State of Development: September 2013

Posted by Hugh 1 year ago

The last few months have seen the release of Reinforced – The second major free expansion for Natural Selection 2. Here is an update on what has been going on since Reinforced, and what you can expect from NS2 development in the future.

Reinforcement Program

The Reinforcement Program has been a great success. Your generous support has raised over $150,000 over the past month – A very significant sum for a studio of our size. We always knew we were setting an extremely high bar with the $550,000 target. While we do not think we will ever hit it, the money raised will fund further NS2 development that will deliver some sweet improvements to the game (Which you can read about throughout this post!).

There are no plans to end the program, and we intend to maintain it as a way for people who enjoy NS2 to support its development beyond the initial sale price. While obviously such an expense is not for most players, the generous few will mean that NS2 continues to receive development love for the foreseeable future.

Right now, there are several Reinforcement Program rewards that continue to be delayed – The physical Onos tier rewards and the Expanded Original Soundtrack (OST). Good progress is being made on the Onos rewards and those with that tier will receive them some time in October. The OST has been delayed due to a decision to switch content delivery systems: Originally, the plan was to deliver it via Steam, as with the Deluxe edition soundtrack. However, player feedback as indicated to us that the Steam soundtrack delivery is hard to find and not very user friendly.

Instead, we are likely going to switch to a Humble Bundle delivery and everyone who has purchased a tier including the OST will receive it soon. We appreciate your support very much and understand fully that the delay is unacceptable and frustrating.

Engineering

The most pressing priority for us on the engineering side is to reduce the incidence of out-of-memory crashes, especially for those running 32-bit operating systems (OS). These crashes have popped up due to the introduction of more ‘stuff’ in Reinforced. For example, the rich props in Biodome and the new Reinforcement Program perks like the Elite Assault Marine.

While NS2 does not actually use more than the 2Gb of memory typically allocated to it by a 32-bit OS, the fragmentation of the pool of allocated memory throughout gameplay can cause it to run into a situation where it is unable to find a memory block big enough to fit some new item that it wants to load. The end result? A fatal and unacceptable crash.

Max and Dushan are working full time to address this issue. In the mean time, we made some minor improvements in build 256, and there is a temporary workaround here.

Art

The Reinforcement Program has directly funded some very cool new adventures on the art side of things. Everything is super-duper secret right now, but let it be known that come the 1-yr anniversary of Natural Selection 2, you will have some cool new toys to play with.

Other new stuff is planned for after the anniversary. We hope that veterans of the NS world will be especially pleased by what we have cooking… But seeing as it is all under-wraps at the moment, there’s not much more to say right now!

Gameplay

One of the first major problems with NS2 on launch was the learning curve. The lack of an interactive tutorial system contributed to that in a big way, and we hope that the new tutorial systems introduced in Reinforced went a long way to easing new players in.

A second major problem remains: How to get into an organised game. The wonderful folks over at ENSL.org have long provided the only reliably way to get into an organised game of NS2 via their ‘gather’ system. Earlier this year, we hinted at work on a system called ‘Sabot‘ that was intended to provide in-game organised play options.

That system is now being developed by Andi, and the newest full-time member of the UWE team – Lukas.  It is broadly composed of two elements: Hive, a player persistency system that was quietly released along with Reinforced and is still being pieced together, and a ‘gather’ system that will allow players to seamlessly create and join organised games without leaving the game.

The entire system will have benefits beyond just organised play and player stat tracking – It is also serving as the bedrock for a more reliable and scaleable in-game rewards system – The most obvious manifestation of which is the badge system.

Internal Processes

Every time a new Natural Selection 2 build is released, it has undergone rigorous testing at the hands of the exceptional all-volunteer playtest group. The amount of playtesting that a new internal build receives correlates with how fast the core UWE team can deliver new builds to the playtesters.

Unfortunately, our present system for delivering builds has been found wanting. Especially during the intense week leading up to the release of Reinforced, the playtest team was frustrated by our inability to reliably and quickly deliver test builds to their PCs around the world. This meant that the final release did not receive as much testing as we would have liked.

During September Brian has been working with some clever community volunteers to create a new build distribution system that will allow us to more efficiently and effectively deliver test builds to the playtest group. The end result of this effort will be higher-quality release builds on Steam.

Resource Allocation

Until the release of Reinforced, the entire UWE development team was devoted full time to Natural Selection 2. That means ten months were spent working on a game that had already been released, with no projected sources of revenue outside continued sales. Such a devotion of resources is extremely uncommon in game development.

The Reinforcement Program has been a success in absolute terms. It has provided a material and substantial revenue source that allows committed NS2 players to contribute to further NS2 content. But it has also served as an important experiment for us – We know now that the likelihood that continued full time development of free NS2 content can fund this studio is low.

Therefore, we have taken a a momentous decision. As of September 24th 2013, UWE is no longer wholly and only devoted to full time development of NS2. Don’t panic though – That is not the same thing as ‘NS2 development has stopped!’

While we know it is inevitable that many players will be upset at this news, we ask that you consider it through the lens of all that has been done, and all that is still to come. It is not possible for any studio to continue full-time development of free content forever. This does not mean that we believe NS2 is a bug-free, perfect experience. Far from it. As has been detailed above, there is still so much we are working on, and still so much we want to do.

Unknown Worlds

Charlie, Steve, Brian and Cory discussing ideas for a new game

What it does mean is that alongside continued NS2 development, improvement, and love – We are starting to explore new projects. NS built UWE – NS being both the game itself and you its players. We consider each and every one of you part of this company. You are the most cherished part of this studio.

Now we are stepping into the great unknown – In directions that may or may not involve NS, things that may involve game-play the world has never seen. We ask you to come with us – Safe in the knowledge that we will never forget what put us here, that we will never abandon NS, and looking to a future in which we all together visit more unknown worlds.