In traditional or mainstream FPS games, the mission area, i.e. the layout of objectives, structures, and spawn locations, is fairly static, thus making missions predictable after playing them a few times. This is not the case in DUST 514. Because of its sandbox nature, we want to give players the freedom to change the battlefield through choices, and this is where the “dynamic” part of the battlefields will come from. This means that battlefields in DUST 514 could change based on the actions that players make – from innocuous actions such as changing one’s character fitting before a deployment, all the way up to decisions made light years away in a player-owned corporate board room.
However, giving players a big sandbox to play in does not simply mean throwing a bunch of random choices at them and saying “Go.” For players to experience the uniquely emergent gameplay offered by the EVE Online universe, the freedom that these choices offer must be handled in a meaningful manner. To illustrate this, we will be looking at how battlefields in DUST 514 are made dynamic in two major ways: at the macro and the micro scale.
At the Macro Scale
You might have read about EVE Online’s big player alliances fighting for control over regions of space containing dozens of solar systems spread across a hundred parsecs. You may have also heard about DUST 514’s distinctive gameplay which will allow players acting as immortal mercenaries to conquer planets within the EVE Online universe in a bid to wrestle territorial control from EVE capsuleers. All this, of course, is set to occur in a cross-platform new genre between PC and PlayStation 3. And then you’ve probably wondered how it will all work.
Let’s begin by examining planetary conquest in DUST 514. As the leader of a DUST 514 corporation filled with immortal mercenaries, it would be natural for you to cast your hungry gaze at the planets floating within the wide dark space of the EVE universe. And these planets will be divided into separate districts – large territories that contain resources and infrastructures where players can extract materials or to defend it from enemies. When players deploy to fight for control of these districts they will notice that only one thing is static…the landscape. The hills, valleys, rivers and coasts of a district are unchanging from one deployment to the next. However, the placement of and the types of surface structures available will vary based on decisions made about what is needed for that district on a corporate level. And this will be covered in more detail in a later blog focused on Surface Infrastructure. For more context on that you can check out the CCP video on “Seeding the Universe” here.
Other factors can also affect the district from one battle to the next. For example, previous or existing battles may cause the destruction or creation of new infrastructures by orbital fleet bombardments or new deployments by the theater commander that may alter the shape and look of the battlefield.
Players who take part in the successful capture of a district could easily find that the layout of structures and positions of key strongholds are totally different when they return to that district to defend it. From one corporate owner to the next, the surface control center (SCC) or hub of the district could be changed or upgraded if it is present. The SCC’s outposts and the support centers around the SCC may be rearranged, upgraded, or even removed based on the decisions of the owning corporation, and this is only one of many key infrastructures that will be available to players.
At the Micro Scale
So now that you’ve seen how the capsuleer gods and immortal mercenary generals can shape the battlefield from a strategic, macro level, you might be thinking: how does all this play out for the grunts on the ground?
At the more personal level of the soldier on the ground, a key gameplay feature requires that the battlefield be reconnoitered during each new deployment. This is because the initial deployment positions for each mission will vary for each team based on the decisions by their commanders. Therefore, knowing exactly where the enemy is located and coming from will become top priority. Each team’s commander will also be responsible for the deployment of their team’s support systems. These commander-deployed installations can consist of any number of component types that are deployed to suit the needs of the team in positions to maximize their effects. Each installation is centered on a Command Node component that provides power and processing (PG and CPU) needed to operate all deployed components throughout a battle. Once the Command Node is deployed a commander has a wide choice of installation components that he can position on the battlefield. The commander can choose from a large selection of Signals Warfare, Electronic Warfare, Installation Support, Player Support and Combat installation components.
All this translates into the very real possibility that if a player thinks he knows the battlefield simply because he fought there before, he might find that nice open short cut from the last battle now filled with enemy weapons, EW platforms and communication disruptors centered on an enemy Command Node. A deadly trap just waiting for him and others who think they know the map. In fact, it might not even be from the last battle…an enemy commander can deploy an installation into position within minutes during a battle. So unless your team has eyes on a position, what you find the next time you’re there could surprise you.
In addition, squad leaders can also have varying roles during each mission on the battlefield. For example, squad leaders have the ability to deploy small fixed gun emplacements to support the offensive or defensive actions of their squads. They will also have the ability to utilize the off-map support available to their squads and will be responsible for directing their squads’ movements on the battlefield.
Of course, this does not preclude individual players from making an impact on the battle. Individual players, squad members and leaders can also change the battlefield situation by the equipment they choose to carry into the fray. For example, let’s say that there is a squad of DUST mercs who got cut off from friendly forces on the map. As the enemy closes in from all directions with HAVs and dropships, the squad is slowly reduced to its last man. His commander tells him that he must hold the ground at all cost and in desperation, the last squad member calls in a Black Ops HAV equipped with a mobile CRU. Now his entire team can respawn into that location fitted with anti-vehicle dropsuits and begin to beat back the enemy forces and eventually win the battle.
A Bigger Sandbox
As you can imagine, all the choices mentioned above are available to players in DUST 514. From high-level strategic decisions of alliance formation (or termination), to mid-level theater command and control, and all the way down to fighting soldiers slugging it out in the muck and trenches of a forlorn battlefield. Each player will face different challenges and be offered a different set of choices whose effects are all interconnected, so that no one plays and make these decisions in a vacuum. Will you favor one alliance over another during a territorial dispute spanning multiple solar systems only to betray them when the time is ripe? Should you send in your mercenary forces to attack a particular district in a concerted effort with another mercenary army in lieu of relieving a besieged outpost in a gamble to alter the front lines of an entire planet? Do you drop that Nanohive to resupply your squad mates now, or snipe that enemy scout to take out the enemy’s eyes and ears first? Each and every one of the players within the EVE universe will affect each other regardless of the size of their impact, thus bringing a truly emergent kind of gameplay shared by hundreds of thousands that is meaningful to the actors themselves.