Interview: Nels Bruckner, Director, TRIBES Product Line

by James Puckett

Nels was kind enough to answer some questions for me, and grant me two badbass TRIBES 2 screenshots. Screenshots are at the end of the interview.

[WGF] How did you get into the industry, and how did you end up with Dynamix working on TRIBES?

[Nels Bruckner] I started working for Dynamix way back in 1988. I had just drooped out of college and was working in a record store. I had been doing computer games on my own since way back in high school, on the Apple ][ and then on the Amiga. When I heard there was an opening at Dynamix I jumped for it. I was so nervous about the interview that I went out and got a haircut to look more presentable! I ended up not getting that job (it was a C64 programming job, and I wasn't a C64 guy) but they called me back later with some testing and general work and I took it. When an opportunity came along to be the lead programmer on Die Hard (published by Activision) I got the assignment and have been programming ever since. Until recently, which leads to your next question...

[WGF] What exactly do you do? Director, TRIBES product line is pretty broad! Are you the man in charge of Tribes overall? What level of interaction/involvement do you have with the development of the TRIBES line?

[Nels Bruckner] Yeah, being the "director" means that I'm responsible on some level for the continuing development of the Tribes line of products. There is a lot of paperwork involved, dealing with contractors, dealing with personnel issues, going to staff meetings, coordinate with marketing, etc. That's mostly the "work" part of my job. The "fun" part is interacting with the various team members and being involved in the development process. I've got a really talented team and they have a great vision of what the product should be like, so I try not to steer the product design for them too much. When some kind of design or direction call is needed I work through that with the team and come up with a solution. I organized meetings, brainstorm about aspects of the game with the various leads, make sure everyone is moving in the same direction, and generally make sure that the creative development is progressing.

[WGF] What were the major influences for TRIBES?

[Nels Bruckner] Obviously all the "standard" FPS games were a big influence. Games like Doom, Quake, and all the offshoots from that. Especially all the mods (like CTF) that were beginning to scratch the surface of team-play. I personally have always been a huge fan of iD's games.

[WGF] TRIBES is one of the most heavily modded games out there, and in fact TRIBES servers not running mods seem quite rare. Were you surprised by the level of modding and the open acceptance of it by the TRIBES community?

[Nels Bruckner] From the beginning we expected that people would mod Tribes. We built a lot of stuff into the game to make it easier for people to do so. So, we weren't surprised that a lot of mods were done. What WAS surprising is some of the cool things that these mods contained. It was awesome to have someone run down the hall and yell "man, check out this mod I downloaded -- you won't believe what they did!". That was cool.

[WGF] Is there anything about mods that bugs you?

[Nels Bruckner] The only aspect of mods that is a little troublesome is that mods can be made that really unbalance the game (or even allow cheats, etc.). What ends up happening then is that casual users end up joining servers that have wacky mods and they aren't aware that they aren't playing a standard Tribes game. We get a lot of reports of bugs and cheats that end up being related to moded servers.

[WGF] Just how successful was TRIBES? I know it did well, but do you have hard numbers as to how many TRIBES players are out there?

[Nels Bruckner] It's hard to get concise numbers. Our sales numbers have been good but not huge. On the other hand, our numbers don't seem to be going down at all -- we sell a very consistent number of units each month. Every time I check the Tribes servers at a peak time (like Friday evening or on the weekend) I see several thousand people online, on over 600 servers. So,Tribes seems like an on-going phenomenon who's success is still mounting and won't be completely evident until Tribes 2 goes out.

[WGF] I saw an interview with someone on the TRIBES team (I can't remember who, and I can't find it) a while back stating that TRIBES 2 would use the WON Network user validation as an anti-piracy measure. Was piracy a big problem with the first TRIBES?

[Nels Bruckner] Piracy is one of those things that is hard to measure. The suspicion is that Tribes was heavily pirated. Part of the design of Tribes 2 will be an account/validation system that should fix that problem.

