Making your own engine is no frivolous decision for a developer to make. It's a guaranteed investment of years of your life. Already a year or two into creating Natural Selection 2, Unknown Worlds dropped Source in 2008 and began creating their own technology, a proprietary engine called Spark.
It's certainly prolonged development of Natural Selection 2 , which was announced in October of 2006. But one of the payoffs to this, says Hugh Jeremy, Outreach Manager at the studio, is that Unknown Worlds has produced what he believes is one of the most open and moddable games ever.
“I'm definitely not saying 'Source is not moddable,'” he says.
“Right, of course. That would be crazy,” I say.
Hugh Jeremy: “We came from modding and we want to stay true to modding. We don't believe we're the best game developers in the world, we believe that somewhere out there there might be someone who can create twice as good a game, just like CS for Half-Life or Team Fortress. Other engines, while undoubtedly moddable, don't just provide you with the whole game's source code, accessible right there.”
PCG: Sure, in a lot of cases, developers are like...you'll talk to Bethesda for example, and they're like “Well, we want to release our tools, but they're all built around this intricate internal pipeline...we might do it in six months.”
HJ: I mean, we're not trying to pretend that they're really easy to use.
PCG: Sure. They're not a consumer product.
HJ: They do break. We have, for example, a cinematic editor as well that ships with the game. So maybe you wanna make a movie an Onos comes in and slams the ground and kills someone. You can do that with our cinematic editor and that's actually the tool we use to create all our trailers. But, you know, it crashes. And it has these really odd things you have to learn to workaround because we just don't have time to improve it. We work around those problems in the office.
PCG: Do you think Spark is more open than Unreal 3?
HJ: It's the most moddable game ever. And it's because the engine itself is written in C++ to be fast to render lights fast and for fast networking, but the game on top is written in a scripting language called Lua, which means it's extremely accessible even to a very base programmer. So effectively we provide the engine as a box that allows you to express your creativity through the scripting language Lua. The entire game's source code ships with the game, so you could either rip all that game code off and put your own game code in or you could modify it, maybe you want a different type of rifle, maybe you don't like the fact that there's an Onos and you take the Onos out, and you remove hives, you do something, you can do any of that. And all the tools also ship with the game, the map editor and the Lua debugger that we use to code the game, the animation rigger that we use, all of that comes with the game.
Natural Selection 2 is available for pre-sale now. $35 grants immediate access to the beta on Steam.