How Natural Selection 2 Was Saved (And Made) By Fans

By Nathan Grayson on November 3rd, 2012 at 11:00 am.

Natural Selection 2 is out. You can buy it right now. Given that it’s actually possible both purchase and play (!) a great many games, that might not seem like such a huge deal to you. But make no mistake: Unknown Worlds’ RTS/FPS buildy-chompy-shooty hybrid could’ve easily died on the vine. And it nearly did – over and over and over, for pretty much the entirety of its development cycle. Fortunately, the NS2 team has always had a secret weapon on its side: a community that is – by most definitions of the word – completely and rather terrifyingly insane. This is their story.

Life isn’t fair. Things rarely – if ever – go the way we plan them. But most of the time, that usually just means canceling vacation plans or tearfully imagining countless XCOM squadmates floating out to the ocean in their fiery Viking coffins. For Natural Selection 2 game director Charlie Cleveland, however, the flippant whims of fate nearly stole away his dream project. Countless times.

“It went to hell as soon as NS2 started,” Cleveland says bluntly, laughing. “NS1, there was no funding required, and no big team. Making a Half-Life 1 mod is totally different from making [a full game]. I mean, game design-wise it’s basically like making a game today. But technically, artistically, for all the environments, it is such a different game. Business model, all that stuff. People expect a lot more. They need nice animations and nice particle effects and all that stuff. It makes the whole budget ripple. And it can’t be done by one person. So the funding… it pretty much went straight to hell.”

“It was always a struggle,” adds art director and project long-timer Cory Strader. “There was never enough of that initial chunk of money to really get rolling. We could never hire enough. We could never do the things we needed to do. We were always on the brink of going out of business. We’d get paid, then we’d have to come up with some new scheme to generate a bit more money.”

It’s almost too fitting, then, that we’re sitting in a break room littered with slabs of wood from Unknown Worlds’ PAX booth. Each is dotted with signatures from diehard fans – Natural Selection 2′s saviors, whether from halfway across the world, within that very office building, or sometimes, both. They crowdfunded NS2 before crowdfunding was even a word. They contributed whole maps and entire systems to the final game. They believed it’d eventually be good, even when it definitely wasn’t. And so, naturally, Cleveland and co plan to have the planks topped with glass and turned into a table, a constant reminder of the absurdly passionate folks who kept them afloat. Which isn’t really what tables do, but you get the idea.

The Natural Selection community’s always been a bit more dedicated than most, Strader points out. ”Maybe that’s it,” he motions, glancing up from a moment of silent contemplation. “Just the kind of people that you’re going to attract that are looking for something different. They clearly are a minority, when 24 million people are buying Call of Duty. The kind of people who play Natural Selection are obviously a much smaller group, but maybe they’re a much more passionate, loyal fanbase.”

Strader’s not just puffing out his chest for promotion’s sake, either. He and the rest of the team at Unknown Worlds know that their fans are, well, kind of insane. They know because even their most rabidly dedicated followers have been put to the test. It all began with an alpha that – in all honesty – was “alpha” in name more than anything else.

“We just… We felt like we had to call it ‘alpha’ because we needed the press,” Cleveland reflects. “We needed people to get excited about something and actually play it and maybe drive pre-orders. We probably could have called it a ‘development build,’ now that I look back on it. That might have worked. People were just expecting something more. They legitimately deserved to get more, but we didn’t have any more. We had to release something, because we needed the influx of money from new pre-orders.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t save the day. Not by a long shot.

“It got us through,” Cleveland sighs. “I forget how much time that bought us. Three months, four months. Beta was shortly thereafter. It was one of the lowest points. We really needed money from beta. Or ‘beta’ I guess. We had this awesome trailer. And for some reason, we did not get picked up anywhere. We had no sales.”

“That was the low point in our community, too,” adds Strader. “They were along for the ride with us for alpha. They knew it was buggy and all that stuff. People were saying, ‘It’s not ready for [beta] at all! This is ridiculous!’ It was a little challenging to go through that point. It was just so much constant negativity from every direction.”

“But there was just no way we could have avoided it. From the beginning, that was a goal of ours: to be as open with our community as possible. We’ve worked at other game companies – I’ve been at three other companies now – and everything is always so secretive. You always have a publisher that dictates the PR that you can do, when you can do it, when you can release screenshots and all that stuff. It’s so freeing to not have those constraints – to be like, ‘Hey, guys, this is what game development is really like.’ But it comes with all these problems. They still don’t understand how much real thought and time goes into things. It’s not pretty. When you’re working at a game company, you have all these problems that people just don’t see.”

Keeping development more open than most, however, produced an interesting effect. While some fans picked up their techno-pitchforks and space-torches (burning with that magical spaceship sci-fire that survives in the vacuum of space), others slipped on their programming gloves and got to work. Put simply, dedicated community members thought they could do better than Unknown Worlds. So they did.

“Our spectator system comes from this guy who works at Amazon who decided he wanted to make a better spectator system than we had,” Cleveland grins. “He just did it. We were like, ‘That’s amazing. Can you add some more and can we put it in the game?’ He says, ‘Of course, what do you want?’”

“And then Andreas, this Austrian guy, he was fixing some bugs. He was doing crazy work with features. So we said, ‘Hey, that’s pretty cool. Can we incorporate that in the game?’ All this with a YouTube video. ‘New Gorge ability!’ It was really weird, but kind of cool – like, how did he do that? Now he’s here. Hopefully he’ll be here permanently at some point, but for now he’s just here for two months to help us finish the game. We are paying him. He didn’t graduate from college. He’s never worked on a game. But he’s an amazing gameplay programmer. You could not find this person if you tried. If you looked at his resume you’d never pick him up. But there he is.”

Meanwhile, all this time, Unknown Worlds’ main PR man, Hugh Jeremy, has been popping in and out of the room – occasionally adding tidbits to the conversation, but mostly running himself ragged in the crunch to make sure Natural Selection 2′s ready for launch. And while you could trace his most recent footsteps to a billion different places in the office, they began – if we’re getting technical – in Australia.

