Available: July 31st, 2003.
Developer: Natural Selection Team

Interview by: Kurt Knudsen

Last fall an exciting mod for Half-Life going by the name of Natural Selection was released. It combined both first person action and strategy, and put a group of space marines fighting a battle for supremacy with an alien race called Kharaa. Since its early days we've kept you, our readers, updated on the mod's progress, with an interview and the mod's review having been posted last year. Now with the upcoming release of Natural Selection 2.0 it's only natural (get the pun?) for us to get together with Ned Pyle again and ask him a bunch of questions about the new version of the mod. Enjoy, check out some exclusive screenshots and make sure to try out Natural Selection 2.0 once it's out.

Hi, can you tell us who you are and what you do for the NS team?

Hi, my name's Ned Pyle and on the business cards, I handle the NS community and PR. I also do technical work that lets the game makers focus on making games and not running servers, databases, forums, and other things.

What is Natural Selection for any new comers?

NS is a hybrid First-Person Shooter/Real Time Strategy game set in a distant future. One side is human Marines that are very technical, very firepower-oriented. They are joined by a commander: this player runs their side as if he were in an RTS game like Warcraft or Command and Conquer. Only now his troops are real people, not AI-controlled peons. He builds bases, researches equipment, gives out weapons, plans high strategy, and is the team's lynchpin.

The other side are the Kharaa. These are class-based aliens that range from dog-sized, wall-climbing Skulks to huge Rhino-sized behemoths that devour marines whole. They have no commander, and instead use hive-minded based abilities to coordinate attacks and defenses.

Each team fights over resource nodes on a map; the more nodes you control, the bigger and more cool your upgrades (or evolutions, for the Kharaa) get. You get access to more abilities, more varied attacks and defenses, cooler gameplay. The goal is to wipe out the other team's bases and ability to respawn. When that happens, you win!

How long has 2.0 been in development, and how many people from the 1.0 team has joined to do 2.0, any new team additions?

2.0 has been in our designer Charlie Cleveland's head for about 3 years. Serious work has been going on for about 2 years at this point. Between 1.0 and 2.0 we added a part-time coder who has come up with a lot of really terrific new features, a new sound engineer who did many of the CS audio, and a Linux guru so that our servers got more finely tuned.

Is 2.0 a whole new game? Or is it an upgrade from 1.0. Also how big do you think the mod will be when finished?

NS 2.0 started life as 1.1, a fairly small patch that was designed to fix some of the larger gameplay issues and nagging client-side bugs of 1.0. It seemed to take on a life of its own during development though, gaining more and more features, more maps, and leading to bigger revisions of what we thought hadn't worked out right in the original game. We also added a large number of testers from the clan community who were pretty opinionated on what they didn't like about 1.0, and that influenced decisions to some degree as well.

The mod has changed so much that we threw out plans to make it a patch, upped the version to 2.0, and are releasing it as a full-sized replacement. It should be in the 120MB range, give or take.

Any interesting features the fans should look out for?

Sheesh, so many!

* All new as well as revised alien abilities and evolutions
* Massively revised resource and research systems
* Commander mode revised and made more user friendly - he now has hotgroups, squads, easier interface, better minimaps, more info on his troops
* New visuals, new models, skulks now orient on the walls and ceilings correctly,
* Marine weapons and equipment all revised in performance and usage.
* All new maps, and all the previous maps have been revised and revamped
* All new mini map and pop-up map features
* HLTV support added and heavily expanded upon

Server operators should be rejoicing in the highly optimized map and server code now - under testing we were seeing around a 80-95% decrease in processor utilization (roughly down to DOD numbers). And the linux server also beats the Win32 server in performance finally!

There's so much more - our internal changelog is about 25 typed pages at this point :)

Has the Half Life engine held you back from adding things you wanted, but couldn't because of its lack of features?

Hmmm... for what Charlie wanted to do with NS 1 and 2? Not hugely. It's an incredibly flexible and moddable engine. Of course it would be nice to have the proposed physics of HL2. ;)

What hasn't changed since 1.0?

It's still incredibly immersive, exciting, and fun!

Has the story changed from 1.0 to 2.0? If so what was changed?

The story hasn't changed in any fundamental way. There is more of it though - our staff writer Jeff Paris recently released the second part of the '6 Days in Sanjii' memoirs that describe the NS universe. It can be found (along with previous details) at http://www.natural-selection.org > World Section

How do you think the public will feel about 2.0? You say you took a lot of suggestions from public feedback, do you think everyone will like these changes?

We think that if we could make the jaded and angst-ridden souls of our testers happy, then the general gaming public will be no issue! 2.0 is such a vast improvement on nearly every single aspect of 1.0 that we find it hard to believe most people won't like it more. After all, many of the improvements were based off their suggestions and hopes.

How is it working directly with Valve? Do you think you might get your game published like Counter Strike?

We actually don't work with Valve as much as people think. We are definitely going through them to get VAC anti-cheat added though, as that requires their intervention. As far as publishing under the umbrella of the Valve title empire, who can say?

Speaking of Counter Strike, do you think a lot of CS players went from that game to yours? Or perhaps play both?

Well, 'a lot' is a relative term when you talk about a community as huge as CS! We certainly have plenty of former (and current) counter-strike players in our forums; almost impossible not to. We find that players who were dissatisfied with CS 'team DM' style gameplay and want a somewhat deeper experience tend to be our crossover players. That being said, CS is a kickbootie game and we're all fans on the NS team.

Have your fans had a large impact on the game? Do you think you could have come this far without their support?

Our fans have had a HUGE impact. They make a lot of interesting observations that can lead to real self-reflection on the mod team. Like your kids, internet game fans pretty much say what's on their mind without much care ;) .Without their support, we'd be an interesting coding project that never went anywhere. We owe them everything.

Is there anything else you would like to add, something I forgot to touch on?

NS 2.0 comes out July 31st - Prepare to Evolve!