State of the Game: March 2013
Four and a half months have passed since the launch of Natural Selection 2. That’s a long time! The title of this article is somewhat deceptive: It isn’t about the state of the game itself, but our work on the game. What is Unknown Worlds up to? Are we still working on NS2?
Absolutely! Unknown Worlds has no active projects other than NS2. Everyone is working full time on making the game better.
Cory is working on concepts for new additions to the game. It is too early to say which ones will make it in, so we won’t yet reveal what they are. He is also spending lots of time guiding our offsite artists as they create assets for Biodome, an upcoming map. This involves creating new concept art, and assisting modelers and mappers interpret that art.
At any time, the programming team is divided into three areas: Adding new features (to the game or to the Spark engine), eliminating bugs, or making existing features run faster. This month is unusual because attention is focused almost entirely on the latter.
Each day, the team finds new ways to make NS2 run faster. Sometimes, the improvements are very small. Today, Brian found a way to reduce a frequently called function from 16 calculations to 13. Individually, you probably won’t notice these optimisations. Together, they add up to perceptible improvements in frame rates.
Sometimes, the game is sped up not by incremental improvements but in leaps and bounds. This has happened in the past with changes Max made to occlusion culling, or when AI entities such as Hydras were told to go to sleep when no enemies are close. Steve is trying to make such a leap now, with some experimental low-level system changes. There’s always a chance these leaps won’t work, so we won’t say any more about Steve’s work at the moment. There is exciting potential, though!
Charlie has the toughest job of anyone. Not only does he keep a light tab on the overall direction of Natural Selection 2 development, he also casts his eye to the future of Unknown Worlds. This means he is doing lots of long-term thinking. Should UWE make a new game? What would that game be? How many people does the company need? Should we buy a company jet? (That last one is a joke, people.)
He is also writing a speech to be given at Game Developer Conference 2013, about how NS2 was built and what we can all learn from it. It will follow on from his recent Gamasutra article. This process of introspection and learning is crucial to making sure Unknown Worlds is a sustainable company, that can continue to deliver great multiplayer game experiences for years to come.
Natural Selection 2 features lots of models and animations. Making sure they all keep working properly can be tough. They have a life of their own – As seemingly unrelated code changes, weapons stop reloading properly and the like. Brian stands in the way of such rubbish, and can often be seen tweaking models and animations this way and that.
He is also spending time thinking with Cory about how to have our animation system work with new content. For example, if we wanted to have custom marine armour (Such a feature is a long, long way off!) what changes would we need to make to allow the game to handle it? How should we change the models we are creating now, so they will be compatible with such a future system?
Unknown Worlds is also trying to reach out to the wider game development community, to share our knowledge and gain that of others. Recently, Brian interviewed the developer of A Virus Named Tom (Tim Keenan) in the UWE office. Brian and Max also recently gave programming presentations at City College San Francisco. Because the stress of NS2′s launch has passed, and our financial situation is stable, we are able to do more of this kind of development community engagement.
Natural Selection 2′s future is being shaped by a combination of your input, via forums, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Reddit, Steam Group, emails, and the ideas and passions of everyone in the office. It is exciting to look at the game in March 2013, and how much better it is than the product we proudly launched to critical and popular acclaim in October 2012. It is exciting because we haven’t finished. With your continued support and help, we are going to look back at March 2013 from October, November, whenever and marvel at how far the game has come again.