Natural Selection 2 Development Ramping Back Up

Last year, Natural Selection 2 [official site] creators Unknown Worlds handed development duties on their aliens vs. space marines FPS-RTS over to a team of community volunteers, then themselves dived down into alien oceans to build Subnautica. Ah, but landlubbers will always pine for the shore (or for space?). A year-and-a-half later, Unknown Worlds are getting back into NS2, hiring some of those community folks on as an in-house team to resume development for a few months.

Unknown Worlds explain in a Q&A that they’re hoping that NS2 will one day have thousands of concurrent players and tens of thousands weekly, and this is a step towards that. They’re giving the team three months to shake things up, run a few experiments, and show that they’re worth keeping. They’re not expected to massively boost players or make huge changes, just “to develop systems that allow us to make better decisions” and show that a professional team on NS2 could work well. If it looks good after three months, funding will continue.

They plan for the new team to be on a quicker dev cycle, trying and testing things more frequently and not getting bogged down in months of analysis.

Unknown Worlds, I realise I should say because people rarely realise these things, are not a massive studio. They were about two dozen folks before this, and the new NS2 team is only eight people. They’re hoping to still tap community members for work, only this time paying for it.

We’ll see what the next three months bring.

36 Comments

  1. Asurmen says:

    For whatever reason, NS2 never swept me up like NS did. Maybe because it was part of the HL mod zeitgeist that was present at the time and the sequel was a stand alone years after. I didn’t feel like there was anything wrong with NS2.

    • Arona Daal says:

      I personally would try:

      1.
      Add MUMBLE with locational Speech .Project Reality, freakin Mod supports it. Ns2 surely could too.
      Hearing your Teammate calling for help around the Corner.
      Talking to Squads directly,and so on.

      Maybe even hearing a scrambled Version of the enemies locational Communication.
      Ultra High Frequency Whispers for Aliens , and Bass-heavy Gibberish for the Hu-Men.

      2.
      Anything mixing up Gameplay.
      Mutators,Free Placement of Structures,a “no Node needed” Mode.
      A bit emergent Gameplay,Less predictable Tug-of-War.

    • Arona Daal says:

      What an awful Comment System.

      ***Bring back an Edit or at least a DELETE Button for Posts.***

      • Synesthesia says:

        It’s absolutely atrocious. I don’t even know why it’s still in place.

  2. eAi says:

    I loved Natural Selection, and sunk more hours into that than any other game I’ve ever played. For me, NS2 was fun, but between the performance issues it had early on and the design changes they made (primarily making the two teams more similar and shortening the length of games) I found it less appealing to play.

    I think the team made a pretty big mistake in creating their own engine – they bit off more than they could chew, and I personally feel their design changes removed a lot of what made Natural Selection feel so epic.

    Last time I looked, there weren’t enough players playing either NS or NS2 to be worth getting back into it, which is sad.

    • Hugh says:

      Fingers crossed we’ll be able to make enough of a difference to change your judgement, eAi :)

  3. Blackcompany says:

    Here’s an idea: This team could just…finish something. Stick with and focus on a project until its done, instead of splitting their focus between three early access games.

    Right now they seem more like a team with three ideas, only 1 of which they have any idea of how to properly and fully develop (Natural Selection) while the other two remain mired in Early Access, without any real end game in mind.

    • Hugh says:

      You’re so right that focus is critically important, Blackcompany. Fortunately, it’s a newly hired team working on NS2. Subnautica is proceeding full steam ahead (And we’re really thrilled with the progress being made). If we had pulled people off Subnautica to work on NS2, we would rightfully be decried as insane!

      – Hugh

  4. airtekh says:

    It’s worth noting here that one of the key members of the CDT (community development team) has been left out of these proceedings and is subsequentely stepping down from the NS2 community.

  5. RCoon says:

    In the Q&A:
    “…in fact, aiming for media exposure appears to be harmful to the success of a game. We’ve become much more successful with our products since abandoning it.”
    Not doing media exposure because of a few poor reviews and negative opinions feels very much like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    I think my main negative about their game was the declining playerbase, and the fact the only remaining players left were veterans. Basically if you buy the game right now, you’re only option is to play against people who have hundreds if not thousands of hours worth of playtime. Considering there’s no concise tutorial, and the fact this is an exceedingly high level of skill FPS, I can imagine most new players are put off almost instantly. Basically an issues of player numbers and having a highly imbalanced skill spread among the existing community.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      There also was the split with NS:Combat. I haven’t seen that addressed yet and I suspect it, too, is part of a problem to solve.

