DUST 514 Interview: Changing Console Shooters Forever
We haven’t heard a great deal about DUST 514 since it was shown at E3 2011, other than that it’s a first-person shooter connected to the vast sci-fi universe of PC MMO EVE Online, and that it’s coming exclusively to PlayStation 3. When developers CCP made the trip from Iceland to London to outline their vision for this new addition to their immensely popular EVE universe, I came out of the meeting amazed at the scale of the project. Suffice to say, DUST 514 is not just another shooter.
After the meeting, I interrogated Brandon Laurino, Executive Producer at CCP, to find out exactly why PlayStation 3 owners should be getting excited.
PS.Blog: With EVE Online, CCP already has a huge, engaged community. Why are you now trying to break into the console FPS market?
Brandon: EVE Online is an incredibly deep MMO and, for better or worse, that comes with a typical perception that it is complicated. The common joke is that you have to overcome a ‘learning cliff’ to get involved. Part of the thinking behind DUST 514 is to address those preconceptions; we accept that there is a barrier to entry with something as deep as EVE Online and we wanted to make it more accessible, providing another portal and dimension into the EVE universe. What’s more accessible to a gamer in this day and age than a shooter?
Why did you specifically choose PlayStation as your partner in making that happen?
Obviously, we were attracted to the power and the feature set of PlayStation 3, but it really came down to Sony’s willingness to work with us in bringing an MMO to the platform. There have been attempts to bring MMO games to consoles in the past but we believe we’re now in a position to do it properly, using existing features on PS3 and the PlayStation Network, and collaboratively developing new features to support our vision.
Can you elaborate on your vision for a ‘proper’ MMO?
We’re breaking so much ground with DUST 514: we’re not only building a full console MMO; we’re building one that feeds into another MMO on a completely different platform [PC]. We’re breaking more ground by bringing the microtransaction business model to a console shooter for the first time. All of this was inconceivable not too long ago, and it’s the partnership between CCP and Sony that’s finally making it happen.
Talking about the connectivity between DUST 514 and EVE Online, is this something that’s going to most benefit EVE players or is there equal benefit to those players first experiencing the universe through DUST 514?
It runs both ways – you can be sure that we’re very conscious of that in our design, we run through all the different use cases constantly to ensure its well rounded. EVE Online players can continue playing just the way they are and new players can jump into DUST 514 and get a traditional shooter experience, if that’s what they like. There are aspects that are consistent between the two platforms, such as in-game currency, and there are ways that EVE Online players can impact events in DUST 514 and vice versa, all without harming the overall ecosystem.
Because we have this living universe we call EVE – a single shard server, where all EVE Online players and all DUST 514 players are literally in the same universe, not a bunch of split instances, with a huge variety of dynamics and interdependencies within the ecosystem of the sandbox we’ve created – people playing DUST 514 and people playing EVE Online are essentially providing user generated content for each other, just by their sheer presence and their actions in the game world. To give an example, for a player fighting on a planet surfaces in DUST 514, the actions of the EVE Online players can trigger epic moments and provide support that is completely user-driven. Similarly, a DUST 514 player could trigger an event from the ground and do something spectacular in EVE Online. This emergent behaviour and gameplay is only possible with our level of connectivity. These are the broad strokes, the gameplay and interactions run a lot deeper than that.
In that case, what’s to stop an EVE Online veteran blowing my corporation out of space?
We have some rules of engagement that ensure nothing drastic happens without some kind of fair warning and time to prepare, this is basically carried over and expanded upon from large scale player-driven warfare in EVE Online, where sometimes users are coordinating battles involving tens of thousands of players at once. Additionally, there are things that you can earn or build, independently in DUST 514 and / or EVE Online, or collaboratively between the two, that will mitigate those scenarios.
Putting the philosophy to one side for a moment, what is DUST 514 going to be like to play when you’re on the ground, in battle?
