E3 2011: DUST 514's realtime integration with EVE Online

During Monday's Sony conference, EVE Online developer CCP Games made an appearance to announce that the company's upcoming MMOFPS DUST 514 will be exclusive to the PlayStation 3. The ambitious title aims to link the world of ground troops fighting over planets to EVE Online's universe of spaceborne conflict. EVE players will be able to hire DUST mercenaries as part of an ongoing territorial war, the concept for which we got a glimpse of in both the E3 DUST 514 trailer and the previous A Future Vision trailer in March.

When DUST 514 is released in spring 2012, PC-based ship pilots will be fighting for control of industrial infrastructure, planets, star systems, and whole regions of space alongside console-based ground troops. CCP's future vision for the virtual universe of New Eden is slowly starting to become a reality, and we can only hope that both games live up to their sizable potential. We caught up with CCP at E3 to find out the details on DUST 514's gameplay and how the DUST-EVE link will work.

Skip past the cut for the incredibly juicy details on DUST 514's gameplay and how DUST mercenaries will interact with the EVE universe. Before reading on, be warned that a change of underwear may be required!

EVE conflict as a driving force

Several previous EVE expansions have laid the foundation for the link between DUST 514 and EVE. Dominion introduced a new expandable sovereignty system and upgraded planet graphics, then Tyrannis gave us the ability to form industrial networks on those planets. Currently, planetary industry is a largely passive affair with virtually no conflict. Players can't attack each other's installations or intercept material transports, and owning installations on a planet's surface doesn't even affect system sovereignty. There is currently no strategic or political value in maintaining planetary infrastructure.

Giving a glimpse into how planetary control will affect system sovereignty, DUST 514 producer Thomas Farrer explained that both EVE and DUST players will be able to lay claim to planets by constructing command and control center on the planet's surface with a space elevator linking it to a command center in orbit. EVE players will recognise that command centers and the space elevator are both currently part of planetary industrial networks. Thomas went on to explain that holding dominion over a planet will contribute to sovereignty influence over the entire solar system.

"We're going to distribute the game through PSN. It will be a digital download on day one, on release. You'll pay a cover charge to get the game, but that money gets converted to in-game credits that you can spend on whatever you want to. But you can then continue playing the game not buying anything, so you can still enjoy the game without buying stuff."

DUST 514 gameplay

This is where DUST comes in, with aims to introduce the missing conflict element necessary to marry planetary industry and system sovereignty. With familiar sandbox conflict, DUST players (or "Dust Bunnies" as some EVE players have delightfully named them) will be able to conquer planets entirely for their own benefits. Once conquered, planets can be upgraded with economic and military infrastructure. Mines produce materials and therefore ISK, biomass processors create clones for respawning during a war, and automatic artillery turns passing adversaries into smoking craters.

CCP confirmed that just as in the climax of the E3 trailer, DUST defenses will include buildings able to attack EVE players in orbit of the planet. When DUST goes live, EVE players may find themselves at odds with their planetbound counterparts. On the other hand, CCP pointed out that EVE players may be necessary for the transport of clones, tanks and other supplies to a destination planet for war. Although there will be NPC-generated war contracts, EVE players will almost certainly also be the best way to fund wars on the ground.

In a surprising move, CCP also confirmed that DUST will be free-to-play after the initial cover charge for digital download via PSN; no ongoing subscription will be required. Even more unexpectedly, players will also be compensated for the full initial purchase price with an equivalent value of the game's microtransaction currency. "You'll pay a cover charge to get the game," explained EVE's Chief Technology Officer Halldor Fannar, "but that money gets converted to in-game credits that you can spend on whatever you want to." Players can then continue playing for free and opt not to purchase any more microtransactions if they wish, and good players will undoubtedly form links with EVE pilots who will go on to fund their war efforts.

The EVE-DUST link

We already knew that DUST marines would be able to customise their equipment and vehicles with a modular upgrade system similar to EVE's ship fitting concept, and with the recent E3 trailer, we guessed that upgrades would be purchased with ISK. What we now know is that the ISK in DUST is the exact same as the ISK in EVE; ISK can move freely between the two games, with DUST players able to spend it on ground equipment. Rather than EVE players supplying the equipment, they may just supply the ISK for a contract and it would be up to the marines they hire to spend it wisely.

Perhaps more interesting is the fact that corporations in DUST will be the same as corporations in EVE. That's right -- DUST players will be able to join EVE corporations and vice versa. It's one world, and that means the same player-run megacorporations that roam the skies will want private armies to ensure their system sovereignty dominance or protect financial investments planetside. Likewise, organisations born on the ground may want to defend their planets from above, creating a new breed of capsuleer in servitude to console gamers.

"The EVE players and the DUST players will reside on the same server. They will be in the same corporations, they will share the same chat, they will share the same VOIP. They are essentially inhabiting the same world, but they have just different roles."

One massive supercomputer server cluster

Not content to simply link the two games via a tenuous financial bond, CCP seems to be going for full and complete integration. In the presentation, Halldor and EVE's Creative Director Torfi Frans Olafsson revealed that DUST players will even connect directly to EVE Online's massive Tranquility supercluster. "The EVE players and the DUST players will reside on the same server," Torfi Frans told us. "They will be in the same corporations, they will share the same chat, they are inhabiting the same world." To avoid lag, CCP will be launching geolocated battle server clusters around the world to handle the actual ground-based gameplay.

By moving a lot of what's typically done on the client to a server, CCP will be able to update the game as often as it likes without having to go through tricky console client updates. Part of the reason for the PS3 exclusivity deal is that Sony has also agreed to relax some of its rules regarding client updates and networking. Although many players looking forward to DUST 514 are disappointed that it won't be coming out on the Xbox 360, it's possible that Microsoft's tight networking rules may have made server-based cross-platform gameplay on the 360 completely infeasible.

The server structure for DUST is interesting from a technical standpoint, but it also opens up some exciting gameplay that wouldn't otherwise be possible. Players will be able to interact between the two games in realtime, so we'll have shared chat channels, voice chat, wallet tools and other services. More importantly, direct connectivity means the meaningful contact we've been hoping for between the two games could be literally what was shown in the trailers. When asked if DUST players would call up to EVE players in orbit for air strikes in realtime, the CCP representatives revealed that this will be in the game. "We have that actually working," they announced. "We've already done it; it's quite fun."

In light of this mountain of new information, DUST 514's slogan of "One universe, one war" begins to make a lot of sense. EVE players could be fighting a battle in orbit of a planet for control of an infrastructure hub while ground troops simultaneously fight over the planet below. Losing the battle on either front could have disastrous consequences for players on the other side of the fence.

EVE players winning their battle could deliver aerial support to ground troops in realtime from ships in orbit, and DUST marines with battlefield control could deliver devastating strikes on enemy ships from captured ground batteries -- all at the same time, in one massive universe and one gargantuan war. If that doesn't excite you, check your pulse because you're probably dead.

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 6-9, bringing you all the best news from E3 2011. Whether you're dying to know more about Star Wars: The Old Republic, RIFT, or any MMO in between, you can bet we'll have it covered!
This article was originally published on Massively.