DUST 514 will change the rhythm of EVE Online’s warfare, creating the most ambitious MMO in history

DUST 514 will change the rhythm of EVE Online’s warfare, creating the most ambitious MMO in history

DUST 514 is the free-to-play, first-person shooter game for the PlayStation 3 that ties into the world of EVE Online. We’ve covered the game before, and Sophie has even picked up a gun to fight alongside an in-game corporation, but CCP has detailed a number of coming updates and new features for the game that may make DUST one of the most ambitious first-person shooters on the market.

“The reason we made DUST in the first place is to give players a more accessible window into the EVE universe. A way to participate that isn’t going up the learning cliff of EVE Online,” Brandon Laurino, executive producer of DUST 514 told the Report. “What’s more accessible than a shooter? It’s the most popular core game genre.”

He described the game as a pool, with a deep and shallow end. The shallow end of this pool is “very” shallow, you can just jump in and kill people. “Just being there, and being cannon fodder, so to speak, enhances the whole of the EVE universe immensely,” Laurino said. It may also get people interested in the bigger scale wars going on around them.

“The rabbit hole goes as deep as you want to, and our deep end of the pool is arguably the deepest of any shooter that has ever existed,” Laurino said. This may not be hyperbole.

Hold a planet, conquer the universe

DUST 514 is coming out of beta on May 14, but the update coming on May 6, called Uprising, is bringing a host of new features as well as an extensive graphical update. I had a chance to play the newest version of the game, and it looks significantly better; CCP showed off a series of before and after shots during a keynote in Fanfest, and the changes were startling. 

Laurino noted that the shift was almost as big as you see in the sequels of many games, but that model doesn’t work for CCP. “We’ll never make a sequel to DUST, we’ll just continue to update and upgrade it. By the way, this is all for free,” he said. They’re pushing the idea of a game-as-service on a console, with these sorts of large updates and ongoing development. This is the sort of thing that would be impossible on the 360 under Microsoft’s current policies.

The Uprising update will also allow DUST 514 players to view detailed star maps that give information about what’s going on across the entirety of the EVE universe, giving them a sense of place and scope. For some this information will be overwhelming. For others it will look like an empire ready to be taken.

“There’s the connection with EVE Online, and the fact that essentially together they’re one big game, we have to balance against that,” Laurino said. “I have a DUST team here in Reykjavik that does the features in DUST and the features in EVE and they work on both. The collaborative development has been a massive effort.”

Uprising also adds the planetary conquest system that allows DUST players to control and hold planets in the EVE Online world. Not just fight on them, but control them, giving their squad of mercenaries certain bonuses. This will also give EVE Online players a reason to care about these conflicts, as corporations that successfully hold planets will be given alliance-wide advantages and buffs in EVE Online.

“We’re the first one to do this sort of thing, there’s no guide book. There are no best practices,” Laurino said.

Soon the two worlds will be linked through their complex economies, as well as the in-game bonuses that are shared between EVE Online and DUST by controlling planets. Players in EVE Online will be able to directly fund their forces on the ground using cash they earned in space. 

Linking these games together takes a massive group effort. “We talk to the economist, we run simulations, we study player behavior, we do things on our test servers to see how these things work and operate,” Laurino explained. “This is where the development efforts become less about two separate products and more about one giant franchise.”

The meta-game

These systems are intricate, and require a dedicated effort from both EVE Online corporations and DUST mercenaries to work effectively.

“The primary wartime commodity in DUST 514 is the military-grade clone. In order to gain a strong foothold and assert dominance in a region, you will need a steady supply of replacement bodies,” an official blog post stated. “Controlling a single district will generate clones over time. If you end up producing more than you need, the excess clones can be sold for profit.” Each district on the planet will be vulnerable for attack during one hour of each day; meaning you don’t have to worry about losing ground while you sleep; but you must set a time when you’re willing and able to defend your land.

You can also add structures to your district for bonuses, and of course if you have friends in space they can control the skies and rain fire down on your enemies from the EVE Online client. Friendly fire is turned on, however, so you’ll need to accurately coordinate your targets and make sure your men and women stay the hell out of the way when the orbital bombardment hits.

EVE Online players will enjoy alliance-wide bonuses for holding ground, and soon they’ll be able to directly send funds to DUST 514 players to make sure they have the best equipment. In other words, it pays for both sides to make friends. If you have the support and funding from a large corporation in EVE Online you’ll be able to ask for help in paying for your weapons and equipment. If you prove effective in grabbing and holding land, you’ll be able to pay them back through the in-game bonuses.

That functionality is in the game, but they have yet to enable it. “We intend to turn it on over the course of the Uprising release. First we want to put planetary conquest on there and see what happens,” Laurino said. Once currency begins flowing back and forth between the two games things will get interesting, but they have to make sure everything is working as planned before that happens. The systems in place for planetary conquest are complex, and require multiple levels of meta-gaming to manage properly.

It's not just money and real-estate that are important in the quest control of this universe, you'll also need to control clones. The more clones you have, the more of your land you can defend. Clones are a resource, and the proper management of that resource will be an important part of your overall strategy in the game. CCP is actively tweaking these systems to give players a reason to fight effectively. 

From the previous design of Planetary Conquest as a defender if you won you would get 20% of the remaining clones, AKA the ones not lost in combat, that the attacker sent. We are changing the way this works and also expanding it to the attacker if they win. :D More reason to go out and attack. :D (more smiley faces? :P)

Previously the idea was that if the attacker sent 200 clones, lost 100 in the fighting, and as a defender you won you would get 20% of the remaining clones. In this example that would be 20 clones.

We are increasing that percentage to 50% but also making it so that this is 50% of the clones above and beyond the minimum 150 clones lost.

-CCP blog post

You can continue to play the game on the “shallow end” of the pool if you want to avoid this, but once you venture into the wider game these strategies become incredibly important. If you think that the more clones you have, the more power you have, you're correct. If you think that sounds unfair, you're correct. If you'd like to do something about it, the best strategy is to harden the fuck up and change the odds to your favor.

“There are EVE players that don’t play shooters, but they see how DUST and EVE can play together, and they see how it can be additive to their game,” Laurino told me. They may not want to put boots on the ground to fight these battles themselves, but it’s worth their time to make friends with those who do.

This connection between a console first-person shooter and a PC space simulation has never been done before, and the intertwining of economies and mechanics between two games in two genres playing on two completely different platforms is incredibly ambitious. Players will be looking for ways to game the system, to get an advantage in both worlds, and to grab as much land as they can. None of these clever ideas or inter-game mechanics will matter if CCP stumbles on the technical challenges in bringing these two worlds together into one giant battleground.

CCP also has to make sure the economies of both games stand up to the new wrinkles in play. When your actions have real consequences for those working with you both on the ground and in space, the game begins to carry a sense of weight and power that no other title can offer. These risks also offer great rewards.

There are many things that can go wrong, but if it works EVE Online and DUST will become one of the most interesting virtual worlds in gaming.