CCP is trying something ambitious -- but that doesn't seem to be making quite the waves it ought to. It is linking its successful MMO, EVE Online, directly and fundamentally into its next game, Dust 514, a console shooter.
Players in EVE and Dust will interact directly. If you play the sci-fi shooter, which will launch on the PlayStation Network as a downloadable game, you will be able to accept mercenary jobs from EVE players, or even join EVE's player-driven corporations. The economies of the games are unified, and the battles fought in Dust will have consequences for the players of EVE who run the corporations that sponsor them.
In this interview, producer Thomas Farrer, who works out of CCP's Shanghai studio, where Dust is being developed, answers questions about the tight integration of the two titles, why the company chose to go with PlayStation 3 and not Xbox 360, and how the company has been planning for this as far back as 2008.
It's interesting to hear that, as far back as 2008, with Dominion, you were planning the infrastructure to make Dust possible.
Thomas Farrer: Well, you know, I think with pretty much everything CCP does, we're always looking forward, and we're always looking to see what we might do in the future. So, there's always all kinds of ideas for where we might like to take things.
I remember having conversations together with Atli Sveinsson, the creative director on the project. We were in Sweden at the time. We were both working at DICE. I remember having conversations with him, talking about this concept, and eventually it came to fruition.
I feel like this is one of the most ambitious things happening in games right now. I don't think it's generating as much buzz as maybe it deserves -- because really I don't see anybody else trying to do something similar.
TF: I was thinking about this. Often, particularly in first-person games, games often look very inwards when it comes to how they are trying to innovate or move things forward. What we've tried to do is look more outwards.
We're not looking at innovating at all the kind of typical areas that you see. We're looking at the way you connect to the world that you're playing in, and the way that you connect to the communities and people that you're playing with. I think people aren't really so used to those kind of ideas.
It's not just the same IP; it's the same universe. Literally, Dust is hooking into the same servers.
TF: It's about trying to broaden our audience, like sort of broaden the kind of experiences we can offer players in New Eden.
I think what I find interesting is the way in which players in the two games are going to be communicating and interacting. I don't really have a grip on it.
TF: You know, between the PC and PS3, right now, we already have chat up and running, so players can type and talk to each other. Obviously, we're working on all of our communication options. EVE mail and Dust mail will be the same thing. You'll be able to interact via [community portal] EVE Gate, and also VOiP implementation as well.
Since the characters in Dust are mercenaries, the players are going to be mercenaries. Are they actually hired player-run EVE corporations?
TF: This is actually really important and goes to what you're saying about looking at how players interact. There's no difference between a Dust corporation and an EVE corporation. It's the same thing. Dust players can join an EVE corporation. If a Dust player creates a corporation, EVE players can join that corporation. It's the same thing.
Say if, for example, you only have pilots in your corp, you can quite easily hire a mercenary-only corporation to fight for you. You want them to go and just destroy someone's things on a planet or take control of them for you, you can do that. You can hire them; you can use them as mercenaries.
Or much like you see in EVE corps, you have different groups within a corporation that specialize in different things. You know, you've got your miners. You've got your pilots. You've got people manufacturing. Now you've got a standing army.
Dust is a PSN download game, but I'm assuming from the scope of it, you envision it as a live service as much as you view EVE as a live service.
TF: Yeah. Our production mentality is exactly the same. It's continuous development. Kind of like what you were saying -- like how long, or how far back we were planning this. I had a friend of mine describe this: you've always got one more bite of the apple. You don't have to discard all your ideas. If you think, "Okay, we've got to get something out here", normally it just gets cut. But in this development, it doesn't get cut. It just doesn't get done yet.
And that's a nice position to be in because, you know, to be able to craft something over a much longer period of time, but also the same way that we work together with the community in EVE, we can improve it as a group, as a team almost, together with our players. We can't be so arrogant that we're going to know how players are going to play, or how they're going to want to interact. I'm sure it's going to surprise us, and we're actually going to have to make adjustments because of that.
