EVE Online is a pretty popular online game that has around 400,000 subscribers and a massive universe, but it’s mercilessly complicated and can be quite daunting for new players.
That’s where Dust 514, a new first person shooter for the PlayStation 3 from CCP Games, comes in. It’s a game that appeals to more casual gamers, but still takes place in the EVE Online universe. Dust 514 players interact with those EVE Online players on a regular basis. And everyone is starting from scratch, instead of being dropped into a universe where players have already had 8 years to establish themselves.
“Dust is gonna make this crystal clear, everyone is starting over and Dust is a ground zero,” said Halldor Fannar, CCP Games’ chief technology officer.
Dust 514 is a first-person shooter, which means the players play the game from the perspective of the mercenary on the ground and see the world through that character’s eyes. Every character starts with zero skills and instead of selecting a class or an archetype, Dust 514 players build the character by learning new skills. That means players can make a character as specialized as they want or try and make a jack of all trades that can do a lot of things pretty well.
The game takes place in the EVE Online universe, which is one of the more interesting persistent worlds out there because it is driven almost exclusively by players instead of the game developers. There are super-corporations that control entire star systems, and there’s a very delicate balance of power that exists within the EVE Online universe. Whenever a super corporation falls or a massive space battle takes place, it typically makes news on a few gaming websites because it dramatically alters how the game is played for everyone else.
Dust 514 is trying to recreate that feeling with a first-person shooter (FPS) game. The game’s slogan says “your next shot will topple empires,” meaning the game wants to give Dust 514 players the chance to have the same kind of impact a pilot in the EVE Online universe can have on the way the entire game world runs. Dust 514 missions take place on the ground on planets in the EVE Online universe. When a player fires up the game, they select a planet they want to play on and they are dropped into a match similar to other first-person shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield.
The actual game calls back to the early days of first-person shooter games, because it does not feature regenerative health like many modern FPS games do. Players spend Isk, the in-game currency for both the Dust 514 and EVE Online universe, to buy better guns and armor that will increase their health and shields. When players get hit enough times and their shields and health run out, they die and have to respawn — like Counter-Strike and other FPS games back in the early 2000s and late 1990s.
Players can customize their weapons and armor to turn themselves into quick snipers or walking killing machines. They can add modules that will add new features to the guns and armor, or they can purchase better equipment with Isk. They can also purchase vehicles that will help them charge in and complete their objectives set out in the contract they accept for a mission.
EVE Online players can create contracts for certain objectives they need to accomplish, such as capturing a planet or getting artillery support from the surface of a planet for a massive space battle taking place above the planet. Dust 514 players can then fulfill those contracts and get paid in the same Isk currency. It turns Dust 514 players into mercenaries for the pilots in EVE Online that are flying around in space trying to capture planets and solar systems. When a player starts the game, they’re presented with a list of available contracts and they select one to enter a match.
The interaction goes both ways. Dust 514 players can call in support from EVE Online players that are flying around in space if they need it. They can call down an orbital strike on a part of the planet. Fannar wouldn’t get into any additional details about what EVE Online players can do to help out Dust 514 mercenaries, but he said that was just scratching the surface. Both the space battles and the ground battles are literally taking place at the same time, and the two games interact with each other in real time because they are run on the same servers.
The game will be supported by micro transactions and downloadable content, Fannar said. Expansions will be free to download and install, because every Dust 514 player is going to need it for the universe to continue operating well in both EVE Online and Dust 514. There might be additional maps, but the majority of the support will come from players using real world money to purchase additional guns, armor and visual customizations. But it’s still possible for a player to go through the game without ever paying a dime, he said.
There’s plenty of room for casual gamers who want to play on their own, Fannar said. EVE Online players can create contracts that hire a handful of solo players instead of full groups. He said the average play time for Dust 514 should be around 20 minutes per session, compared to around 3 hours for most EVE Online sessions. But he still expects the best players to make a name for themselves in the game.
“You can have a band of mercenaries called The Expendables or something, that make a name for themselves and are some of the best,” Fannar said. “They can charge more for their services because they are more likely to succeed based on their previous record.”
Another unique part of the EVE Online universe is the ability to purchase monthly playing time with the game’s currency. EVE Online players can purchase an additional month of playing time and sell that on the regular market for Isk. It essentially creates a dollar exchange rate for Isk to real-world currency. Fannar didn’t say whether Dust 514 players would be able to purchase playing time for EVE Online.
The matches will typically feature 40 players total, though CCP Games plans to scale that up over time. When EVE Online first started, the space battles usually had a few hundred ships participating, and they are now in the thousands, Fannar said. CCP Games wants to recreate that same epic quality and create a completely chaotic battle that spans both the planet and the orbits above it, he said.
The game will be available in Summer 2012 and will go into private beta testing toward the end of this year.