Retro Game Pc Build focused on Tribes

Greetings nerds!

This is a story about pc gaming, game pc builds of yesteryear, building a retro pc game box today, and etc that might be of interest to you nerds... I mean geeks... I mean T2 players. You might want to get a snack and something to drink, this will take a while. Also pleas keep in mind I'm doing this from memory and thus mistaken on a lot of points.

When I first started building pcs (1998) there was a fair amount of pc parts to be found locally, especially of the oem/surplus variety as the hq of Gateway was only a hundred miles away from Omaha, where I lived at the time. When a pc oem is nearby, you might rationally expect the local area to be flooded with refurbs, seconds, and etc from that oem as just about anything the oem doesn't feel like storing it sells off. About once a month there was a huge pc fleamarket in the Sioux City area filled with Gateway surplus as Gateway was just across the border in South Dakota. Coincident with Gateway moving production and hence surplus around the country and even to Ireland, we had no place to get pc parts cheap like in the heyday of the Gateway surplus craze. We, the local pc building community, suffered pc fleamarket withdrawls. That is, until a pc fleamarket opened at the Omaha Nebraska National Guard armory - and you could find great deals there, from familiar "vendors" who previously had loads of Gateway surplus to private party local sellers both, sometimes even some random Gateway surplus. At the time, the slot cpu sockets were common and it was easy to find just about any core you wanted, from slot-1 Pii 233s up to 1ghz slot-A Athlons, and for much (and I can't emphasise this enough - much much much) cheaper than in the local pc retailers brick and mortar shops. Take for example a pc consisting of a Athlon 800 Slot A cpu, say 512 sdram, dvdrom, and a 20gb hdd as found at a local unnamed brick and mortar pc shop for around $800 or more. I noticed the same overpriced pcs sat in the same shop for weeks and months at a time, you figure the owner would eventually drop prices but no. With identical spec Gateway surplus parts from a fleamarket you could roll more or less the same pc for maybe $200 at most. I know a guys gatta make a living, but rape is rape no matter if you're in Omaha or Moscow where the police are stern but fair.

The amount of surplus was astounding at first, the vendors had literal pallets of mobos, cpus, cd/dvd roms, hdds, mem, etc, all from Gateway. Most of these surplus parts were returns to the oem for some fault or other reason such as quality control discoveries or merely obsolete, but many were perfectly serviceable.

It was common for the fleamarket vendors to "warranty" the part - if it was doa or failed they'd replace it next month at the next fleamarket or refund your money. I picked up a few Jabil - Kadoka mobos (Athlon Slot A Gateway OEM boards) dirt cheap, built a few pcs and gave a cpu and board to Rusty, my Tribes buddy/nephew. How about 2 mobos for a measly $25? A cdrom for $10? How about a pallet of Voodoo 3s? Or perhaps a pallet full of Aureal pci sound cards? One trick I recall from then was if you found a tiny colored paper triangle sticker on a Gateway surplus part, look at the point of the triangle, the circuit trace or part there might be severed/scraped or otherwise damaged. You looked over every part before you laid down your cash and walked away from that fleamarket table with your "new" part. Eventually the pc surplus dried up as Gateway lost sales, moved to Ireland, and got bought out, consequently the fleamarket in Sioux City stopped being worth the drive as parts dried up and prices rose.

How does any of this crap relate to Tribes?

Prior to all this happy surplus pc parts fleamarket stuff, Rusty, bless his little heart, got me into the pc game Tribes; he and Gizmo mercillessly spawnkilling me over and over till I learned to instantly press the w button after spawning and move the mouse to get out of his/their blaster spam.

WSAD uber alles, arrow key users be damned!

Didn't even know how to move or shoot, how pathetic.

Before that I'd never pc gamed before, well there was that Atari 800XL or whatever it was that had missile command, miner 2049er, and pole position in high school, but I digress as that was much more akin to console play than current day pc gaming.

