Natural Selection 2's Developer Is Trying To Revive The FPS-RTS Hybrid Again

Life has been a bit messy and unwieldy for Natural Selection 2, the hardcore FPS-RTS hybrid that Unknown Worlds Entertainment released at the end of October 2012. Since last year, the studio has left the development of the game to the community (titled the Community Development Team), and things haven't gone according to plan.

The game has had less than 400 concurrent users since the beginning of the year, and the last time that figure was over 1000 was January 2014. So things need to change, and that's starting with the developers. They're getting back on board.

It all became known to the internet overnight when a draft of an "announcement post" from the game's project lead Hugh Jeremy was inadvertently discovered. In that, Jeremy praised the community developers for ensuring the "long-term survival" of NS2 and adding "multiple high-quality updates [that] have made tangible improvements to the quality of the game".

But the community is small, very small. Jeremy wrote that "there is a clear and present danger" of the game dwindling into oblivion. To avert that, Unknown Worlds is experimenting by hiring a "small group of people from the NS2 community" and building "a business case for renewed NS development funding". "We are going to try things that conventional wisdom suggests are utterly insane."

That's what was in the leaked announcement, anyway. The official post on the Unknown Worlds site doesn't change any of that, although it is much more frank about the situation facing NS2. "The decision to return to NS2 is a big, complex, nuanced one," Jeremy said. "It is hard to describe it all in a single email, blog post, or phone call. It’s even harder to convey the idea that Unknown Worlds doesn’t have all the answers, and that not having an answer is OK."

To that end, Unknown Worlds has posted a string of Q&A's and blog posts from team members fleshing out the rest of their vision for how they might revive NS2. It's not organised or collated in any fashion, but from what I can glean the following appears to be things Unknown Worlds might aim at over the next 3-6 months:

  • The developers won't be focusing on doing much media outreach, instead relying on word of mouth from the community and engaging directly with the community. Jeremy responded in a Q&A that "aiming for media exposure appears to be harmful to the success of a game" and that Unknown Worlds' projects have "become much more successful ... since abandoning [media exposure]". If their experiments over the next half year or so work out, that situation might change, but for now don't expect the developers to do much of a PR drive.
  • The community development crew won't be dismantled, and Unknown Worlds has no intention of doing so (although Jeremy opined that their workflow might change). "The CDT is, and I think will continue to be, an outstanding success. People are going to give Game Developers Conference talks about it one day. They’re going to study and idolise the NS2 CDT," he said.
  • The development team on NS2 is 8 people large, with only one — the engineering, network infrastructure and build lead — working full-time.
  • Unknown Worlds wants to reward the community for their contributions, if it becomes widely accepted. In a post to the community, one of the Unknown Worlds team wrote "[the] contribution system has yet to be ironed out, but we’re looking forward to providing an environment where contributions are not only recognized, but compensated." They hope to have finalised the details for the contribution model within three months.
  • As is becoming customary, Unknown Worlds will also be making much of the day-to-day patching more visible to the community. "In addition, we will be striving to create mechanisms to allow you ways to give direct feedback on specific changes," the full-time engineer on the NS2 team, Brock Gillespie, wrote.

It'll be interesting to see how things go for NS2. There's certainly a chance that they can pick up some interest over the holiday season with a well-targeted Steam sale — they're not far away — although one suspects the game needs more concessions for casuals if they want the community to grow. An efficient matchmaking system, ala CS:GO, wouldn't go astray, but finding a way to allow new players to function as the Commander without ruining the entire game might be just as crucial to fix.

Either way, I hope they find something. I remember brief dalliances with the original Half-Life mod and there have been few quality FPS-RTS hybrids over the years. NS2 is still one of those, even if it never did strike the chord with the wider gaming masses that I wish it had.


Comments

    I was pretty excited reading this yesterday.

    "although one suspects the game needs more concessions for casuals if they want the community to grow."

    This has always been the problem with Natural Selection 2. They should have learnt their lesson with NS1 and integrated Natural Selection 2 Combat into the main game from the start. Combat acts as a bridge for newbies to jump right into the action without having to take on the steep learning curve.

