By John Walker on June 8th, 2011 at 8:24 am.
While we’ve known about DUST 514 – the console accompaniment to the PC’s grand space MMO EVE – for quite a while, yesterday’s announcement that it’s to be a PS3 exclusive has brought it to everyone’s attention once more. So I grabbed CCP’s senior producer on EVE, Torfi Frans, and DUST producer, Thomas Farrer, to try to find out their motives. What is DUST? How exactly does it relate to the EVE universe? And how will a game of EVE change once it launches?
RPS: People have been surprised about DUST 514, and its being a PS3 exclusive.
Torfi Frans: Eve players have known about it for quite a while, so they weren’t that surprised, although they didn’t know it was a PS3 exclusive. Among our hardcore community there was some rumbling, of course. “Why can’t I play it on my PC?” But you already have EVE on the PC, and what we’re trying to do is introduce the world of EVE to a larger audience. And we felt that by being on console that would open up the world to a much wider audience. And as a corporate policy we wanted to learn how to make games for a console.
RPS: But at the same time, obviously it is opening up to a wider audience, but also you’re closing it off to your core audience.
Thomas Farrer: Well, we don’t want to cannibalise our own player-base. The thing with the world of EVE Online is that it interests an awful lot of people. It’s a fascinating world. We wanted to make that accessible to a wider audience, to invite new people in.
RPS: But at the same time this is a shooter, and EVE is… is not. You’re not really introducing them to EVE, are you? You’re introducing them to a unique game.
Thomas: You’re introducing them to that audience. But to say that the two games are linked is a misnomer. They’re one. DUST isn’t calling into it. They exist on the same server, on the same shard.
Torfi: They share the same economy, the same world map, the same corporation structure. You can be a DUST or EVE player and be in the same corporation, and the same alliance. You share the same currency. It is the same game. It’s just different game modes.
RPS: But very, very different, right?
Thomas: It’s “fleet” and “mobile infantry”.
RPS: I understand that there are advantages for you in using Sony’s infrastructure. But again, cutting off half of your console audience seems, from my perspective, to be a risk. That’s 50% of your player base gone.
Torfi: Sony understand. They have an understanding, and they’re curious.
Thomas: Our vision for the future is more closely aligned. For example, most of DUST is running on our own technology, it’s running on our own super-computer, on Tranquillity. And Sony is a lot more… open, shall we say, to allowing you to do those things. It may seem silly, but on Xbox Live your identity is your Xbox Live identity. In the EVE universe, having people not know who you are is quite important.
RPS: Would you say that you couldn’t do DUST on the 360? The way their infrastructure is set up, their policies, would making doing this with Microsoft impossible?
Thomas: I don’t think it’s about saying we “couldn’t” do it. I think some of the challenges we’d meet would be tricky. But then also as a developer you’ve got to weigh the balance. It’s nice to work on one platform rather than two, because it means you don’t have to make any awkward compromises, technically. Also you get the benefit of a closer relationship with that platform. And with the production methodology that we have, we don’t fire and forget the games. It’s about continuous development. So we keep working on them, and you see the huge number of updates that have occurred on EVE in the last seven or eight years. The thinking is the same with DUST. So having that relationship with the platform holder is important for us.
RPS: So can you explain a bit more about DUST?
Thomas: It’s a thinking man’s shooter. One of the core tenets of belief and design at CCP is the sandbox, and not treating our players like they’re idiots. I’ll give you an example. You don’t go onto the battlefield and pick, say, a sniper, and be given this stuff. We give you the tools to create your fit, your loadout. You create your own role on the battlefield. And the possibilities, the ways of doing that, are endless. Endlessly terrifying to our QA department.
RPS: So what scale will these matches be?
Thomas: We don’t have a technical limitation in terms of size of maps – we’re not doing entire planets, but we can have maps as big as 5k by 5k if we want. We won’t go that big to start with. At the moment we’re looking at 32, but we haven’t decided. And this changes with the mode of match – if there’s vehicles we’ll open up the maps lots. A purely infantry mode would take place in a single outpost.
RPS: How do you have persistence in a match-based game?
Thomas: We have, much like EVE – in fact exactly like EVE! – we have different security levels. We have high security, low security, and nulsec, where anything goes. And that’s where we’re pretty much hands off. When you’re in highsec we have NPC generated battles, so you’ll always be able to find a battle, you’re able to grind and get money, but without being exposed to the depth building an infrastructure on the surface of planets, things like that. But then as you play through into the lower levels of security it starts to be about: okay, I’ve got the hang of the game, I’ve got a group of friends, we’ve formed a corporation, and we’ve got backing from some EVE members for the corporation, so we’re going to hire a war barge, we’re going to load it up with supplies, and we’re going to try to attack this location. We’re going to get our first foothold on a planet. And that is all scheduled and controlled. Those matches are planned, and the defenders are warned in advance so they have the opportunity to defend. Once you get into that kind of game you’re making a larger commitment in terms of time to be able to defend your things. And so the more you invest, the more commitment you have to have to protect what’s yours. But there’s always matches rolling in highsec.
RPS: So, if I’m an EVE player, how is my game going to change after DUST is released?
