Modding origins – The spawns issue

A long, long time ago, I was writing for a (now defunct) spanish Half-Life & mods news site. One of the people in that community, blueman, pointed me towards a new mod that looked very interesting, as it was mixing RTS and FPS elements, that mod was Natural Selection.

At the time, I was just starting mapping and I had done a small and not very good looking Counter-Strike level, as I was still learning. So since this unreleased mod offered a small pre-release version for mappers to get started with all the textures, I jumped straight into it. The mapping forums were very active and some very nice looking maps were being shown there.

The kind of expectations that this mapping community had, pushed me to get better and better at mapping, and, after some time, I ended up contributing in official capacity for the mod in the form of the Bast remake and Sava. It was during this period that I learned to look more into negative feedback to see what I could improve. This would later apply to my Natural Selection 2 modding.

When Natural Selection 2 got announced, I naturally got excited about it. The curious thing about it was that the game logic was using lua, and any player could take a look at it and modify it. I had learned how to program as part of my studies, and it had been useful at work for doing some very small tools, but I never considered doing any game programming.

I had been part of the playtesting team since the very beginning, and since the game was in a sort of early access model, you could play the game as it was being developed.

People’s expectations didn’t line up with what the developer had in mind, so that prompted a number of people to stop playing out of frustration during the alpha and beta periods.

One of these issues was close spawns, I’m not saying people left over this, but it was one of the issues that were making people dissatisfied and feel like they weren’t being listened to. The maps had several possible starting points for the teams, which made it possible for you to spawn in close proximity to your enemy, leading to very shallow and stale gameplay. The developers claimed that it was being kept this way because it made gameplay interesting and dynamic, as it had that element of surprise of not knowing where the enemy spawned, ignoring that through a few methods you could figure it out immediatly. And even without exploits, through simple elimination, it took 3 seconds at most to know where your enemy spawned just with simple exploration. It wasn’t even a big exciting feature to sacrifice fun and balanced gameplay for.

After months of the issue not being addressed, with the community (especially in the competitive scene) upset about it and no one doing anything to address this, I decided to tackle the problem myself. In April 2012 I released a very small mod that, in the end, all it did was not allow spawns to be chosen if they were too close to each other. Back then, the game didn’t have Steam Workshop support yet. Thankfully, the mod was only required to run on the servers, so distribution wasn’t as much of a problem.

After going through some iterations and ideas from the forum thread where I released it, I first modified the mod requiring mappers to input pairs of valid spawns in the map files through a new field in the editor, and later only requiring a text file with the allowed setups, it was picked up by the ENSL for competitive play.

This was only the first mod that I would release, thanks in big part to my involvement in the competitive community. Competitive players tend to be the most passionate, so you tend to be in an environment where there will be in constant discussion about problems and possible things to improve about the game.

Looking back, most of the things I’ve been working on within the Natural Selection 2 community happened because I wanted to see something happen and no one was actually doing it. In any other game I would have left frustrated, since I wouldn’t have had a chance to take any action past making angry posts in a forum, while in here, I could make a difference. It still is a bit surprising to see the positive impact I’ve had for a lot of people. People that expressed their gratitude to me, saying they would have quit the game earlier if it wasn’t for something that I had done, that I had made the game playable for them… Those are things that make all the effort feel very rewarding.

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