EVE is well known for having a high level of player involvement and engagement, and people being very focused, all the way up to the people joining the CSM. This is a game that people really care about. Are you aiming for the same level of player involvement with Dust?
TF: I think yes and no. We use the same kind of security level system. So, you know, when you're entering the game in High Sec, you don't have as committed an experience, where you can come in and start to learn the ropes and start to make some ISK and learn about fitting and fitting your character.
So, for some players, that might be enough. It might just be these incredibly focused lone wolf players that just want to be the master mercenary. They can always get paid to fight in Null Sec, but they might not be involved in planetary management and things like that.
But they still get to be involved in that meaningful conflict. They're just not running it themselves. Through the different security levels, we support different types of players.
Player progression is going to be part of it, I anticipate.
TF: I mean, it's similar to what you see in EVE. There's a lot of players in High Sec, but a lot of the gameplay is driven from Null Sec.
The last time I spoke to [lead designer] Noah [Ward] he spoke about what EVE's been trying to do more recently -- adding a more accessible layer.
TF: The difficulty cliff. [laughs]
Yeah, the difficulty cliff. You have the benefit of coming in with the perspective of knowing where things are going already with EVE and what you want to accomplish. You have the perspective years of data of EVE and how EVE operates, where you're aiming.
TF: And I also think we wanted to get more people involved in New Eden, in the universe of EVE. The universe is attractive and interesting. I've heard people say, "I'm fascinated by the universe, but I can't give it that time investment that it deserves or that it needs." So, that's really something we're trying to offer with Dust. It is more accessible.
Through the connection to that universe and to the players of EVE, you still become part of that meaningful world.
It's a very appealing thought that through different styles of gameplay, you can plug into a universe that's got a robustness. Just like in real life, some people want to be musicians, and some people want to be astrophysicists.
TF: Actually, in an earlier version of that [Dust] presentation, I had slides of us talking about what we were thinking. It was like, "Okay, so we want to build this kind of persistent shooter that has meaning. What are we going to need to do that? Okay, we're going to need a huge persistent universe populated by thousands of players that's got like politics and intrigue and all of this stuff." You think, "Damn, that's going to be really bloody hard to create. But, oh, lucky -- we've already got one!" [laughs]
It's interesting because going to a console, you just might have this group of people who might be attracted to the game because they look at it and see a really nicely polished sci-fi shooter. "I can download this." Sure, they might be into Battlefield or whatever, and they might just want to flip over to Dust when it arrives. Maybe they'll get sucked in; maybe they won't. That's got to be a concern for you.
TF: Making an experience that captures people.
Yeah, captures people. Ultimately, not everyone is going to realize, up front, what you're offering. Especially when things like TV commercials are going to be like, dudes running through a battlefield shooting each other. People just might think, "Oh, this kind of looks like Halo," or Killzone, or whatever.
TF: I think when it comes to how we promote the game and stuff like that, we need to lean our focus toward that. That's kind of what we're trying to do with the movies and stuff, to show that link. Maybe we need to be more outspoken about that aspect of the game, because I think that's really where the game needs to grip you.
You know, it is through being exposed to that universe, just looking at the star map and realizing, "Oh, hang on a minute, this is kind of physically located somewhere. You know, these statistics that I'm reading on the screen, that's all real stuff."
Even when you're just using, say, the Battle Finder, which operates through the star map. We keep trying to expose the player to the actual universe, so they can see, "Okay, so I found the battle. The battle is here." It's not like this thing on the list, you know with a ping time next to it. "It's here. It's in this spot right here." [laughs]
I find it interesting that people are going to play on planetary surfaces. A traditional shooter would have maps.
How does that work from your perspective of like, "This is really happening on Planet A. This is really happening on Planet B." I'm assuming it's classes of planets, or whatever.
TF: Yeah, so we create what we call mission terrain. We create outposts that are larger structures, like Biomass Reprocessing. We can change certain aspects of those maps. For example, we can socket in different outposts. We can change the environmental texture sets and things like that to better represent the planet.