    • Hugh says:

      Well, a bit of clarification here… We’ve had great reviews and gained huge value from our customers opinions. I was referring to the assumption that games get big by ‘aiming for media exposure.’

      The Unknown Worlds experience is that the opposite is in fact true. A high quality, fun game is what makes a game big. Not spending marketing dollars, or running free-weekends, screaming for press attention, splurging mega-bucks on game shows, or cutesy reddit-bait ARGs.

      You’ve got make a good product. You’ve got to be responsive to your customers. You’ve to test your assumptions, identify and cease love-value work, and seek out what it is customers really want, not what they tell you they want in forums or what you think they want in meetings.

      It’s hard. Much harder, I think, than trying for ‘media exposure.’ But it also appears much more successful. You get to engage with reviews (Both good and bad, equally valuable), and learn from opinions. I mean, I think it’s fun!

      – Hugh

  6. RegisteredUser says:

    ..microtransactions incoming?
    I’m sorry, but Payday 2 has made me cynical about “renewed involvement” and staffing up.

    • airtekh says:

      NS2 already has skins/cosmetics you can buy and has so for years.

    • Hugh says:

      That’s valid cynicism RegisteredUser… It seems to me there’s good ways to introduce ‘microtransactions’ (‘Granularity of product’ perhaps another way of putting it?) and really crap ways of doing it. We’ve got to pick the good ways of doing it.

      • RegisteredUser says:

        Definitely.
        And quite honestly, I am all for infinite skins and model variations and similiar that change NOTHING about the actual gameplay(not hitboxes either, mind!).
        Chivalry has done this 100% right. All patches and map additions came free for everybody and monetization came from non-vanilla weapon shapes and skins that still “hit the same” (although one of the sun staff brandistock replacements is atrociously huge and can be off-putting for timing).

        Doing what Overkill/PD2 did with stats or similiar “pay to advance faster/better” attached to it will inevitably annoy people.

        Again, I am all for adding “opt-in” cosmetics and as much as you like of that. Just don’t do things that will be giving disincentives to people who play timewise heavily, but don’t have tons of spare cash. And don’t do things that artificially divide the playerbase(map packs only if you bought them; or gamemodes, or special weapons and characters that if you don’t have them you get kicked out of matches for, you get the idea).

        And as has been mentioned in other comments, the best way to get player spikes and people trying the game out is free weekends, though I believe the <=5$ sales also helped along the way and there is a very large "dormant" userbase from the humble bundles and similiar.
        (I am one of those dormant players, I have had NS2 in my steam library for over 2 years now. I just didn't have enough exhaustion from the other online MP games and time left over after having enough of them to move into NS2 yet. Team objectice oriented modes – as in Chivalry – and territory campaign advancement like in RO2/Rising Storm are what all my online time is about, so I'm hoping NS2 fits into that)

  7. FreudianTrip says:

    What they need to do is go Free to Play or do a PayDay 2 esque free week. I put, at the least, tens of hours into the original and was hyped for the sequel but after several delays and then mediocre interest on review, I never tried it. And I never will unless there’s an accessible version.

  8. Al Bobo says:

    When Unknown Worlds was developing NS2, they liked to release a huge patch and, at the same time, make a free weekend. Those patches always brought in bugs and latency problems and made playing experience bad. Lots of potential players were scared away for good. In my humble opinion, that was incredibly thick-headed of them. Let’s see, if they keep doing the same mistake again and again.

    • Hugh says:

      Al Bobo it’s going to sound crazy but I love your comment. I mean, there’s all sorts of evidence about whether big patches were good things. I think you’re very right to question them.

      We can’t just do the same thing again. That’s really, at the core, what this new team is about. Getting better at making good decisions. If big patches were bad, we’ve got to stop doing that. I’m excited to see what we can do instead.

      – Hugh

      • Al Bobo says:

        That is very nice to hear :)
        I loved NS2 and played it over 500 hours. I stopped, when it started to get difficult to find servers with enough people to play with. If you manage to breath some new life in NS2, I’ll come back for sure. It really is a unique game.

  9. Mr.Bats says:

    Steam says I’ve 15hrs played of NS2. I stopped playing a long while ago, and the problem is that it isn’t fun. It’s not fun to be a lowly marine. It only gets fun when there is a strong coordinated Marine team and that’s not so common, honestly.

    Aliens are highly skilled people with hundreds of hours that will simple murder you.

    Also, not enough weapons. I see many dead online FPS, Nuclear Dawn comes to mind, that wonder why — well, few people can play the same thing over and over again, and the thing that makes the most impact in a FPS are weapons.

