Updated Tue, Mar 27, 2012 by Ethec
Discussions with CCP Executive Producer Brandon Laurino and Creative Director Atli Már Sveinsson led to some quality hands-on time with DUST 514, the PS3-exclusive free-to-play FPS that will finally put boots (and territory control) on the ground in the EVE universe.
While the EVE universe has literally tens of thousands of planets DUST 514 players could potentially conquer, the DUST 514 team is focusing on the game’s 7,000+ temperate planets for launch. 7k is obviously a huge number, and since it’s not feasible to design a unique environment for each and every planet – not only is custom development expensive, there’s the PS3 memory footprint to consider as well – CCP is streamlining and proceduralizing (if that's a word) planet map development in several ways.
In the Seeding DUST 514 presentation, Atli explained that algorithms will place Districts (up to two square mile-sized conquerable areas on planet) on each planet to create fidelity to an EVE player’s point of view, and shaders and height maps taken from the planet itself will determine the layout and basic textures of the district. From preview images seen at the DUST 514 panels, this looks to be a significant step towards that holy grail of game development: procedural design that looks (but more importantly, plays) handmade by skilled level designers.
Within Districts are one or more Outposts. Outposts are tied to Production Facilities on planets, and gameplay-wise are the equivalent of individual online FPS maps. These are placed on the map as capture points, along with a number of other structures and detail objects.
“It’s very important for us to make sure that both DUST 514 and EVE Online function as standalone games,” Brandon explained. That said, CCP wants to offer plenty of incentives to EVE and DUST 514 players to work together for mutual benefit (or destruction).
The most common interaction between FIS (the “flying in space” experience) players and what Laurino calls "SIF" (the “shooting in face” experience) players will be fiscal in nature, and as EVE has an eight year head start economically, CCP's goal in the short term will be to see money flow out of the EVE's richest alliances and into the DUST 514 playerbase. That might sound heavy handed, but all of the EVE players I spoke with are anxious for cash sinks in EVE's highly mudflated economy. That is, so long as it's something they want to do and could pay off long-term, not something they have to do to preserve the core Internet Spaceships game.
Perhaps the biggest rumor we were able to confirm about DUST 514 is that the game will “absolutely” include Player vs. Environment (PvE) gameplay.
Just as in EVE, Brandon explained that "everything is a commodity in DUST 514." That means everything DUST players use, EVE players can potentially produce. But armor, weapons, vehicles, turrets, and modules are just the beginning. In low sec and null sec space, DUST corps can drop in turrets, respawn stations, and other fixed emplacements before the battle, as well as possibly increase the spawn reserves (within reason) they take into battle. This is significant; depleting clone reserves can result in a secondary win condition if your team has more clones than the enemy when time expires or if you reduce the enemies clone count to zero.
Economics might be the most common interaction between EVE and DUST 514 players, but orbital strikes are certainly the more direct and dramatic interaction. CCP demonstrated not one but two working orbital strikes in what CCP billed as a historic first interaction between a console and PC game at the EVE Fanfest 2012's Thursday keynote. Brandon lazed a grouping of enemy players using DUST 314's gorgeous 3D battle map, and CCP Soundwave coolly received the targeting information in orbit and dialed in a punishing strike from an Amarr battleship. The resulting explosion showed as a bright puff of fiery orange from orbit, totally out of scale from the still-impressive blast seen below.
Though orbital strikes are fun to watch for even the less-than-megalomaniacal sort in the EVE community (definitely a minority here at Fanfest), perhaps the biggest rumor we were able to confirm about DUST 514 is that the game will “absolutely” include Player vs. Environment (PvE) gameplay.
What form PvE content in DUST 514 will take is still undisclosed – we don’t know, for example, if DUST 514 players would be opposed by hired AI soldiers if no opposing DUST 514 players can be found or if DUST 514 will offer large scale boss battle. We do know that districts in high security space will be controlled by NPCs and that at its most basic level, DUST 514 players will participate in matchmade actions in these areas, so it stands to reason that bots might be on the menu in high sec.
UPDATE: In the final keynote presentation of EVE Fanfest 2012, Brandon Laurino explained that rogue droids - a terrestrial cousin of the ai-controlled droids that have plagued EVE Online players for years (and moreso since the Sansha's Nation started acting up in the Incursion expansion) - would form the backbone of PvE in DUST 514.
On the Fanfest show floor, CCP offered attendees and press a 24v24 team deathmatch demo centered on a biomass processing facility - where, fittingly, dead bodies are recycled into clones - in Caldari territory. This map was on the small side of DUST 514 maps, which will range in size up to 5 square kilometers (about 2 square miles). Creative Director Atli Már Sveinsson noted that through the magic of the game’s Unreal 3 engine and occlusive bitmaps (that help stream in high quality graphics based on distance), that number could easily rise to 50 km2. “We’d sell a lot more vehicles,” he joked, “but it really wouldn’t be as fun.”
DUST 514's interface and mechanics borrow heavily from EVE Online. This is a good thing, in general. The radial display of hitpoints and shield points, for example, finds space on DUST 514's minimalist UI, and the familiar limiters from EVE 's Neocom interface - power grid and CPU - will limit what weapons and equipment DUST 514 players can fit to their drop suit. Outside combat, the controls make slick use of analog stick-friendly radial menus. Apart from text chat (always a stumpy affair without a natural keyboard) It all maps rather nicely to the PS3 controller and, better yet, most choices (other than which weapon or vehicle you want to use) are kept out of combat altogether.