Back in 1998, Dynamix released one of the most influential games for the PC, Starsiege: Tribes. Mind you, at the time it wasn’t exactly considered a “hit.” It suffered greatly from piracy, but it certainly had a big enough player base to warrant a sequel (or two). The game contained elements not seen in earlier games, such as a unique jetpack feature, and it was one of the first to support 128 players on a single map. Starsiege: Tribes was followed by Tribes 2 in 2001, then Tribes: Vengeance in 2004, the latter of which garnered mixed feelings from veteran Tribes players by switching to the Unreal Engine, among other things. While Vengeance was the last game in the Tribes franchise, it wasn’t necessarily the last Tribes-like game from the developers.
In 2007, GarageGames, founded by Dynamix’s Jeff Tunnell in 2001, announced Fallen Empire: Legions, a free-to-play “spiritual successor” to Tribes for their browser-gaming service InstantAction. While Legions does contain certain elements from the Tribes series, specifically jetpacks and the ability to “ski,” it isn’t a direct sequel, nor was it ever intended to be. At the time of Fallen Empire: Legions’ public beta release in Summer 2008, the Tribes franchise was still owned by Activision/Vivendi. It wasn’t until later that year that GarageGames bought the Tribes IP from Activision/Vivendi, and in March 2009 it was announced that GarageGames would be bringing the original Tribes to InstantAction, much like Quake Live.
While the browser version of Starsiege: Tribes, or PlayTribes as it’s known, won’t feature any enhanced graphics or gameplay elements, simply hearing that it would be making a return to the modern world of gaming excited many, including Tribes’ still-existent player base. As hard as it is to believe, the original Tribes still to this day has an online community, thanks to user-made mods which will be supported in PlayTribes (with some tweaking). Unfortunately, development on PlayTribes hasn’t exactly been as “consistent” as GarageGames, and fans, have hoped. Due to reasons which aren’t entirely clear, PlayTribes’ original Summer 2009 release was pushed to Fall 2009 and then again to “early 2010.” Having your project lead quit during development probably didn’t help, however.
Around the time of PlayTribes’ original announcement it was also announced that Louis Castle, of Command & Conquer fame, would be leaving EALA to join GarageGames as their new CEO, and he was bringing something big with him.
Not long after Castle’s arrival, InstantAction seemingly came to a halt. When asked about the delays to not only PlayTribes’ public release, but also updates to Fallen Empire: Legions and the site in general, InstantAction laid the blame on the arrival of their new CEO. Whatever Castle had in store for GarageGames, it was big enough to bring any development on InstantAction and its games to a stand-still. While Fallen Empire: Legions did receive an update in the summer of 2009, it was more than likely planned and finished before Castle came aboard.
Any news on PlayTribes and its current state of development was nigh impossible to come by as well. It wasn’t until early September that the community got any kind of glimpse of the game, this time at PAX. It was the first time we’d seen PlayTribes at a major event since GDC 2009, which took place in March. The game was available for anyone to try out during the September expo, and it was deemed an overall success. While the game did suffer from server issues, it was in a playable state, with playtesters stating it was generally complete. Unfortunately, less than a month after the PAX presentation it was announced that the game would miss it’s Fall 2009 release and instead see a December/January 2010 launch.
Even though Fallen Empire: Legions has the label “live development” on it, any additional content planned for the game has been shelved due to Louis Castle’s project. Over the past six or so months InstantAction has been relatively silent on what they have in store for the future of Legions and the company in general. They’ve recently moved offices (one in Portland, another in Las Vegas), and these past two months have been absolutely void of any information at all from the company. Until now.