Thru the magic of being simultaneously pissed off and exasperated by something taking place on a pc screen... I became hooked on game boutique Dynamix's loveingly hand crafted goodness... in a masochistic way.

It became an almost daily ritual to meet at the coffee shop after work and use their pcs - all had Tribes as well as other games - mostly demos, and spend an hour or two fragging away. I learned how to ski, use the jetpack, place turrets, etc to the point I was no longer dying within a few seconds of spawning.

It's also perfectly normal to kill everyone in Hitman Codename 47, drag their bodies into an intersection, and then stand in triumph atop the pyramid of dead.

Speaking of Tribes...

Rusty had provided me with the full game and updates on a cd he had burned at home from a legit copy of Tribes. We found out later the reason Sierra went with to authenticate Tribes 2 purchasers for online play was Dynamix/Sierra found there were more people playing Tribes than had purchased the game, something on the order of several times as many. Apparently Rusty and I weren't the only players sharing a legit disk.


Anyway, when Rusticles and I were walking thru a mall in Omaha one fine day we stopped at the game shop. They had a single copy of Tribes, new in box, $14. Of course I bought it, and bought several copies of T2 later on when it came along. Perhaps some old vets recall emailing Sierra with pics of your T2 cd case with code so they would unlock your T2 game from forgotten pw or somesuch - this obviously from the time user authentication was still being performed.

From what I understand, Tribes 2 was originally to be a free update to Tribes, but Sierra said nope, new game, you gatta pay to play, so we did. When you think about how there were more people playing T1 than had bought the game you can't really blame them for going with authorisation.

Happymod came along subsequent to Tribes release. Hm spoofed memory locations the game would use in legit fashion - filling the fake locations with forbidden content the legit game denied to players - and then directed the game to use the fake mem locations. This relatively amazing hack for Tribes showed you where every player in the game was at all times even thru walls or terrain, and every emplaced turret. Happymod, or hm as it's called, had more or less ruined ultra mod play in Tribes because in ultra it is common to shoot across a map.

For ecample, one time in an aerial fight (ultra has unlimited flying and even boost) I had to lead the guy off screen as he was so far away, meaning he was off the screen to one side or the other for me to get him, guesstimating where he was going to be with my string of bullets. Hm also made the base players bitch even tho it had far less an effect on gameplay for base nerds than ultra nerds. Base weapons could hardly go 300m, some ultra weapons shoot across the map.

 So what did the devs do for T2 in spite of hm? They included perma iffs for the flags - with happymod in Tribes 1 the flags were 50 feet tall and could be seen across a map! Normally in Tribes there was no flag iff at all, if someone stole your flag you had no idear where he was unless he was in your view. Also there was one guy, "da jackal", that was literally hard coded into the Tribes game by Dynamix so he would be kick/ban from any server, lol, he must have been a real pain as the Tribes devs are great guys. I also heard they tried to or did hire HapPy to work on Tribes 2.

Following on his success in HM, HapPy rolled out HM2 for Tribes 2. This one did the same thing for T2 that HM did for T1, but added a new twist, an aimbot. Aimbots for T1 exist but only a few people have them, specifically L Spyro and nofix, each coding their own.

I had in-game recordings of Spyro and nofix running their aimbots in an ultra and base match respectively, it was fun to watch the realisation sink in on the players being slaughtered. And the accusations. Lol. It was always fun to obs nofix in matches as he was otherwise a good player. L Spyro only seemed interested in games to see if he could hack them, not play them.

Remember the first time you fired up T2? Today the image quality of T2 and especially T1 are laughable compared to pc games made in the last 15 years, but they were decent for their time. The owner of the coffee shop had preordered T2 and had Rusticles and I install and set it up when it showed up. We were amazed at the image quality improvement over Tribes, and T2 had water! If you ever saw water in Tribes you'd understand why we were so blown away with a puddle of water in T2.

