What Does Dust 514 average for Gaming?

It’s been a few hours now since CCP took to the stage during the Sony presentation at this years E3 conference, confirming hints and rumours that the veteran MMO developer will be releasing their new MMOFPS – Dust 514 – exclusively on the PlayStation 3 in Spring 2012. A game like this however wouldn’t be a major announcement to the many FPSers and MMOers out there if it were not for the integration CCP is aiming for between Dust 514 and Eve Online. It is that integration that could see Dust 514 being one of the most evolutionary titles in gaming history, ensuring its success in two very competitive and cut-throat genres.

Developers have attempted console-PC cross-platform integration before. Cryptic Studios attempted to sell Champions Online on the basis that it would see release on the PC and the XBox 360, allowing console and PC gamers to play together on the same servers as equals. And who can forget Funcom touting Age of Conan on the XBox 360 as a major selling point of the title back in 2008? Neither console versions managed to see the light of day. Of course Champions Online and Age of Conan were not the first MMOs to attempt to bind console and PC gamers together in unity; Final Fantasy XI famously released on the XBox 360 in 2006 becoming the first MMORPG to set afloat a successful cross-platform service. Sadly for Square Enix it did not enhance the “unsatisfactory” subscription numbers despite occupying the Top 10 Most Played list on XBox Live for a short while.

To the outside observer like myself it seems that cross-platform gaming – specifically console-PC gaming – has been marred by bureaucracy and greed, in addition as a persistent perception from gamers that the two definite cultures cannot co-exist peacefully in a meaningful way. Once upon a time that may have been a valid observation but in today’s multi-genre, multi-platform market it most certainly isn’t. Largely the same titles doing well on consoles are doing well on PCs and vice versa. Despite gamers feeling that the two communities cannot exist in the same ecosystem, there is no valid reason consoles and PCs cannot offer inclusive experiences that allow the two crowds to interact beyond the forums and websites that serve as the theatres of the platform war.

The problem is however that a game that works on the PC is not a sure-fire success on the console and solving that problem isn’t as easy as some of us would like. It isn’t as simple as forcing PC gamers to buy a console controller, an idea some have suggested in the past. PC titles ported to consoles often take a large redevelopment effort to make them “console friendly” and the same is true of console titles moving to the PC platform. Whilst developers have made efforts in recent years to amalgamate the two platforms in terms of game play as much as possible – just look at the enormous torrent of watered down RPGs that released over the last 5 years – there is nevertheless a great distinction between how a game plays under Windows and how it players on an XBox 360 or PlayStation 3. Bringing the two platforms together – especially in more competitive markets such as the FPS genre – highlights the subtle but great difference between consoles and computers. And that has been the case for many years.

How do you solve this problem then? How do you avoid highlighting the differences between the two platforms to ease their peaceful and co-operative coexistence on an integrated gaming platform?

CCP seems to have gone in a different direction to its competitors in this regard. In their minds it seems there is only one solution to the before stated issues and that is to avoid them all together. Instead of trying to sell a single gaming experience to the two definite markets CCP have decided on a more costly but potentially more rewarding approach: sell the two definite markets two definite experiences. CCP are well aware of what Eve players like about Eve but will also be well aware that the same sentiments won’t keep up true for console gamers. It’s better, based on CCPs approach, to look at what console gamers do like and leverage that to create an thoroughly new title specific to console gamers, set in the same universe as Eve Online. Allow the Eve Online players to continue with their sand box pushed gaming free from the fear that CCP will change or water down the experience for console audiences, and deliver a perfected FPS experience to console gamers allowing them to have their own specific taste of Eve. At that point it is simply a case of discovering where and how the two games will cross-over, and developing that cross-over into functionality that allows seamless interaction between the two player bases.

For those of you who don’t follow Eve Online: CCP have already begun the arduous task of building game mechanics that allow for interaction between the two titles. There is of course the fabled Walking in Stations expansion – Incarna – right around the corner, which will allow Eve players to walk on stations as human avatars, adding a whole new inner to a game dominated by ships and space. Then there is Planetary Interaction, a system whereby players can take advantage of planets to harvest resources by building bases, mines and other facilities on the surface. What, you may ask, does this have to do with Dust 514? Well it is these very planets – the planets Eve Online players are developing and building – that will serve as the battlefields in Dust 514. It is on these worlds that the console gamers will war with one and other, protecting, destroying or occupying the very constructs Eve players have spent their time and ISK building. This creates one massively powerful reason for Dust 514 and Eve Online players to interact on an current basis; for example, Eve players will be able to contract Dust 514 players to attack certain worlds for their assistance. In addition Eve Online players will be able to provide sustain from orbit with fleets of ships allowing Dust 514 players to call in orbital strikes, reinforcements, armed vehicles and much more. These will not only be provided by NPCs in NPC ships on NPC worlds in NPC space – or Empire Space as it is known in Eve – but by player owned fleets and player owned ships on player owned worlds in player owned space – known as Sov or 0.0. The same will be true vice versa of course with Dust 514 players able to contract Eve Online Corporations to provide sustain and logistics for their battles on the surface of the many planets in the Eve universe. At some point in the future – claims the ever churning rumour mill of Eve Online – Eve Online players will be able to fly their ships over planet surfaces and Dust 514 players will be able to join those in Eve on revolving space stations, walking and talking to their fellow Eve occupiers.

If you aren’t convinced that Dust 514 stands to revolutionise the way we perceived cross-platform integration now then I don’t know what else to say to you. This is a bold, brave and ultimately unsolicited step in a new and crazy direction from CCP. A studio that prides itself on being the most technologically progressive outfit in gaming has seemingly trumped everything they have achieved with Eve so far merely with the potential of Dust 514. The idea that two games could occupy the same virtual space and interact with one and other in this way and on this extent is, frankly, a surprise to behold in and of itself. already if the title never sees the light of day, or most of the features get thrown on the fragment heap as development progresses, the concept itself is a surprise to stand in awe of.

More importantly: if Dust 514 manages to unprotected to the lofty goals it has set out to unprotected to then it may well set a precedent in video game development, inspiring other developers to approach the problem of cross-platform interaction in the same way. If Dust 514 succeeds in bringing together PC and console gamers there is no reason larger studios would avoid the prospects of such a form with their own titles, fine tuning two games for two platforms but integrating them at a basic level that inspires both communities to interact with one and other, all the while having a direct, meaningful and noticeable impact on the gaming experiences of each other.

What does dust 514 average for gaming? It could well average a new chapter in gaming history and the start of a new age of progression on two platforms that are seeing innovation stagnate. It could be the making of the next decade of both console and PC gaming.

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