“He made 300 videos for NS2,” Cleveland says, still slightly in disbelief himself. “We weren’t promoting the game at all. He started NS2HD, a channel on YouTube. He was just posting a video every day, or every other day. He did better videos than we could ever have done. When our investors were like, ‘We don’t know if we believe that you can pull this off, we’re starting to lose faith,’ and our beta pre-sales were horrible, all of a sudden they could go to NS2HD. We could send them a video and say, “Hey, check out the game.” Little do they know that Hugh was amazing at making videos, and somehow avoided all the bugs. It made the game look better than it ever looked. We could send that to our investors and say, ‘Hey, look, we’re going to do this. Check it out.’ Now he’s here doing PR for us.”

It wasn’t a simple hop, skip, and jump for Jeremy either. He goes on to tell me that he abandoned his home, girlfriend, and stable job in Australia for the chance to move across the world and have a go at getting Natural Selection 2 out the door. And the craziest part? He still continues to make videos in his spare time.

Others, meanwhile, are churning away on Natural Selection 2 without ever having set foot in the San-Francisco-based office at all. “We have no mappers here,” says Cleveland. “There’s not one mapper in the building.”

“They’re mostly in the UK,” Strader points out, noting that two of the release version’s six maps wouldn’t even exist without community contributions – both from contractors and regular old modders. “Like one map, Vale, it had a lot of promise, so we brought it on board. But we did work on it. I did concepts for it. Our environment artist did all-new models and textures and landmark props, which made it so much more. It was using all the same existing assets that every single other mapper was using, so it was nice to give it a whole new coat of paint. So even though these maps came from the community, we worked closely once we brought them on board and made them official.”

Admittedly, it’s not wholly uncommon to see developers latch onto modders’ maps and polish them up for a wider release (Valve’s an especially big example), but entire systems and features – not to mention key employees and the whole QA testing staff - are another story altogether. It sort of makes sense in a full-circle type of way, though, seeing as the original Natural Selection wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for the Half-Life modding community.

“That’s where game ideas come from, too: mods,” Cleveland lights up. “I used to think that you had to study games to understand how to make games, and you really don’t. You can have an idea and try it and see how it goes. You can get a pretty quick feel for how well something’s going to work just by playing it. So anything you can do to just encourage people to try something and then evaluate it with an open mind – see what they think. Are they playing it again? Are they talking about it? Are they interested in tweaking it? Or is it just kinda limp on arrival? Maybe people in our community saw NS1 as being an achievement in modding, so they say, ‘Well, if he can do that, I can do this.’ It’s a good example for them, I think, to just get involved.”

“We get a lot of tweets, we get e-mails, forum posts,” Strader smiles. “People say that they were inspired to [make games]. They’re going to Full Sail for game development or trying to start their own project up or doing a mod or something, and they say Natural Selection was their inspiration. It’s pretty cool.”

But let’s be honest here: there are hundreds of thousands of mods out there, and Natural Selection’s hardly the first one to become a full game. So why has it resonated with so many aspiring developers? Jeremy cites leadership – both in terms of leading and being led. “In games, you can be an architect, a soldier, land on the moon – all these experiences you’d never be able to have,” he explains. “Natural Selection amazed me because of this commander-human interaction. It’s not something you get in other games. StarCraft II, for instance, is about directing machines. It’s amazing, don’t get me wrong, but if you tell a marine to attack an enemy base all alone in NS2, they’ll be like, ‘Mate, no, I’m gonna get killed.’ And you have to say, ‘Look, I know it’s gonna be tough, but I’m gonna supply you with medpacks, and you need to do this for the team.’”

Other members of the dev team, meanwhile, cite the chance to work on something that really affected them when they were kids, or simply a sense of kinship with the NS2 team. The responses run a wide spectrum, but the passion’s always palpable. And these people are in the middle of a brutal crunch. Maybe it’s simply because they’re so close to the finish line, but I’m blindsided by the lack of cynicism.

Perhaps, in part, it’s also a matter of attitude. Game development – despite what some might think – isn’t an easy job. It’s a mentally and – if you’re not careful – physically taxing lifestyle that produces countless washouts. But even back when things seemed so hilariously bleak that, these days, Cleveland simply has to laugh when he talks about them, the Natural Selection team never stopped believing in their project. In their minds, there was no worse outcome than abandoning the thing they loved.

“It would just be so humiliating to close the company and go work for Zynga,” Cleveland replies when I ask him what kept the team going. “I remember one year I was at GDC, and everyone commented on how depressed I looked. Everyone was like, ‘What is wrong?’ I think it was 2005. I was probably thinking, ‘I’m gonna have to go work for some other company that I don’t like. I give up. Bye-bye dream, throw it in the garbage.’”

“That, to me, is so much worse than toughing it out and figuring out a way. We took the easy route, when you look at it like that.”

And it worked. Seven years later – and more than a decade after Cleveland first started Natural Selection as a one-man show – it’s a (mostly) full realization of his original vision, available wherever these crazy personal computer gametapes we all love so much are sold. But even when you’re doing something for the love of it, these things have a way of taking their toll. Cleveland and Strader fully acknowledge that, but they’re not ready to leave Natural Selection entirely in the community’s hands just yet.

“There’s so much more that we want to do with it,” enthuses Strader. “On the one hand you want to try something different, but on the other hand, you want to take this and keep making it bigger and better and crazier.”

“We’ll keep working on it for quite a while,” Cleveland adds with a slightly wearied note to his voice. “We might do some other projects too. I’d like to get to the point where we’re putting out new games rapidly, without such an extended development. Anything we can do to make that happen would be great. I have so many ideas for games that I want to make that have nothing to do with NS. I don’t know when that’s going to happen, if not now.”

“But on the other hand, it’s been pretty awesome. It’d be nice to try something new, but I still love this universe. I love this game concept.”

, , .

84 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    Luringen says:

    Just took a break from NS2 and read this. I pre-ordered once it got on steam, so I didn’t know the story behind it. Thanks for sharing!

    • Torn says:

      Is NS2 actually any good though? There’s such a mix of user reviews (either loving it or hating it) and lots of reports that it crashes multiple times an hour, which isn’t really mentioned in the few gaming site reviews of it out there.

      At £19 it’s priced higher than I expected, so it’s not an impulse buy for me at this point.

      Time for a Wot I Think?

      • dE says:

        My experiences so far have been pretty good. I’m one of those old NS1 players and stopped playing when they made Deathmatch a thing in the first one. NS2 to me, feels like a blast from the past. It’s still fun as hell to run along ceilings or to proceed in a pack of marines. The asymetric nature of the game still plays out really well as well.

