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Interview: Unknown Worlds talks about Natural Selection 2

It began as a total conversion for Valve's original Half-Life game but the FPS-RTS hybrid mod Natural Selection has been in development for some time as a full-fledged retail game, Natural Selection 2. The sci-fi themed game is being worked on at the San Fransisco based Unknown Worlds Entertainment, founded by the the original mod's creator Charlie Cleveland.

Recently the development team made a major announcement, stating they were going to switch game engines. Originally planned as a stand alone game using Valve's Source engine (the same one used for Half-Life 2) Unknown Worlds has made the choice to develop Natural Selection 2 with their own in-house graphics engine. Because of this switch Big Download decided to check in with Cleveland to find out more about their plans for Natural Selection 2.
First, Natural Selection started out as a Half-Life mod. Was it always the idea to make this game a stand alone retail product?

I didn't have a specific plan for what happened after making NS as a mod. I was passionate about the game ideas in NS and knew that good things would happen if we made a popular game, regardless of whether it brought money in or not. I was always hopeful it would lead to something bigger but I didn't plan for it.

How hard has it been establishing Unknown Worlds as a independent game developer?

It's been quite difficult, mostly in terms of funding. Turning a popular mod into a business was much trickier than I expected. Incorporating, taxes, trademarks, protecting IP, insurance, etc. are all a big part of it but building a team and getting funding was the hardest part. You need amazing people that you get along with and share your ideas but how do you convince them to work with you without paying them? My solution was to move to California where there is a hotbed of talent and investors, many of which seem to "get" games. In the meantime, I charged everything on my credit cards. Then I made a small-budget casual game (Zen of Sudoku) to try to bring in more money. This didn't work very well due to it being a Sudoku game but I believe is still a great way to start a company.

Max joined the team as Technical Director and things started to move. Then, over three years later, we got our first real hit from serious "angel" investors. Now we have a small office and four employees. Now the "real" work begins!

Natural Selection 2 is a mix of RTS and FPS. How hard has it been making sure the two game genres work together?

It's not simple. From NS1 I learned that the best intermarriage of the two genres is closer to FPS than half-way between the two. It has to be a great FPS first, with RTS elements playing a secondary role. I'm glad we didn't ship NS1 as a commercial product, as it allowed us to make mistakes on that one. Like making crepes - you throw out the first one.

Is there a fictional backstory behind Natural Selection 2 that you can tell us about?

We do have a bit of one, written by my great friend Jeff Paris. He used to have his own sci-fi journal and is a talented writer with a great imagination. He's written a few articles and short stories that established the world of NS although we haven't released all of it. Due to funding and location, he is only able to help on a very limited basis these days. To get an overview of the NS world, Google "Six Days in Sanjii".


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