[WGF] TRIBES doesn't have the excessive blood, gore, gibs, etc that have become the standard for games. Was this a business decision, leaving out unnecessary gore to open the game to a younger crowd with watchful parents? And if so, did it pay off? Can we expect the same from TRIBES 2? (I kinda like the lack of gibs, keeps my framrate up.)

[Nels Bruckner] At some point the team made a conscious decision not to have lots of blood and flying body parts. It wasn't really a business decision, per se. I think it was more a case of keeping Tribes different from the Quake games, even in the cosmetic details. I personally have nothing against blood and guts but that was something that literally everyone was doing. I doubt that we will back-track on this for T2.

[WGF] What kind of gains can we expect from Transform and Lighting with TRIBES? Is TRIBES Extreme going to have new code in the engine to take better advantage of T&L?

[Nels Bruckner] Tribes Extreme will use the Tribes 1 engine, with a few minor modifications. So, no T&L in TE. Tribes 2 on the other hand represents almost a complete re-write of the game engine with an eye toward supporting all various cool things like T&L (including processor extensions, etc.). Our initial indications are that Tribes 2 will benefit greatly from such extentions.

[WGF] Back to the subject of mods real quick; will TRIBES 2 allow mod makers even more freedom?

[Nels Bruckner] Oh yeah. T2 will in many ways be a mod makers dream. The level of support and available tools will be head and shoulders above what was in Tribes 1.

[WGF] From the few screenshots I have seen of TRIBES 2 (I think the current total is 2, the Penny Arcade shot, and one that I came across somewhere random a while back) TRIBES 2 looks like a damned impressive game visually. What kind of system are you targeting?

[Nels Bruckner] Well, it is always tricky on the PC market deciding how much to put in and what kind of machine to shoot for. The goal with Tribes 2 is to be as scalable as possible. We want it to be acceptable and fun on machines that ran Tribes 1 well but we want the fire-breathing monster machines to provide an experience that is that much better. T2 will be OpenGL only, no software, so that bumps the minimum machine up a little.

[WGF] Can you divulge something really cool about TRIBES 2 that the public hasn't heard yet?

[Nels Bruckner] Hmmm... not just yet. :)

[WGF] Can we expect more Terrain features in TRIBES 2 (more trees, stuff lying around, etc.)?

[Nels Bruckner] Definitely. Each world in T2 will be a whole environment, not just a set of terrain art. From the skys, to weather effects, to ground cover there will be many unique features on the various worlds.

[WGF] Will there be a Linux port of any part of the TRIBES line?

[Nels Bruckner] We are currently planning on doing a Linux server of T2. We will see how that goes.

[WGF] What can we expect from the TRIBES line besides the TRIBES games? Maybe some toys, printed comics books?

[Nels Bruckner] We've actually been looking into all kinds of things like that. There are a lot of cool possibilities. You will have to wait and see though. :)

[WGF] Are you looking into a massively multiplayer TRIBES game in the future?

[Nels Bruckner] Not actively. Everyone on the Tribes team (and seemingly everyone in the computer game industry) wants to do that kind of game at some point. Who knows what the future will bring.

[WGF] Is there anything cooler than a Black Sabbath live show?

[Nels Bruckner] No, probably not. Black Sabbath have long been one of my fav bands, but I've never seen them live. It's very sad. :(

[WGF] What other games are you looking forward to?

[Nels Bruckner] I want to see what Q3 turns out like. Hopefully there will be lots of Q3 licenses that have cool single-player stuff and awesome art. I'm also looking forward to Warcraft III.

[WGF] Last question: Normally, I would ask about musical preference, but you make yours clear in your .plan. It's a nice day, so I feel like pushing my luck! Penny Arcade gets a TRIBES 2 screenshot, may I have one too please? :-)

[Nels Bruckner] I will get our web guy to send you one or two. Keep in mind that all the screens that you are seeing now (and up to this point) aren't using the full T2 engine, only a prototype. The real thing is gonna be even better.



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