State of Development: April 2013
Time flies by faster than you can read a terrible metaphor at the start of a video-game-development blog post. In just six days, it will be the six month anniversary of the release of Natural Selection 2. Half a year of leg-chomping glory – Just the beginning. April was a mad month: So much happened since the March State of the Game. Here is a look inside it from the perspective Unknown Worlds.
Natural Selection 2 remains in full time development. With half a year since launch, this feels slightly odd but very good. Everyone who owns the game has continued to receive updates: With the imminent launch of Build 247, we are going to crack 19 post launch builds.
Chasing faster frames, greater stability, and more consistent performance are all constant goals for the team. The game reports several metrics by which we can measure the improvements we have made to the game since launch. For example, player frame-rates are steadily moving upwards, and crashes per-player are steadily dropping.
The Spark Source Development Kit (SDK) continues to grow and mature. Spark is the engine that Natural Selection 2 runs on, and the SDK is what we use to create games for Spark. There are two reasons why improving the SDK is a focus for us. The first is that the better the SDK is is, the better the experience for modders and other content creators. The second is that if Unknown Worlds ever starts work on a new game (gasp!), a better SDK means a more efficient development process.
Steve in particular has been working closely with mappers to improve the tools and workflow of the Spark Editor. Meanwhile. Max has been improving Spark at the lowest levels: He is working to get it running on OpenGL as well as Direct3D11. This effort is quite involved and time consuming, but an important one for the long term growth of games on Spark. Both OpenGL and Direct3D11 offer improvements over Direct3D9 (Spark’s current implementation) that will benefit Natural Selection 2 players. Such work also ties in to ongoing development of a Linux server for NS2, on which progress is now far advanced.
Even more exciting, rendering graphics with OpenGL will mean Spark games can expand beyond the Windows platform. Such an expansion fits with a core UWE philosophy: That our games should be available to the widest audience possible. It also means that we can potentially expand the market for our games onto the Mac and Linux platforms (though we have no current definite timetable for an NS2 client on either). Such an expansion could, for lack of a better phrase, ‘bring in a bit more dosh’ – Increasing the budget available for future developments, and keeping the lights on in the office.
Speaking of sales, the above pie-chart shows off where you all come from! This rainbow representation drives home the point that Unknown Worlds is a truly global company, and we are very aware of the fact that you all come from Planet Earth. This knowledge informs the way we do business. For example, listing stream starts in multiple time zones. We have still got work to do on this front, for example by making sure that our games support global keyboard-layouts, not just EN-US.
Since the last published count in November 2012, the biggest countries in the NS2 community have been re-ordered slightly. France has charged up the tables, becoming the second largest market for Unknown Worlds games behind the behemoth US of A. We suspect the amazing NS2-FR community may have something to do with this! As for which countries are the most NS2 obsessed…
Iceland is far and away the most NS2 obsessed country on the planet. We’ll leave it to the Danes to argue about the sovereignty of the Faroe Islands, but they come in a close second. Across the rest of the top-10, Northern Europeans and especially the Nords continue to express great fervour for team-based multi-player games. Monaco proves to not just be the domain of Andy Schatz, and Australia and Canada continue the brutal war which sees them trading places on the top-sellers and per-capita sellers lists.
Work on new content for Natural Selection 2 continues unabated. The biggest, juiciest piece of coming content is Biodome, a screenshot of which you can see above. This map is a huge departure from previous art-styles, featuring greenery and environments unlike anything NS ha ever seen. Apart from Biodome, there are some other cool pieces of kit in development. We’re keeping them under-wraps for now, but suffice to say they will arrive with a… bang. We are currently targeting August/September as a likely release time-frame for all these goodies!
The past month has been a monster for NS2 events. First came PAX-East, a giant mecca for game lovers held in Boston, Massachusetts. Attendance clocked in around 80,000 this year, and many of those people encountered the Natural Selection 2 stand. Coinciding with and boosting a post-Gorgeous 50% off on Steam, the PAX weekend was a huge one for NS2 sales.
It was also a huge one for milestones: The first time a live TSF Marine made a public appearance. You should mosey on over to the Unknown Worlds youtube channel and watch the antics!
There was a once a time when Natural Selection was a barely functional mod, being played by a tiny group of people. Once unknown to the world, it spawned Unknown Worlds and since then the game has grown into something beyond pixels and code. It is a community of people, and nexus of interest, a platform for creativity. Nothing has ever expressed that growth more brilliantly than the NSL Grand Final held on April 12. The highlight video shown above captures some awesome moments.
This event was the first time the US and European competitive communities had ever come together and played each other in person. Archaea and Nexzil represented the skill and passion of their continents. While Nexzil’s jet-lag no doubt contributed to their struggles on the battlefield, the show was about more than just NS2. Sixty people travelled to the studio to participate live, and 165,940 unique viewers visited the stream. During those four hours, 16,580 chat messages were exchanged!
The fun and fuzzy feelings generated by the NSL event have sparked debate on whether Unknown Worlds can continue to fund such tournaments. As the graph above shows, there is a huge cost gap between what UWE pays and what in person attendees are willing to pay. Of course, expecting tickets to pay for the airfares, accommodation, prize pools and other expenses that rack up for competitive is ludicrous. But we have been thinking: What if prize pools were community driven, with UWE matching community contributions dollar-for-dollar? What if viewers could contribute a voluntary ‘ticket purchase’ if they enjoy the livestream?
While the NSL event did produce a bump in NS2 sales, it is hard to separate these sales from ‘noise’ in data. How many would we have sold if the event did not happen? How copies would we have sold if we had just put the game on sale on Steam, without an event to promote that sale? How many sales can we attribute to the event in the long term due to its growth effect on the NS2 community? There are so many assumptions that justifying the immense cost of the event is difficult.
In short, for these big events to be sustainable in the long term, we all need to come together as a community and think about how much we want them. UWE won’t be able to shell out the whole cost forever, but if the cost could be shared and the event became more community driven? Then live NS2 tournaments could start to pop up all over the world, every few months! If you like what live events do for the competitive community, share your ideas on funding them in the comments!
Last week, Unknown Worlds held its first proper ModJam. The goal of the jam was tough: In one week, create three games. The themes picked for the games were ‘Heist,’ ‘Survival,’ and ‘Fighter.’ The team split into three groups and went crazy. ‘Heist’ evolved into La Fauche, ‘Survival’ became Last Stand, and ‘Fighter’ stayed Fighter.
The jam was a fantastic opportunity for onsiters, offsiters, and skilled community members to come together and push beyond their comfort zones. Artists coding, coders arting, designers doing stuff and everyone having a grand old time. By experience facets of development we are not normally responsible for, we became better developers. The skills picked up in that week will contribute to better NS2 builds and better UWE games in future.
A packed month then. A great month in which big things happened. Everyone at Unknown Worlds is very appreciative of your continued participation in the NS2 community. Nothing gets done around here without community involvement, and nothing is worth doing without community enjoyment. Onwards to more victories!