        Things I learned about myself while playing:

        * Shit, I got old. For one, releasing on the 10.th anniversary made me realize that. And the breakneck speed of the game helped hammer it in. There are times when I die and end up “dude, what, why? Hoooow?”. but those are entirely because I’m now much slower than I used to be. Just be aware its a really fast game and you die in very few hits/bites.

        * I can still rage like when I was 25. Something I thought I had wisened up on. But add just one grain of idiot commander and the blood pressure is at maximum. Morph into an Onos, only to be killed while morphing? Blood pressure above safety threshold. Good thing I’m too lazy to chat nowadays.

        * I can also giggle like when I was 15. Something I very much enjoy being able to do again. A lonely marine is walking past me, oblivious to my presence. Taunt everytime he tries to build something. See him panic. Comedy gold and one old ass gamer madly giggling like a schoolgirl.

        * I ended up at odds with the feel of the weapons. Took me a while to get used to them. I have trouble quickly figuring out if I hit something. There are damage numbers and all; But for my slow ass brain, it’s sometimes a bit of a guess when I’m in close combat. It’s especially a problem for me, when I’m playing Skulk. Since I’m moving and hopping around like a maniac, I can’t see the damage numbers and the audio cue for a hit blends in with all the other sounds. Once again: Might be because I’m becoming a tad too old for super fast shooty games.

        Things I learned about my computer:
        * It’s apparently older than it looks and the purchase date suggests. The game eats a lot of performance on my system. One level in particular is a real performance hog (the one with the smelters everywhere). I’m not sure whether it’s my system or it really needs a lot of power. At least the level in question seems to have a slight perfomance problem, as a friend suggested everyone is complaining about it. Luckily I didn’t have any crashes so far.

        In short:
        It brought back things I had forgotten or thought myself too mature to enjoy. It’s worth gold in that respect alone. It’s also mad fun. Mad bonus points if you like hunting prey, enjoy non verbal communication and coordination – as well as verbal communication and coordination and take interest in your typical alien versus marine setting – well, this just might be for you.

      • Synesthesia says:

        At least for me, it’s been REALLY good. Just yesterday, this weird comm went for a different build. Instead of the crag-carapace or celerity hives, he went for a shade one. And all we had was camouflage for the early game. What resulted, was an amazing, amazing early game where i felt like alien, lurking in the shadows, waiting for lone marines who couldnt see or hear us to turn on back on us, and suddenly get eaten. They hated us. It was lovely.

      • Alehr says:

        It’s quite possibly one of the best games I’ve ever played. Think of it like Left 4 Dead with resources and four or five times the depth and complexity.

        It’ll basically exhaust you on all levels, intellectually with the strategy, aesthetically with the beautiful first person experience, and even socially, since so much of your success in a game hinges on getting along with and working with your teammates.

      • DXN says:

        I’m enjoying it a hell of a lot. It’s one of those games that’s sort of about failing in interesting ways. Everything happens so quickly, both in combat and strategy — you always have to keep the pressure up and keep track of *almost* more things than you can handle, and complacency or inattentiveness are punished quickly. And yet, there are enough interconnected dynamics that this punishment can take unexpected forms, swinging the state of battle wildly but always with the chance for a last-minute turnaround.

        It’s like Kung-Fu Chess on one of those Star Trek 3D chessboards.

        And on the other side, I really like the presentation – the graphics (it looks fantastic even on my shitty old computer), the sound, the way the ‘simple’, old-school combat feel interacts with the variety of spaces and alien types, and above all the way the aliens really feel like aliens — ambushing, zipping through vents, pouring out of the goddamn walls, and turning clean metal into pulsating plantflesh. The badass exosuits (so well done) and the terrifying sight of an onos charge. Th amazing lighting engine!

        There are some things that might tarnish the sheen for some people. The fast pace and complexity mean it’s very demanding for new players. Likewise, it can feel very frustrating when a team isn’t communicating or paying attention, especially when a game drags on; it demands that you step up and put your ideas or commands out there, rather than sitting there passively wandering around and reacting to what happens. You have to make some effort if you want to really get what the game has to offer. The interface between commander and troops is sometimes a little lacking, too. I’d have liked some more in-depth voice commands/reactions and such, especially after being spoiled by the likes of TF2 and L4D. But really, these are just niggles. It’s a great game.

        Also, I’m just awed by the commitment the devs have shown and I’m super glad I preordered back when they were really hurting for money and had nothing much to show us. It must have been so, so difficult to keep going through the hard times, but clearly they had the vision to see what it would grow into if they kept working at it. They’ve always treated their fans and potential customers incredibly well, too. It warms my heart that NS2 got to the top of the Steam charts.

      • Moosemanvanalgae says:

        Yes, it’s awesome. It has all the depth and skill requirements of the first game. I love the dramatic turnarounds that a smart and determined team can pull off. Having a skulk jump on me from out of a vent still makes me startle. And since the launch, marines are much easier to take for a snack.

        I can play it fairly smoothly on my core 2 duo with 4 GB and an ATI 4670. But I do think it would perform better on a newer computer. It never, ever crashes on me.

      • abremms says:

        In my experience, NS2 is either brilliant, or awful, depending entirely on your team, how well they work together, and especially ESPECIALLY if you have a decent commander. I lost a game yesterday because the commanders chair was empty for most of the round. I’m still fairly new, so I didn’t want to mess anything up, but no one else was doing it, and hives weren’t getting built, so I hopped in and dropped some hives and resource generators, and immediately faced the Wrath of Whiners because they didn’t have the upgrades they needed. Probably for th best, it reminded me why I don’t play these kinds of games very often. people are jerks.

        Folks, either take the commanders seat yourself, or cut the poor SOB who gets stuck with it some slack.

        • alilsneaky says:

          I disagree, even the lows still provide a better experience than your average manshooter.
          You can still get things done on your own and with a friend, still get satisfying ambushes or pushes in the first half of the game, still outplay enemies, still put on your lab coat and do some psychological experiments with your human subject (ehm, I mean the other team, sorry).

          As long as you are not a sore loser, and have the patience to help teach a rookie commander or put up with their learning curve, even the worst of matches still have a lot of brain tickling reward to offer.

        • Snowskeeper says:

          More importantly, if you’re going to ask for upgrades, do it nicely. And don’t do it on the Marine team at all; they’re pretty linear in terms of what upgrades you can get and when.

