By: Michael Dao
Dust 514 is quite the ambitious undertaking. It embraces the concept of transgaming, which is something that I hope is the next big thing in gaming. So the first thing we have to do is go into what transgaming actually is.
Transgaming is the idea of linking disparate gaming worlds together. Those were just a bunch of words, but let’s just give you an overly simplified example of how transgaming could work using a real life example that I’m pretty sure you can relate to. My friend Mark loves him some World of Warcraft. He plays a good amount of it. Now, his girlfriend Liz, does not play World of Warcraft, and really isn’t interested in doing so. But she DOES love casual games. Bejeweled, and some sort of slot game on her iPhone that I’ve never heard of. But how do we get them playing TOGETHER? Let’s do some imagineering. What if there was a World of Warcraft branded version of Bejeweled where if Liz performs an act such as getting a five gem match, it provides Mark with a temporary in-game buff? Or perhaps, we have a situation where Mark wins a battleground match and that provides Liz with a boost to her score multiplier? Now instead of two people playing separate games, we have two people assisting each other and enjoying the same universe – and most likely both will be spending more time in their respective games. This is transgaming.
So, this is what CCP is trying to achieve with it’s new title, Dust 514. To sum it up, it’s a sci-fi themed first person shooter that’s a Playstation 3 exclusive. Nothing exciting there, but the details soon take a quick turn. It’s a downloadable title which is going to be free to play and supported by microtransactions. And if that hasn’t piqued your interest yet, the Dust 514 universe will link up fully with their internet spaceships MMO, Eve Online. I think I might just have your attention now.
Eve Online has a reputation for being a rather unforgiving sandbox MMO. The best way to describe what the experience is like is to use a World of Warcraft metaphor. In World of Warcraft when a player character dies, they get resurrected at a certain point, and all of their equipment takes a durability penalty. When item durability hits zero, it is useless until repaired by an NPC for a price. Contrast that with Eve Online, where if a player character loses their ship, that’s IT. Their ship is truly and utterly gone, along with the weapons and equipment installed on the ship’s hull. This provides a problem for the new player as people get attached to their ships. Two lessons vital to learn here are to not get attached to ships, and that a person should never fly what they cannot afford to lose.
So how does Dust 514 work? Upon loading the game, it’s clear that the interface takes a number of cues from it’s older brother, Eve Online. Some graphics are reused, this is most notable when you’re configuring your character, and isn’t a bad thing. The gameplay is standard FPS fare, one notable mission is where one side has to shoot down a large ship that is headed to a destination, using hand held heavy weapons, or heavy anti ship guns on the map, while the other side has to prevent the ship from being destroyed. Gameplay is fairly quick, though it feels as if there should be more respawn points or that they should be closer together. The title is still in beta, so there are a lot of things that can easily be adjusted. But what is the game like? It shares a lot of the design philosophy that you see rampant in Eve Online. If your character perishes with an upgraded weapon, they lose it and it has to be repurchased, and much of the balance in Eve is seen here. For example. In Eve, a well skilled pilot in a medium sized ship can indeed kill a player in a larger, more expensive ship if the second player has not trained their skills to an appropriate level.
And the skills. My word, the skills. The skills are time based, so access to better or different gear is dependent on how long a person plays. It is a system that rewards specialization greatly – the developers have stated that it would literally take a player years in order to learn all of the skills available. It’s also a system that both rewards veteran players without overwhelming new players. Skills have five levels of achievement to them, and a person can reach the fourth level in a relatively short period of time. However, reaching that fifth level will take more time that it took to get through the first levels. Getting that very last increment of improvement is an arduous process, and one not taken lightly.
But the biggest question remains – how will the game interact with the large Eve Online universe? CCP, the developer of Dust 514 and Eve Online have an annual gathering of fans each year in Iceland called Fanfest. Imagine a PAX Prime, but instead of a celebration of all video games, it just focuses on Eve and Dust. It’s about a thousand people that fly out to Iceland to attend Fanfest, but considering the subscriber base numbers approximately 400,000, that’s a pretty impressive amount of people. It was at this Fanfest that CCP showed a focus on Dust 514, and a bit of what they plan for the game. Live footage was shown of a fierce ground battle with troopers assaulting a base. Unable to crack its defenses, one of the soldiers aims what appeared to be laser designator at a defensive position. The other screen showed the image of a lone ship orbiting the planet the ground pounders were on, and the ship fired. Switching back to the view on the ground, the encampment was engulfed in explosions and the attacker’s mission was successful.
That there is the entire point of transgaming. Eve Online has always been a niche game, albeit one with an incredibly dedicated and loyal following. It’s a game with an incredibly steep learning curve, one that some would charitably call a learning cliff. But the universe is fantastic. Friends who do not care for the game play of Eve Online can now enjoy a first person shooter experience within the same universe, and they can play cooperatively with internet spaceship pilots in the sky. This past week, the first steps to make this happen occurred. The beta servers of Dust 514 were linked with the test server for Eve Online for the first time, and the first rudimentary connections were made – players in each camp can now chat and send mail to each other. Items for Dust players are appearing in the markets of Eve, though they cannot be purchased as of yet. Transgaming is about bringing people together. The more cynical among us would say that this is just an attempt at enlarging a potential market. I say that this is a way to give gamers a disparate, yet shared experience. I say that this is a way to allow people to create more unique and interesting stories together. I say that this is the future.
Full Disclosure: The author of this article is a member of Test Alliance Please Ignore.