Dust 514’s co-existence with EVE Online makes it one of the most ambitious shooters ever made. VG247’s Dave Cook goes hands on and speaks with CCP to find out more.
Founded in 1997, based in Reykjavík, Iceland
CCP Games has only released one title, the ambitious and punishing space MMO EVE Online. The game launched in May 2003 and is now approaching its 10th anniversary.
Dust 514 is the studio’s second game, which is an FPS that exists in the same universe as EVE Online. Both games share the same economy and sovereignty systems, meaning players in both games can impact the shared world.
The shared economy is so intricate and vast that CCP Games hired Dr. Eyjólfur Guðmundsson, an economic expert who oversees the world and to make sure the market doesn’t crash.
Dust 514’s skill tree is so vast it will take – on average – seven years to learn every skill in the game, according to CCP Games.
EVE Online is a mind-bending conundrum to anyone who hasn’t played the game. It’s world is a harsh place with minimal rule-sets, giving rise to player-driven factions, a fully functioning economy and the chance to betray, lie, cheat and steal your way to prominence. It’s the law of the jungle, and for many, it’s an off-putting prospect.
CCP Games did all of this on purpose of course, to essentially forge a world and the tools needed of players to dictate the game. That is a rare thing, and in many ways it can be considered one of the greatest social experiments the games industry has ever known, even if some gamers feel intimidated by it.
In Dust 514 – which will launch sometime this year exclusively on PS3 – the Icelandic developer is offering those fringe gamers a chance to experience the world of EVE Online from a more accessible FPS format, while giving them the same depth if they choose to engage in it.
The real attraction is that the worlds of Dust 514 and EVE Online will co-exist as one, meaning that they share an economy, and directly influence one another. EVE Online ships in can even orbit a Dust 514 planet and fire down on the surface to help corporations win battles. It’s the first time this has ever happened in a game.
But still the mind boggles when trying to comprehend what is possible in Dust 514, so to help make sense of CCP’s innovations, VG247 spoke with the studio technical director Richard Smith, as well as playing a string of battles. In the end, everything is now much clearer.
The Dust 514 experience starts in your own private quarters, and it’s here that you will upgrade your mercenary’s Dropsuit with skills, acquire new weapons, buy new gear on the marketplace or coordinate battles with your corporation. It’s key to point out that corporations aren’t set by CCP, they’re made by players, so you’re free to work for whichever group you want, or even start your own one.
A Place To Call Home
Smith shed some light on your personal living space, and the War Room, which is essentially a free-roam lobby that you can walk around while waiting for battles to commence, “You have your own quarters which is your own personal space within the universe. It’s on board a space station orbiting around a planet. The War Room is where everyone is walking around, like a lobby while everyone is waiting to go into a battle”
“From there you can see a star map that shows all of the systems in the EVE universe,” Smith added, “and it’ also a place where you go after battles to update your skills, spend your ISK and outfit your character however you want. We are planning a feature that will allow you to invite friends to your home quarters, but we don’t let people just barge in and starting running around.”
“All of the levels take place on Dust 514 and in districts on planets within the EVE Online universe.”
It’s a neat system that feels much better than simply staring at a lobby menu while the match counter runs down. You can also chat with any Dust 514 or EVE Online players at any time using cross-game chat, which is useful for coordinating strategies and deciding which planets and facilities your corporation wants to capture next.
“All of the levels take place on Dust 514 and in districts on planets within the EVE Online universe,” Smith explained, “so what you see in the Battlefinder are matches that have been put out by corporations who want to invite any mercenary – anyone can join in – to fight on their behalf.”
“While working for a corporation you’ll also have corporation battles,” Smith continued, “which you can also take part in. So normally if you are assigned to a corporation you can be sent to battles wherever your leader has asked you to take part. Those are just some of the game modes you can expect.”
“Using the Star Map you can also look at planets and see where these battles are taking place, but if you prefer to play close to home – as in where your corporation calls home – you can fight on their behalf and try to capture areas that will benefit your corporation in a particular star system.”