      • alilsneaky says:

        I haven’t met a single person ingame who doesn’t gush about how good it is (33 hours played since release).
        When you ask ingame after a fun match: ‘is this the best game ever or what?’ You’ll always get a bunch of agreeing nods, never any buts.

        The crashing was fixed in a patch, and it only crashed like 4 times in 20 hours for me before the patch.

        You also can not be serious about calling it too expensive…. it has YEARS worth of entertaining gameplay and learning curve, and doesn’t suffer from any of the modern game issues that snuck into gaming between NS1 release and now.
        It also costs less than half of all the inferior MP games out there.

        It’s indie as fuck (as the article shows), it’s incredibly well made and by far the most rewarding game I’ve ever played.

        If you are one of those people who ever complain about any of the problems with modern dumbed down DLC community splitting games, then you would be a huge hypocrite to not buy NS2.

    • Silva Shadow says:

      The game is amazing. It’s pretty much what an Alien v Marine game should be. Pretty much what Aliens Colonial Marines should be in multiplayer.

      I got gifted a copy of it from someone who was in the beta, and I’ve already twittered the NS2 team for a paypal account, so I can bypass them having to pay steam a cut and get a donation from me directly.

  2. Stardog says:

    I bought the alpha when it was first available. Has any “feel” to the game been added yet? I mean with regards to movement and aiming, compared to something like Battlefield.

    • Slinkyboy says:

      I know that feel bro. That’s why I sold my free copy for half of what I paid for. I feel better now.

    • Premium User Badge

      Vandelay says:

      Why would space marines versus aliens feel like a Modern Military Shooter game?

      It has come a very long way since the early days. I think I started with the so called beta and it has become something incredible. The balance is fantastic between the two completely different sides, with both teams having an equal chance of success. The interaction between commander and the rest of the team, with the right people, is like no other multiplayer game I can think of, with team work heavily rewarded. Tension builds in a wonderful way, particularly when the power goes out and you hear the scuffle of Skulks running on the ceiling; that tension remains on the alien side, when you are hiding on the corner and a couple of marines run by, flashlights swinging around the room. All of this creates some excellent ebb and flow to match, as map control and tech swings in the favour of the two sides.

      There is so, so much more to this then just shooting your gun. The feel of that is old school and it doesn’t take much note of what is going on elsewhere in the genre. Personally, I am pleased that they have done that and I can’t really understand, with everything else going on, why it would be a big issue for others.

    • Boozebeard says:

      No but that’s deliberate, the action is so fast paced. If there was recoil you would have 0 chance of ever hitting a skulk. Also it’s the future so recoil-less weapons are perfectly feasible.

    • checkers says:

      It will never have the “weighty” feel of modern FPSes like CoD/BF3. It’s much closer to the older style FPS model, where the movement doesn’t “feel realistic”. And that’s a stylistic choice you see in a few places in the game. For instance how the guns have zero recoil and no ironsights. It’s an arcadey game about Aliens, not a gritty realistic game about War.

      • MattM says:

        Iron sights work well in some games, but I am glad that not every game has them. Shooting from the hip may not be realistic but I like it better.

    • magicwalnuts says:

      The guns have zero recoil, but are punchy enough in regards to their sound and animation report. Definitely much improved on all fronts from earlier builds. I’d say anyone who is worried about reports from beta players about the myriad issues the game has had, should rest easy. The release version is definitely worthy.

      • Snowskeeper says:

        It kind of shows you how popular this game is when a question like that only receives one actual answer and several fanboy attacks.

    • Stardog says:

      People jumped on the recoil thing, but you can still have better “feel” without recoil. I downloaded it just now and it’s much improved from a year ago, but I think it should still have more feel.

      For example, the rifle should sway when turning. If they have head bobbing while running, I don’t see why they wouldn’t have this. http://youtu.be/Hu0v0kTWH7w?t=20s

      Anyway, it’s much more fun than it was a year ago.

  3. Slinkyboy says:

    Been with them since the beginning and I’m glad NS2c exists. That’s all I should say :D

  4. coldvvvave says:

    It’s sad but I don’t feel anything from looking at anything NS-related. Just can’t bring myself to be interested in it.

  5. fearian says:

    This is a fantastic story. I’m a long time NS1 player and pre-purchased the game in the first ‘Alpha’ – The game wouldnt even run on my PC for another year and a half. At the time I just felt like supporting UW was the least I could do for the years I spent playing NS1. When the Beta came around it was big let down. The game would barely run, it was unbalanced and missing core features. It completely sucked and was the first time I even considered that the final game wouldn’t be fantastic. But I always felt like there was no way UW would stop developing until it was great. I think Valve is the only other developer I have that kind of stupid hope and support for.

    I’ve been playing NS2 constantly since launch and I’m having a glorious, glorious time.

  6. Kemuel says:

    I forget who it was (Notch?) that recently said something about there being no excuses for struggling to get in to the game industry, that people just needed to make stuff and put it out there, but this really supports what they were saying.

    I still don’t fully agree with it, I mean, its easy to just say “be passionate and create stuff until you get picked up”, but if enough devs took the NS2 team’s approach to contribution I could see attitudes towards development changing in a big way. I mean, if anyone felt like they could just design stuff for their favourite struggling Kickstarter project and there be a good chance of having it utilised somehow, how many more people would give it a shot?

  7. airtekh says:

    The NS community is the reason this game will be around for a long time.

    They’re lovely people.

    • DeFrank says:

      Agreed. Never played the original mod at all but I am loving the game and community both. The absolute antithesis to LoL.

      • Soulless says:

        I have to agree with this, as a complete Noob to NS, I’ve had nothing but help from the old players and positivity and excitement from the new.

        • Low Life says:

          Stop saying things like that, I already have more multiplayer games I want to play than I have time for :(

    • dsi1 says:

      Agreed, the NS community is on the precisely opposite side of the spectrum from the LoL-type communities. Every single game I’ve played since launch has been filled with vets helping newbies along, from something as simple as how to change Alien classes to walking a newbie Marine commander through his first steps.

  8. Manco says:

    Wasn’t this originally based on Gloom Quake2, or am I confusing this with another game?

    • MrTambourineMan says:

      No,that was tremulous and it was actually based on ioquake3, but NS did it first afaik and it was originally a Half-Life mod.

      • iHavePants says:

        Actually Gloom does precede both Natural Selection and Tremulous. Natural Selection took the concept further however.

