Gamescom 2011: Dust 514 preview

EVE Online has a certain allure about it, don’t you think? The game has been around for more than eight years now and has grown in magnitude to become one of the deepest MMO games available today. The only catch is it’s not exactly accessible to newcomers or those looking to dabble in a different online experience.

A few months ago I watched a friend playing EVE Online. I was captivated but at the same time put off by the Everest-like incline in the learning curve. I longed to get involved but had to admit that I never would; there was simply too much to absorb. If only CCP Games had some means of making their gloriously detailed universe more accessible to those with shorter attention spans and less time on their hands. Oh wait, they totally do! It’s called Dust 514, a download only MMOFPS heading exclusively to the PlayStation 3.

I was exceedingly fortunate enough to have the guys from CCP Games all to myself during a live demonstration of Dust 514. During my time with them they brought me up to speed on the key aspects of the game and showed me an online match with sixteen players taking part from the other side of the world.

The Tyrannis expansion to EVE Online introduced planetary interactions to the space flight MMO. Players began building infrastructure on the surfaces of planets in order to fuel their corporations. The planetary interactions were limited, but that’s all about to change with Dust 514 as CCP introduces conflict on those player controlled planets, and because all of the infrastructure existing on those planets is player made and player owned, they’re creating “conflicts with meaning”.

CCP Games is expanding the EVE Online target market with Dust 514. They’re aiming their game at people like me; people who are fascinated by EVE Online and who want a chance to experience the MMO in a more accessible fashion. In contemporary gaming, it doesn’t get more accessible than a first-person shooter on a console – it’ll even support PlayStation Move. Dust 514 will feature full interactions between EVE Online players on a PC and Dust 514 players on a PlayStation 3. I saw this in action during the presentation and I must admit it was a somewhat surreal experience witnessing a PS3 player requesting an orbital strike (using a wrist device called a Cortex worn by their character) from a ship that hovered in space above the battlefield; a ship being controlled by an EVE Online player on a PC.

Player sovereignty is a big part of EVE Online and that approach is being carried over to Dust 514. “This is where our design philosophy as a company really comes in; we don’t really like to direct the player that much, but rather we like to give the player a lot of freedom,” one of the developers told me. “Freedom to create their own role on the battlefield,” he explained further, “and decide how they want to play and how they want to set up either their infantryman or their vehicle to play in a style that suite them.” In other words, there are no fixed battlefield roles; it’s up to you to decide what role you’re going to play. You’ll be able to purchase and equip various modules for your character and even design your own vehicles to have dropped into combat via RDV ships. All of this will be done via the game’s Marketplace and your Merc Quarters, which acts as your personal home in the game.

Dust 514 will feature two areas: High Security Space and No Security Space or Null-Sec. High Security Space is where most players will choose to start out. This is an area for matchmaking and grinding, as well as earning skills and money. Some people might choose never to leave this area at all. Null-Sec, however, is where the heart of EVE Online meets Dust 514. In Null-Sec the various player-formed corporations battle it out for control of the multitude of planets in the EVE universe. There are thousands of planets and controlling them proves highly profitable for corporations as they allow the development of planet infrastructure. Infrastructure on a planet creates a network on the surface, which in turn creates economic benefits (such as clone factories) and defensive benefits (like orbital artillery to protect your infrastructure). All of this is player-built and owned, which means that when your planet gets invaded by a rival corporation, you’ll literally be fighting for what you’ve worked for and made.

Of course, those who choose to spend most of their time playing ranked matches in High Security Space could build themselves quite a formidable character. This could attract the attention of the corporations in Null-Sec who might choose to offer you wads of cash to fight for them during a planet take over or defence. You will, quite literally, be a mercenary for hire, which is possibly the coolest thing I’ve heard of in an MMO. Ever.

CCP Games is not fooling around with Dust 514. As it is, EVE Online is a massive MMO, so adding in a completely new game that ties into a universe with thousands of active players is a Herculean undertaking. CCP is literally throwing an entirely new target market into their amazing online universe. They are entering an uncharted area of online gaming by connecting their player-created ethos across two genres and two platforms, and I for one cannot wait to see what happens. Now at least I’ll be able to get involved and play a small part in shaping an entire online galaxy, one bullet at a time.