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E3 2013: DUST 514 and EVE's virtual reality demo

Andrew Ross

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To an outsider, CCP Games' focus on EVE Online's player panel, comics, incoming television series about player adventures, and museum induction show just how much the company works to earn its players' respect, which might sound weird for studio running a cutthroat PvP sandbox. But I've always felt as if I made stronger personal attachments through high-stakes PvP than through most other gaming activities. I don't play EVE or its console cousin DUST 514, but after stopping by the CCP booth for my interview and hands-on at E3 yesterday, I feel as if I should be doing more than reading and writing about it.

Like many people, I am familiar with EVE at least by name and a few of the bigger heists. I know it's not all bad; players like Chribba are famous for being trustworthy in a game where backstabbing and griefing can get you a feature article on the BBC. But the stories we hear the most are about the e-thugs. It scares some people and makes others want to play it, but EVE is just such a massive game that it can be intimidating to even try it out.

Since we just heard about the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, I thought it was pretty important to ask sort of an obvious question: Will DUST get ported to a new system? The short answer to this is "yes," but one of the reasons PS3 was chosen in the first place is that older systems are systems that developers know better. They can get more out of older consoles, and frankly, they're cheaper. But CCP wants DUST to last 10 years as EVE has, so while the company considers PS3 acceptable for the moment, CCP does eventually hope to port the shooter to the newer PS4 when the time is right. But CCP doesn't anticipate working with Microsoft unless Microsoft is willing to play nice with Sony. (After the Defiance debacle, it doesn't seem likely.)

For those who complained about DUST's release issues, CCP promises some changes. Up first? Aiming and gun rebalancing. CCP's heard you and honestly seems to appreciate the feedback. One CCP rep told me, "DUST is good, but we need to make some tweaks before it's great." Next, CCP wants the lobby screens to more clearly display that a planet is not just another map but is truly somewhere in the game world. This might be easier when DUST expands into null sec, but it's still a goal. The developers want to create context for where in the universe people are playing, so they envision something like a star map to show players the real planet they're about to fight on in relation to the rest of the galaxy. While the list of upgrades for guns has been simplified, CCP wants to allow players to save builds so they can remember exactly how they wanted to upgrade a gun.

Let's talk EVR, EVE's Virtual Reality demo. Massively's already published a huge hands-on with it, so I'll try to avoid the granular details aside from the fact that CCP still isn't sure what, if anything, it plans to do with the game. I should also say that this was my first time with the Oculus Rift. I wear glasses and got sick playing Kirby's Air Ride for the Game Cube, so I probably don't sound like the optimum person to test on, but there I was, and you know what? It wasn't that bad. Granted, it was only a four-minute demo, but I tried to push myself. Despite a little discomfort from my glasses being a bit too snug, I was actually feeling pretty good about the experience.

The controls were quite simple: right trigger to fire lasers, left trigger to hold-lock-and release a missile at a target I was looking at, left joystick to aim the lasers and move, and A to speed up to try to avoid being hit with missiles. Missiles can go only so far, so with correct timing, you can outrun a missile to live and fight another day.

Once I had my goggles on, I could look around, even behind me, to see, well, everything. While in the spawning area, I could see the inside of my ship; outside, I could see all the way around me. Hitting people with lasers was pretty rough, but targeting enemies with the look-to-lock-on missiles quickly became second nature. At one point, I was shooting at one fellow journalist with my lasers and locking on to another while trying to loop around an asteroid to avoid a missile. I'm normally a merely average pilot, but I saw the other team's pilots die several times when I died only once (respawn was only five seconds, so that was fun). At the end, there was sadly no overall scoreboard to let us know how we'd done compared to other players. However, it was a ton of fun and reminded me of playing X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter when I was a kid. (Bonus: I didn't get sick.)

My hands-on with DUST 514 didn't go nearly as well. The CCP guys saw that DUST could be their way to convert me into an EVE player, but it's just been too long since I've played a shooter with a controller. The statistics can be a bit overwhelming, and I'm pretty sure the various suits I had access to were assembled specifically to aid newbies. Even though I struggled, I still felt DUST could be more accessible to me than the classic EVE game. I can go around and shoot people and follow orders when they're given, and I love the idea of larger, persistent shooters (which is why PlanetSide 2 is my shooter of choice). EVR was more fun, given it's on a cool toy I don't have at home, but now that E3 is over, I wish I had a PS3 around so I could poke around once more in the EVE and DUST universe.

Massively's on the ground in Los Angeles during the week of June 10-13, bringing you all the best news from E3 2013. We're covering everything from WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online and ArcheAge to FFXIV's inbound revamp and TERA's latest update, so stay tuned!

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