In a match to secure and hold key locations on a battlefield , one squad in particular is kicking ass. Tight teamwork, steady kills and successful objective taking brings in the war points and the squad leader receives intel that the team's efficiency and skill have earned him access to additional battle support. Suddenly a tank rolls in over the horizon. It's accompanied by two heavy class mercs wielding heavy machine guns and a logistics class to the rear buffing the armor. A horizontal downpour of lead rain takes out all the squad members leaving only the leader alive. Taking cover, he sends co-ordinates to an allied spaceship that's orbiting above the district under contention and moments later a barrage of blue and white energy bombards the tank, wiping it and all supporting units out.
An EVE pilot in orbit locks onto the conflict zone.
This scenario doesn't sound particularly new or revolutionary until we're told that this squad are gamers playing a free-to-play MMOFPS on a console and the orbital strike was sent from a PC gamer who piloted his ship to their exact location in a universe of over 7000 star systems in order to deliver his strike. This is one of the most intriguing and satisfying foundational features of the recent marriage between the PS3 exclusive DUST 514 and the decade old Eve Online.
PSU was recently invited over to the Icelandic HQ of CCP for an up close look at the feature now that both games are working harmoniously on the one server; Tranquillity. Here's how it works: In matches you earn War Points for many battle related tasks such as killing, resurrecting, healing, replenishing ammo and hacking. When a squad collectively earns enough WP, the squad leader receives a message saying he has earned an orbital strike. This can be selected at will from the d-pad menu and once activated takes you to the top down map where you point and click on your target. A sinister 'warped' sound and a brief laser lock-on animation announces your PC allies aerial onslaught. The guy on PC has to have a spaceship equipped with the right weapons, have bought the ammo for the strike and have trained the skills necessary to bring it all together.
This is how it looks on the giving end of an orbital strike.
During our time at CCP, I had the opportunity to sit down with Kristoffer Touborg who is the Lead Game Designer for EVE Online and talked to him about orbital warfare. I asked him to explain what we had just been shown in the demo.
"The first version we're getting is fairly simple. What we did today was we took the Destroyer out. It doesn't really matter what race you are and at launch it's going to work with projectile, laser and hybrid ammo. It's deliberately in the Destroyer because you can train for that in about 12 hours so it's extremely easy to get into and the ammunition is fairly cheap so if you want to play EVE and if you want to engage in this you can do that essentially on day one. The type of strike you're getting from that weapon is kind of like a target precision thing; it's not going to blow up the entire map. Further down the line what we really want to do is have four levels of strike. We have the bottom level now that's very tactical but on the top level we want a very very expensive strike that will basically end worlds. The idea is that this isn't something you'll fire every day but when you do you're basically scorching a planet and it doesn't matter if your own guys are down there. It's like 'alright I'm giving up here' and pressing the button."
Touborg went on to explain that the lower level orbital strikes need to be observed first in order to see how the community uses them before handing over the bigger versions. "It needs to be an event that feels epic because it happens infrequently and not an event that feels annoying because it happens all the time."
This is how it looks on the receiving end of an orbital strike.
In a game where the actions of one can effect the entire universe, I was curious about what such an epic strike would mean for the other 450,000 EVE players who share the exact same shard of existence. Touborg elaborated on the repercussions that he would like to see:
"The ideal situation for me is that it would end the map instantly for everybody. I'd like the planet to turn black. I'd like you to not be able to interact with it. Perhaps at that point we'll have some kind of terraforming unit in EVE Online and maybe you have to go back and repair the planet and this would take time but it should be like the final solution that there's no going back to without putting some effort into it."
Touborg's words of scorching planets into useless rocks tied in with the idea of sandbox gaming. In his presentation, Principle Game Designer Kjartan Emilsson touched on how everyone in the EVE universe has the ability to change that universe and that those changes can potentially affect every single gamer in New Eden.
"If you look at sandboxes, what it means is that you have a persistent universe and you can change that universe in certain ways. And you have a lot of freedom to do so, but the fact that you are changing the universe will also affect the destiny of others. The way you change the universe is a social interaction of sorts."
A dormant orbital cannon. They won't make release, but they areon the way.
The tools to shape CCP's digital universe have not yet been given to DUST players like they have been to those who play EVE, but they're coming. If you are wondering what toys console gamers could get that would match the orbital strikes of the PC gamers, the answer lays nestled at the end of the 2011 E3 debut DUST 514 trailer. Moments before it finishes, a massive cannon sends a laser blast into the hull of an orbiting ship. Orbital cannons already occupy some of the current maps in DUST 514 but they are purely cosmetic for now. Although they won't make it into the game for launch, Touborg assured me that the cannons are in the works and will level the playing field by giving mercs the chance to fire back.
This aspect of the EVE Universe is just the first of many strands that will connect the two entities together as one coherent and in-depth gaming experience. DUST 514 goes into open beta today so if you are interested to see what's going on, you can download it now from PSN. The game supports DualShock controller, Move as well as mouse and keyboard and even offers the PS3's custom soundtrack option so you can battleto your own tunes.
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