And Derms. T1 did not have derms so that was new. And yes as mentioned by many the game was filled with glitches, it even had slightly different models and/or textures than those common to T2 today, but to say we were enthusiastic is an understatement. Also the master server lists for both T1 and T2 were filled with servers that were in turn maxed out in player count then. If you ever played at places like Houston or Miami Vehicles in T2 or any Homelan Federation Shifter mod server in T1 you know what I mean. Today T2 has like 20 servers and 20 players on a good nite mostly playing classic, T1 might have 40 servers and 30 players and the majority will be rpg mod players.

Prior to wasting time at the coffee shop with Rusticles and the game pcs, my only exposure to pcs was the lowly Cyrix 586 rig at home, it ran 95 and then 98 when it came along. Most of the pcs at the cafe were of the pii 350 to 400mhz class, all running 98 - this being 1998 era.

Before the Cyrix I had some dos running laptop type systems used for HAM radio but nothing major or expensive. Never gamed on any of them, just used for office type work and seeing what all it could do. Then after being exposed to Tribes, the urge to build a more powerful pc for home use hit. I wanted a pc at home that'd game at least as well as the ones at the cafe. All the people I played Tribes with had innernets at home cept for me, plus they all had pcs that would play Tribes.


  • I didn't know much about game pc parts selection when starting out; what specific part was available that'd be worthy of "gaming", so I set about studying like mad, reading any and all pc mags and books I could get my hands on. To be fair, I have been into electronics since I was 13 (a very long time ago) and was accustomed to creating circuits and soldering discrete components like diodes, transistors, caps, etc. I knew how pcs worked for the most part, just not what parts were currently best for specific purposes like gaming. At that time it was common to have two video cards in a "game" pc, one did 2d, the other was a 3d accelerator, and a jumper cable was used to go between the two. Vid cards were pricey even then so you had the additional cost for a 3d accelerator. The next evolution in video tech would be to perform 2d and 3d in the same card, the tnt, rage, and i740 were efforts in that direction.

    At home Crusty had an AMD K6 system with 3dFx voodoo cards in sli, I had no idea whatsoever about any of that other than it sounded cool and made the games run faster, but Rusty was adamant that it was uber and leet and all that. One of the neat deals about voodoo cards is they speak glide, the api Tribes was actually written in; opengl was an afterthought by the devs as not everyone had cards that spoke glide. We set Tribes to use glide in voodoo sli mode and were blown away, glide looked so much better and played smoother than the typical opengl rendering it was like night and day. Glide simply looked nicer than opengl, even with antialiasing enabled in opengl. Then add an Aureal sound card to get the sound effects in Tribes and you had a pc pretty much tailor made to play Tribes. There were other games written in glide, Quake comes to mind, but we didn't care much about them. Apparently a lot of other people didn't care about glide either, because soon glide was forgotten by game devs and pc gamers alike. 3dFx seemed to want game devs to use glide as their api rather than d3d or opengl, but opengl won that round. Today it seems most aaa games use d3d and the unreal engine, a shame far as I am concerned. I mean, T3 (Tribes Vengeance) had hacks written for it before it was released, due the ut engine. Same for T4 (Tribes Ascend).

    As I recall glide was what some arcade games used, 3dFx was in the arcade biz before they made pc vid cards. Eventually when 3dFx had made a few bad biz calls like buying up other failing vid card companies... their debts were over their profits, the sharks smelled blood in the water, and a shark named nvidia bought them out and hired some of their engineers, wich is why nvidia offers sli now.

    3dFx has an almost cultlike following today, and even has driver developers. Kinda like creative sound cards, with their various 3rd party driver packs.

    There used to be a number of vid card makers, SIS, Tseng Labs, Matrox, ATi, 3dFx, Power VR, come to mind. Several of them were bought out by the big 3 either to get their intellectual property, put them out of biz, or both.

    Look at this list and see if you had any of these blasts from the past; ... _companies

    Today we have roughly 3 video card chip makers; AMD, Nvidia, and Intel.

