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[July 17th, 2006 ] :: Zen of Sudoku distribution (Flayra)

Since I started selling the beta of Zen of Sudoku last month, it's been selling really well! There's been no advertising; most of our sales have been coming from the NS community and word of mouth. We also got a full page write-up on Penny Arcade, which helped immensely. Those guys have always been great to us and I can't be more thankful. Whether the game appeals to you or not, consider telling your parents or grandparents about it. They might love it and it would really help!

I am talking with a many of the major game "portals" to get as wide distribution as possible. As the game nears completion, it is becoming clear that it's success will really depend on whether we can get the word out to a large audience or not. The game has been "converting" well (% of people that try the game that then buy it), but with this audience, only about 10% of people that we get to our website actually download and try the game. I'm not sure if this is the case with Natural Selection as well, but this staggering statistic seems to be pretty standard from the portals I've talked to.

The next step is to figure out how to a) get more traffic and b) get those 90% to get some value out of their visit, and to possibly encourage them to download the game. Now it's clear to me why Popcap and other portals create web versions of their games. It always seemed to me that they were losing sales because so many people that play the web version of Zuma think that's the "real" Zuma. Ie, they never download the game. Even if that's the case for most people that go to the website though, I think it's probably worth making a web version just to sell ads and to slightly increase the chance that they will try the full version of the game.

So now I'm looking for a Flash programmer that can create Zen of Sudoku for the web. The art, sound, music, etc. are all done, so it's just a question of recreating the game exactly, with some of the functionality removed or stripped down of course, so it doesn't have a 10+ megabyte footprint. If this is something you'd be interested in, please write me. I think it's a great chance to get your work seen by many people and I'm flexible in terms of compensation. We also need an OS X version, though that will be more work.

We are still testing the site and are about to open it up to a wider group of people. The site has been a true nightmare to work on, but we're going to get it right. Enough about that.

In other news, we are preparing for imminent, earnest work on Natural Selection: Source! I wasn't sure which direction it should go, but after seeing some of the upcoming technology and features in Source, everything has become clear. There won't be any announcements until we are financially stable, but now I'm sure that's going to happen, it's just a matter of when!

For the record, NS:S will be released through Steam and will cost money ($19.95?) and will be a standalone game. From the beginning, the idea has been to create Natural Selection, give it away and then sell the sequel. Back then, I thought the sequel would be much bigger and for retail, but a lot has changed in the past almost five years since starting work on NS. Now the sequel will have a smaller scope and will be sold online, but we will retain more control, will need less money up-front and will get paid more for every copy sold. It's not what I was expecting, but it's definitely no worse! The only thing I can say about the game itself right now is that if you liked NS, you will love NS:S.

I'm excited to get back to my first love. Aliens and high-powered weaponry. Stay tuned.

[June 20th, 2006 ] :: New game revealed! (Flayra)

Zen of Sudoku screenshot After my last post, I wasn't sure about the response I'd get. I think I got one slightly negative e-mail and I got many warm words of support! People offering to donate, help with programming and tons of people that were supportive of the new casual game in order to pay the bills. Wow!

It's because of the support of this great community that I thought it appropriate to let you know about the new game. It was created mostly by Cory "Squeal Like a Pig" Strader and myself, with help from David John and Scott Haraldsen, all of which have helped out with NS. I'm sure you will recognize Cory's wonderful and distinctive art-style as that which you see all throughout the models and level textures in NS. The game is called the Zen of Sudoku and is available now (as of 2 hours ago!) as a trial download and full purchase for $12.95.

If you're interested in directly supporting NS and Unknown Worlds, I know of no better way than to try and buy this game, and especially, to spread the word about it. Tell your friends. Post on forums. Tell your parents and their friends (they'll love it, seriously). There's even an in-game "Tell a Friend" feature! We keep the vast majority of the funds on each sale, and are attempting to stay off the big icky portals to do so. If this game does well, we will surely be able to begin real work on Natural Selection: Source. Hopefully that's incentive enough. :)

Finally, if you're interested in reading more about how and why the game was made, check here. Thanks again for the wonderful support everyone, you're truly the best.

[June 8th, 2006 ] :: The deal (Flayra)

I guess after answering dozens of "why haven't you fixed the site, released NS:Source and btw NS is dying" e-mails this week, I think it's going to be more efficient to post here. It's a bit of a dump, but here goes.

