Available: Halloween 2002.
By:Natural Selection Team

Interviewed by Dennis Sloutsky

Today we've got a chance to talk to Ned ‘MonsieurEvil’ Pyle, the PR guru for the upcoming “Action-RTS” mod for Half-Life, Natural Selection. We're already mirroring its server, while the mod client is due to be released later on today, October 31, 2002, so here's our Halloween special for you...

Please introduce yourself and your position in the development of Natural Selection.

Hi, my name is Ned ‘MonsieurEvil’ Pyle. I am the public relations representative for NS, as well as the webhost and general technician.

Please give us the basic plot/storyline for the game.

Natural Selection is set in humanity’s future. Aliens known as the Kharaa are spreading through ships, space stations, and planetside bases, and the TSA is fighting a pretty desperate holding action trying to contain them and learn more about the species. There is a pretty intricate storyline to NS which can be read more about in the manual, but basically the action takes place very early in the encounters with the Kharaa and humans are having trouble simply trying to stay alive, much less beat back the hordes.

Natural Selection is advertised as "First-person strategy" on the official website. Could you elaborate on that genre name for our readers?

NS is trying to do something that has never been truly attempted before: fuse real-time strategy and first person shooter gaming into one true 3D experience. Basically, under the hood of the ‘run and gun’ action you see is a real RTS game, with a resource tree, research, and an over-all Marine commander who views the action like he’s playing a game of Starcraft, with his little troops organizing, fighting and dying under his leadership. Imagine if each of your little Warcraft peons had real brains instead of AI and you get a hint of what NS is like. It’s enormously satisfying to command real troops rather than simply send mindless Marines to their doom, as when you win you can all share the experience and take some credit for it.

Which games or movies influenced you the most while making NS?

I think that a lot of sci-fi movies and games had some influence over the creative process. It’s hard not to watch Hicks and Vasquez in Aliens and not want to have a game about space troopers fighting back swarms of critters! There are really too many influences to mention; every good RTS, FPS, and sci-fi game Flayra ever played was probably a factor.

Who are the mysterious aliens that the marines have to fight with and why did they attack humanity at all?

I will quote from the manual here, as our writer Jeff Paris does a better job explaining it:
‘This question still plagues the scientific community. The Kharaa began appearing on ships and bases throughout the Ariadne Arm a decade ago, slaughtering everyone on board. In almost every case the ship then wandered off course, and either destroyed itself by slipping into some gravity well (usually a planet or sun), or was tracked down and destroyed by the owners of the craft. Life support on bases and ships usually fails soon after the Kharaa take over, so even without military response, they don't last very long. But without more detailed knowledge about them, we will never learn how to prevent them from appearing on our ships in the first place. Every successful team returns with valuable information. And our fragile economy cannot afford to loose all those ships and bases. There is also the danger that a fallen ship will automatically dock at a major city-base, or land on an Earth-compatible planet. Lord help us if this happens – we have seen what they do with the limited resources on ships ... and can only imagine an entire planet of Kharaa. Thankfully, the Ariadne Arm is a frontier sector, and there are few large habitations. So far, there have been no incidents involving more than a crew of civilians.
The terminology for the aliens is still being developed. At the moment, we refer to the aliens, and their whole system of bacteria, lifeforms and growths, as the "Kharaa"; and the pre hive-stage presence as the "bacterium". The first TSA encounter with the aliens occurred aboard the Mongol's Sanjii mining facility. The tattered voice comm logs they extracted from the command network had one word that stood out, used again and again – "Kharaa!" "Kharaa!" Later, it was understood that this means "Watch out!" in Mongolian. By then, it had stuck.’

Which features will be unique to this mod?