    Pretty much AMD (who gobbled up ATi) and nvid sell their chips to "partners" who use reference pc board designs from the respective chip makers to make cards and sell them, Intel goes about it themselves. Back in the day Intel bought out Real3d, who made vr setups for military and science. Intel used the Real3d tech to build their i740 agp cards, said i740 cards were no match - fps wise - for nvid or others in the same price point, and that was all for Intel in the grafix market till today when you can buy discrete Intel graphics cards in a new laptop or desktop machine. Last time Intel tried to enter the discrete video card market; the Larrabee project, they used masses of p54c cores on the same die, the original pentium core, just hundreds of them on the same vid card.

    One of the pc mags that helped particularly with sorting what parts would be good for a game build was Maximum PC, the mag also came with a cd that had apps and game demos. Max pc reviewed dozens of complete rigs and discrete parts per year and always had interesting articles. More or less what I learned about game pc building was to look at what the boutique game pc builders were offering and then emulate the same systems - but on cheaper mobos and vid cards. For example, instead of top of the line Asus mobo, get a MSI or Gigglebit, or, dare I say it, Biostar nForce mobo. Asus was my fav for anything pc related till ECS bought them out, haven't touched one since but I've heard their quality is ok. Instead of a Elsa or Gainward Gf3ti500, get an EVGA or PNY version. The thing about building this way is the boutiqes sorted out what parts were compatible, reliable, and powerful enough to be competetive (and you didn't have to spend a dime) as they had direct access to the parts makers and even the os writers. These parts makers wanted to sell parts so they worked closely with the boutiques - something you and I mere mortals couldn't do. You may recall the likes of Alienware, Falcon Northwest, Cyberpower, and several lesser known boutiques making headlines in the early to mid 2000s, open any old max pc mag and look in the back pages for a trip down gaming pc boutique memory lane. A lot of the boutiques are gone now, however Alien was bought out by an oem and still exists as a oem line you can get from some of the big box stores.

    As mentioned before, a Linux users group, or LUG, started having a monthly pc fleamarket in Omaha area locations, settling in the NG armory. The place was always packed and you would always find some seller not wanting to cart something home with them so were willing to deal. Ebay, so you know, has not always existed, so we needed fleamarkets.

    Then after 9/11 the armory shows stopped due to the obvious, I mean the NG had a guy in camo with face paint, a guard dog, and full mag in his M4 telling people that pulled into the parking lot the fleamarket was cancelled for the time being, never came back for all I know. A little inconvenience felt in Omaha unlike what had happened in NYC.

    Then a place called DIT came along, DIT was a brick and mortar shop that had several locations in Omaha and they sold new pc parts about as cheap as you could find anywhere. The local brick and mortar ripoff places that had been in Omaha since people started buying pcs were still charging arms and legs - and DIT bit deeply into their biz right in their own back yard. The good old days like at the fleamarkets was back! DIT often had a bare bones special consisting of cpu, mem, and mobo for an insane price. Sometimes they had entire systems for dirt cheap, but the case and psu were often really cheap units. I asked a guy how DIT got so low prices on new gear, I knew he had been their webmaster for a while. He laughed and said the parts were seconds or refurbs in many cases, and the sign on the table filled with oem nvid Gf2 cards sometimes bore this out by saying part was not returnable - you rolls the dice and you takes your chances. He also mentioned the owner having family in Asia in the tech manufacturing sector that helped him get killer deals. DIT expanded into Iowa and maybe other states, giving up on the cheapest parts in town motif and went full msrp pricing like worst buy and the rest of the big store pc parts retailers long before they faded away - DIT went out of biz I think around 2015 or so.