It has been a pretty rough year. As most of you are painfully aware, this web site got hacked almost a year ago. With that, went the Constellation/donation system, which was the main source of income for Unknown Worlds (me). If you're thinking that we should've taken donations "manually" without the site working, I can tell you that I did that for years and it was a such a time-suck processing and changing SteamIDs and e-mail addresses that it almost wasn't worth the time. So we needed the automation to work, and that meant our player profiles and site had to work.

That was also the point where we were trying to get investor interest, do contract work and also continue to improve NS. We didn't have the resources to make NS:Source, no money was coming in, yet our expenses had increased a lot because we were spending a lot of time working on Nexus (sorry, not yet) and getting a core team together. So it was a tough situation.

We probably could've deleted over a million forum posts and 30,000 user accounts, but there's too much history for that. Many of you have been with us since BEFORE v1.0, which has been around four years. I refused to try to "reset" our community and I didn't want to just patch the site, as that wouldn't have fixed the core problems with it. After going through quite a handful of programmers for the web-site, none of which seemed quite up to the task to actually finish it (it's a surprisingly sophisticated piece of custom software, but that's a topic for another day). So the site has been rewritten, and it in major testing right now. I expect we'll open it up to the Constellation members for larger testing very shortly.

In the meantime, it's been difficult even paying rent. I would have loved to be working on NS:Source, but it deserves a nice treatment, not a quick port-and-release, so I've taken on some other work to keep the landlord at bay. I'm also about to release a small non-NS "casual" game that I hope will make enough money (without any further maintenance or time investment) to fund NS:S. I fully realize that some NS community members will think we've abandoned them by doing this, which is why this may very well be the only mention you'll ever hear of this game. Ironically, if we released this game on the Unknown Worlds site, or at least with the full knowledge and blessing of the NS community, we would probably all be playing NS:Source much sooner. :) I want to stress that this game was purely a way to make enough money and I do not intend it to be a long-term focus, or for us to stop working on NS-like games. Got to pay the bills before making the dream game.

On the positive side, all the talking with investors looks like it finally might pay off. We have two standing offers for decent "seed" funding (think thousands of dollars, not millions), though the price we pay long-term is relatively high, so we want to take as little of this as possible. I also think some good money is about to come in from this new small game, which will make life a whole lot easier.

Finally, I just got back from VALVe and saw some amazing things and got some great offers of help. I'm more convinced than ever that NS:Source will become a reality, that we'll be working on it full blast soon, and that it will exceed our wildest dreams. It's my hope that we'll have something more tangible to announce soon about this, but things do often take longer than you think...

So we've had to regroup and change the way we're doing things and we had to spend a lot of money we didn't have along the way, but for the first time in many months, I'm more confident than ever that we're about to get back on the desired path. Thanks for sticking with us through our darker times.

[February 17th, 2006 ] :: Contacting more help (Flayra)

Hey everyone. Just a quick update to let you know what's happening here.

Our recently-hired PHP programmer has had some real life issues come up and is no longer able to help us out. So we're kind of back where we started. Today I'm sending out e-mails to a couple of the best candidates that previously applied, so I'm hoping we'll get some serious site help here again shortly.

Also, we're also getting closer to making an exciting company announcement regarding funding. It almost seems too good to be true, but so far so good! In the meantime, if you're eager for updates of any kind, check out my personal blog.

[February 10th, 2006 ] :: Site progress and new game job (Flayra)

Thanks for all the e-mail! It never ceases to amaze me how smart, active and just plain helpful our community is. After asking for a PHP programmer to help with the NS site in the last update, I was inundated with candidates, all of which are willing to work only for their love of NS! I received well over 60 PHP programmers, many of which are experienced professionals. I guess I should've asked for help sooner...

We now have one new person working on the site and he's getting up to speed quite quickly. He's finishing off the Constellation/Paypal integration and helping to fix some site optimizations having to do with the forum search functionality. I believe we have one of the largest Invisionboard communities, and it doesn't seem to be well-suited to searching the text of millions of posts. We may end up taking on another programmer to help out, but adding programmers to a task often slows overall progress instead of speeding it, so we're going to wait a little longer before deciding. The site is getting better every day and we are eager to open it back up to the public.

