Dust 514 prepares for a rebirth as Uprising opens the door to CCP Games’ wider universe

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You’re not going to recognize Dust 514 anymore, after the free Uprising DLC is pushed live on May 6, 2013. So dramatic are the changes in the downloadable update that you’ll effectively be looking at a new game. The link between the free-to-play PlayStation 3 shooter and CCP Games’ 10-year-old MMORPG EVE Online will be strengthened, but alongside that is a significant offering of new content and a dramatically improved visual presentation.

We’ve talked all about the “what” of Uprising, but little has been said here of the “why.” Think of the Iceland-based CCP as a modern-day band of Vikings. Instead of piling into a longboat with horned helmets and jug-sized beer steins in hand, they are seeding to the world the allure of a second reality, with a fully developed back story and a legion of dedicated participants who author their own journeys with every step. The beer hasn’t gone anywhere; EVE FanFest 2013’s extensive pub crawl is a testament to that

Dust 514 Uprising 6It’s domination that CCP is after here. Artistic and creative domination. EVE Online is a complicated MMO with a very natural and organic take on social play, one that is left entirely in players’ hands. With UprisingDust 514 inches that much closer to falling in line with EVE‘s community-driven sensibilities. The important thing to remember is that this is not a stats-driven MMO, with play that many sum up as “spreadsheets in space”; it is a “boots on the ground” first-person shooter that anyone with a PlayStation 3 and an Internet connection can play without spending a cent.

“The way that we think about it is sort of like a pool,” Dust executive producer Brandon Laurino tells us. A veteran online and community director who previously served in admin roles at Konami and Sega, Laurino has spent the past two years establishing the foundation of CCP’s first foray into the realm of shooters.

“In the shallow end of the pool … we want to have anyone that plays any shooter be able to jump in and intuitively get the hang of it and have fun,” he explains. “Then we have the deep end of the pool, which we continue to make deeper and deeper. Arguably the deepest pool there is of any shooter out there. Really we’re trying to balance both of those things: having a very shallow end of the pool that people can just jump in if they want to play an awesome, free sci-fi shooter … and then the deep end of the pool [that opens the door] to getting into EVE Online and, ultimately, playing both.”

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You really just need to look at the numbers to understand the potential gains that CCP is dealing with in the realm of player interest. As FanFest constantly demonstrates, EVE Online has an incredibly dedicated following. Yet the user pool, which it has grown quickly in recent times, is still only at around 500,000. But a free-to-play FPS on PlayStation 3? There’s a huge player base already, and it’s not going to shrink just because the PlayStation 4 is coming out this year.

“There’s more than 70 million PlayStation 3s worldwide right now,” Dust senior brand manager Ryan Geddes says. “They’re not going anywhere. The minute PS4 comes out, those [PS3s] do not disintegrate. We think that the players who own PS3 now and who are going to own PS3 in the future, they’re still going to want great games. There’s a huge opportunity there, and we’re just excited to see where it goes.”

Dust 514 Uprising 3The ongoing Dust beta has so far amounted to an introduction. The core game is there and completely playable. It continues to be a work-in-progress, but that’s true of any service-based game. Then the people who spend time in that space on their PS3s are also slowly exposed to bigger fictional aspects at play in New Eden, both in terms of the deeper lore that CCP created and the player-authored narratives that spring up naturally in the regular course of EVE Online play.

“We have this whole layer going on [of] player politics and personalities. The sandbox-y stuff that is kind of the chewy nugget at the center of what we do,” Geddes explains. “Then there’s what lies behind that, which is the actual New Eden lore and the back story and the reason this conflict exists, the reason these factions are warring with one another. There’s a relationship there between how EVE and Dust players feel about each other and what they represent to one another, and what the real storyline is in the EVE universe.”

Geddes offers some background. EVE Online players are known as capsuleers, a reference to the capsule-bound clone pilots that steer the game’s various ships. In the game’s fiction, the technology that makes them effectively immortal got out somehow, so now you have cloned mercenaries engaging in ground warfare. This is the underlying story that drives Dust into existence.

“The powers that be in the world don’t know what to make of it,” Geddes says of the clone tech getting out. “They’re scrambling to either control it, or expand it, or use it for their own purposes, and that’s what players are going to do. They might love it, they might hate it, they might be taking a wait-and-see attitude, but they’re all going to figure out how to use it to their advantage. That’s what we hope.”

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Considering the broader implications is a key focus for Laurino and his team, as they move toward the releasing of Uprising, and then the official launch of Dust 514 a week later, on May 14. You’re talking about linking a new game that has a player base in the millions with a much older game that has roughly 500,000 subscribers.

“Size isn’t everything,” Laurino says of an average Dust corporation’s potential to eclipse the size of any EVE corp, or even every EVE corp put together. “We definitely want PMCs to form and be large entities, but they still have their role within the EVE universe. The things that capsuleers can do with the giant spacecraft moving around space is different from what a PMC can do, a military corporation can do, down on the planet surfaces. They’re complementary, they’re not in conflict with each other in terms of what the actual gameplay is.”

Dust 514 Uprising 2Laurino expects the back-and-forth between the two games to evolve into a collaborative and additive process. The most massive Dust corp will always be restricted within that game’s “boots on the ground” mentality. Likewise, EVE‘s capsuleers won’t suddenly start getting out of their ships and mixing it up on the ground. There will be cooperation though, as we’ve seen already with the orbital bombardment feature in Dust, which allows EVE players to provide explosive levels of ground support.

Looking ahead, Laurino recognizes that the cooperation needs to work in both directions. Uprising‘s Planetary Conquest mode creates opportunities for Dust players and corps to control districts on the ground, then develop them with surface infrastructure that provides boosts to the land owners in both games. There’s more to come as well.

“A thing like ship boarding is something we are actively looking into. It’s really not that difficult to do with the tech that we have. It’s a game mode that I call Penetration on the Dust side,” Laurino teases. “Other ideas [are being entertained], like zero-gravity, battling on a stargate, that sort of thing. Battling in significant locations in the EVE universe, like major cities of the empires. An exploration game mode is another one, being able to go down to the planet’s surface and find special resources.”

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Laurino mentioned later that day during EVE FanFest’s concluding keynote that some PvE plans are in the works as well. Dust isn’t going to remain locked in its present state, as Uprising will demonstrate. As the links between the two games become more concrete and the new gameplay in Dust comes to support more of the social dynamics that are typically associated with EVE, the universe will grow with them.

“There’s all kinds of political dynamics and all the things that EVE is famous for that, frankly, we can’t predict. That’s part of what we’re excited about,” he adds, mere hours before dropping these new truths on fans in attendance at the concluding keynote. “Now that we’ve introduced Planetary Conquest, the wars really are on and the things that’ll happen between Dust players and EVE players [remains to be seen]. That’s part of what makes the EVE universe truly alive.”

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