Starsiege: Tribes

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Starsiege: Tribes
Developer(s) Dynamix
Publisher(s) Sierra On-Line
Release date(s) 1998
Genre First-person shooter
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer
Rating(s) ESRB: Teen (T), ELSPA: 12+
Platform(s) Windows

Starsiege: Tribes (usually called Tribes or Tribes 1) is a sci-fi first-person shooter (FPS) computer game, the first of the Tribes video game series. 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, troop transport vehicles, several different player classes). Most of the standard maps were outdoors in a variety of climates with bases scattered throughout the map, depending on the gametype. The outdoor environments were relatively huge, but "jetting" and "skiing" gave Tribes a fast-paced feel.



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.


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.

  • Light - Fast and light with very little protection. Only class able to use the laser rifle.
  • Medium - A little closer to light than heavy, makes compromises between armor and speed.
  • Heavy - Bulky, slow, and tough to destroy. Only class able to use the mortar.


There are eight weapons available in Tribes:

  • Blaster - A weapon that feeds off the player's energy cell, widely considered useless.
  • Plasma rifle - Fires a slow-moving but highly destructive charge, good at medium range on slow or stationary targets.
  • Chaingun - Fires bullets at high-speed with very low accuracy. Excellent for tearing up enemies at close range, particularly players in heavy armor.
  • Disc launcher - Also known as the spinfusor or Stormhammer, the primary weapon for any class at any range. One of the greatest accomplishments for a Tribes player is an "airdisk" or an "MA" (midair), in which the projectile of the spinfusor hits another player in midair.
  • Grenade launcher - A medium-range weapon that fires timed grenades, widely used by all classes to eliminate enemies that have sunk into valleys.
  • Laser rifle - Basically, a sniper rifle with a shot visible from anywhere in the vicinity. It can only be equipped by players in light armor with energy packs. The amount of damage dealt to the target is proportional to the amount of energy discharged from the energy cell.
  • ELF (Electron flux gun) - Although it doesn't do much damage, the ELF drains the energy supply of whatever gets in its path. Perfect for stopping enemies that are jetting away. Doesn't require ammo, as it draws energy from the energy cell.
  • Heavy mortar - A purring green mortar shell lobber. Slow, but destroys people and things very quickly at large distances (with excellent precision if a teammate paints the target with the targeting laser). It can only be equipped by players in heavy armor.


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.

Worn packs

  • Energy pack - The most common and most useful pack, increases the amount of energy and the rate of recharge of the player's energy cell. This mainly allows players to jet for longer periods of time and possibly use a sniper rifle.
  • Repair pack - The second most common and most unique pack. When used, it repairs any item or player in range (or the wearer if nothing is in range). Essential pack for any team-based match (which is a large majority).
  • Ammo pack - Increases the amount of ammo a player can hold. When dropped the player keeps the maximum allowed for their class, while the pack retains the remainder. Sometimes used by grunts to deliver ammo to teammates across the map.
  • Shield pack - When activated, generates a shield that renders the player invulnerable until no energy is available. The shield slowly drains energy over time, but attacks drain it faster.
  • Jammer pack - A rarely used pack, makes all teammates within 20 meters (including the wearer) invisible to enemy radar. Unpopular because radar is seldom checked during the game anyway.

Deployed packs

  • Deployable inventory station - Popularly called an "invo", allows players to change weapons and packs at a remote location. It doesn't allow armor changes and has limited energy, so it must be replaced occasionally in large matches.
  • Deployable ammo station - Like the invo, resupplies players at remote locations, but only offers ammunition. Also has a limited energy supply.
  • Remote turret - A small plasma turret, automatically fires potent plasma bursts at enemies within range.

Other items

  • Targeting laser - Used by grunt players to paint targets for teammates. Players using the grenade launcher or the mortar can see small triangles indicating the trajectory and direction required to hit a target precisely. Although a novel feature, it is rarely used in a standard match.
  • Grenades - Timed short-range charges, do not require a grenade launcher.
  • Mines - Charges that explode when touched by enemies (and sometimes friends). Controversial use of mines plagued the Tribes community. Some players changed the texture of the mine, taking advantage of the flexible architecture, to make it more visible and provide an advantage. Many players used a bug in the game to launch mines directly upward, catching them, and planting them in midair. This made flag-capturing extremely difficult without appropriate precautionary measures (sending in decoys, mortaring the base, etc).
  • Repair kit - Can be used at any time during play to restore a small percentage of health. Also can be dropped and given to another player.
  • Targeting beacons - Act like a targeting laser, providing a target for players with long-range projectiles. They are destroyed fairly easily.


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.