    There are many things UW could do with this game to reinvigorate. Add an overlaying plot, add new, different maps. Maybe in an asteroid, maybe in space – it’s not so hard to change gravity in most game engines -. New weapons. Modify how ammo works or add bigger mags on weapons. We need to spray. We are alien fighting marines, we NEED TO SPRAY. Maybe go F2P. Good F2P without P2W like CSGO, only skins. That would attract people.

    Space Marines themes are fantastic but hardly anyone does it well. Apart from Henley and Scalzi, that is.

    To Hugh: My frustration in part comes from Shattered Horizons and Nuclear Dawn. Do not let this happen to you guys. You need to understand when you’re not going to get anywhere with the game. As I say, there’s a lot of wiggle room. But it is not in any way bad to go F2P or to make a new NS3, or make a standalone NS with plot, or whatever. If you’re going to work on NS2, do not work on “improving”, work on radical changes. (As long as you don’t hurt your veterans, that’s game over ofc).

    Wish you guys luck

    • Asurmen says:

      Some of these are bad ideas. What plot do you need for a MP game? Low gravity would severely suck, forcing a redesign of abilities, other stats and map design. Mag sizes are there for balance.

  10. rexx.sabotage says:

    what about poor Future Perfect?

  11. Little_Crow says:

    I played an awful lot of NS, but I’m only a sporadic player of NS2 and have only clocked up 60 hours. But it is my go to game on a weekend evening for some beers and multiplayer gaming.

    NS2 has a steep learning curve, so it’s essential that the community is supportive of new players. The servers I play on (Wooza’s) certainly do that, whether this is a product of the community being endangered or that NS2 just attracts a more ‘mature’ player I’m not sure.
    If newcomers are stumbling on to less friendly servers I can certainly see people being put off, and though it’s nice to see the developers giving the game some love, it’s hard to address that

    It’s a shame the ‘combat’ game mode was spun off, as this was far more accessible for a newcomer. I’ve played ‘Siege’ a few times and it came close but it doesn’t seem to be particularly popular.

  12. Enso says:

    Would be nice if the player base could recover. Just fancied a game the other day and for the third time couldn’t find any servers to play on. Finally uninstalled. Really did enjoy ns2.

    • rumtotinggamer says:

      Enjoyed it too but I haven’t played since 2013 after hundreds of hours in the game.

      Problems with rejoining now would be i’m 2 years older now and for a twitch shooter thats an eternity, its likely the games changed a helluva lot, the people I played with no longer play it, and the “vets” or whatever you call them would now be so good I can’t get the motivation to try and attempt to be better than them.

  13. SlimShanks says:

    So, I’ve played about 60 hours of NS 2, and the first thing to say is the concept is just amazing. I like almost everything about it, the atmosphere is just incredible. There is no other gaming experience like getting that exo you were saving for and using it to help your team push deep into alien territory. And there are many things equally as awesome.
    BUT… I think there are two major problems. Firstly, and I know this is an important part of the game, but the gameplay is way too competitive. Having twitch aiming be your core skill turns off a lot of people, mostly because it makes it very hard for beginners to have fun. Getting slaughtered is never a good time.
    The second problem is related to this, which is the elitism of the community. This is inevitable in games with a high skill cap. There are a lot of highly competitive jerks in the game, and they drive away a lot of players, new and old. I’ve seen it a lot. No one likes getting screamed at.
    So, I know this is basically sacrilege, but… make it more accessible. Maybe slow down aliens slightly, and make marine weapons less accurate? That might give noobies a fighting chance, on both sides.

    • Faxanadu says:

      You know, you might be completely right.

      I have 1200 hours on NS2, it is, without a doubt, the most riveting multiplayer FPS experience to date. There simply is NO OTHER GAME where RTS is combined with FPS even REMOTELY this well, and in addition to that, the game is asymmetrical and the setting is exotic as heck. It just has no competition.

      But something is off. I don’t even know why I quit. Maybe I had just played too much.

      But why isn’t something this amazing more popular? I think your answer might be correct. I’m a Quake player, I like arcadeish shooters and twitch play. It’s fun. But it requires a THICK skin. You’re going to get BRUTALLY owned. It doesn’t matter if you’re Rapha, you’ll get OWNED sometimes. Some people think it’s fun. But a lot of people are maybe too casual for that.

      (Altho, one big problem I always preached about, was the lack of a proper tutorial. It was abysmal trying to get into the game.)

      Maybe, the game could be saved, if we(you) made HUGE changes to accessibility. Like…

      -Much more health on everything, no one-shotting from full hp.
      -Random spread on weapons, no overpowered people because they’re just that good
      -Random things, so anyone can get lucky some way

      Something like that. Dunno.

