Todd Harris Q&A; FPSGuru.com Managing Editor recently had the opportunity to sit down to chat with Hi-Rez Studios Chief Operating Officer Todd Harris about its revival of one of the most-beloved shooter franchises of all time: Tribes. Hi-Rez is working hard to make sure that its iteration, Tribes: Ascend, lives up to fan expectations.
First and foremost, huge thanks from me and the community here at FPSGuru.com for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer a couple questions about the upcoming title Tribes: Ascend. To say I’m looking forward to strapping my jetpack back on and getting back into the Tribes universe would be quite an understatement.
FPSGuru: Please take a moment to introduce yourself. You know, the normal ‘who are you, what do you do at Hi-Rez, what have you done prior to that in the industry’ and such.
Todd Harris: Sure. My name is Todd Harris and I’m the Chief Operating Officer of Hi-Rez Studios. Our studio’s first game was the jetpack-enabled, class-based Shooter-MMO called Global Agenda for which I was the Executive Producer. We are currently 50 people working on three different AAA games so everyone wears a lot of different hats. But one of the more enjoyable parts of my job is getting to discuss our games externally in interviews like this.
FPSGuru: Reviving a franchise as beloved as Tribes was back in the day, and still is in some forms, must be a very daunting task. Many fans felt that the franchise was pretty much dead in an ‘official’ capacity. Can you give us some insight into the decision process behind deciding to buy the license and reviving the franchise?
Todd Harris: Tribes wasn’t dead, just out-of-combat regenerating health!
We love Tribes. We miss Tribes. And Tribes was actually one of the big inspirations behind our first game Global Agenda. So, last fall we started looking into acquiring the franchise and in October of 2010 we were able to purchase all rights from InstantAction. We are very excited for the opportunity to revive the franchise.
FPSGuru: Dealing with any IP as beloved as the Tribes franchise means dealing with a very passionate and vocal community. What are some of the pros and cons you’ve encountered in tackling an existing IP that comes with a prebuilt fan-base?
Todd Harris: Calling the Tribes community “passionate and vocal” is quite the understatement. I’ve always viewed Tribes more like a fast-paced, high-flying online sport than just an FPS. And Tribes fans are certainly as passionate as the most hard-core sports fans. Think about the fierce debates involved with a proposed rule change in sports, say moving the 3-point line in basketball, and you get a sense for how the community argues even among itself about which previous Tribes was actually the best and why, and how to best improve the game. Of course as the Dev team we want to remain true to the core IP but also improve and evolve the franchise.
So our biggest challenge is that, even though Hi-Rez has a great reputation for working with the community, in the case of Tribes it is not a single community. The community is actually divided into sub-factions in that some believe T1 was best, some T2, and some T:V. This is also a huge opportunity because we have a chance to bring all these skilled and incredibly knowledgeable players together within our single brand new title, Tribes: Ascend, and introduce the franchise to a new generation of FPS players.
We answer most fan mail with the acknowledgement, ‘we know how much Tribes means to you, and we’ll try not to f*** it up’.
FPSGuru: Considering how crowded the FPS genre is lately, it’s a risk working on one FPS title, much less two at the same time. What made you take that leap and decide to work on both Tribes: Ascend and Tribes: Universe at the same time?
Todd Harris: Well, at this point we are not working on both at the same time. We have a single Tribes team and all their development attention is on Tribes: Ascend. The core elements of Tribes include SPEED, skiing, jet-packing, in-air shoot-outs, and multiplayer team-play. We intend to nail those player movements and combat elements within a single game, Tribes: Ascend, before working on Universe.
FPSGuru: Tribes: Ascend is being touted as a successor to Tribes 2. Is that to say it’s ignoring the existence of Tribes: Vengeance, or is it more of a purely time-frame statement, since T:V was technically a Prequel to the first two Tribes games?
