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‘Midair’, spiritual successor to Tribes, is back. What’s new?

Quick refresher: Midair was originally made by a group of Tribes fans hoping to make a worthy spiritual successor featuring jetpacks, skiing, vehicles, and everything else that made Tribes awesome. After a successful Kickstarter campaign raising more than $120,000, the game was released on Steam in May of 2018 featuring a F2P model similar to Tribes: Ascend.

To say the original Midair had a rough launch back in May of 2018 would be putting things lightly. A match-making system that was scrapped just before launch (spoilers: it never existed in the first place), coupled with an unnecessarily complex and buggy progression system and no real anti-cheat was enough to put most people off if they even made it past the tutorial system. But paired with movement mechanics that weren’t intuitive to those coming from Tribes: Ascend meant they missed out on bringing over those that were still playing the Hi-Rez shooter.

One month after releasing the game on Steam, the developers announced they would be scaling back development. What initially started out as a small community project in 2012 that eventually grew into a much larger international team spanning the course of 6 years, was ultimately laid to rest a few short weeks after launch. The game did receive a few updates later on, mostly thanks to community players who unofficially took over development. The last official update for Midair came out in November of 2019, after that…silence. 

After a month of being in the market Midair has seen a pretty steep decline in concurrent player counts. There’s no denying that this is not what we or you were hoping for. The unfortunate reality is that the current player counts are not enough to sustain full time development on Midair with paid employees or contractors. We’ve already begun slimming down our team and spend on Midair development, and we are still figuring out a path forward on further production. What we do know is that scope and speed of development are going to be significantly reduced in the short term and the team composition will be switching to fully volunteer-based.

Midair June 2018 Dev Log

Public servers were essentially a ghost town at this point, which is an issue that plagues the majority of new indie shooters. Still, the game did have a very small but active player base that mostly stuck to organized games through Discord. These players were primarily made up of the original playtesters, as well as fans of previous Tribes games. The community developers that were pushing out the last few updates decided to branch off and start their own version of the game, aptly named Midair: Community Edition (or MACE). This new group of developers, known as Vector Z Studios, now officially own the Midair IP and have renamed the project to Midair 2.

Midair vs. Midair 2

Graphics Overhaul

The most apparent change in Midair 2 is the visual overhaul. Gone are the ‘muddy’ terrain textures and blocky base assets that were in the original game. Maps now have much nicer-looking textures with regards to both the terrain and base structures. Those that previously had placeholder shapes for bases have been (for the most part) totally revamped into actual assets with lighting effects and more.

Another somewhat common complaint from those who played the original Midair was the player models, which previously had a very ‘cartoony’ vibe to them. They too have gotten a more realistic revamp and are more in line with previous Tribes games. As of writing both female and male player models are available, with a variety of voice packs and skins available to unlock or obtain with credits.

Giving newcomers a helping hand.

The developers of Midair 2 are well aware of how steep the learning curve is in a game like this. You aren’t running around tight corridors and taking down enemies with a submachine gun in half a second. The time to kill in Midair 2 is considerably higher compared to a lot of modern shooters, which may or may not be an attractive gameplay element to first-time players. To make things even more difficult, there are zero hit-scan weapons in the game. Each shot requires the player to lead their aim. To top it off, players are moving all over the place thanks to jetpacks and the ability to ski.

Even if you manage to master the art of landing a midair with the Tempest or land all of your bullets with the Chaingun, that’s only a fraction of what the game is about. You’re worthless if you can’t move around and traverse the maps with your jetpack and skiing ability. The movement is really what sets the game apart from the majority of shooters. While Midair 2 is far from the only game to exclusively feature projectile weapons, there are very few that pair it with a unique movement system.

The original Midair had a very barebones tutorial system that simply told the player to traverse through a series of rings in the air and call it a day. Midair 2 on the other hand has taken things much, much deeper. For starters, there’s a dedicated routing system that anyone can bring up through the menu. Simply join a game, bring up the route finder (Ctrl + C), and a route will be shown for you to follow as a series of orbs. You’ll still need to know how to ski and manage your jetpack appropriately in order to run each route successfully, however.

In addition to the route finder, the game now features bots ‘on demand’. There are a couple of ways bots come into play. First, you can Practice a map offline and load up bots that can then follow certain ‘drills’. Need to improve your defensive skills? Stay at your base while bots come in at all directions on predefined routes. Want to practice a few flag grabs against a defended base? Fire up the route finder and go for it. Bots can also be added to public games, eliminating the feeling of playing on an empty server.

Gameplay

Besides graphics, the gameplay is perhaps where Midair 2 differs the most from the original Midair. When the game originally launched in 2018, it tried to appeal to the entire Tribes community. Unfortunately this isn’t really feasible unless you have thousands of players filling up your servers 24/7 (something even Tribes 3 has yet to accomplish). The Tribes community is also quite fractured when it comes to their preferred game mode. Some liked the original base style of gameplay with large teams, vehicles, and base defense. Some stuck to modded servers running Shifter, Renegades, Annihilation, and even Paintball. Others preferred game modes that featured smaller teams focused solely on capturing and defending their flag known as LT (Light Tribes).

That last style of gameplay, which the developers are calling Light Capture the Flag (LCTF), is the game mode Vector Z Studios is focusing on the most in Midair 2. Gone are the days of visiting inventory stations, repairing base assets, and piloting Shrikes. The LCTF game mode in Midair 2 only includes Light armor, three core weapons, and simplified bases. The goal is simple: capture the enemy flag, while defending your own. One of the advantages of building your game around this mode is that it doesn’t require a large number of players in order to start a game. Organized games are typically comprised of just 5 players on each team lasting 20 minutes or ending when either team reaches 8 flag caps, with public games supporting up to 14 players.

Game modes other than LCTF do exist, however, with a few others currently in development. A traditional Team Deathmatch mode is currently in the game, as well as an Arena game mode. Both of these focus more on killing rather than setting up routes or defending a base. Duel and League are two new mode recently announced:

In Duel, you’ll be able to make use of matchmaking to fight it out 1v1 over a set number of rounds. In League, two teams will build points by passing flags before shooting them into a goal. Points are determined by a number of variables that reward more spectacular passes. This new mode will introduce several maps, a flag-throw strength meter, bouncy out-of-bounds grids, and a new grenade type that converts horizontal momentum to vertical.

Steam

The game modes outside of LCTF (other than Duel) might appeal to those looking for a more casual – albeit chaotic – style of gameplay with larger player counts. League mode for instance is more or less identical to a mod from the original Tribes and Tribes 2 called Team Rabbit, which was basically Rocket League before Rocket League existed. While Midair 2 may not have the original Tribes style of gameplay some are looking for, it might just be enough to scratch that itch if Tribes 3 didn’t satisfy your FPS-Z needs.

Midair 2 is now open to public playtesting. If you’re interested, check it out below. You can also join the Midair 2 Discord if you have any questions.