When CCP first announced development on its upcoming free-to-play PlayStation 3 MMOFPS DUST 514, speculation ran wild as we thought of exactly how the game could be integrated with EVE Online. The plan to link the two games through EVE's sovereignty system seemed almost too ambitious, but the gaming world waited for more information with a quiet optimism. Most of us cautiously imagined the most basic of interactions between the two games, almost afraid to get our hopes up or express optimism for the project; after all, this is something that has never been done before.

I think most EVE players imagined a vague web-based communication between EVE pilots and DUST mercenaries and little or no control over the outcome of a fight. We justly worried that our system sovereignty would be decided by the outcome of random matchmaking-style FPS battles or that DUST would only affect worthless planet-based industrial networks. At this year's E3, even our most optimistic expectations were completely blown away. DUST will be fully integrated into the EVE servers, with DUST players able to join EVE corporations and EVE players able to supply ground troops with equipment. We'll deliver decisive air strikes in realtime from ships in orbit, and DUST players will even be able to fire back.

In this week's EVE Evolved, I re-examine the link between EVE Online and DUST 514 in light of the new information from E3 to make some predictions about what the battle for a planet might be like.

The war room

By the time DUST 514 goes live, EVE players will be organising the domination of enemy space from comfy seats in virtual corporation offices. The first leg of EVE's upcoming Incarna expansion with its long-awaited "walking in stations" feature is due to go live in just over a week on June 21st, with full multiplayer environments scheduled for six months later.

We know that a planet's contribution to system sovereignty will be tied to a command center structure in orbit and that this command center links up with the planet's space elevator. This may provide a means for transfer of clones and equipment to DUST players, and much more. I think it's reasonable to assume that this command center will have a multiplayer Incarna environment built-in, functioning as a war room for planning the domination of the planet below.

With the excitement screenshots and videos of the prototype war room have generated over the past year, I'd find it hard to believe it won't be part of the final release. Tools for co-ordinating offensive maneuvers between the two games, such as air strikes, are likely to be exclusive to this war room. We might even see a battlefield-style commander directing the battles from this war room or co-ordinating with the commander on the surface using a shared top-down map to decide where structures, air strikes and vehicles will be deployed.

Simultaneous objectives

Now that we know the interaction between DUST and EVE is going to be realtime and extremely visceral, we can be confident that at least some DUST battles will be designed to line up with EVE's fleet conflicts over planets. To get the most out of the monumental integration of these two games, CCP will undoubtedly aim to maximise the number of battles in which either side can support the other militarily. That requires battles occurring simultaneously both above the planet and on its surface.

The beauty of a system in which both sides can fire on each other is that in theory it's self-balancing. It would be extremely risky for DUST mercenaries to invade a planet district without being sure an enemy fleet couldn't just bombard them mid-match. Similarly, it'd be extremely dangerous for an EVE fleet to capture the command center in space without first disabling the skyfire batteries on the ground.

Since both sides are a major threat to each other, neither objective can be completed first in guaranteed safety. Whichever alliance has a fleet in orbit will be more likely to capture the skyfire batteries on the ground due to aerial support, and whichever alliance has control of the skyfire batteries will be more likely to hold the field in a fleet engagement. Assuming both sides want to fight, players are therefore encouraged to have both battles occur at roughly the same time.

Scheduling

Anyone who's been involved in EVE's territorial warfare will be familiar with the reinforced timer mechanic. As any alliance is unlikely to be able to mobilise a fleet to immediately repel an unexpected invasion, you could imagine waking up one morning to find that players in another timezone have captured all of your alliance's space.

Reinforced timers work as a compromise to avoid this scenario, making sovereignty structures and starbases invulnerable for a certain number of hours after the initial attack. This informs both sides of the conflict of the exact time they will need to turn up for the final battle over the structure. Depending on the preferred timezone the defenders have selected, players will have between 24 and 48 hours notice to mobilise a defense force.

As DUST is going to be tied into system sovereignty and also has its own territorial warfare, it's highly likely that it will use a similar mechanic. The EVE and DUST reinforced timers may even be connected to ensure both sides of the battle occur simultaneously and all parties have time to mobilise troops. As part of organising a defense fleet or invasion force in EVE, alliances may also choose to schedule ground troops to fight over the target planet.

Resupply mechanics

At E3, CCP revealed that while DUST soldiers can clone-jump from their home base to a destination system, their equipment can't move so easily. EVE players will be relied on for logistics, so if we want to invade a planet we'll need to haul batches of clones, vehicles and gear to the target planet. The defenders will probably send supplies from the command center to the planet's surface via the space elevator, but we don't yet know how the attacker's troops and supplies will be delivered.

The E3 trailer features a short shot of a planet with a war barge in low orbit that may serve as a command center for the attacking force. This could be a new ship, an anchorable structure, or even just an inherent mechanic, but I'd love to see supercarriers fill this role in a new deployable form. Another question that is as-yet unanswered is whether we'll be able to re-supply ground troops mid fight or only a single load of materials can be sent down per fight. If re-supplying is possible, the key to winning long DUST battles may be holding the field in EVE.

A fleet may be required to hold the field in space and prevent reinforcements getting through to the ground until the ground battle has been won. The same could be true in reverse, as victorious ground troops will be able to blast enemy dreads out of the skies. With the ability to resupply troops who could win a competitive advantage in a fleet fight, it may suddenly make a lot of sense for defeated fleets to get into new ships, regroup, and make another run at the target planet.

Final thought

Given what we already know about EVE, some reasonable guesses can be made about how the battle for a planet will be waged both on the ground and in the skies. DUST 514 is sure to have a huge impact on EVE's nullsec warfare; with a full review of nullsec warfare scheduled for this winter, we may even see changes to make planets a very strong focus of sovereignty wars in preparation for the game's release. Regardless of how nullsec warfare changes from now until DUST's release next spring, it's clear that EVE players can no longer ignore this ambitious console MMO.

Brendan "Nyphur" Drain is an early veteran of EVE Online and writer of the weekly EVE Evolved column here at Massively. The column covers anything and everything relating to EVE Online, from in-depth guides to speculative opinion pieces. If you have an idea for a column or guide, or you just want to message him, send an email to brendan@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.