        • The Random One says:

          How does NS2 compare to Tremulous? I ask because Tremulous is pretty much my only point of reference as far as it’s concerned.

      • El_Emmental says:

        All these informations (and more) -were- on Wikipedia, but deletionists decided that video games mods are not relevant nor notable enough for Wikipedia, so they removed the vast majority of them.

        Trying to add anything regarding mods is immediately followed by an immediate deletion – unless a traditional IRL newspaper talked about it more than one time. Specialized magazines and websites don’t count as a valid source. This is why you’ll never know what happened during the Gloom development, and who worked on it, on Wikipedia.

        This is one of the main reason why thousands of people don’t contribute to Wikipedia, even if they would like to.

        - – -

        Gloom is a TC (total conversion) mod for Quake II, with an Aliens vs Marines setting. There is 8 classes for each sides. You can become a more advanced class by spending your “frags” (depending on your current class, you earn them by killing/destroying other players/buildings) – kinda like the NS1 Combat mode btw.

        When Quake II became kinda old, and Q3A arrived, some people started to make a “Gloom-like” on the id tech 3 engine. They focused on the fast-paced action of Gloom and made the gameplay even more fluid. This is Tremulous.

        Meanwhile, at approximately the same time, other people started to make a “Gloom-like” on the GoldSource (Half-Life 1) engine, this time focusing on the different roles of each classes (like the builders), focusing on the map control rather than the fast-paced action – logically leading to the Commander class and a RTS map control approach. This is Natural Selection.

        Both project were quite advanced when they started releasing public informations and builds, they were also on different engines and weren’t focusing on the same gameplay style, so they minded their own business and continued development.

        Tremulous was quite popular among some dedicated gamers for a few years, and still has a few die-hard fans, while Natural Selection 1 really took off and managed to reach people outside of its own little “sphere”.

        There is no “rip-off” or anyone to blame and accuse, there is just a Quake II mod, Gloom, and two spiritual sequels, each with its own additions/tweaks: Tremulous and Natural Selection.

  9. phenom_x8 says:

    It’s number4 on steam top seller today (No.1 yesterday), 3000 concurrent user and 6000 in peak, I think its have been sold pretty well!

  10. D3xter says:

    I guess I did help “Crowdfund” this, since I did buy this at some point back in 2010 and remember playing a barely playable Alpha build of the game for a while.
    Might want to take another look at it now that it’s out. And I apparently got a 2nd copy of the game in my “Gift Basket”.

    • lagga says:

      Definitely do, its just amazing how much is has changed since those early builds, in both gameplay and optimisation. It took them a while but they finally found the balancing ground between the skill and pace of the original NS1 combat and gameplay and all the new features they’ve introduced. Then there’s the optimisations, I now get 100+fps playing on low (which still looks awesome) whereas a year ago i’d be lucky to get above 20fps in combat.

      It’s been a long road but its been nice to have seen it slowly form into the game it is today, because NS1 was the best multiplayer I ever played and why I played it competitively for about 6 years.

  11. zeroskill says:

    Such a great time I had back in the days of Half-life and Quake mods. You could spend days just getting lost in the mods and the communties, and if you were somewhat competent with Worldcraft, band together, get a map out of the system and play it. What a great time for gaming that was. Brain Bread, The Specialists, Natural Selection, Counter Strike, Firearms, Sven-Coop, Science and Industry, Action Half-life, Team Fortress are just a few I remember from the top of my head.

    Nowadays gaming is less and less about community interaction and involvment and more and more about: “buy this DLC for $9.99″, consume or be left out. There are still companies that encourage community involvment but those become rarer and rarer…kinda sad thinking about it…

    On the bright side, it’s good to see this blast from the past finally in our hands.

    • LionsPhil says:

      And conversely, as I think Carmack said back around the release of DOOM 3, sans map editor: creating a mod is too much work, and demands too much skill, for amateurs to pull it off any more.

      Ah, Sven Co-Op. Your co-op was the svennest.

      • InternetBatman says:

        Carmack said that about Rage. That only one or two fans are going to be making megatextures.

        • subedii says:

          Actually he did say that back when Doom 3 was coming out as well.

          IIRC though, he went one further and basically said that the age of the bedroom coder was dead (this is from an interview a LONG time ago so I could easily be remembering wrong). Largely because nobody was ever going to be able to compete with the big publishers / developers for audience, who can produces games of much higher quality and polish, and with much larger marketing campaigns. Given the options, that’s what the audience would choose.

          Basically he cast the market as one of blockbuster titles and little else, because nothing else could compete. This isn’t to say anything against Carmack, but it just illustrates how nobody really saw the rise of indie development at the time, and how the publishing model would change to support that (or vice-versa I guess).

          Steam was nascent, indie development was largely something you didn’t hear about anymore, and Carmack along with the rest of the games industry was basically of the mindset the PC was no longer relevant as a games platform going forwards, with all the rest of the baggage that comes with that implication when it comes to modding and games development outside of the traditional model.

          Today it’s a very different story. The console market’s consolidated but it’s also stagnating a little. Whilst it’s primarily blockbuster driven (despite their attempts to push the indie market, it hasn’t been as successful, and devs today are constatnly talking about its limitations), the market for mid-tier and indie games has opened up dramatically, largely because the shift to digital has allowed it to happen. The marketplaces and means became available, and all of a sudden we live in a world where small scale development is more viable now than arguably any point in the past 8-10 years.

          Carmack’s argument was that modding would die off as a result, but that’s only one way of looking at it. Modding was an in-roads for talented people to make something in the games industry when they had no access to the kinds of resources offered by being in a publishing deal. Those modders didn’t cease to exist, the barriers ceased to exist, at least they’re no longer present to the extent that they used to be. Today what would have been modders now have the means to be independant developers instead, and that’s the path that they’re going. The creativity and indipendance is still there, it’s just partly shifted from developing FOR the framework made available in other games, to instead using the tools available to make your own.

          They in turn, are also trending towards releasing their titles with the allowance of mod support. And with the mod tools that are available, modding communities still put out some amazing work (and a whole lot of dross, but that has always been the case, and you’re deceiving yourself if you think otherwise that the past was somehow more “glorious” in that respect). Stuff that half a decade ago wouldn’t have been imagined or would have been solely the purview of the larger games studios. And even then, the more ambitious mods are typically in themselves a means of starting an actual game development studio.

