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Recording Arts student Thomas Loupe is excited about the recent release of a long-awaited game mod to Half-Life called Natural Selection 2. The game was released on Halloween and is being distributed through the Steam Network.

“It’s very much like a first-person shooter and a real-time strategy game together,” explained Loupe, “Starcraft mixed with Counter-Strike.”

Loupe is thrilled not just because he wants to play the game – he’s excited because he had a role in helping test and develop the game.

For more than two years, Loupe has been the lead North American region playtester for Natural Selection 2 (NS2), which was designed by indie game company Unknown Worlds Entertainment. More recently, he was offered an internship as an assistant sound designer on the game.

As an assistant to the game’s sound designer, Simon Chylinksi, Loupe’s job is to add effects to sounds and voiceovers (like adding a shortwave radio effect to a voiceover or adding reverb to a sound) and send the finished sound files to programmers to add to the game.

“If it needs echo, delay, reverb – whatever the case may be – if it needs some extra ‘umph,’ [Chylinkski] sends it over to me,” said Loupe.

In an email message, Unknown Worlds Game Director Charlie “Flayra” Cleveland described some of the ways that Loupe contributed to the project.

“He quickly made songs that we used for promotional purposes, including ‘Squad 5,’ a piece that got some nice attention from our community,” Cleveland wrote. “He also helped organize our wild and distributed group of playtesters. These folks are passionate gamers from all over the world, speaking many languages and connecting virtually in many time zones. Thomas helped keep them focused and on-task, reporting bugs, finding reproduction steps for them, and testing to make sure they were squashed. It is a social and leadership role, but one that requires a lot of attention to detail as well (not to mention patience and people-skills).”

Although he doesn’t get paid for either role, Loupe said the connections he’s made and the experience he’s gained is more than adequate compensation for time devoted to a game he loves.

A fan since the release of the first Natural Selection (exactly 10 years prior), Loupe said his involvement in the game grew out of his desire to help improve the game and be a part of the game’s fan community.

So a little more than two years ago, when development of NS2 began in earnest, Loupe got involved.

“It was more or less that I put myself out there. I just wanted to playtest video games and help out the community in general,” said Loupe. “I was really passionate about making sure that their final product was really good and making sure it was something that people would enjoy.”

As he progressed as a playtester, Loupe volunteered to take on more tasks.

“I started sending emails to the developers saying, ‘What are some other ways I can get involved; how can I contribute more to your project?’”

Cleveland said because of Loupe’s track record, the indie company took him up on his offer and made him the lead playtester for the game’s North American playtest region.

“We trusted him because we could tell he was passionate about the project and willing to commit his time and energy freely,” explained Cleveland. “His volunteer time with Unknown Worlds was unpaid and his time commitment large. It’s my hope that he got an idea of what shipping a big complex game is like, and the practical aspects of building features, giving high-level and gentle feedback, gameplay analysis, bug testing and releasing. This is the atomic cycle of game development, and he saw it from a very close perspective.”

Because of his involvement in NS2, Loupe has gotten the opportunity to meet game developers at professional gatherings.

“I’ve attended BlizzCon [for the past couple of years], and during that time, I was able to get a one-on-one with Jay Wilson and talk to him about the development of Diablo 3,” said Loupe. He’s also met Minh Le, the developer of Counter-Strike, and – of course – he has a professional relationship with Cleveland.

Loupe said he’s very proud of his work and the fact that NS2 has received so many positive reviews (it was selected by GameSpy as the Best Indie Game of E3 2012).

He also feels like the game’s developers are very grateful to him for his contribution, and that this will help him in the future as he navigates the job market as a sound designer.

“All I ask from them is that they let me put [my work] on my resume and give me a recommendation,” said Loupe. “The greatest thing about it is, when you get your foot in the door, a whole new world opens up to you.”

Check out these stats on the popularity of NS2: seven days out from launch, more than 144,000 copies of the game have been purchased internationally.

By Christine Janesko on Nov 8, 2012.