    I really hope this venture turns out well for UWE.

      I was one of the NS2 preorders and followed it for a really long time, being an ardent fan of the original mod... but I think their biggest failing was when they elected to go with their own engine. It just wasn't as good. Which is sad, and I don't think can really be fixed.

      I don't really have the language to define the specific metrics I subconsciously use to evaluate an engine's 'feel'. The hard values and properties that comprise the difference between incredibly vague terms like 'floaty' or 'sluggish'. If I did, I could provide more meaningful feedback.

        I disagree. The engine gave them the power they needed to bring it to life.

        I too was one of the original preorders, but the biggest turn off for me which stopped me playing back in early 2013 was that the servers were horrendously unoptimized, I would be seeing huge pings in local servers. They also pushed this big behemoth of a monster as playable from the beginning, but it was never in during the time I played.

        That was their downfall to me.

          That engine was fantastic. They absolutely did the right thing for my money. (Didn't pre-order but had a ball. Also reviewed it partially for another site, disclosure etc etc yada yada.)

          The servers bugged me a little but what killed the experience was knowing that I could never go Commander and learn that aspect of things without ruining the game for everyone. And that's a killer. The learning curve was immensely steep and there was no viable way to actually climb it.

          Starcraft has an immense learning curve. But you can at least have a viable way to butt your head against the wall, fall off the cliff or whatever as you get your APM up, get your builds down, stop being supply blocked, and all of that. Never felt that with NS2, and I'm not surprised the community didn't stick around.

          Also, indie game that lives or dies on multiplayer. Was a weak year for AAA releases, but launching right at the end of October -- never helpful.

    A die-hard community is certainly a strength of the multiplayer-only title, but also a potentially debilitating weakness.

    If your title needs new blood, you aren't going attract it by dumping newcomers into an arena with fine-tuned head-shotting cyborg ninjas who follow patterns of build orders and point-holding like a chess grandmaster.

    If your welcome is:
    "Hi. The community is small, but it's incredibly well-practiced at this with years of expertise and the only way you'll derive any enjoyment is if you can invest enough time at being a useless scrub until you git gud."
    The response will be:
    "Nope. Life is too short to spend it being someone else's fodder. I get enough of that at work, not when I'm supposed to be enjoying a power fantasy in my leisure time." *uninstall* *refund*

    There needs to be not only 'new blood' but there needs to be so much of it that the seasoned veterans can't dominate the game, and the new players can enjoy something closer to a 50:50 win:loss than the curb-stomping they should otherwise expect when they step into well-held turf.

      It is the problem with all online shooters, by the time I get to them, the players are so practiced that there really is no way in.

        It's another part of why I'm avoiding MP-only titles these days, considering them to be more 'events' than lasting products. They have very little longevity for entry into the series.

        Even if servers are populated enough that you can get a match in your region.

        This is especially noticable when they include power progression/unlocks which every established player already has. It's not enough that you start out with less experience and practice, but you start out with a shittier set of tools. Having to 'pay your dues' before you can start enjoying any kind of ability to compete is a significant down-side to a game and is usually a deal-breaker for me.

        Natural Selection is a game that I want to love and I happily bought it at release. Never played a match. I'm bad at FPS titles despite having once risen to the lofty ranks of "not completely terrible" at CS in high school. I'm okay at RTS games.

        Both genres are very stressful for newcomers and while NS2 has all of the positives of those genres, it has the negatives too. The biggest one simply being perception. New players see a massive wall to overcome and that's a real shame.

    I really hated the NS1 when it came out but after I played a few matches with my mates and I was hooked. The learning curve was huge but it's such a deep and rewarding game it was worth spending hours on COGS trying to get into a game. I think combat killed vanilla its was a good stepping stone but they needed to do more to get people into vanilla at least a tutorial level would of been nice. I tried really hard to get into NS2 but it just felt too different for me. I wasn't having fun with learning how it all worked. I wish the team at UnknownWorlds all the best but I think they are flogging a dead horse with vanilla NS. I think they need to strip the game right back and build from there.
    I haven't played NS2 since 2013 and I'm not sure of the changes since then. Maybe I should try again.

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