          Basically what I’m saying is: A decade ago everyone was dead set on the idea that small scale, whether modding or development, was simply no longer possible. The blockbuster driven nature of console development and its market convinced everyone of this “fact”.

          Today I buy adventure games that are using pixel art to tell stories influenced by Cowboy Bebop, and strategy games set in graphically simplistic (but striking) neon-blue computer simulations. And I buy those alongside the blockbusters.

          I’m thoroughly glad that things turned out differently to what they were saying.

          • sightseemc says:

            Well said, subedii.

          • KillahMate says:

            adventure games that are using pixel art to tell stories influenced by Cowboy Bebop

            Well, now you have to tell me which game that is so I can buy it.

          • subedii says:

            Haha, well perhaps saying the story is influenced by Cowboy Bebop isn’t the right way of putting it. But you can see the style influences quite a bit (and if you go hunting in the right locations at the right time, you can even find a couple of cameos). “Future Noir” might be a more accurate statement anyway.

            The game is called “Gemini Rue”.

            http://wadjeteyegames.com/gemini-rue.html

            The game basically follows two main protagonists. One is an ex Triad Assassin trying to track down his missing brother, the other is a man with no memory waking up in a facility after having his brain wiped. I’d explain more, but it’s a relatively short game, and I’d hit spoilers fast.

            It’s low budget but it’s got a really good atmosphere to it if you don’t mind the clearly budget origins (in some ways that helps to drive the atmosphere more than the “uncanny valley” effect you’d get when attempting for hi-res 3D characters). Personally I played with the voice acting switched off as well, I just felt it worked better that way.

            It’s rare that a game comes out of nowhere and takes me by surprise like it did (the only reason I heard of it was because of a passing reference in a PC Gamer podcast where they said it was awesome), and hit all the right buttons with me. It’s the kind of setting I love, and they managed to pull it together with a small but good story, logical puzzles, and a well done soundtrack to back up the atmosphere.

            http://uk.pc.gamespy.com/articles/121/1215449p4.html

          • KillahMate says:

            Heh :-)
            Actually I already bought Gemini Rue some time ago, I just never got around to playing it :-)
            But your comment is an additional incentive to finally install it, so thanks.

          • El_Emmental says:

            Excellent analysis subedii :)

            There is also another side of the story: the players.

            While the modders could become indie devs, mods players went from playing ~5 to 10 different mods (in a week) and constantly trying new ones, to playing 1 or 2 different mods (at max, in a month) and playing the 2-3 latest blockbusters (CoD/BF/Skyrim/WoW/etc…) with their friends/e-friends.

            The enormous amount of new players (not really “gamers”, as in “dedicated and passionate video games players”) wave, starting in 2004-2005, suddenly attached a strong social value to gaming (especially MP ones, but not limited to them).

            Rather than meeting strangers and “hey, I saw that nickname before” people on various mods, experiencing original gameplay experiences, most players preferred to make the transition to AAA (high budget, high production value) games and enjoy the social experience (shared with others and for their own psyche) of it. Normality took over the wilderness of the modding era.

            Sure, a lot of mods players also took a look at the indie scene, but it isn’t the same:
            - indie games aren’t mods => they need to sell, and for that they need to be recognized/known
            - they aren’t free => they have a budget to balance, it’s limiting and choosing what the devs do, and passers-by/kids without money or a CC can’t try (let alone play) it
            - they are often trying to have a meaning, to express something quite personal to the devs, rather than being fun/original/”awesome”, they are often more of a message to the players than a game on their own

            The best example I would find would be the Red Orchestra franchise:
            a) The mod RO featured a more demanding gameplay, more elements to master
            b) Then RO: Ostfront was made, more polished than full of content, but still remained pretty close to a mod experience
            c) Then RO: HoS was released, with less content (= more unlocks, but with less maps/tanks/APC/uniforms) and game design decisions based on the commercial viability (= the gameplay they wanted to provide to their customers-base) rather than the potential fun/originality/awesomeness these decisions could have: it’s no longer a mod.
            And the devs (well, the lead dev) personal view on what the experience “should be” overruled the fanbase ones => because an indie game can’t listen to its fanbase, it has to manage its userbase.

            In the case of Natural Selection 2, it “happened”, fans “saving” it many times, because of the meaning NS1 has in people’s memories and how it grew a social signification among them: quite a few NS1 players feel like they’re part of a specific group that is still alive.

            Kudos to the hardcore fans, clans and Unknown Worlds Entertainment for that (they were smart enough to always read their fanbase posts and threads, and explain their game design decisions, so people sticked around).

            So in my opinion, when NS2 is announced and in beta, their spid…social sense is tingling: they can play less L4D2, BF3, CS:S or Dota 2 without feeling like they’re going backward, isolating themselves.

    • derbefrier says:

      Oh yeah those were the days I really got into PC gaming. Playing a lot of the mods you mentioned. Some of my favorites other than the most obvious(TFC and CS) were Action Half Life, Vampire Slayer, The Opera and pretty much everything else you mentioned. I was even a server admin for the old Action Half Life server The Mountain Dojo(or something like that) and had many late nights and tons of fun diving out of windows and taking peoples heads off with a point blank hand cannon blast.. Then I took a break from PC gaming for about 5 years and came back to what it is now, dont get me wrong there’s still communities like that out there but seeing how it is for most games today makes me happy I was able to appreciate and experience what we had back then.

      • Premium User Badge

        BathroomCitizen says:

        I still remember when I checked out Planet Half-Life daily, and it seemed like there was a new Half-Life 1 mod to get released every day. It was truly amazing to be an FPS player back then.

        So, SO much variation and choice to be had. And most importantly, no weapon unlock system/leveling bullshit.

  12. hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

    Just finished playing NS2 for the evening and found this here. It really is a ton of fun, and there are a lot of great people playing the game that make it fun.

    I hear a lot of bitterness from some of the older players about the alpha/beta builds being bad, and there’s resentment that lingers there for some people. I know a few friends at least who won’t play now that it’s released because of bad memories from before. Releasing early is a mixed bag- but it did work out for UWE, since they wouldn’t have made it out of alpha at all without money from somewhere. I do wish them continued success- NS2′s future certainly looks promising right now.

    • NicoTn says:

      Your friends are stupid then. alpha = alpha and beta = beta.

  13. Tei says:

    Well, the art is fantastic, the production values are great. I love how the armory is animated and some of the levels. Fantastic job.