However, there is another programming opportunity that may help out someone in the community and us as well. We are friends with a local, well-funded gaming startup that is in need of a PHP programmer. If you think you might be interested, e-mail David your resume and tell him that you heard about the job through Charlie of Unknown Worlds. If he ends up hiring you, he'll contribute a nice chunk of change to Unknown Worlds which will really help us with our next game. Kind of like donating to Constellation...hundreds of times. :) This would be a great opportunity for an experienced web programmer to move into games and would help our friends and Unknown Worlds out all at the same time. For full details, check this job post.

Thanks for your patience and help!

[January 24th, 2006 ] :: Site developer needed (Flayra)

Hey everyone. We've been having our fair share of problems in getting the forums and rest of the site back up after the hackers had their way with us and we do appreciate your patience while we work through them. The whole thing has taken a lot longer than we anticipated and to make matters worse, the site downage also meant that we lost our main source of funding. It's probably not obvious from the outside, but Constellation donations have been my main income and have enabled NS development to continue (otherwise NS development would've stopped part-way through development of NS v2.0). Development on NS:Source has been predictably slow during this time as well.

Since our funding essentially dried up, it caused a ripple effect to the NS team. Karl "XP-Cagey" Patrick was working full-time on the site and some future code and suddenly that couldn't be sustained. So now Karl is off working at Stormfront Studios and we're left with a site that is essentially complete except for some mysterious time-out bugs and a couple loose ends. It's working well enough to be used privately for the developers and playtesters, but if we opened it to the public we're afraid we would have to bring it back down again due to these problems.

So what we are in dire need of now is a PHP/MySQL programmer that can rapidly get up to speed on our code (which is very clean and well-organized) and kick butt over the next week or two to fix these last issues. If desired, we would also love this to be a full-time (although unpaid) position and would involve adding new community features and integrating more tightly with the game. We have lots of ideas for how we'd like to improve it and if we had a dedicated programmer tasked to it, I think the whole community would appreciate it.

If this is something you are interested in, PLEASE e-mail me immediately. If it looks like a fit, we'll have you sign an NDA then get you access to the code base ASAP and you can get cranking. The NS team and whole NS community would really appreciate it.

In more upbeat news, we have gotten some very serious inquiries by investors recently and are following up on them. We are also in the process of choosing a CEO for the company. If and when this funding comes through, we will be able to get that office, hire those first key people and make some major announcements about our future games! After two years of looking, it looks like our persistence may finally pay off. Furthermore, we won't have to beg the community for free help because we'll be able to hire someone full-time. :)

In summary, things have been a bit slow these past few months but our future is starting to look very bright. Thanks for hanging in there and being as patient as you can!

[ October 31st, 2005 ] :: NS is three! (Flayra)

NS is three years old! On this day, three years ago, NS v1.0 was unveiled to the public. With a high server CPU load (we tested on nice machines...oops) with some questionable balance and totally unexplored gameplay, it was an exciting night and ensuing few weeks. So to celebrate how far we've come and where we hope to go in the future, NSRadio, in conjunction with RichNet.tv, are sponsoring the first NS Birthday Bash / Halloween Monster Mash tonight starting at 8pm EST (go now!). There will be interviews with various community members and developers (including myself, although I'm sick as a dog right now) as well as skits from your favorite NS comedians.

We thought that after releasing the game we could finally take a break. Fools! Instead it forced us to work harder, or lack of updates would threaten the community. It's a bit of a vicious circle. So we released four more patches as fast as we could and then set to work with trying to improve the bigger stuff. What started as NS v1.1 morphed into a huge rework which eventually became v2.0. The list of changes was actually too long to create, at least for us at that point.

Then we started on NS v3.0, with more reworking and inclusion of NS:Combat. During this time I've been working on NS full-time and more recently, been trying to do enough business development to figure out a way to get our company funded and off the ground. I've been living off Constellation donations for these past three years, and for that I'm extremely grateful. It's been a sparse living and not for everyone but I want to see new games in the NS universe and this is the most likely way it's going to happen.

So now at this landmark, we're faced with what some call impending doom. That is, the web site is down, and all the other big mods have moved to Half-life II (though CS and DOD got access to Half-life II before release and have full teams working on them!). We have a lot of work to do. While this may not be the high point in our community morale, I do believe that we are finally on the brink of making the big leap forward (pun intended) with NS popularity that I've been hoping to acheive with all the previous NS versions. I believe we're making some critical gameplay changes that will make the game much better as well as being more atmospheric and easier to play than ever before. It's not going to be available tomorrow, but I think it will be worth the wait. We will be making a couple key announcements soon about our plans for NS:Source and will be using the mailing lists on the new site much more often to keep you informed. NS v3.1 is also ready for release and we will do so shortly after the site is online so we can keep our mirrors updated and get feedback.