Torfi: Well, you have the ability to be more strategic when you are conquering planets and solar systems, in nulsec. Those are the main touchpoints. Highsec carebears need not worry. The same for lowsec. The main touchpoint upon the launch of DUST, will be in nulsec, will be in sovereignty, will be in inflicting damage and destruction and death upon your enemies, destroying their infrastructure and their means to survive, either by means or scorched earth or by stealing their installations on the surfaces of planets. There will be more going on on the surfaces of planets. We’ve introduced mechanics allowing people to manufacture goods on the planets, but planets will play a more pivotal role in sovereignty mechanics further down the line.
RPS: For the nervous EVE planner who fears the change, will it dramatically affect their game?
Torfi: It will certainly add to the game of the high and the nulsec EVE player. He can choose to ignore it, but as with any tactic if anyone else is doing it, then he will probably not be very successful. But we believe that the DUST players and the EVE players will have a truly symbiotic relationship. And EVE alliances will be strongly incentivised to recruit DUST players into their corporations. They will just be more capable of waging war and fighting with the enemy. So yes, the game will change. It will become more interesting, more visceral, more real, and more brutal.
RPS: Do you think there’s evidence that there’s a hardcore in the PS3 community? This isn’t Modern Warfare.
Thomas: If you look at Modern Warfare or games like that, you see players dedicating enormous amounts of time, and what we’re offering players is that they’re not just going to be endlessly fighting the same battle and moving up and down some abstract leaderboard and unlocking gear. You’re actually going to be part of a universe. It’s not just another battle. It’s actually your planet and this bugger over here is trying to take it. You didn’t just spend the last two weeks moving up to position 58 and unlocking this gear. You spent it investing in this space! And these other guys over here, if you lose, they’re going to lose! And they’re not even involved, they just happened to be there. So there’s more at stake. I think it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of player it is going to attract. We were really interested in this idea. We thought, this is the kind of game that I’d like to play. We feel that there’s got to be other people out there too.
Torfi: We’re pretty sure that they want to do this. They just haven’t had the opportunity yet.
RPS: I get that, and obviously no one can yet prove otherwise, but I’m sure that your core audience – even the people who’ve stopped playing EVE – it just seems so strange to not offer this to a PC audience. So what is the reason? You were saying about cannibalising from your playerbase, but I’m sure there are people who would play both, or pick up DUST after having formerly played EVE.
Torfi: It is a different experience though. It is a different means to access the EVE universe.
Thomas: And never say never, of course.
Torfi: Sony do have a number policies about how you present the user interface, and how accessible the game is. For us it’s somewhat healthy, to have those policies in place, because let’s face it – EVE is not the most accessible game in the universe. Although we have made great strides to make it more accessible over the years. So the answer is, we feel that working with Sony we can deliver the EVE world to a bigger audience, and partnering with them exclusively makes it a more meaningful relationship.
Thomas: It’s certainly a much more beneficial relationship for us. And this is the first time we’ve worked on console, so this is what we need to get our heads down and focused on doing it. And then like everything we do we’re going to drop it into the hands of the players, into the EVE universe, to see what happens. How do people want to play with this?
RPS: I know that EVE has surprised you again and again with what it’s become. Obviously you can’t predict surprises, but are there directions you can see DUST going in from where it is right now?
Thomas: There’s an awful lot of ideas. One of the nice things about this model of development is you don’t have to cut features, you just don’t do them yet. So you have this huge backbone of concepts and ideas available to you. All sorts of people have a pet idea, saying this should be the thing we do next. But I think the most important thing we can do is leave them there and see what the players want, what becomes most popular. And I can pretty much guarantee that we’ll have an idea for it.
Torfi: If I was to predict, then there would probably be more meta-gaming than we assume, and more organisation. That is what we sore in the behaviour of corporations in EVE, the deep, intricate meta-gaming and meta-meta-gaming on top of the meta-gaming, with the plotting and the scheming and the double-agents, and economical and logistical warfare. And also the scale of organisation and the skill of the players was amazing. That people managed to build alliances of six or seven thousand players, and coherently command and control those alliances to destroy their enemies, it was, and it still is, hugely impressive. I have a lot of respect for the people who manage these alliances.
RPS: When I first heard about the idea of DUST and EVE, I felt like there was a class structure to it. You have your upper-middle class people flying ships, and then they employ the grunts on the surface. Now, that sounds massively appealing to an EVE player, but how do you sell that to a DUST player?
Thomas: It’s actually not quite the case. It’s not a one-way relationship. The way we’ve designed it, and the way we’ve iterated on the design, is that if you have a corporation that’s pure mercenaries, pure DUST players, then sure, an EVE corp can say, “I want you to go over here and destroy this guy’s infrastructure. I’ll pay you this much to do it. And if you don’t do it I’m going to be kind of pissed at you.” But then you can also have that DUST corp load up their war barge, go to any planet, and just attack it themselves. And they can take control of that infrastructure. There’s no difference between the infrastructure being deployed between the games. So a pure DUST corp can come in and just start attacking, or if it’s a virgin planet they can deploy planetary infrastructure themselves. So they’re not slaves. They can be self-sufficient. But unless they cooperate they’ll never get the full benefits, because the orbital constructions and the surface-based constructions, they do literally need to be linked to form a space elevator, to gain the maximum benefits and impact sovereignity, so that encourages players to act together.
RPS: So can you see it happening the other way around? Can a DUST corp hire an EVE corp?
Thomas: It’s funny, a lot of the talk has been the other way around. But there’s absolutely no reason why not. Right now there’s not an awful lot a DUST corp can do about orbital control centres and things like that. So it could go the other way.
RPS: Thanks for your time.