Todd Harris: We call Tribes: Ascend a successor to T2 because Ascend is online multiplayer only. T1 and T2 were built for online only competitive play, unlike Tribes: Vengeance which added a single player campaign. With Ascend we are going back to those franchise roots and delivering an online, team-oriented FPS. Again more like a sport.
FPSGuru: With Tribes: Ascend being developed for both XBLA and PC, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Meaning, is it being developed as a PC title and ported to XBLA, or vice-versa?
Todd Harris: Tribes: Ascend is being developed as a PC title first and foremost. Any console release will be much later.
FPSGuru: The Tribes Series has always been known for its giant maps. How hard is it going to be to fit a good number of giant open maps into the size restrictions imposed on XBLA games?
Todd Harris: Map size and player count are both technical constraints that must be considered with any future console release.
But to us the biggest issue on consoles is actually the restriction on how frequently and independently our development team can update the game. With Tribes: Ascend we plan to have a significant beta phase but also to continually update features and content post-release. The PC is still the best platform for delivering constant game updates and that is the main reason we are starting with PC.
FPSGuru: Another great feature about the Tribes series was the vast amount of equipment available to the player that greatly enhanced tactics and resulted in some creative gameplay. Can we expect that same level of options in Tribes: Ascend?
Todd Harris: Definitely. In Tribes: Ascend we start with many classic and recognizable equipment options. But we will be increasing the number and variety of weapons, equipment and deployables. Players will have an even greater number of options to choose from.
FPSGuru: Customization seems to be the hot feature in FPS games lately. Given the different factions in the Tribes lore, the basis for a decent customization system is already in place. What kind of customization options, if any, can we expect to see in Tribes: Ascend?
Todd Harris: Yep – the Tribes lore provides a great foundation for character customization. We plan on keeping the weapon and load-out options common and not faction-specific. But we do want to offer various faction-specific visual options for players. We are starting with Blood Eagle and Diamond Sword but will expand to other faction art over time.
FPSGuru: Team play was always an important feature in Tribes, more so than most other games out there which focused on individual stats and a more free-for-all Deathmatch system. In what ways can we expect this to be emphasized in Tribes: Ascend?
Todd Harris: T2 was ahead of its time in offering team oriented features, and we will be offering similar built-in team support within Tribes: Ascend. At the same time I do think individual stats are motivating and we will be working to also make those available to players.
FPSGuru: Are you sticking with just the traditional three class/roles based on armor type from the previous games, (light, medium and heavy) or are you considering changing/expanding upon that system any?
Todd Harris: Our internal playtests currently feature the traditional three armor types. But I wouldn’t rule out some future expansion to that set.
FPSGuru: Care to give us any clue as to what game/match modes you’re planning or considering including? Are we going to see some Rabbit-Chase matches in Tribes: Ascend?
Todd Harris: Tribes: Ascend does currently support the Rabbit-Chase game-mode. But most of our current play-testing is done using the Capture the Flag game mode. And the Tribes: Ascend version of CTF incorporates very player-driven base-defense mechanics, including the concept of working generators that must be defended and player deployables.
FPSGuru: What about number of maps? I know it’s more than likely still in works and the final number isn’t likely set in stone yet, but do you have a goal in mind? A number you’d like to hit?
Todd Harris: In Beta we plan to offer at least one re-imaging of a known map from T2, a few new maps that have been built in the classic Tribes style of large outdoor environments, and one map that pushes level design in a different direction with a more urban environment.
FPSGuru: Anything else you’d like to share with us about Tribes: Ascend before we let you get back to work? A favorite feature? A fun story from a testing session?
Todd Harris: For the past few weeks we’ve been hosting in-studio alpha testing and it has been great to see the reaction of our play testers. What we hear most consistently from players is how much they enjoy the ultra-fast pace of Tribes: Ascend as an alternative to the slower, cover-to-cover gameplay of other shooter franchises. The combination of skiing and jet-packing and disc-launching makes for an invigorating combination of speed and verticality. My favorite recent quote: “After playing Tribes: Ascend for a couple of days, all the other shooters felt like wading through molasses.”