  • Scout - A one-man vehicle, flies fast and fires rockets. Used for rapid flag snatching and "capping" (flag capturing). Difficult to master piloting, as expressed by Gabe of Penny Arcade: "I mean, you know how much concentration it takes to fly those scouts".
  • LPC (Light Personnel Carrier) - An APC capable of carrying a pilot and two passengers, moving faster than the HPC. The passengers can fire from inside the vehicle, making them very dangerous to base defenders.
  • HPC (Heavy Personnel Carrier) - An APC capable of carrying a pilot and four passengers, moving slower than the LPC. Like in the LPC, passengers can fire while in transit.

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.

  • Base generators - Large indoor generators, often heavily protected.
  • Solar panels - Small outdoor generators, usually only given small responsibilities and light defense.


There are five kinds of permanent turrets. They can all be destroyed by mortar shells, but their shields can block attacks from any other weapon.

  • Fusion - Fires slow-moving balls of energy at enemy targets.
  • Mini-fusion (indoor) - Fires fast-moving balls of energy at moving enemies. It is sensitive to motion instead of energy, so it can't be jammed. Players can move slowly to confuse it, though.
  • Missile - Fires energy-seeking missiles that track vehicles or players using their jetpacks.
  • ELF (Electron flux gun) - Like the ELF gun, drains the energy of enemies. Also deals a small amount of damage.
  • Mortar - Fires green mortar shells like the portable version. Unlike the other turrets, it doesn't fire automatically and must be controlled at a command station.


These are where players get equipment or monitor the base.

  • Inventory - "Invo" stations, as they're sometimes called, are the places for players to change armors and weapons.
  • Ammo - Often placed near "invo" stations, these quickly recharge the armor and ammo of players.
  • Vehicle - Used to spawn new vehicles on the accompanying vehicle pad.
  • Command - Allows players to control turrets.


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. This ability is absent from nearly any other popular first-person shooter to date (with the notable exception of 1996's Duke Nukem 3D). The incorporation of this third dimension gives some Tribes players the satisfaction of believing that they are playing 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.


During beta testing of Tribes, a player named David Boylan seemed to cheat in order to slide down hills without slowing and pick up enormous speed. The player had in fact discovered "skiing", the act of rapidly pressing the jump button to avoid friction. This technique may have been adapted from bunnyhopping in Quake.

This was the 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 reduction of friction was proportional 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 Counter-Strike: Source in the form of 'surfing'.

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).


There are five distinct gametypes

  • Capture the flag - Definitely the most popular mission. Two, three, or four teams each have bases and a single flag. A team must take another team's flag and touch it to their own. When the flag carrier is killed, the flag is dropped and can be picked up by a teammate to finish the "cap" (capture), instantly returned by a member of the flag's team, or returned after a certain interval of time. Stalemates often occur when a team's flag is captured before the team is able to bring the other team's flag to base. Games have been known to last hours until one of the flags is returned.
  • Deathmatch - Although popular in other first-person shooters, this type is rarely used in Tribes. It can be played with or without teams, in both cases players must get the highest number of kills to win.
  • Capture and hold - Teams must seek out capturable bases, sometimes complete with turrets and stations, throughout the map. Points are given for holding a base for long periods of time. Rather unpopular.
  • Defend and destroy - Teams must destroy certain items in an enemy base before the enemy does likewise. Almost never played.
  • Find and retrieve - Team members must find and bring back items to their base. The items can be captured from the enemy as well. The team to capture all the items wins. Almost never played.


Tribes had a large cult following, so Dynamix was commissioned again to create Tribes 2, which was released in 2001. Together, sales totaled almost one million copies. Many believed the sequel did not live up to the original because of the limitations set on speed (Tribes 1 had no limits), the over-emphasis on vehicles, the expansiveness of maps (some up to eight times larger), and the dumbing down of skiing. Many Tribes players were frustrated but eager for more; sadly, Dynamix had been shut down shortly after Tribes 2 was released. Sierra, which was now part of Vivendi Universal, decided to hire Irrational Games to create the third installment, Tribes: Vengeance, released in October 2004. Tentatively referred to as "Tribes: Story", the new game includes a full single-player campaign as well as a full-featured multiplayer experience. Also, the company has promised an open beta to allow Tribes veterans to provide feedback and eliminate the issues that made Tribes 2 falter.

Tribes: Vengeance was quickly abandoned by Irrational Games at the behest of Vivindi Universal in favor of future projects such as the hit tactical shooter SWAT 4. A combination of poor sales and a gameplay style that did not please hardcore Tribes fans led to only one minor bug patch for the game. Retail copies of the game have since been liquidated and the game abandoned with 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.


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.

External links

  • Sierra Entertainment ( - The publisher's official site
  • Tribal War ( - A popular community site, and Tribes news source
  • PlanetTribes ( - An unofficial source of Tribes information
  • ( - Australian/New Zealand Tribes forum and community
  • TribesRoleplayers ( Community site documenting the history of the Tribes Universe
  • Tribal Wars ( - Host of LAN events featuring Tribes games

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