altimor, and I reached out to him to ask a few questions surrounding his Software Development Kit.
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When Hi-Rez Studios released Tribes: Ascend in 2012, they opted for a ‘games as a service’ model, which, in their eyes, nullified the need for mod support. As fate would have it, Hi-Rez would abandon Tribes the following year, left without map making tools or the ability to host private servers.
Despite the lack of official support from Hi-Rez, someone found a way to add both of these features, all thanks to a small mistake on the part of the developer. Tribes community member Altimor discovered a public dev build of the game by modifying the parameters of its launcher, and this allowed him access to the developer console and several unreleased maps. Hi-Rez soon realised their mistake, but it was too little too late. With the dev console, Altimor created a Software Development Kit that would enable its users to create content for the game. More than four years after the release of the SDK, I reached out to Altimor to find out more about its impact.
Before the SDK was available, was modding possible in Tribes: Ascend?
Not conveniently, but anyone with the right skillset could hook the game in the same way the SDK does.
A while back, someone obtained the source code for the original StarCraft, and, instead of uploading the code, they returned the disc directly to Blizzard, the original developer. Do you think they should have kept a copy for preservation?
Having the source would be cool, but I think respecting Blizzard’s IP was the right thing to do.
In July , Hi-Rez announced that Tribes wouldn’t be receiving updates for at least 6 months, so they could work on Smite. What did you think about this decision?
I think it was a mistake to wait so long with the patches they eventually made. By the time the competitive balance ended up in a satisfactory state most of the players were gone.
Did the SDK allow users to skip item progression? Did Hi-Rez ever contact you over this matter?
It does allow you to use any item. Since the SDK is completely open source there are no restrictions on what you can do with it and there’s no way for a custom server to check what items a player owns either. Hi-Rez didn’t contact me over this. I don’t think it was an issue because everyone was interested in modded weapons and physics rather than playing the base game with free stuff.
The SDK ran in D, but required a compiler to run. What was the benefit of using D as a language?
D was a lot easier to automatically generate code for based on the game’s UnrealScript. D has a more modern system for referencing other source files instead of C/C++’s header system, so there’s no need to work around linker errors. In C++ you have to be careful about what you define in headers or you’ll end up redefining it every time the header is included and cause an error.
How did the SDK impact community map-making and server-hosting?
I think the only map that ended up in a decent state was a remake of Damnation. A few private modded games were played before the SDK was its own project but it never went beyond that as far as I know because there wasn’t much of a community left when the SDK was finished.
Hi-Rez themselves promised map-making tools after Tribes development ceased, but they never delivered. How do you feel they handled Tribes post-Smite?
I understand they don’t want to focus on a game that isn’t making money anymore, but they shouldn’t have made those promises in the first place. The Out of the Blue updates were nice though. I think those updates were mostly the work of the actual developers and not Hi-Rez’s mangement. A lot of the people developing Ascend were passionate about it and loved Tribes. It seemed like the management was the biggest problem with the handling of Ascend.
Hi-Rez seems to follow a policy of ‘games as a service’ as an alternative to modding. What impact do you think this has on their games’ longevity?
I think this is only a viable model for FPS games if there’s a strong and well supported competitive scene. It could have worked if they had put more work into competitive balance and supported tournaments more but with the way the game turned out I think it really hurt the game’s lifespan.
With the servers still up for Tribes: Ascend, and the availability of TAMods for modding the game, how much life do you think the game has left in it?
I’d honestly just call the game dead at this point.
Tribes: Ascend was a game built upon passion: Passion from the game’s developers, from the competitive community, and from Altimor himself, who dedicated his time to make modding a possibility. However, despite his efforts to create the Software Development Kit, Altimor acknowledges it himself – it couldn’t save the game. Poor decisions on Hi-Rez’s part doomed a game brimming with potential, and that can’t be changed. Thankfully, all is not lost, for when Hi-Rez eventually shuts Tribes: Ascend down, the SDK ensures that it won’t be for good.
If you’re interested in the changing state of games, consider subscribing to my Youtube channel, Game Revo, where I cover other games affected by time’s influence. I recently uploaded an in-depth video covering Global Agenda and Tribes: Ascend, and how they affected Hi-Rez’s reputation.