    One time me and Rusty walk into DIT (in the good old days) and they had brand new AMD XP cpus (XP cpus had just hit the market and I was rocking an Athlon 750 slot at the time so was looking to upgrade) and a literal pallet/bin of M$ Windows XP oem install discs, I got a AMD Athlon XP1400 cpu, a mobo, a copy of XP for myself, and a copy for Rusticles as he is a worthy nephew. It was less than $100 for a XP disc and can't recall how much they wanted for the XP1400 cpu but it was cheap. Got a Biostar or MSI mobo with Via chipset and some ddr to go with it. Off I went for a state of the art build with all brand new parts. XP the OS hadn't even been released to market yet and here we were driving back to small town Nebraska with a few copies lol. Before that we had been running 98, Millenium Edition (wich I preferred over 98), or 2k.

    The mobo I got to go with the XP cpu had a VIA KT-266 chipset, these chipsets were problematic and VIA soon released a updated set, the KT-266A, and it was an excellent set with none of the probs the earlier release had and with very good performance. The next big problem was what vid card to run with this state of the art cpu, mobo, and os? I mustered on with a TNT2 or Rage128 for a long time as no sweet deals on vid cards came my way, these vid cards were holding me back from all the performance my cpu and mobo could allow. Eventually a nvid gf256 came my way, but it was a mere step above a tnt2 or rage card.

    Most everyone playing Tribes at the time had dialup. It was ubiquitous, broadband was just entering markets in larger metros but it was seemingly ages getting to Blair Nebraska. Oh sure you could get ISDN but that was a mere step above dialup. So I decided to start using dialup. The dialup I got, being only 5 blocks from the phone co central office and hence its bank of modem cards, provided a best of 44kbps on a good day. Sometimes I could get 56k, like at 4am or so when no one else was using dialup. Often I couldn't synch my modem with the phone co at all but the phone line worked, so I called the isp tech number and the guy at the desk said "I told them we needed to buy more modems!" This was my lesson in a neat trick used by ISPs called oversubscription.

    Oversubscription is where a ISP sells more innernet access than they can rationally expect to provide bandwidth for. They know not every person in town is going to be using dialup at any one time - so they don't have to buy enough modems (or bandwidth from the ISPs ISP) for all their subscribers! it works fine for them for the most part till some nerd like me can't get a dialup synch at 10pm because every modem card in the rack at the phone co is in use. Yes, they had a rack of pci slots with pci modems being fed from local phone lines, that hence fed into whatever broadband link the ISP had to innerweb. Sadly, oversubscription is here to stay as a common business model, your ISP likely practices it too.

    Anyway, people on innernets suggested I try to find a hardware modem to get best results from dialup, so I went looking. All I had at the time was a winmodem run by the cpu, and always unreliable. At first I got a external USR comm port hardware modem and it worked like a champ, synched faster too. You remember USR, U.S. Robotics? They made the killer robot in Will Smiffs epic movie "I Robot" as you may recall. I ran that modem with tweaked comm port settings and it certainly helped with modem drops, speed fluctuations, and etc. Then at one of the Omaha flea markets or DIT I found a pci hardware modem. This would allow one to bypass the comm port stack entirely and dump packets right into or out of the pci bus. Kinda a poor mans dsl. Noticeably lower latency than the external comms port modem, just as reliable, and also made by USR!

    I used to hang at pc mechanic forums and they had a section for members to sell used parts, Wolfie sold me a socket 462 Nforce mobo for the XP cpu I had. The nforce was all the rage at that time with dual channel mem and very high quality onboard sound. In benchmarking with the same cpu and mem, nforce was superior to the KT266A VIA chips in most ways - but not by much, I was then running a 266A mobo. Still I was only playing with a lowly TNT2 or gf2 card, getting my butt handed to me by players with many more fpseses, or at least I imagined it was my hardware that sucked and not me.

    Wolfie later sold me a Gf3ti card he wasn't using anymore, and it made a world of difference in gaming as the nforce mobo and gf3 card were meant to be together.

    So now with gf3ti card on a nforce mobo, I had a xbox pc more or less.

