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GDC 2012: The Firing Line talks release dates with Tribes Ascend's Todd Harris

Jef Reahard

It's been a crazy week at GDC, and though I've already gotten the skinny on both PlanetSide 2 and DUST 514, there's more on the way when it comes to online shooter news. Yesterday morning I headed over to the Hi-Rez Studios booth on the main show floor, where COO Todd Harris had some exciting news to share with fans of the firm's Tribes: Ascend title.

The free-to-play shooter will officially launch on April 12th, and Hi-Rez has also released a new parody trailer that pays homage to Dead Island and shows off the perils of the dreaded "llama capture" (if you're a Tribes newb, just know that speed equals survival when it comes to flag-grabs).

Join me after the cut for some Tribes-related chit-chat as well news of new content on the way for Global Agenda.

Massively: So, GDC, Hi-Rez, Tribes and Global Agenda.

Todd Harris: Yeah we've got a lot going on. I can tell you that tomorrow we're announcing the release date, removing the beta tags, and it will be after PAX East. We'll be bringing Tribes to PAX East with some new content, and basically that following Thursday, April 12th, will be our official release day. We're very excited. And also tomorrow we're releasing a new parody trailer for Tribes that I can show you now.

Any new gameplay footage?

Yeah there's some but it's mainly a little parody the guys put together, certainly not our launch trailer or anything.

Tribes: Ascend - the PathfinderLike the "No Elves" campaign for Global Agenda?

Yeah, kind of like that. Have you seen the slow-motion thing for Dead Island? It's our little nod to that. And we also just introduced a patch this week with the badges, in open beta.

Like an achievement system?

Yeah, our version of achievements. Also a new map, some new items... it's really intended to help players new to the game, when they're learning basic skills. And also it's for the high-end players, something else to collect. And we have some more new content queued up for PAX as well.

I'm pretty bad at Tribes, but I enjoy the heck out of it anyway because it plays so different from other shooters.

It is just very different, very fast, and very skill-based but still accessible and fun.

How's the private server thing coming? Is that going to happen at release?

That is our goal, to have that happen before release. There's a grab-bag of features, but the number one thing we want to have before release is private servers. We need it for competitive play, with server flags to make generator play more valuable, and also we're going to be supporting our own tournaments that require them.

And how about the e-sport thing -- is that taking off for you? I saw you guys did NASL recently.

It is, and we're talking with a lot of different partners. We did the US vs. EU even before NASL, and it had 4,000+ viewers, so there definitely seems to be an appetite for it. We are talking with additional leagues, and we'll have more announcements in the future on that.

It definitely requires private servers to go to the next level there, so that's why we're doing exhibition matches until we get that functionality out. Already, though, there are more players wanting to participate than we can manage in terms of white-listing, so we need the private servers to scale it to the next level.

That's a good problem to have, though.

Right. It's exciting! We're working very hard behind the scenes to get the private servers up and running.

It seems like the community has really responded to Tribes in general. There's a real positive vibe about the game right now.

That's certainly what we had hoped. It is a fast game, and it is a skill-based game, so we knew there was a big group of players from the older games. Even though we've had lots of back-and-forth with that community, raging on some issues, we've formed a really good game for a lot of those players.

And you're bringing in a lot of new Tribes blood too.

Yes, a lot of Call of Duty guys, Modern Warfare guys -- they're coming in and enjoying it. You might still be a fan of those other shooters, but it's different enough, and you get that adrenaline rush. And obviously free-to-play helps here; your commitment is whatever you want it to be, time or money.

Is that stressful for you guys, the fact that people can just check it out and not pay anything for the experience?

That's part of the model -- we build for it. Fortunately we're seeing a lot of people playing, and people are supporting it with both time and money. We're seeing a lot of international interest too. One of the hardcore Korean clans put together a 20-minute YouTube video, basically a 14-year retrospective of Tribes. And most of the footage was captured in Ascend, really well done. And when you've got a really competitive group like that that is embracing the game, you feel good about that.

Global Agenda - Robotics turret sniping
Can we talk Global Agenda briefly? I'm a huge GA fan, and you're obviously focusing heavily on Tribes and SMITE too. Is GA kind of on the back burner?

We actually have a set of new content, both PvP and PvE, that we've been working on. From a deployment perspective, we're looking for the right timing to do that update. It mainly has to do with Tribes, which is needing a lot of attention in terms of deployment right now.

The other thing that we want to encourage... you spoke of e-sports, and with Global Agenda specifically, we feel the PvP is a really fun, balanced experience just on its own, and we want to carry the relationships that we're forming [with various e-sport leagues] through all of our titles including GA. We're going to be testing the waters with tournaments, sponsored by us, that are Global Agenda PvP tournaments.

So the two near-term things, that's one, the Global Agenda PvP tournaments with prizes sponsored by us, and we'll see how that goes. And then we also have the content that we're getting ready.

When you say content, is that like an expansion?

I wouldn't call it a full expansion like Recursive Colony, but it's a collection of instanced PvP and PvE stuff, new matches, new zones -- not open zones, but new dungeons and PvP maps.

And that's coming soon?

We're looking for the right time, yeah.

Thanks for chatting with us.

Massively sent four resolute reporters to San Francisco to bring you back the biggest MMO news from this year's GDC, the largest pro-only gaming industry con in the world! From games like The Secret World to PlanetSide 2, we're on the case, so stay tuned for all the highlights from the show!

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