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When an Indie game looks better than triple A: Natural Selection 2

Indie studio Unknown Worlds has kicked up a press storm with the release of Natural Selection 2 and its AAA look. It seems impossible that a team of seven (henceforth to be called, the magnificent seven), could produce a game with the depth, quality and features that we see in NS2. If you know anything of the history around the Natural Selection universe, you will know that this game was in fact, not the creation of a few dedicated individuals.

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A Team Of Seven Is Making A Game That ‘Shouldn’t Be Possible’ Jason Schreier on Kotaku

The phenomenon that is Natural Selection is a combined labour of love from the NS community and its staff. It’s a triumph, an anthem to celebrate the accomplishment of gamer and developer. I will play it just to share in some way the incredible experience this community has gone through.

I caught up with Hugh Jeremy, designated spokesperson for Unknown Worlds by day and NS shoutcaster and streamer by night.

What are the major changes you’ve made from NS1 to NS2?

“We have two major areas of focus for NS1 – NS2 changes.

The first is to make the game more accessible to new players. Clearer tech-trees, better in-game help, and removal of opaque and arbitrary game mechanics have helped us do this. For example, individual players may now buy their own weapons. Simple things like round-end (Who won? Who lost?) have been made clearer. The list goes on.

The second is to make the game deeper, more balanced, and more competitive for advanced players. We have achieved this by adding an alien commander, collecting detailed and in depth balance statistics and creating a resource system that remains balanced across all player numbers.

These are just examples; there is a whole heap of stuff!”

The vibe around NS speaks about exceptional passion and dedication, both from the developers and the community. Why do you think this is?

“Like water, it is the natural human tendency to move down the path of least resistance. We instinctively walk downhill, we buy fancy exercise gear instead of just working hard, and we like to make movies, games, and music that are easy to create and consume.

Sometimes, we decide to do something hard. Like land a rover on Mars, or win an Olympic gold medal. Often we react to the idea of doing something hard with scorn: If it is hard, it must be bad. This is not true. If something is hard to do, if it is hard to bring a game concept to fruition, then it might just be that the reward at the end of the development is an amazing, unexpected experience.

That is what Natural Selection 2 is. Our passion to develop the game, the passion of our community to create the game, and the whole ecosystem of Mods, Maps, eSports and humour that is growing up around it. That is a reaction to people saying: “Oh wow, this is not the easy way out.” It was hard to develop this thing. But you know what, because it is different, unique, and challenging, it is providing us with a new and amazing experience.”

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A fantastic looking and playing game that could truly be the start of something unique and wonderful in the PC gaming world. Tony Hsieh on gamingexaminer

What role has the NS community played in the shaping of NS2?

“The NS community’s role is total, complete, and crucial. The community funded the development. They have created official maps. They built the entire spectator system. They have argued passionately for balance changes, unit changes, and gameplay additions. The team has been hired from the community. Mappers, coders, spokespeople have all been hired because they were working on NS as volunteers, as community members.

The question is not ‘what role did the community play’ but ‘what roles did the community not take on?”

NS2 has a very steep learning curve, making it a daunting challenge for gamers who’ve not played NS1. Have you implemented any game mechanics that could ease new players into the NS2 world?

“NS1 had a steep learning curve. NS2 does not. It has a challenging learning curve, more so than say a free-to-play mobile browser game, but is not daunting anymore. We are implementing in depth tutorial and help systems in the game to make sure new players can find their way around easily. For example, ‘Explore Mode’ allows player to explore a pre-built map with hints and tips about what everything is.

After all, if people only wanted games they can pick up in 30 seconds flat, we’d all be playing boring crap sequel clones all day!”

The electronic playground is filled with F2P MMOFPS’s, like Planetside 2. How will NS2 make its own mark and keep its player base?

“Making a game free-to-play does not mean creating a loyal player-base. It is not the price of a game, but the quality of a game that dictates whether or not players come and stay. In fact, we think players will appreciate the fact that they do not have to pay-to-win, and simply pay a one off fee to gain infinite access to our ever growing, constantly updated and unique game.

We already have over 40,000 pre-orders for NS2 and rapidly rising. We have debuted at no.5 on the Steam top-seller list and no.1 on the indie list. Live cast NS2 matches happen every single day, and competitive teams abound. Entire games have been built using Spark mod tools. Our mapping forums are chock full of community creations.

This game has a wonderful, thriving, noisy, brilliant player-base. That player-base has built this game. They will continue to do so – They own it, it’s theirs.”

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Balancing a game where the two teams are so very different is no easy feat, and Unknown Worlds seem to have got it spot on. Jamie Donnelly on Strategyinformer.  

What are you expectations of NS2 as an eSports title?

“We expect that it the decision about whether or not NS2 will be an eSport does not lie with us. It lies with the community of players already building a competitive ecosystem around the game. ‘eSport’ is a term that gets bandied around as if it requires the blessing of large gaming organisations to be valid. But we know better – We know that if people want to play a game competitively, they do not wait for someone to bless that play. They will make that play happen. Given the exceptionally healthy rivalries, match circuits, livestreams and hero players that are already growing, we expect that there will be a healthy competitive NS2 scene.”  

Closing thoughts

The passion that surrounds NS2 is infections and admirable, it demands our respect and support. MWEB GameZone will continue to host servers and assist the local NS2 community with the resources available to us. For more information on the game you can check out my article, “Thechallenging world of Natural Selection 2.” NS2 is also available via the Steam Store.

Local community:  #natural-selection on IRC (Shadowfire network)

Unknown Worlds: Twitter | Website | Facebook

Check out the latest NS2 gameplay video, featuring the Marine.

Han’s Twitter | Blog

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