    The first xbox, of a similar era to my first nforce system, is more or less a celeron 733, a gf3ti, and an nforce mobo/embedded system running a nt/d3d based os. The xbox gamed fine for its time so I knew I was ok with my setup at least for a while. But a console, even in pc clothing, simply cannot satisfy a member of the Elite PC Gaming Master Race. That's a thing, the Elite PC Gaming Master Race.

    If you play Tribes you are a de facto member of said race. And likely its most elite niche of nerds, people who actually play Tribes. There's what, maybe 100 of us worldwide in T1 and T2?

  • But wait.

    Did someone mention game servers?

    Could swear someone said game server.

    I definitely heard game server.

    Let me tell you about them.

    Gizmo, one of the nerds who got me into Tribes, ran a Tribes server whenever he was working as he could use the work pc and bandwidth at the ISP to host online players. He hosted a "listen server", one where the player hosts a "server" in the same instance as his game "client" plays the game, but I understood none of this technobable at the time. Little did I know that whenever I was forced to play Tribes with Gizmo and Rusty I was actually inside Gizmos pc, as was any of the other players in that match. Kinda like the movie Tron but not really. Rusty, my nefarious nephew, had mentioned this "server" thingy to me before - that we could run our own, but it didn't register with me, after all, at the time I was still unsure if I liked Tribes or not.

    After learning a game server was the persistent world environment the players interact in, I was all like what is this "server" thingy you speak of? Gizmo further explained it to me and I was like hmmm I'd like to run a server thingy someday. Crusticles was all for it. A few weeks later it just so happened Rusticles and I amassed a pile of older pc parts, yes, from a fleamarket, and we started putting a "game server" together that would be "colocated" at the ISP and stay up full time. The ISP folks were nice letting us park our server on their bandwidth as they played Tribes too. In France they call servers "waiters" like as if they worked at a cafe or something. In canada, milk comes in bags.

    Anyway.... I think our first Tribes server was an old Slot 1 Intel mobo running a 266mHz pii cpu with a blazing fast 66mhz bus, mebbe 96mb (64mb and 32mb sticks) sdram, all tucked into a gigantor beige server case that was mostly filled with air. You remember those, they could hold like 14 drives? It was a huge tower case I got cheap somewhere and we popped in the board, a 3com nic, psu, a tiny ide drive, a fresh coat of 98.... and off we went to game server host land.

    Yes, 98.

    On the ISPs line.

    Rusty's Playhouse!

    This server is how we found out could end up as an actual globally visible ip, lol.

    Eventually we added a firewall.

    It ran Tribes dedicated server and nothing else. At the outset we ran the various flavors of renegades mod and settled on ultra. The server was so popular at the time that often we couldn't even get into our own server till we upped the player count to 30 or more. It was packed almost 24/7 for days at a stretch and yes we had no idea what we were doing but whatever it was we were doing it was fun.

    This was in 1999/2000/2001, think we had a game server up almost 24/7 till 2007 or so.

    After The Blair Witch Project movie came out, invoking the name of our home town, we renamed the server Blair Lag Project, each version of Tribes we served used that name. The cs1.6 server was named Foreign Intervention 1.6.

    I often watched, as geeks/nerds are wont to do, the game console and task manager in the server to see how it (the server) played; the only time there was really any cpu use by the game - even if there was 30 plus nerds logged in at max packet rates all trying to kill each other - was at map changes, and that was mostly due to disk access overhead as the next map was loaded off the disk and into ram.

    Part of the map-change-cpu-spike issue was texture verification of each client, conducted so everyone was allegedly playing the same game, this would take cpu cycles as well as more than normal net bandwidth in and out till the map was loaded and textures verified. The map changes never got above say 60 percent cpu but I still wondered if I could reduce it and/or speed up map changes at the server.

    So how does Tribes Dedicated Server work? ... -model.pdf

    I was, at that time of our foray into game serving, reading up on servers in general - and there was little to nothing on the innernets about building one, best practices, etc. Most servers in the world are _not_ serving games, they're serving webpages, cat videos, and databases, and have little in relation to game servers as far as software/app served goes, so you know.