We’re EVE Online and Dust 514 virgins so we were still confused about a few things, but as Smith told us, sovereignty is one of the most vital aspects of both games, because in EVE Online, ruling planets and regions of space will make you a force to be reckoned with. The notion of vying for territory very much rings true in Dust 514 as well.
Smith summarises the reason corporations do battle at all, “In EVE Online we already have a notion of sovereignty over planets and that sovereignty gives a number of benefits – political benefits – but also economic traits, such as being able to extract resources from planets if you own an entire solar system.”
“But I think it’s almost like Monopoly in which if you own properties and upgrade them, then you get more cash coming in from them.” Smith added, “On the EVE side there is a theme of wanting to own these planets, and we’ve seen a lot of EVE players getting really excited about the prospects of Dust 514.”
“One of the things you need in Dust are resource plants that give your corporation valuable produce, but you also need day to day things like power plants, waste processing, communication towers and this kind of stuff.”
“One you control property it will give your corporation benefits,” Smith comtinued, “If you control a particular installation on a planet – maybe a mining outpost – it will give you a particular type of resource, and when anyone fights over that territory in the future, its your infrastructure that’s at risk. So you will see that corporation sending Dust mercs down on the ground to defend it.
We start to play a Dust 514 battle that sees our team fighting for dominance over a waste disposal facility. It’s early days so the map isn’t fully populated, but there is a similar sense of teamwork, large terrains and vehicular combat that fans of Battlefield may get a similar kick out of.
The gunplay is slick but we turn to Smith and ask why risking our character’s life for a simple waste disposal plant will help our corporation further its goals, “This whole area around the facility is a ‘district’, a 25 square kilometre map, and in the middle we have an outpost than can be captured – in this instance it’s the waste disposal plant.”
“One of the things you need in Dust are resource plants that give your corporation valuable produce, but you also need day to day things like power plants, waste processing, communication towers and this kind of stuff,” Smith added.
Death From Above
We’re getting into the swing of combat now, which will feel intuitive to any FPS veteran and all of a sudden Smith gets excited at something happening on our HUD. As it happens, an EVE Online player has entered our planet’s orbit and is available to fire an Orbital Strike down against the opposite team.
Smith explains the importance of these precision strikes, “The Orbital Strike is the first step towards Orbital Bombardment, and that’s where you’re a corp member as a Dust mercenary and you have other corp members up in space orbiting around the planet you’re fighting on.”
“You basically call in support by painting a target on the map, and then in the PC game of EVE Online, there will be a target on that planet that an EVE player will fire upon using Orbital Bombardment, which is basically this super weapon that is ten times the power of an Orbital Strike.”
Smith continued, “You can coordinate this with EVE players as you’ve got the same chat and text comms between the two games, so you could be a player in Dust on the planet talking to an EVE pilot in space at the same time. It’s a really cool connection between both games, and it’s not just he ability for EVE players to shoot down at planets, because Dust mercs are able to construct orbital artillery as defences, so if a hostile EVE player tries to get close to a planet with orbital artillery, they will be fired upon.”
With most things in EVE Online and Dust 514, coordination among corp members is the key to efficient dominance over the universe. Smith explained how communication factors into strategies.
“We have to be very careful when bringing EVE and Dust together to make sure that we don’t unbalance EVE. We have hundreds of thousands of EVE players who have invested years of their life into it and essentially creating what the EVE universe is today.”
“You can speak with players in either game at any time over email, text or voice chat in order to synchronise what’s going on, but EVE players will need to get into orbit around the planet to fire. They can open up the Battle Finder to see what battles are going on around planets at any time, as well as when other battles are due to start. So you could say to an EVE player, ‘hey this battle is about to start in a couple of minutes time. You’re only a few minutes away, we need your support here.'”
It’s an incredible thing to witness – actual convergence between two separate games. It works too, and isn’t just some flashy gimmick that gets old really fast. Not only that, but the game has a shared economy, something Smith is keen to explain to us in more detail.
