Friday, September 18, 2009

Dust in the wind

"Don't hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky"  - Kansas "Dust in the Wind"

... And apparently gamers complaining.

When CCP announced the release of Dust 514 there were many bloggers posted in open rebellion. "How dare they not intend to release a PC version?" "What do you mean my game will be influenced by a bunch of low life console monkeys?" "Great, now I need two accounts just to affect sovereignty." On and on went the litany of complaints.  There were also a number of people who seemed genuinely excited about the prospects of this new game, and I have to admit that I fall in with them.

For the record, I am not a console gamer. I own a PS3 purchased primarily to serve as a media center in my house, a DVD and Blue Ray player, and it lets me play Rock Band (and I love me some Rock Band). I never fell in with the Halo crowd, if I'm going to play a FPS I want a keyboard under one hand while my other hand lovingly grips my mouse. Even then I'm not crazy for FPS games. I enjoyed them, I've played the litany from Quake and Doom through Serious Sam, No One Lifes Forever, UT, and of course every game the people who brought us Half-Life even glanced at. So I can't say I'm adverse to the notion of the FPS, but I'm hardly an expert - more of a casual gamer who likes to hang out with friends.

I can't understand why people are so upset about Dust. Yes, it will affect Sov. Yes it will be on a console. But it also has the potential giving Eve players another game to love and it has the chance to draw in some new blood to Eve Online. And to those who think new players in Eve Online is a bad thing, I have nothing to say to you.

I think that the men and women of CCP have proven they can deliver a unique and rewarding product in the MMORPG genre, why not let them have a go at the FPS genre as well? Perhaps they will bring some new ideas to the table that will make the game far more rewarding. Here are some things that I would like to see (let me preface by saying I've only really watched the trailer - so if these ideas are already in, great, if they have already been ruled out then boo.)

Skill System for Weapons and Vehicles - Much like what we have in Eve Online, create a skill system that allows a character to improve over time as a player. Whether they use the same real time training of Eve or whether they require you to be active in the game to improve is up in the air - however, it should not be based solely on in game performance because it would skew the field. The good players would get stronger while the less skilled grow weaker, this is not very Eveian. Real time skill training could mean Older players get more use of support vehicles, better armor, and weapon improvements such as firing rate, increased range, etc. These should be make or break skills, but it would definitely give people and edge.

Give Me Another Way to Play - Let's face it, FPS games are pretty standard. You shoot a gun, climb in a vehicle, you do something, and then you die. Even Team Fortress and Team Fortress Two have only limited class roles. What I really love about Eve is the fact that I can play the game so many ways. I would love Dust to be like that. Sure, it is fun to sometimes bust skulls in FPS glory, but ever since reading Ender's Game I have dreamed of sitting in a commander chair orchestrating the movements of squads, even whole armies. RTS games aren't as fun because the AI is very limited. I don't want a squad of mindless drones, but a team of players who will react independently to changing situations. I would love to lead individuals who could either follow my orders or thing for themselves. Creating a interface to facilitate this role and this style of play would encourage me to plop down the cash for Dust.

Tactics Must be Key - This ties into the skill system, but create tactical roles for players and make tactics important. Create an interface where team mates can clearly and quickly communicate targets without the use of microphones and voice chat. Target labeling, squad and unit formations, etc. Create a "Briefing period before all missions where players can develop strategies. Players with certain skill sets can serve as tactical advisors, given access to overview maps and advanced unit command options while newer players can serve as grunt soldiers, scouts, and other roles.

Variable Terrain and Maps - There are ways to create dynamic shifting maps that would require players to be far more adaptive and would eliminate the edge of map memorization that exists in other FPS games. Easy? Probably not, but imagine the results! It opens up the potential for a scout class that is actually useful, again giving a skill path and variable play styles a role in a genre that has been fairly homogeneous.

Make Death Carry a Meaningful Penalty - No, I don't want this game to be an RPG and I understand that the FPS genre is all about running around and dying a lot while killing people. But the problem is it creates a game devoid of tactics and realism in many cases. If you encourage players to fall back and stay alive rather than suicide Zerg then that would be good. Possible ideas include gear loss, skill loss, clone spawn cooldown. This will have to be carefully balance, too steep and people won't want to play, too weak and people won't care. While it will be hard to get this right it would be completely worth doing.

Create Linked Accounts - If Dust 514 is going to go into the realm of subscription based play (another potential first with an FPS) then they need to allow dedicated Eve Players a discount of some sort. If Dust costs $10 per month then active Eve Accounts should get it for $5. Hell, even better, send all subscribers a $10 off coupon on the release. Basically, if CCP extends an olive branch to the current players they might not feel as hurt.

These are just a few of the things that I think could make Dust an amazing unique game. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the FPS that CCP puts out will be amazing regardless of the specific features. But I don't just want amazing from CCP. They have to push the envelope, redefine the genre, and deliver a product the likes of which we have never seen. That is what they get for setting the bar so high in the first place.

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