CCP’s Dust 514 wants to bring EVE Online’s world of lies, corporations, and deceit to a console FPS
So how does Dust play?
Atli Már Sveinsson, the creative director of Dust, explained that the game will have both shallow and deep ends of play. “We have the high-security matches, or NPC contracts.” Those are “fair and balanced,” and will attempt to keep the games competitive. As players level up and gain abilities they may be tempted to explore more competitive matches in “low-security” space, which are areas with little to no rules of law. There is no match-making. It does not have to be fair. The more powerful side will survive, and they will likely have back up orbiting the planet to provide support. This is where the real meat of Dust 514 will be seen, and Sveinsson is confident players will enjoy their time there. “Our hardcore is almost infinitely more hardcore than most games,” he said.
Dust 514 will be a free to play game, and it’s clear the team is sensitive about the negative connotations that brings to projects.. “There is no pay to win,” Sveinsson said. This is repeated over and over during interviews and presentations. You will be able to buy everything from customization to temporary skill unlocks and packages of temporary buffs. “It’s more to give players a way to customize or leap-frog just a little bit. You can never get any permanence, and of course we have normal items you can purchase on the market.” The items you buy with actual currency will be different than what you can earn in the game, but they will be equivalent in power and advantage.
“You have people who are time rich and have much ISK [ISK is the game’s virtual currency], but you’ll have other people like me with kids and hectic jobs, and they want to contribute and mean something on the battlefield,” he explained. So players who are willing to commit cash will be able to unlock some things sooner than the people who earn it in-game, but there will be nothing you have to buy. The players willing to play for items and abilities will never be held back because they don’t pay real money. The markets of EVE Online and Dust 514 will also be linked, and that opens up many options for interesting subversions of the system. EVE Online players can use ISK to buy PLEX, which works as in-game play time for the subscription-based game. What’s interesting is that PLEX can be broken down to Aurum, which is the virtual currency that you buy in Dust with real currency. This may sound complicated, but it means that the possibility exists that Corporations can take their holdings in ISK, convert it to Aurum, and buy their mercenary squads in-game items and abilities.
The original plan was to charge a set amount for Dust 514, but then give the player the equivalent amount back to spend as in-game money. After speaking with Sony and having much internal debate, it was decided the game was going to be 100 percent free to play. That means anyone can download the game and try a few matches to see if it’s something they’re interested in exploring. It’s a smart move, as getting someone to pay $10 or more for a game with a promise of in-game goods may be tricky, but making the cost of admission effectively zero means that anyone can jump in and give it a shot.
Dust players will have also have access to all the social resources of EVE Online players. They can send mail in-game, use the forums, participate in chat, and keep up with what’s going on in deep space. It’s hoped that Dust players will be drawn into the spirit of EVE, and there was already espionage taking place during Fanfest.
“In the first session, one corporation contacted another player and said if he helped them win, he would get paid ISK in EVE,” Sveinsson explained. “So he tanked the game, and announced what he had done. This is happening as we speak. People are back-stabbing and forming alliances. It’s amazing.”
The hope is that the EVE community will tap into a new resource in their wars for power and money: Dust players. As the two groups begin to work together, new ways of subverting the system will be invented. “We don’t specifically have to train players, but we will. I think the community is going to do it for us,” Sveinsson said. “The fact that there is a sandbox makes the other people proud of being part of the community. You can get there if you want, it’s your choice. We’ll have millions of players playing in high security, but they’re going to hear about scams and the things going on in low security, and they’re going to want to be a part of that.”
Sveinsson also stated a hope that many in CCP likely share. “I think more players will play EVE because Dust exists,” he said.
I had the chance to play the game itself a few times; it was impossible to gain much insight about the quality of Dust 514. The demos seemed to be using early code, and the characters we played had been built for us; it was hard to get a sense for the customization options. A latency problem kept the sides from killing each other during one match, which led to players simply running around and exploring. I was slightly disappointed at how many bullets it took to kill someone, and to my unskilled hands it seemed like using a tank made me more vulnerable than it made you powerful, but I’m willing to chalk this up to my inexperience with how to use either the soldiers or the vehicles.
It takes an incredibly long time to throw a grenade. Let me get that out there. That needs to be changed.
There is much going on with Dust, and it’s hard to judge the game based on a few matches at an event. We’ll be able to get a much clearer picture of the game during the upcoming beta.
Dust 514 will take you as far as you want to go
CCP CEO Hilmar Pétursson walked me through his dream of how players will enjoy the game: first they will simply have fun shooting at other players, and then they’d begin to realize they’re getting messages and noticing things happening on the PC side of things, from players operating in EVE Online. “And these players are in an alliance! And now I’m in an alliance with them and we are friends! I am now in Iceland! I just got an EVE tattoo! What happened?” Pétursson said, laughing. Players will be drawn into the player-created contracts and matches in higher level, lower security areas of Dust, and that will draw them in the politics and battles of EVE Online. Anyone can enjoy the NPC-created low-level fights, but to really go after the big prizes, you’ll have to deal with the people flying above the planet in their ships. And that is going to open up gaming possibilities that have barely been explored in console gaming.
The team at CCP will admit that this is a learning process for them as much as it will be for fans. I attended a panel about how Dust players will fit into EVE Online Corporations, and the creative director of the game took out a pen and asked the fans how they think PS3 players be handled in EVE Online. There was a spirited discussion where both sides asked questions, took notes, and brought up good points about the game and how the two halves will fit together. I’m reminded of Pétursson saying they just changed the lightbulbs, and the players are the ones who run the game and make the rules. It was clear watching the developers interact with fans that these weren’t empty words; players will determine how Dust evolves and changes by their actions.
What if a Corporation puts out a contract only to ambush one of the sides picking it up with a more powerful team of players? As you level up and play in the lower-security areas of Dust, death will have very real consequences and penalties, so there could be many ways of tricking players into ambushes. Having ships in orbit to support you only helps players if those ships are operational, and we can expect ship-to-ship fighting to take place during ground battles where Corporate assets are in play. Having a squad of soldiers you trust and support is going to be an asset in the game, and working with the players in EVE Online is going to pay off for those on the ground. And of course the fans are going to find new and interesting ways to lie, cheat, and steal using both games.
Pétursson told me about the first few times EVE Online players complained about losing ships or money to scams and intrigue. “They didn’t break any rules,” he said. “They created their own rules. People trusted them, and then they broke their own rules. Not our rules. That has given people the confidence that if they do something amazing in EVE, then it is theirs.” In other words, you keep what you kill, and if you can convince someone to trust you, it’s up to you whether or not to abuse that trust. “If you are able to cheat someone and you don’t break the EULA, then it is your achievement,” he explained. They want players to choose how deep to go down the rabbit hole.