With the new game's release date set for the summer 2012, EVE players can expect the next big expansion to focus heavily on planetary control and the DUST 514 link. The past month has been flush with new information on DUST's customisable vehicles, drop suits, infantry weapons and more. We've even had a look under the hood at the server architecture that will keep the planet-bound battles fast and furious without lagging out the EVE players smashing each other to bits in orbit.
In this week's EVE Evolved, I gather together all the key information on DUST 514 released this month and discuss what it means for EVE Online players.
Before I dive right in to everything we know about DUST 514 so far, I should probably address the elephant in the room. The early announcement that that DUST 514 would be not just a console exclusive but specifically a PS3 exclusive drove a wedge between CCP and many players looking forward to the game. Both EVE players expecting a PC release and XBox gamers who don't necessarily have a PS3 were left out of the game's initial development plans, but CCP was still dead set on releasing the game to console players in order to tap a market it hadn't yet reached. For now, at least, it seems there'll be no PC version.
The fact that mouse and keyboard controls would give PC players a massive advantage over console gamers is usually cited as the reason the game can't come to the PC too, but I don't buy that; several PS3 games already have USB mouse and keyboard support. Although the game must launch first on PS3, there's nothing precluding a later PC release and I'd be confused if one didn't eventually arrive. On the console side of things, releasing on multiple consoles was never an option as none of the big players in the console war would allow users to fraternise with the enemy. Brand loyalty is the battlefield of today's console market, and it seems Microsoft and Sony aren't quite ready to lay down arms.
The remaining question of whether to make DUST 514 an XBox or PS3 exclusive was similarly answered by the console giants, with Microsoft's legendarily draconian rules on network play and online servers forcing CCP's hand. Microsoft allegedly restricts XBox games' access to servers outside the LIVE network, but relocating to within that network isn't really an option for an MMO that runs on one of the biggest custom supercomputers in the games industry. Sony, on the other hand, agreed to relax its networking restrictions specially for CCP, allowing DUST 514 to connect to Tranquility and to geolocated game servers around the world.
CCP has already revealed that vehicles will be a big part of DUST 514, and we've known for a long time that the vehicles would be customisable using a module system based on EVE Online's ship fitting system. We recently got a look under the hood of this system when CCP posted screenshots of the fitting screen and a few details of the module types we can expect. Ground versions of EVE's ship weapons and defensive equipment are all available: The Caldari favour shields, missiles and railguns; the Gallente short-range blasters; the Amarr focus on armour tanks and energy weapons; and Minmatar use projectiles and speed.
An automated Rapid Deployment Vehicle will deliver vehicles to any point on the battlefield a player wants, but as is the case in EVE, replacements will be a costly and finite resource. Interestingly, it looks like vehicles are fit with modules from some kind of stockpile, which might end up being a strategic base that you can capture during a match to deprive the enemy of his fancy and space planes and hovertanks.
The infantry aren't left out in the cold, as they take on specialised roles like tackling enemy vehicles, target-painting structures, capturing objectives and setting up traps. Infantry will use customisable "drop suits" with modular fitting systems just like vehicles. They come in several grades, with slower heavy drop suits able to take as much of a beating as some vehicles and use massive weapons. The fact that infantry can respawn directly into vehicles is an added bonus, and it's a mechanic that has worked extremely well in the Battlefield series.
The DUST-EVE link
The biggest MMO news story to come out of 2011's E3 was undoubtedly the DUST 514 talk during the Sony conference. The trailer shown off during the talk served as more than just eyecandy, introducing players to some of the ships and equipment in DUST and delivering a terrifying but awesome concept for the game's linkage with EVE Online. Before E3, we knew from EVE Online's A Future Vision trailer that EVE players would be able to deliver air strikes on ground targets. At E3, we found out that the DUST players could fire back and that the interaction would be live in realtime during an actual battle.
This isn't just a concept any more, as our sister site Joystiq discovered when developers demonstrated live air strikes during a preview session back in August. If your troops on the ground seize control of the planet's skyfire batteries, they can turn the tide of a battle happening at that very moment in orbit. Conversely, the fleet holding the field in orbit will be able offer air strikes on ground targets. DUST players will inhabit the same universe as EVE players, even being able to join the same corporations and trade goods between the two games. When we learned that the games would be this intimately linked in realtime across one massive distributed supercomputer, the meaning of DUST's slogan "One universe, one war" became crystal clear.
We recently got a look inside the server architecture for the upcoming MMOFPS, and it sounds like CCP is following through on its promise to link EVE and DUST on a fundamental level. When a battle is scheduled to begin, the EVE server will contact one of several geolocated "battle servers" around the world and provide it with details of the battlefield's layout. The DUST mercenaries will then be dropped into battle on both the attacking and defending sides. The battle server will be in communication with the EVE server process that launched the match, providing a mechanism for air strikes and skyfire barrages.
With that link up, it would be easy to provide even more communication between the two games. For example, EVE players might be able to watch the battle in realtime from a monitor in a war room, giving orders to soldiers over voice chat or setting combat objectives mid-match using a battlefield-style commander system. When a match ends, the DUST marines leave and the EVE server that spawned the battle process tells it to shut down and end the match. CCP will be using a similar model to that used on EVE, with each server cluster hosting several matches of varying size simultaneously. CCP assured players that battles will be very scalable and that "each DUST battle server is now happily hosting a satisfying number of concurrent DUST players."
already in place with player-owned customs offices, though currently planet ownership only gives players control over import and export taxes for planet-based industry.
If the quality and quantity of development we saw in Crucible is an indicator of future performance from CCP, I think we can expect lowsec and faction warfare to both receive some attention as part of the summer expansion. CCP let faction warfare die through several years with absolutely no mechanic iteration, and its only chance at resurrection now lies in a complete reboot with all new system-capturing mechanics. The fact that DUST provides new system-capturing mechanics makes its inclusion in faction warfare a no-brainer, and I'd be genuinely shocked if that didn't come in the summer expansion.
While EVE players start off in safe NPC corporations, DUST mercenaries may start their lives as part of their faction's militia. Scheduled wars over particular planets could then provide an endless supply of public matches, with an endgame of nullsec warfare, mercenary work or even racketeering opening up to militia members good enough to be recruited into an alliance's ranks.
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 email@example.com.