  14. Acefrog says:

    Natural Selection was my life those many years ago, eat, sleep, learn, NS!

    I have been looking forward to this game for years, prepurchasing the first chance they gave and following it since then.. The alpha builds were very disappointing, very buggy and unplayable.. but since then with this release it has changed TONNES!

    This is what I class as a real AAA game, with devs who actually are dedicated to it.. do not miss out on trying it.

  15. ThTa says:

    In case anyone’s wondering: If you didn’t already get it for “free” by buying into the alpha/beta way back (like me) or pre-ordering, the Deluxe Edition is definitely worth it in my opinion. The OST is absolutely fantastic (I’m actually listening to it right now), and the artbook is very nicely executed, it expands a bit on the sheer production quality of this game (and how Cory’s fantastic concept art inspired them to reach that level). The wallpapers were already available on the forums, as they’re fan-made, but pretty nice regardless (and they fortunately don’t feature any branding).

  16. best_jeppe says:

    I actually bought NS2 after reading this article. Is downloading it now. I liked Battlefield when it was still good (ergo. BF2 and BF2142) because of the teamplay. I never played NS1 but I heard of it at the time but never got around to playing. My hope with NS2 is that it has an awesome teamplay-gameplay. And even if I don’t like it I gladly supports UW because we need more developers like them in the gameindustry!

    • ThTa says:

      Teamplay has been pretty great so far, especially as Marines, who are essentially forced into teamplay by various mechanics. Construction of buildings requires a marine (at least initially, late-game you can use MACs) and there aren’t enough roads right out of spawn for everyone to go their seperate ways, nor are they fast enough to really spread out. So you’ll see a lot of the early expansion being done by groups of three where they stick together in order to finish construction, naturally forming squads. When construction’s needed, they’ll also see a clear and large indicator where, automatically drawing people towards them. The commander can also issue move orders, which even provides players with a path of glowing arrows in case they’re not familiar with the map. And if you’re still not statisfied by the teamwork, the game’s got an excellent voice codec, and people are generally very willing to listen to spoken orders/tips.

      Additionally, most tactics require at least basic teamwork, there are various weapons, but none of them are quite as versatile as the initial LMG, so if someone’s going about wreaking havoc with a grenade launcher, they’d generally benefit from someone watching their surroundings and killing off any incoming aliens. The flamethrower is more of a support weapon, decreasing aliens’ energy pool and regeneration and generally making them easier to kill. Meanwhile, the big, stompy Exosuit can’t build or repair anything, and it can’t heal itself through any of the normal means (getting medpacks through the commander or standing near an armory), so it needs a marine buddy to heal it up with a Welder. (As well as to kill off any of the smaller, faster aliens (Skulks, the basic Alien unit), which become very hard to hit when your field of vision is blocked by smoke and massive gatling guns)
      The commander gets various automated and commander-controlled units later on, but none of them are as effective as well-coordinated players. (As such, it generally benefits the team more to just spend those resources on upgrades and weapon drops)

      Aliens work almost entirely differently. The commander doesn’t need players to do construction, as it’s done through spreading infestation with Cysts and simply building structures on there, and he can’t give move orders to single players, only a general “threat” or “expansion” warning. However, one does still need to coordinate with players through voice (especially since new alien players are much more prone to spread out and inevitably get themselves killed by well-organised squads of marines), and needs at least one player to turn into a specialized “Gorge” support unit. This unit is able to heal players and structures, as well as accelerate construction, it can also build walls and basic turrets, making them essential for fending off early marine assaults. The commander also gets various temporary buffs and structures that help his players (such as one that cloaks nearby players and structures, one that heals, and one that increases energy regen). Eventually, the commander will be able to give players various advanced lifeforms (such as the siege-oriented “Onos”) for free (for the players, that is, they’d normally have to spend personal resources to evolve to these, now you’d just spend the more plentiful team resources).

      And similarly to the Marines, most alien tactics also require basic teamwork to work properly. To draw a comparison with the Exosuit from before, an Onos is far worse off without a Gorge following it along to heal it as it goes. (Though it is slightly more capable of taking on basic marines due to its speed and eventual area of effect “Stomp” ability. And it does have passive health regeneration, like all Alien units. It can also still go to the Hives and healing structures (Crags) to heal more quickly.)

      So yeah, it boils down to: Teamplay is excellent, but Aliens initially require a bit more work to get things going (or at least the use of mics by commanders or experienced players), though competetive teams in beta have shown that the skill ceiling for both is pretty equal. (Marines actually seems to become a bit more difficult, at that level.)

      • best_jeppe says:

        I have been playing a few hours and it is definetly a lot of fun :) However, the enjoyment of the game to a big part depends on your teammate (like in every Teamoriented game) so it can be a bit frustrating when you have a team that you can’t get in sync with. But when you have good teammates it is so much fun to play :)

  17. Wombats says:

    This game is basically Aliens 2 The Movie as a computer game.
    Its got a learning curve but is so damn rewarding its not funny.
    Just buy it.
    People have been hanging out for Natural Selection for years for good reason.
    This is the in-depth team gameplay experience I’ve been wishing every FPS would evolve into.

  18. Dawlight says:

    I pre-ordered the Deluxe Edition as soon as it was available, back in 2010. I used to play NS1 quite a lot and was really excited to see that is’s sequel would feature dynamic infestation and awesome graphics. But I only tried a few of the alpha and beta versions before I got tired due to bugs, balance and shitty performance. I used to watch NS2HD videos and think “Are they really enjoying playing this?”

    The only reason gave it another shot (the beta the day before launch) was the promise of a redesigned dynamic infestation. It had previously looked like shit and didn’t at all give me a sense of what was promised.

    Boy was I impressed! All the stuttering was gone. The atmospheric lights were back. It was actually feature complete. And the infested corridors gives me a real sense of hostility. The atmosphere in this game is just about the best you can get in the sort of environments they have gone for.

    Gameplay wise, the last time I had this much fun in a team-based shooter was TF2, and I can see myself playing NS2 just as much or maybe even more.

    If you love atmospheric tension, intense action and the feeling you get when you’re winning as a team, I can’t think of a better game.

    • Artist says:

      *claps hands*
      Had exactly the same experience! Soooo glad that it made it! What a fantastic team-vs.-team game! Just epic!