Thomas Buscaglia, Legions lead designer, finally shed a sliver of light on what they have in store for Legions in a recent IRC conversation with the community (with or without GarageGames’ consent). The whole “free-to-play” moniker they have going with the game now? Not for long, at least according to Buscaglia. Earlier this year InstantAction implemented video ads before each game, but unfortunately, they don’t seem to be making enough profit from them:
“The future of Legions will either be one-time pay with addons or a dual-currency system where you can earn or buy [stuff] as you level up, which fits with the new modular custom armor system thing that we wanted to do….With one-time pay you can open the game up to modding and get longevity that way, but with the [leveling up] system, you can give the users what they want and pay for ongoing development,” explained Buscaglia. This isn’t exactly news for those following the development of Legions. It’s been stated more than once in the past that the final game would come at a cost.
During the conversation, a community member brought up the possibility of a story for Legions to include factions in the game. While I doubt too many players read up on it, the Tribes franchise actually had a story, giving purpose and background for each faction (Blood Eagle, Diamond Sword, etc.). Buscaglia went on to say that they originally planned to have the very same thing for Legions, set 100-300 years after Tribes.
We have updated the below section. We incorectly stated that GarageGames had worked with an author and had a story ready but never released it. This isn’t so:
“We were working on a story,” he said. “It was tied into the Starsiege universe…based ~100 years after tribes.” Unfortunately they weren’t able to get Legions to the point where they were ready to start integrating story with gameplay.
We have updated the below section. We didn’t clarify that the continuation of the Tribes franchise was an idea the developers had well before Louis Castle came aboard, although Castle does understand how valuable the franchise is:
Buscaglia then went on to reveal that one of the earlier ideas, before Castle joined GarageGames, was to continue the Tribes franchise, now that they own the IP rights (might as well do something with it). “One idea was to make Legions the [level] up version and then continue the Tribes franchise. None of that is official. That was just one idea, so Tribes would be moddable, Legions [wouldn’t]. Legions you would level up, Tribes [you wouldn’t], and maybe eventually have cross-game events,” he continued.
When asked if the next release of Legions would still be playable from the browser, which is essentially the key feature of InstantAction’s technology, Buscaglia had this to say:
“Yeah, I wanted to decouple the game from the browser. People should come to the site because there’s useful information or functionality there, not because you’re forcing them to.” He stated you could optionally play the game from your desktop as well if things went his way. Unfortunately, Buscaglia knows next to nothing about the current state of PlayTribes. A community member asked if they were planning on advertising it sometime in the future, to which Buscaglia dismally responded “is it going to be released is a better question.” Mind you, Buscalgia is a Legions developer, so it’s not all that surprising he doesn’t have specific information on a game he isn’t even working on.
We have updated the below section to include a recent post from InstantAction’s Ian Tornay:
As far as Buscaglia knows though, no one really is working on either PlayTribes or Fallen Empire: Legions at the moment. Everyone is working “hardcore” on Louis Castle’s project, which we might hear more about in March 2010, perhaps even earlier. InstantAction’s Ian Tornay revealed in a recent forum post that the company was getting ready to reveal whatever project they were working on, but just one day later stated that due to the project being “in a very rough state”, they decided to put off the announcement until sometime in “early 2010”.
Over the past year GarageGames has lost a number of employees as well, so recently they’ve hired in more, experienced game developers, according to Buscaglia.
“Theres a lot of politics around it and it could potentially be pretty big.”
So, what does all of this mean? Well, development on InstantAction and its games are currently at a complete stand-still and have been for quite some time. PlayTribes has no real definite release date, nor has it ever really had one. The future of Fallen Empire: Legions will more than likely shift from InstantAction.com to PlayLegions.com, which currently hosts a simple tutorial version of the game, or on the desktop itself. It will also probably be ported to GarageGames’ newest Torque 3D engine as well. Whatever Louis Castle and company are working on, it’s pretty big. The fact that they even thought about continuing the Tribes franchise is pretty exciting as well, but unfortunately, I doubt this is the big project. As of now, the future of Tribes is still unknown.
Earlier this month we contacted InstantAction and asked them about the future of the company, PlayTribes and Legions, among other things, but unfortunately they haven’t been able to respond due to the level of secrecy surrounding whatever they’re working on. They’ve told their community more than once to “be patient,” and I guess that’s all we can do.