Again, so we can better represent where you are, the maps aren't static. It isn't always like, "Oh, I'm just playing this map again." But you'll still be able to learn them. Because, you know, in first-person, you want that familiarity of being able to learn good positions.
But it won't be as static as you usually get in a first-person game. "I'm endlessly fighting this battle." Again, over time, we plan to develop those systems more and more so we can create more and more variation in terms of how we change the environments depending on which planet you're on.
Have you made any announcements about how the business end of this is handled? Obviously, EVE has recurring fees.
TF: We're not using recurring fees. There will be a cover charge for the game. That cover charge will actually then create in-game currency, that you can then use to start building up your modules and stuff. And after that, there's no charge. There will be microtransactions, so you can pay for things if you want to, or if you don't want to.
Because Sony has been starting to support microtransactions.
TF: Yes. That was one of the reasons why in talks with Sony we thought this was a good relationship to have.
If you're a market watcher, just one of the simple obvious things was which console version of Portal 2 had Steam implemented on it, and which one didn't. Right? Just saying.
TF: [laughs] Yeah. Their goals, you know, what they wanted to achieve and what we wanted to achieve aligned really nicely for both of us, so it just made sense. Actually, as a developer, it's just really nice to work on one platform, rather than always having to split focus or make compromises to make sure it will work on both.
Have you guys given thought on putting it to PC?
TF: Yeah. We thought about all kinds of things. Right now, we're pretty much just entirely focused on PlayStation. That's what we're going to remain focused on at least for the foreseeable future. But you know, who knows what happens in the future.
Just a second ago, you were talking about currency, microtransactions, etc. That's going to be your in-game currency, ISK.
Like the same ISK that's in EVE. Does ISK flow freely in between EVE and Dust?
TF: Yeah. ISK flows in between games.
That's going to be interesting.
TF: Yeah, it is, isn't it? [laughs]
I know you guys have a lot of economists, but I'm sure they're still going, "Hmm."
TF: Yeah, you know, Eyjo [Gudmundsson], our economist over in the Shanghai office, he's puzzling his way through all that right now. It's going to be very interesting. Again, it's something that, you know, we'll test it, and we'll see what people do, how people behave. We'll have to tweak and balance and get that to work right. Certainly, it's a challenging thing. Again, with EVE and the kind of complexity of the market we have there, we've got quite a lot of experience with it.
If high-level corporation play requires having an army on the ground, that's going to really affect EVE profoundly.
Have you guys given a thought to this kind of stuff?
TF: Technically, that was a pretty tricky thing to do, but it was something we felt was important because of what you were saying. You know, the corporations are going to want to bring mercenaries into the fold, so to speak. I think we need to be very careful with how game-changing and unbalancing... I mean, this is one aspect of a huge universe. Many of the things we do, we're going to have to give it to the players and see what they do with it.
Talking about Dominion and preparing for this, you've got the land battle stuff already going, and people already know how it works. If there's a player threshold that's required to make things function from a Dust link perspective, those land battles are still going to be going on.
It's not going to fundamentally change things.
TF: Right now, with planetary gameplay, there's no conflict at the moment. There's development but no conflict. The way Dust will change it is by introducing the element of conflict into that. When you're building your space elevators, you're having an influence on sovereignty. It isn't going to entirely govern sovereignty. That's a balance we can control.
You must be very tightly wound in with the design of EVE. Neither of you can function in a vacuum.
You must have a lot of conversations, documentation.
TF: Actually, the day I get back to the Shanghai studio, a bunch of the design team from Reykjavik will actually be there. [laughs] So, yeah, we're having some fun working together, working through some of the stuff. So, yeah, we talk a lot.
Because anything either of you decides to do... It's not even like it affects each other. It's a decision you have to take in tandem.
TF: Yeah. It's, you know, it makes for interesting discussions. Again, it's like, I think a lot of people have used the word "link", and again, you're trying to get away from looking at it like it's a spindly little connection. We're just sitting in the same universe. We're a part of that universe.