Dust 514 is both familiar and strikingly new. While an online, sci-fi console shooter with a range of customisation and levelling options doesn't sound anything out of the ordinary, some familiar mechanics only thinly mask what's a first of its kind game, according to creator CCP, which is best known for the decade-old player-driven space MMO Eve Online.
"I think it's the most meaningful shooter that has ever been made," Kristoffer Touborg, lead game designer on Eve, told us of Dust 514 during a trip to the studio's Reykjavik, Iceland-based headquarters last week.
Rather than choosing a more traditional means of expanding its Eve franchise, such as releasing a standalone offshoot console game, CCP has taken the riskier decision to merge a new free-to-play PS3 FPS with an established subscription MMO in a single persistent game universe.
"Something that guided us [to make this decision] was the game design principles we've followed with Eve," says principal game designer Kjartan Pierre Emilsson. Top of the list are the studio's desire to "create sandboxes" and "maximise interaction between people".
"In Eve we have groups of players who can form corporations and fight for territories and planets. We are mingling the two games so that the corporations that you have in Eve are the same in Eve and Dust. You can have members in both or you can have an alliance with the other, so we're starting to have these social interactions."
When their squad achieves certain conditions in battle, team leaders among Dust's planet-based PS3 players will be able to call on Eve's space-based PC players to deploy orbital bombardments which aid them in battles. The accuracy and power of these strikes will be determined by factors including the Dust player's skills and what turrets the Eve pilots have trained and fit to their ships. While those available in Dust's open beta are localised, future orbital strikes could be more devastating, taking out entire districts. If opposing Dust teams both have Eve players on hand to dish out orbital bombardments, those Eve players will be able to fight each other at the same time.
The link-up with Eve is persistent across all of Dust's game modes, and PS3 users will be able to play the game with a standard controller or with keyboard and mouse, while cross-platform chat is also supported. CCP says it hasn't settled on but would like to find a way for PS3 players to hit back at PC ones, whether that's firing directly at space-based ships using orbital artillery outposts or by some other means.
"In the coming years we foresee the gameplay connections between PC and PS3 becoming ever-increasing, especially once we get a full economical link between the games in terms of currency," says Emilsson. "For us this is a very long-term vision."
"Like Eve we want this game to run forever, so it'll be on PlayStation 7," Touborg adds, noting that it will be a priority to communicate to PS3 players that Dust, which enters open beta today, is going to be a different experience weeks, months and years down the line.
"I think it's going to be especially important because I think the players we're trying to reach aren't used to it. When it comes to console shooters, I see it very much as a migrating population, which moves from new title to new title. What we need to do is basically change their mindset, to make them understand that Dust is a game that will get better and better, and that is going to be a big challenge.