“We have to be very careful when bringing EVE and Dust together to make sure that we don’t unbalance EVE,” Smith warned, “We have hundreds of thousands of EVE players who have invested years of their life into it and essentially creating what the EVE universe is today.”
Need Creates Greed
” At the moment both marketplaces go through the same technical systems” Smith added, but at the moment you can’t see EVE items on the Dust marketplace. What we plan to introduce is further integration in the future, and we’d like to see the ability for EVE and Dust players to trade items together, or for corporations to manufacture some of the weapons in the game. So effectively they’d be cutting CCP out as the middleman that supplies weapons, and they’re making their own weapons for their Dust mercs to use on the battlefield.”
Once again we’re impressed at just how much power actually rests in the hands of gamers. Everyone is crucial to the way the world shared between both games is run, and that every action has an impact on prevalent traits, such as the universe economy.
We suggest to Smith that the games together could become something of an industry in itself, and he wholeheartedly agreed, “Yeah, all of this happens in EVE already, and that’s what makes it feel very real. You have people acting as middle-men, warehouse operators, sellers of goods and all of this stuff that you see happening in the real world, as it’s an economy that abides by the same kind of rules that real-world companies do.”
“You have people acting as middle-men, warehouse operators, sellers of goods and all of this stuff that you see happening in the real world, as it’s an economy that abides by the same kind of rules that real-world companies do.”
“We’re planning on having the same on the Dust side as the EVE side,” Smith continued, “and again it’s one of the reasons we have to have our own in-house economics professor, Dr. Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, who monitors the health of the EVE and Dust economies, and to make sure that we don’t get into hyperinflation or a credit crunch within the universe.”
‘Hyperinflation’, ‘industry’, ‘economy’. The fact that these words are even being used to describe a game shows just how vast and powerful both EVE Online and Dust 514 can be, and just like the real world, sometimes those systems can be unfair.
Smith tells us that while life in EVE Online can often feel unfair – just like the real world – Dust 514’s balancing mechanics exist to make things more bearable for the uninitiated, “During our beta testing we’ve been doing work on our weapon classes to make sure that no one class is more powerful than others, because we want to make sure that there’s no one perfect thing that everyone gravitates towards.”
Life Isn’t Fair
Smith added, “That would just make the game very dull, but it is a bit like rock, paper, scissors with strategies and counter-strategies, as well as making squads and tactics complimentary to our sets of skills. There are infinite possibilities in the way that you play the game, and no one way can be stronger than the others.”
“Our matchmaking also means that you are playing against player of a similar skill and equipment level,” Smith continued. “so it’s not quite the same as EVE where we do things a little more free-form, in that people can have massively more powerful ships that you.”
“We’re really starting to integrate both of those communities together, and it’s the kind of integration you just don’t get anywhere else.”
“If you want that experience of going into the ‘wild west’ of EVE Online and testing your ability, you can go into low-security space where there is no matchmaking, and where rewards are bigger. But there are greater risks because you could fly out there and all of a sudden it’s you versus 24 guys.”
Even after all that we’ve learned from our time talking with Smith and playing Dust 514, several questions remain, and it still feels like casual gamers will balk at the intricacy at hand. In closing our session, Smith explained that in fact, more players are taking a shine to Dust 514 just because it’s more palatable.
“We’re hearing from a lot of players who really like the ideas in Dust 514, but who perhaps didn’t find EVE Online to be accessible. So the community is saying to those on the fence, you know, ‘hey let’s jump in to a quick battle on Dust 514 on PS3.'”
“People can play across both game together,” Smith concluded “it’s got social features such as world text chat between games, and a messaging system that lets you send messages to players on both sides, so we’re really starting to integrate both of those communities together, and it’s the kind of integration you just don’t get anywhere else.”
He’s right, you don’t get this kind of interaction anywhere else, and it’s something that will either see players eager to get involved once the game finally launches, or its ambition will be lost on many people who simply don’t understand how it all works.
Either way, it will be interesting to see how players dictate the form and functions of Dust 514’s world once it launches, and VG247 will be there to find out how it all goes down. Stay tuned for more as CCP gets closer to launch.