Saturday, June 18, 2011

DUST514: EVE MMO grows a shooter component

DUST514: Coming to a PS3 in your galaxy very very soon

DUST514 is a shooter title that seems to show up around E3 every year for the past few years, but otherwise keeps a fairly low profile. The game has commonality with other better known shooters such as the Battlefield, Modern Warfare or Mass Effect series, but it has a few fairly unique twists and surprises all its own. The game is being developed by CCP, the same people who develop and run the MMO EVE Online. The fact that DUST514 gets so little coverage is a shame, because the game is completely unscripted and totally unique - the engine that runs the game is the same backend that runs the EVE Online persistent universe. Missions and some interactive gameplay mechanics within DUST514 are completely generated by the EVE Online player community.

EVE Online is a game of territorial conquest out in space. Players can form or join corporations with the objective to conquer sectors of space and the resources within that sector. The game is open-ended in that the player can choose to do whatever he or she would like. They can be a trader or a pirate. They can play as fighter pilots for established corporations or they can be a mercenary selling their services out to the highest bidder. If flying spacecraft isn't your thing, you can play as a military commander or even run a corporation.

The game has a vibrant economy run on in-game currency called ISK. You earn ISK by establishing trade routes, and building up the economy of the sectors of space under your command. You spend ISK for many things including building up your military might. Space vehicles in the game range from small one man fighters all the way up to huge naval carriers. All the spacecraft can be customized with offensive and defensive upgrades you can buy when you earn ISK.

Up till now, all conquest happened in space. Massive battles were won and lost and control of planets and other resources ebbed and flowed based on the fortunes of war. Now with the announcement of DUST514, planetary conquest becomes a game in and of itself. The concept of creating a massively multiplayer shooter to resolve planetry battles as part of a larger MMO is already unique.. The really interesting part is that CCP plans to release DUST514 next summer on Sony's PS3. That's right, you console players can now get in on the fun and play with people running EVE Online on their PCs.

DUST 514 E3 2011 Trailer

What makes this bit of wizardry possible is the fact that both games can connect to CCPs servers. Despite the different gameplay focus, both games are driven off the same backend. This tight integration between DUST514 and EVE Online means that in-game currency and resources flow between both games in real time. Players can assult planetary positions as part of a mercenary contract, while massive space battles take place overhead in orbit. During battles, you can call down orbital bombardments performed by EVE Online players fighting in space overhead. And it seems it may be possible for ground-based defenses to strike at fleets in orbit as well. You can even form your own in-game corporation and have your own operations going on in addition to whatever other factions you are fighting for in EVE Online.

The financial model for the game is also quite interesting. DUST514 is a game that you pay for once when you download it and it is free to play forever. If you have the time and ambition, you can grind your way through the game earning ISK. You can then spend that ISK in any way you choose to upgrade and improve your character. For people who wish to get to the good stuff and don't mind spending some real cash, the option exists for you to buy ISK using microtransactions.

This is a smart move by CCP to keep DUST514 free. The reason is that CCPs real cash cow is still EVE Online, which requires a monthly subscription to play. They are using DUST514 as a kind of Trojan horse. CCP is hoping that people who have never played EVE Online before will become interested after playing DUST514. Further, the interactivity between DUST514 and EVE Online provides another level of strategic depth that would thrill existing EVE Online players.

DUST514 launches summer of 2012 as a PS3 exclusive. It's a shame that it won't appear on the Xbox 360, at least for the time being. It's entirely possible that Microsoft's rules for LIVE integration may have been too restrictive for CCP. We may never see the title on the Xbox 360 and that would be a shame, because I can definitely see 360 based clans and PS3 based clans forming and battling it out online. Oh well, one can always hope.

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