  19. Megakoresh says:

    Holy shit, now that’s what I call fanbase loyalty. EA management should read this to see what they will never ever have, not from a single person.
    As for the game? Find a good clan and you will never regret this purchase. This game is simply amazing in how deep it is. It’s like every time you play you have a completely new experience. I love it. Just do yourself a favour and find a clan. You do NOT want to play PUG in this game.

  20. Nexozable says:

    I remember it was Totalbiscuit’s videos that made me preorder the game as soon as I had the chance, I’m really glad I got this game though, it’s an absolute blast to play and it’s one of those few games that actually makes me feel like if I cooperate with the team we can pull through and win.

    One of my favourite games on Steam for 2012. Recommend it!

  21. cmc5788 says:

    NS2 is a great game, and if you’re on the fence about it I would definitely recommend getting it. I played NS1 on and off for years, and coming into NS2 I can honestly say this is shaping up to be the better game. The devs have an absolutely insane work-ethic, and the community is full of extremely talented and dedicated players and modders, so with such a great dev team and such an insane community you can expect your investment in this game to be more than recouped over time.

    In short, the core game is great — absolutely top-tier, but the really exciting part will be sticking around to see what happens once the official documentation for modders is released and people have a chance to really go at it.

  22. Crimsoneer says:

    I just played a game as Commander for marines for the first time, properly – I was terrified of doing it during beta for fear of failing – and loved it. Like herding a bunch of confused cats into the maws of alien death.

  23. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    This is such an awesome game. I’ve never seen teamwork enforced by game mechanics to where it actually works! And NS2 doesn’t even give you points for healing… however you will be very compelled to work together.

    • Dawlight says:

      This may just be because of the fact that you get no points for individual performance, or at least very little of it. I think you get 0.33 res for one kill. But most of it is rewarded via Extractors/Harvesters, and the only way to get those up is by working together.

      And it’s the best kind of feeling when you do.

  24. Bobtree says:

    Lying about the development status of their game in order to get funding is incredibly unprofessional. Natural Selection was great, and I’m glad they made NS2, but there’s no excuse for this.

    • cmc5788 says:

      They didn’t lie, the state of the game was very apparent at the time. This is speaking as someone who bought into it during pre-alpha knowing fully the state of the product. It was not a mystery. Also, during all of these periods of instability UW offered a no-questions-asked refund policy.

      I can see how you might have reached your conclusion by reading this article, but speaking as someone who experienced it first-hand, you’re wrong.

      • Dawlight says:

        I second this.

      • Bacillus says:

        I think the fall 2009 release date was least to say intentionally misleading. They sticked to it despite being only a few months away from the deadline and having a target dummy shootout with one player running at 15 fps.

        I don’t think anyone outside UWE office had any idea where the game was at that point. Unless you jumped into conclusion from the lack of actual gameplay trailer, you couldn’t really tell much. The content shown indicated something like NS:Source, which had been kind of the starting point anyway. Nobody had an idea that they were really going for such a herculean feat, so nobody outside the inner circle really had an idea how incomplete the game was.

        I can definitely understand why things went the way they did and I can at least partitially accept the way things were done, but I don’t think it removes the fact that for example anyone trying to do work with NS1 community in hopes of 2009 (or even a some 2010) release got let down in a pretty nasty way. People kind of let UWE get away with the things because everyone was a huge NS1 and UWE fanboy, but I don’t think anyone really signed in knowing the game might be released as late as 3 years later.

        And to be clear, NS2 is a really interesting and enjoyable game by all modern standards – both in good and bad – and Unknown Worlds folks deserve huge respect (and hopefully success) for the commitment and dedication towards the project. However, I don’t like the idea of pretending that it has been all sunshine and happiness either, in some ways that even takes away from the story.

      • Bobtree says:

        Thank you for saying so, because the article essentially states that they committed fraud.

  25. RobertJSullivan says:

    The game is fantastic and it clearly deserves to be successful imho.

  26. Vinraith says:

    Good for them. It’ll be interesting to see if it can actually retain a viable community for any length of time. Independently developed MP-only games don’t have a good track record in this respect.

    • TychoCelchuuu says:

      Maybe you missed the part where the entire article is about the insane fanbase, but we played NS for about a decade so I wouldn’t worry about NS2 dying any time soon.

  27. Forceflow says:

    Pre-ordered this, and it’s everything I wanted it to be. Learning curve on aliens is much steeper though, something to keep in mind.

  28. Squishpoke says:

    I bought this game blind on release. I gotta say, it has easily surpassed all of my expectations. Probably the best game I played all year!

    RPS needs to do a WIT soon-ish.

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  30. Artist says:

    Im a NS1 vet and I didnt know the full story behind it. Now I feel a bit ashamed that I havent pre-ordered earlier.
    Seriously, besides some problems – its an EPIC GAME! Definantly worth the bucks and the FPS game of the century for me and the crown of the FPS/RTS hybrids.
    You have to test it for yourself – but test it yourself!

  31. Premium User Badge

    Shockeh says:

    It’s pretty telling a huge* proportion of the community is that original ’02 / ’03 player base. They’re all still there, and a lot of the same names appear every now & again on the forums, on servers, and generally making a nuisance for themselves. I played NS first in November 2002 after a friend playing Action Half Life suggested it, and it’s resulted in people I’ve known for the last 10 years as a result, meeting people from the UK, Sweden and Australia as a consequence.

    This game and the community it spawned has probably had more impact on the people who were ‘part’ of it back when Gorges were called ‘Bob’ than I think a lot of people, possibly even the UWE guys realise.

    * Perspective, Shockeh!

  32. lexoneir says:

    “If you looked at his resume you’d never pick him up”

    Funny how useless resumes actually are

  33. paravrais says:

    I wasn’t going to buy this but then in a rush of adrenalin I felt the desperate need to spend money and spent it on this. Thankfully it turned out to be a brilliant game!

  34. alilsneaky says:

    Btw anyone who enjoys TF2 for anything more than ‘LOL HATS’, should buy NS2.
    NS2 has even better teamplay, is more rewarding and has an even more elaborate learning curve.

  35. You rebel scum says:

    Can’t believe how far this game has come. So glad they got there in the end, but even if they didn’t I wouldn’t have regretted giving them my pre-order cash simply due to the stupid amount of fun I got out of NS1. Mad props to Flayra and co for staying the distance against all odds.

    If you’re on the fence, just shut up and buy it. Be prepared for a steep learning curve but once you’ve put a few hours in you’ll realise that this really is something special.