    FPS Game servers are pretty much about one thing; a consistent low latency response to player input.

    Most every other kind of server can have loads of latency and still perform its function well, not so with a game server where consistently low latency is paramount. There are ways to improve game server latency such as running at higher priority, dedicating a cpu core or cores to the game, and tuning the netstack for lowest latency for udp packets, but these were way beyond my skillset in 2000.

    In FPS gaming, fps here standing for first person shooter, a combat simulation, latency is all.

    In fps game pcs, fps is all, and here fps means frames per second, the more fps the lower the what, kids?

    That's right kids, latency!

    FPS is life.

    "If you were running this on a Falcon Northwest PC you'd be done by now" (actual Falcon NW ad in a 3dmark benchmark)

    The higher the fps simply the less latency between player input and results on screen. From the Tribes Networking White Paper we learn that Tribes Dedicated Server, all flavours, sends at maximum an update packet every 32ms. However, the server will show if one types (showfps); into the server console 100fps as the result, or a loop/frame every 10ms, but only the gamestate recorded by the server prior to the next gamestate packet to be sent is authoritative.

    I presume input packets from clients are absorbed into the server at that rate - 100fps or every 10ms the server will accept input packets in whatever order they hit the server netstack from the wan/lan.

    Clients, on the other hand, are hard limited by the game to send only up to 30 packets per second to a server, or every 32ms. So, say there's 30 nerds sending 30 packets per second to a server with that server sending 30 packets per second back to each client, well, thats a lot of packets to be processed. So there's some relevant numbers on the subject of Tribes latency to ponder. Needless to say we started using an Intel pci nic as the 3coms were more cpu intensive and the realtecs not very latency or cpu friendly either.

    I started thinking mebbe the disk system could use an upgrade as the disk in the server was some old quantum bigfoot ide (Integrated Drive Electronics) drive or other quaintly named pc part. So we went looking for "scsi" gear at the next few fleamarkets, as suggested by my study in the art of serverage. You say the word "scsi" as "scuzzy", not as "sexy", but to a nerd scsi is indeed sexy. Very sexy. It's also very old and obsolete tech today.

    As luck would have it, we soon scored an Adaptec 2940UW scsi card, some scsi cable, and a few tiny (4 and 9gb) scsi drives. Scsi stands for Small Computer System Interface, a "bus" via wich one could attach drives, printers, all sorts of doodads, and it was all uber geeky and nerdy, reducing cpu time as it handled its own error correction and detection, offloading all the boring drive access stuff from the cpu. Plus most of the ide drives we had at the time ran at a lazy 5400rpm and the cpu handled all the ide interactions, the scsi drives typically screamed along at 10krpm, that and the scsi adapter card made the map changes much less noticeable to the cpu. Scsi has needs all its own - such as setting addresses for each device on a scsi chain including the 'dapter card, ensuring the scsi cable end was terminated, preferably actively, and etc geek/nerd terminology.

    We had arrived in game server nirvana via a scsi bus. Lol, dapter.

    And oh the fun of assembling a drive case filled with multiple scsi drives and a psu, then forgetting to leave an address for the hba. The hba is normally 7 by the way and I'd set a drive in the middle of the case to 7, good job, and to get it out and change it I had to undo all the 20 feet of scsi cable and termination.

    And plug it all back in again.

    An oddity noted while hosting Tribes;

    We had a regular player, "ben laggin" by name, who seemed to posess mythical Tribes abilities.

    1337 5k1llz.

    He was, more or less, unstoppable. When the same player routinely gets several times the normal score of non-cheating veteran players, well, that might indicate something is "wrong".

    So one day when ben was putting on a fine performance in our server, we decided to perform a test. When the next map loaded, we put ben on a team by himself and everyone else in the server, 25 mostly vet players, on the other. We did this without telling anyone first - several players naturally tried to switch onto bens team but we stopped them and asked them to humor us for the next map and then all would be revealed.

