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A lot of information came out at last week's FanFest convention about EVE Online and it's console shooter cousin, DUST 514. We sat down with EVE Online's lead game designer, Kristoffer Touborg, to get the backstory on how these design choices were made and why they won't stop EVE players from griefing the "dustbunnies" playing DUST 514.
Touborg: EVE Online is a big social game. I think trying to reinvent the wheel is sometimes a little bit crazy, but I really love to take mundane things—once you've put them into a game environment, for some reason, they become fun. Like hauling minerals across EVE: it's viciously boring, but people still spend eight hours a day doing something [in real life] and then they go haul minerals in EVE.
I met a truck driver who did this. He drove a truck in real life, and when he got home he drove a space truck. There's so many real things that we think of as mundane, but they become great game features. One thing that we'll never put in, probably, but I love the idea, is marriage. Not because of the whole love and kissing thing, but because EVE is so much about trust. If you could marry two characters, they'd have shared inventory and shared bank accounts and all that stuff. There's all these dynamics that come out of sharing. Something as mundane as having shared credit cards, in EVE, becomes a feature. It doesn't have to be like the biggest dragon you could ever find. Just take something from real life that might be slightly boring and put it in a different environment, and just watch what happens.
PCG: So what's appealing about mining for hours? Is it the fact that they could be ambushed at any time, or do they genuinely just like the boring?
KT: Part of it, I think, is that people like boring. Or, well, maybe low effort, maybe low risk stuff. I used to do some of the really boring stuff just because you know that at the end of the road there's some reward. Trading, for example, is relatively low risk, but you make the money and it feels good. Seeing your bank account go up.
I think that not every game was meant to be Counter-Strike. Not everything has to be twitch action-based, super-intense, in-the-zone, adrenaline rush 24/7. Everybody complains about mining, but I think it's the finest hangover feature you could ever do. I'd just switch the miner on, I'd watch sports on Sunday and be hungover and eat pizza. I think that's great. Not everything has to be super wild.
KT: The other thing is, and this makes me kind of sad because I like the idea of the entire universe—the parallel I usually draw is the old western movies, where you'd have the cowboy walking down the street, and none of the houses were actually real. They were just painted boards held up, [the crew] had just constructed these fake towns. I always hate that in MMOs: if there's a mountain and you can't climb it.
That's the entirety of EVE that I love. But we're kind of going away from that, with Dust for example. On the other hand, I think that what I really want might not be the best solution either. I think the idea of having an IP where you can make a game and then tie it into a main game is probably a better solution than what I really want, because I'd love to have the entire thing where you can land wherever you want on any planet and get outside, maybe dig a hole or build a house... That would be my ideal. But on the other hand, that might not actually be a good idea.
PC: Was having everything inside of one game ever seriously considered?
KT: Yeah. That was the direction that we took up until about four months ago. EVE just keeps expanding, bigger and bigger, more and more. But now, of course, we have the Dust approach, which is basically, make a game and tie it into EVE. Which I think, functionally, makes much more sense. I think that's much more clever.
When companies branch out, I think betting on big-name IPs for the sake of their name has backfired horribly for a lot of companies. If you look at some of the MMOs that have come out with big titles, like they bought some movie IP or something, they've just really done poorly, because at the end of the day they just painted a game differently. I think the idea of leveraging your IP into a single game, I think that's much more attractive.
I've become, at age 29, a massive tabletop gamer. For some reason, painting little miniatures was completely unappealing to me when I was 14, but this year I've, like... "This is so awesome!" And Games Workshop have, in my opinion, the most amazing game universe, but they've gone for this approach of... There's the books, there's the game, and all these different parts of the web, where everything ties into this center point in effect.
If we're talking about innovative business and stuff like that, I think that if Dust goes well and we can pull this off, this is what a lot of companies will start doing. It works, I think it's a cool approach. Being able to just cut something off that's not working is awesome. I like this approach. As I said, I have this romantic picture of being able to influence anything anywhere, but on the other hand, it might be a really dumb approach in practical terms.
PCG: I talked with a several EVE players at Fanfest who're planning to grief Dust players. Will you stop that when that starts happening?
KT: No, not really... That's just EVE. People can f*** with each other. That's what they've been doing now for nine years.
PCG: That's the funny thing about it. They're not planning this because they're upset that Dust is coming out or hate it, it's just... "Welcome to the club. This is what we do."
KT: I'm not too worried about it. That's just EVE. Just them playing EVE.
PCG: So at the start, the integration of EVE and Dust is going to be pretty limited, geographically, within the galaxy. Do you think it's going to be interesting for EVE corps before it goes to null-sec space?
KT: Um...maybe not. But maybe that's alright. Maybe this is where people get used to it. People come in and see that they're not going to turn the world upside down. But they will be useful, and getting people to use it might be good. The relationship between EVE and Dust won't be built in a day. Going about it slowly, I think, is the right approach. Start in faction warfare, having the faction warfare people say, "Hey, these guys are really useful to us," and letting that spread out might be really good. It's not going to start with a bang, but that's probably also a good idea, really.