Ah, great question. There are quite a few things that make NS fairly unique in half-life mod development, and other things that make it unique in gaming. It has a fully developed realistic particle system for mappers to utilize (which is also utilized by the NS engine itself for some cool weapons and player effects). Some mods have developed this but NS may be the first one to release it. The use of truly dissimilar teams, where the aliens are a distributed, class-based team and the Marines are a centralized, weapon-based team is fairly unusual. The use of a true RTS system with that familiar interface to the extent of NS is quite unique. Add in things like ability upgrades, evolutionary changes, a special gamma ‘overbrightening’ system, waypoint systems, the player popup menu replacement for VGUI, alien modes, etc. – the list goes on and on.

How many levels do you plan to include in the game, and how many multiplayer modes will be included?

There are seven amazing levels included in version 1. I don’t you’ve seen anything like them before under the HL engine; the mappers for this game are pretty astonishing. For NS Version 1, there is one type of gameplay, which is ‘respawn elimination’. One team tries to wipe out the other team’s ability to respawn, whether it be killing alien Hives, or taking out marine Infantry Portals and the Command Console. The main reason for shipping with just one type of gameplay is that NS is a very new and comparatively complex game. We hope that once players learn all the new things about NS in version 1, they will be ready for more complex scenarios in Version 2.

What kinds of weapons and/or vehicles will the different players sides (marines and aliens) have access to?

The Marines have a variety of light and heavy small arms weapons like machine guns, grenade launchers, mines, automated sentries, etc. They also get upgrades and equipment from their commander which can mean heavy armor, short-range jetpacks, rate of fire increases in their armaments, motion tracking – tons of stuff. The aliens have five classes of creature, which range from about the size of a large dog to a small elephant. Each class has a number unique attacks and abilities, such as wall-climbing, paralysis, flying, primal screams, bile bombs, xenocide, webbing, leaps, and more. Additionally, aliens have a builder class that can research better specialty upgrades for a player, like cloaking, enhanced vision modes, better armor, etc. I can go about this for twenty pages, but we have a manual for that!

Where will most of the action be taking place?

We have maps of drifting spaceships, high-altitude research facilities, military outposts, space stations. Anything you’d expect from your favorite sci-fi author. The levels have been very carefully crafted and playtested. They are quite unlike anything you’ve experienced in HL before, and will really blow you away.

What will protect NS from becoming another CS – in terms of the vast abundance of hacks and aimbots and other nasty things that plague CS? How hard was it to obtain that?

Note: Due to a last minute problem, VAC will not be included with NS Version1, but will instead be applied in a patch soon after release.

We have two primary weapons for use against cheating. One is VAC – Valve Anti-Cheat technology. VAC means that servers will automatically stay as up to date as Valve can make them, and should prevent most cheats from ever really getting a foothold. NS will be the first non-Valve mod to use this new technology.

The other method is the design of NS itself. A large part of the game is designed to give players the ability to do things which would be considered cheats in other games. Hive sight, motion track, vision enhancements, etc. all combine to give a player a large amount of situational awareness and advantage against his prey. The nice thing is everyone gets them, not just some punk with a script, so the playing field stays pretty level.

Can we expect new addon-levels for Natural Selection to be released on your website later on?

We would certainly love to do something like this. We are hoping once NS comes out that lots of mappers will get interested in making more levels – that’s the way a community grows and stays alive between version updates. NS is a challenging game to map for though, so only the very sharpest level designers need apply!

How many people are working on NS's development and how long was it under development.

There are ten official members of the NS team, plus a dozen contributors who made maps, did models, or were generally helpful experts. We also had many, many playtesters who put in long hours testing and helping to balance the mod. The game has been in development for two years, although the last twelve months or so have been the real pedal-to-the-metal creation work.

Any plans to get the game in retail later on like it happened with CS?

No plans yet, but it’s not like Flayra would say no! Natural Selection will always be a free download though, no matter what happens.

Would you have any exclusive information to share with our users (any screenshots, trailers or other nice stuff would be great).

Exclusives, eh? I will try to get some more screens out to you tonight ;)

Any last words for our readers?

Thanks for being so patient waiting for NS. You don’t have much longer before you’re dropping off the ceiling onto some terrified corporal’s face!