So, we do appreciate your concerned e-mails, but please always remember that even when you see nothing happening on the surface, there are faces lit up by their LCDs working away so you can play. We've been working on NS over four years now and we're not about to give it all up because we got hacked.

We're glad to have you with us and look to the future rife with possibility and optimism.

Happy Birthday NS and Happy Halloween everyone!

[ October 21st, 2005 ] :: Site testing (Flayra)

Today is the day we start testing the new web site! We're going to send out e-mail to our playtesters and have them kick the tires. Once we think it's solid, we'll release it to the community publicly. It's our hope and belief that this will be the last time the site goes down for any length of time (though of course we'll have to perform maintenance on it from time to time, that's on the matter of hours). In other site outage news, we're not sure what happened to Readyroom.org, but they've missed their annual hosting fees in the past and I suspect it's something like that but will let you know when we know.

Things are otherwise proceeding along, although life as a startup is always difficult. We recently attended another investor conference, where we did a small pitch and showed our trailers, artwork, etc. to as many people with money as we could. There seemed to be a lot more entrepreneurs there than investors, but we got a couple leads that we will follow up on.

In the meantime, big changes are afoot with NS:Source. It looks like a whole lot more work than even we anticipated and so we're rethinking things. With our two big "competitors" (Counter-strike and Day of Defeat) both having a full-time professional team making them, we have a lot we're up against. Of course, those two projects also got access to Half-life II before it was released. When it comes down to it, "porting" NS to Half-life II is really more of a rewrite, with all the art and levels being redone. We expect a lot of the code and game design to remain intact, but there are even chunks there that will need to be recreated. We're currently trying to figure out a way we can get a top-quality NS:Source done in a reasonable amount of time with no funding. We're talking to publishers and investors without a lot of luck yet. Anyone have any other ideas?

[ October 1st, 2005 ] :: Still working! (Flayra)

It must be hard to believe that we're still working on the site, but it's true! We've been hacked a few times in the past year and each time we just plugged the hole and put the site back up as soon as we could. This time we're trying to solve the underlying problems completely, and this has meant almost an entire site rewrite.

We've made great progress though, and we're getting very close now! We've got almost everything working again, with only a few areas like the galleries and forums needing more work. We considered releasing what we have early, but we wanted to make sure that once we brought the site back up, it stayed up. Have a look at the new site by clicking the thumbnail here.

Another thing we decided to improve during the downtime was our handle/forum naming rules. We've relaxed the rules considerably, and now allow names with any number of capital letters and numbers (though we are removing spaces). We are going to allow all members one free handle change, so you can restore your handle and all your old posts to your original handle before the last site upgrade! The main reason we're doing this is to allow players to retain their identities they use on other services like Xbox Live, Gmail, AOL, etc.

So things are moving, even though they may not look like it from the outside. Hang in there folks, we'll be back soon, promise! Shortly after we're back, we'll give you an update on NS:Source as well...

[ August 31st, 2005 ] :: Site coming soon, really (Flayra)

We are working away on making all the needed security enhancements to the site and are not far off now. These things always seem to take longer then anticipated, but we think we could have it back up in as soon as a week from today. We are working as much as we can on this, and we do appreciate your patience.

If you're looking for a place to download Natural Selection in the meantime, you can get it here (graciously provided by Ryan from NS Arms Lab). You might also get your fill of information about NS and game development from my personal blog.

See you again soon!

[ August 23rd, 2005 ] :: Still down (Flayra)

As you can see, the site is still down and we're still working on getting everything back to normal. We apologize for the delay, and are doing everything we can to get the site back online as soon as possible. While you're waiting, why don't you check out the new release of our sister site, Readyroom.org!

[ August 7th, 2005 ] :: Temporary site outage (Cagey)

We are going to be bringing down the website while we work to stamp out another hack attempt on the forums. There is no estimate for when the site will be back up, but it may be quite some time. We apologize for the inconvienence and hope to be back up and running soon. I will update this posting once a more definite schedule is in place.