    Ben complained about the teams, I assume he suspected what was going on, but we said play the game.

    The match began.... and those 25 players?

    They never laid a hand on ben, he killed them all and stole their flag over and over again, capping it till the map was over. A T1 ultra map might take 16 caps to win and lasts 25 mins, this one didn't last near that long. At first the other players went easy on him since they didn't think us badmins putting poor ben on a team by hisself was in any sense fair, but after they noticed he killed their entire team they started actually trying. If ben died it was his own doing, not the other players. If he was smart he would've let himself get wacked every once in a while thus defeating our challenge, but his ego apparently demanded otherwise.

    He was online from somewhere in the US playing against others with similar average pings, say 40 to 100ms, however the players at the cafe all had a huge advantage from being on the lan to the server; pings of 16ms, and he still killed them.

    Never saw anything like it before or since.

    This was Tribes 1 ultraVX mod, bloodbath the map, and there are about 28 people who witnessed it. I watched the console at the server the whole time after the map started and noted nothing unusual save for bens kills and caps.

    That was enough for me, ben had some serious code on his side that we knew nothing about. He was a nice guy, but we all knew he was cheating his ass off.

    Back then I'd no idea how he was pulling this off save for some secret dev insider hack, today I'm thinking he may have been using timescale and hm plus some exploits rampant in Tribes that at the time I knew nothing about. One time when we were just starting to notice ben was special, I filled a room ben and his team was in with mortars, killing everyone save for him. I asked him how he survived it and he said "learn to play the game". Sure. Then I heard in some cases Tribes had probs with registering hits on players in corners of rooms, for example. Never worked for me when I tested it. There was also a Tribes exploit where you could lay a mine on a roof or floor of a building and then fire mortar rounds thru the mine to the floor below. Neat! The mine didn't explode. Eventually that got patched out. It was fun while it lasted tho. You could pop force fields in T1 if you spammed them with mortars till they popped, or used full laser charges on them. That lead to some seriously angry players wondering wtf was going on as our force fields wouldn't let them thru while theirs let us in.

    The map change cpu time was now so low I wanted to do some further testing, how low could we go cpu-wise and still smoothly host 30 or more psychopaths trying to kill each other and steal each others flags at max packet rates? So we popped in the slowest pii cpu we had, something like 233mhz, we had several pii slot cpus - relics from the ISP on hand, up to 450s, but we reserved those for low end game client builds, not server hosting. At the time, a common game pc found in the average home might be a pii 450 with a nvid tnt2, ati rage, or a voodoo card, a lot of guys had the AMD K6 cpus too. Turns out, Tribes dedicated server runs absolutely fine on a pii 233mhz cpu.

    Got a copy of 2k so we used that as the server os, and it ran fine with much less hassle from crashes and outright hackability than it had under 98.

    98 was never meant to be left running for days on end anyway - a must for just about any kind of server - unlike 2k wich could go for months easily.

    That said, you never want to run Tribes Dedicated Server without a restart every day or so to clean out mem leaks and such or to not run out of strings.

  • Later on we ran a dual 1ghz piii server just because we had the parts, and it served not only Tribes, but Tribes 2, CS 1.6, and Tribes Vengeance all at the same time. Of course it had scsi drives. That dual piii system worked a treat till one of the cpus failed. Then we rolled a dual Athlon XP1400 setup (Athlons would do smp, who knew?) on an Asus A7M266D mobo hosting the same games. In our Athlon SMP server was a Intel pcix offloading network card, a pcix scsi card, some scsi drives, and a few gigs of ecc ram. All very servery.

    For the time, the Athlon XP chips had outstanding floating point processing power compared to many other cpus, even faster (mhz wise) ones, and many fps games are all about floating point math so running float heavy game servers on cpus with superior float is a no brainer. This server didn't even notice map changes or full servers.

    That server still exists today, hasn't served much of anything for years, but look for it in the future.

    Anyway I think I mentioned retro game pc build earlier.

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