    • Stardog says:

      Don’t expect the competitive part to change. There are a lot of vets on the forums who love their 40-1 Fade kills too much to nerf anything. They don’t want a slower gameplay pace, they don’t want iron-sights for weapons (even though every modern MP shooter with an actual player base has them), etc. That’s fine, but nobody wants to play that in 2015.

      I have 1110 hrs played and have suggested all kinds of things that would make it more accessible. More interesting movement/aiming mechanics, NS1 style base relocation, etc, all to deaf ears.

    • SlimShanks says:

      The skill cap doesn’t need to be lowered very far. It doesn’t need to be balanced like CoD. Skill and knowledge should give strong advantages. But it’s so easy for a new player to accomplish absolutely nothing in NS 2. Twitch aiming for humans, and crazy, somewhat baffling movement for the aliens. Shooting and moving feels good, it just isn’t intuitive.
      I feel like alien success should depend more on surprise attacks than just ninja dodging bullets all day. Marines should have to work together very carefully and exploit defenses instead of one or two hit shotgunning everything.
      I still can’t play a skulk worth beans though, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

  14. Felcaster says:

    I followed NS2 development from the beginning (even bought Zen of Sudoku to support development); however, on release the game performance my brand new Alienware set-up was so poor I soon stopped playing.

    About a month ago I built a new computer rig in preparation for Fallout 4 and finally had a system that could properly run NS2. I hope the community revitalization efforts succeed. I’d like a chance to finally play the game!

  15. Paranoid says:

    Huge insane NS1 fan here, I played on the NZ national team, which as you’ll know if you were around, AUS/NZ had the highest caliber of competitive NS by a decent margin.

    The issues with NS2, as I see them were;
    – Performance. We all know it, but still worth mentioning, most of us have upgraded now, but my initial play experiences were terrible because of this.

    – Symmetry. NS1 was extremely asymmetrical and it was amazing. Additions like the Alien commander and Marines having personal res diluted the game too much to be worth it. The addition of creep/power cores sounds good on paper, but ultimately just translated to busy work in the game, the systems could be salvaged with a rework though.

    – Limitations. The reduction of defensive structures to an annoyance still feels like it goes against the heart of NS. Alien Wall of Deaths may have been too extreme, but surely there’s room to have some viable base defenses. Really this change, limiting turrets and OCs so extremely, changed the shape and feel of the game so much I barely recognize the way matches actually play out now. So many people in this thread have noted the super high skill cap, which was always true in NS, but viable defense structures defuse this to a huge degree, since it places importance back on the RTS/Strategy element of the game.

    Anyway, I fresh look needs to be taken; what features do we need to tone down so the game can run on peoples systems, while still having big bases and viable defenses. If that means cutting something like the dynamic infestation, then honestly at this stage, so be it. NS2 tried to move from being an RTS with FPS units, as in NS1, to a FPS with some RTS elements, and in the process alienated a huge chunk of its fan base.

  16. Stardog says:

    I don’t see updates increasing the player base. They’ll just maintain it. It’s the usual fallacy of “if we make a great game we’ll get tons of players automatically!”, when the truth is that it’s more about advertising (having tons of money) and then having a great game. NS2 has neither. That’s why it needs to be rebuilt from scratch in a new engine and to be named NS3 to get anywhere.

    Another reason the player base won’t increase much is that there are a lot of vets on the forums who love their 40-1 Fade kills too much to nerf anything. They don’t want a slightly slower gameplay pace, they don’t want iron-sights for weapons (even though every modern MP shooter with an actual player base has them), etc. That’s fine, but nobody wants to play that in 2015. Just look at ShootMania (and I predict the new Unreal Tournament will go the same way).

    I have 1110 hrs played and have suggested all kinds of things that would make it more accessible. More interesting movement/aiming mechanics, NS1 style base relocation, etc, all to deaf ears.

    NS is dead, long live NS!

  17. Leprikhan says:

    Another thing that might be worth mentioning as the other issues people bring up is how important coordination is in NS2 compared to a lot of other shooters.

    I think a surprising number of people aren’t actually interested in playing a coordinated, team-based game. Especially in NS2, where there’s so much pressure on every individual to play both correctly and well. NS2 is not the kind of game that I feel plays very well in a casual pick-up-and-play kind of way, which is probably off-putting for many.

  18. johndoe47 says:

    make a sub forum called suggestions box on the steam discussions forums and also the website’s forums for natural selection 2. i think this would be a great way to get some player input and improve the game.