Essentially it’s a vehicular combat game on an extremely large scale, and then when you move into installations and outposts, it’s more infantry based. We’re using Unreal Engine 3 and we’ve incorporated a Mega Terrain engine into it that lets us create huge levels with varied terrain, with a vast array of vehicles ranging from buggies to tanks to aircraft. Typically, you would use vehicles to traverse the landscape and engage in closer combat when you deploy into outposts, but there is a huge amount of tactical freedom, way outside of those broad examples.
There’s some familiarity for players of shooters in that we have general classes or playstyles that we’ve worked out, such as light infantry and heavy weapons, but we’re hesitant to label them that way because we have something called the Fitting system – something that has been entirely ported over from EVE Online – where you can attach all manner of weapons and equipment to your character and your vehicles. It’s better to think of it like the character systems found in the deepest role-playing games; you can have the broad classes that are familiar to shooter fans, but there is massive freedom to expand on or go totally outside of them.
What’s the plan for expanding content in DUST 514?
Right off the bat, we have literally thousands of in-game items built into the system; likewise, in terms of scale, you’re looking at a conflict taking place across thousands of planets, so we’re not just talking a dozen maps – we’re talking an entire universe of planets and areas of engagement within them. That’s the difference in scale we’re looking at here, and taking our experience with EVE Online and also, some inspiration found in the best microtransaction based MMOs, social and mobile games, and we’ve set up our workflow so that we can iterate and add new content very quickly. In terms of scale, depth and volume of content, DUST 514 will easily be the biggest multiplayer FPS on the market – also by virtue of being an MMOFPS, not just an FPS.
Talk us though how your beta is going to work.
Just as we have done with EVE Online, we’re going to be telling a story with each of the events that happen in our game. To give a bit of context, in EVE Online you play as the pilot of a spaceship – a capsuleer – and in DUST 514 you play as a mercenary on the ground. It’s going to be a bit weird if, all of a sudden, we release the DUST 514 beta and all these mercenaries suddenly show up in the EVE universe, so the setting is that the first small group of players that get access to the Private Trials will be the first trial of this new mercenary technology in the context of EVE Online. Just as you’re helping to test the game in the real world, in the EVE world you’re taking part in war games organised to test this new mercenary technology.
With our Private Trials – we’re not calling it a Beta, but Private Trials in both the real world and the EVE fiction – we’re not taking the usual “on / off” method of rolling out a build and then taking it back and tweaking it, then rolling it out again; when we roll out with those first few users we are introducing mercenary technology to EVE, our “game as a service begins”, and the story will continue from there as that technology develops, further empowering the DUST 514 mercenaries from test subjects in war games to ultimately allowing them to take hold of their own future. It’s what we call a thematic rollout.
There will be people out there who will look at DUST 514 and assume it’s an EVE Online spin-off. How would you counter that?
We’re not thinking of it in that way at all, I suppose is the easiest way to respond to that. The EVE universe is comprised of three experiences: one is the classic EVE Online play, “flying in space” or what we call FIS; there’s WIS or “walking in stations”, where you can now get out of your ship and explore the interiors of space stations; and the final piece is DUST 514 and we’ve nicknamed that SIF, or “shooting in face”. None of those three are spin-offs, they’re experiences of equal value that can be played independently or fully connected. If you’re connected then you’re going to get the rich emergent gameplay that runs through all three.
We have so much to talk about, much of which is new territory for me. Is there anything we haven’t mentioned that you really want to get across to our PlayStation.Blog readers?
I hope it comes through that what we’re developing is a truly new experience on PS3 – on consoles in general. It is the deepest shooter with the richest universe ever conceived and, on top of that, by bringing to market an MMO with microtransactions, we could be changing the face of console gaming forever. This is groundbreaking stuff, but user choice is at the core – it’s playing the game however you want to play it. If you want a quick experience, you have it; if you’re looking for something deeper, it’s there. If you want to pay a very small amount of money to play, you can; if you want to be heavily invested, you can do that too. We’re providing a more extensive array of options than has ever been seen in a console game.