EVE FanFest 2013 is in full swing in Iceland right now, and day one concluded with a keynote for Dust 514, offering an extended look at CCP Games’ free-to-play PlayStation 3 shooter. The bulk of the presentation focused on trotting out object examples of the game’s upcoming (and completely free) Uprising update. Many of the details shared had been revealed previously, but the keynote gave members of the dev team an opportunity to step up in front of a concert hall filled with fans and show off exactly what’s new. If you need a refresher on what Dust 514 is and how it links up with EVE Online, take a peek out our FanFest primer.
Uprising launches on May 6, a date which has some significance within the EVE community. CCP launched its space-based MMORPG on that day in 2003, meaning the Dust expansion marks the series’ 10th anniversary. An important focus in the update is on building more of a link between the Dust players fighting on the ground and the EVE players who offer contracts and provide orbital support from the relative safety of their ships. The new and insanely detailed starmap speaks to this, offering Dust players a live-updated look at the planets spread across New Eden and the spheres of influence that encompass them.
The goal with the starmap is to clue Dust players into the larger universe that they’re fighting in. Each combat engagement means something for some player on the EVE Online side. Rival corporations can employ the footsoldier mercenaries of the PS3 shooter to disrupt ground-based enemy operations and, over time, assume control of entire planets. The starmap is a gateway then; go take a peek at the planet you just fought on after a match ends, and you can get a sense of who you were fighting for and against. CCP hopes that players will be encouraged to dig deeper and explore the wider universe through additions like this.
Dust 514 is still in beta, and Uprising is also aimed at improving the overall technical performance of the game. The most immediately noticeable change is on the graphics side; before and after shots during the keynote illustrate the huge difference in appearance between the version of the game that players are running around in right now and the one that they’ll be able to access starting on May 6. The visual improvement is dramatic and carries across the board. Dust becomes a straight-up better-looking game with the addition of Uprising.
It also runs better. CCP boasts improved load times that sees players waiting no more than 90 seconds to go from initial launch to on the ground combat. The feel of the controls is also said to be improved. On the in-game interface side, a number of tweaks aim to offer more of a user-friendly experience. The spawn screen has been cleaned up considerably, with clearer iconography and an improved one-button respawn interface. New kill screens feed you stats about whichever merc just fragged you and an improved post-match report paints a clear picture of your performance in the match.
There are improvements outside the battlefield as well. CCP added a node-based skill tree that it hopes will offer a simpler upgrade path for new players. The old format will still be available to those who want to use it; the node-based setup is purely a presentational change. The character creation screen has also been improved, with the goal of offering players more information about the choices they’re making in the context of New Eden’s social makeup. Amarr, Minmatar, Caldari, and Gallente are just words; now, with the improved creation screens, players get a better sense of what their choices mean.
Uprising is one step toward what amounts to a concerted effort on CCP’s part to bring Dust 514, and EVE Online by association, to a wider audience in 2013. The game will officially launch at some point in the months to come, and the goal with Uprising (and perhaps other updates to follow) is to continue refining the experience into the sort of AAA shooter mold that wider audiences can enjoy.
CCP looks at the current state of shooter games and sees those players as being trapped in a box that they don’t realize is there. Call of Duty, Battlefield, and their ilk are small, self-contained experiences by comparison. The message is simple. Dust 514 offers the same sort of individual character progression-based hooks that its competitors do, only it also adds to that with the EVE Online connection. This is a game in which another player in another game on a completely different platform can offer material support in the form of things like orbital bombardment. In CCP’s eyes, jumping into Dust is a no-brainer for those who have been hooked on military shooters since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare introduced MMO-like investment sensibilities to a mainstream audience.
The keynote concluded with a discussion of the Dust 514 title. CCP isn’t quite ready to lay out what that “514” means, but “Dust” is derived from the idea that the game’s clone soldier mercs are born from and returned to dust repeatedly repeatedly by ways of deaths and respawns. A rough cut of a TV spot that will air later this year was shown at the close of the keynote, and it invites players to “enter the vicious cycle” of Dust 514.
We’ll have plenty more for you as the week unfolds, so stay tuned!