One person I met at Eve FanFest really stuck in my mind. He was unhappy and angry, and this went against everything else I'd seen there - everyone else I'd seen there. I asked him why and then I understood: unlike nearly everyone else, he was there for Dust 514, not Eve Online. He'd sat through a Dust 514 keynote earlier that day expecting - understandably - to hear about the future of the free-to-play online PS3 game. "I'm here today to talk about Dust 514," executive producer Jean-Charles Gaudechon announced when he walked on stage. Except he didn't - beyond briefly recapping on the year Dust 514 had been out. Instead he delivered a vision for something new and improved: a free-to-play online PC game, Project Legion.
To understand Eve Online, you need to visit Reykjavik. It won't help with mundane details like which battlecruiser to aspire to, but the ride from Keflavik airport to both CCP and FanFest's home town is an eye-opening experience. Simply knowing that Iceland has a hostile interior is nothing compared to actually seeing it - not merely how small its patches of civilisation are amongst seemingly infinite emptiness with no trees and often nothing to see but the remnants of volcanic activity covered in moss, but the kind of community it takes to handle it.
CCP has just flicked a very important switch. Today - shortly before this article was published - the Icelandic company's PlayStation 3 shooter Dust 514 entered open beta testing, which for a free-to-play game like this is as good as a soft launch. It's the moment the game's digital doors are thrown open to the public. Although CCP is 15 years old, this is only its second game launch. It's a big day.
Much has already been written about Dust 514's extraordinary connectivity with the bustling mega-MMO Eve Online, and impressive it certainly is. Grand ideas like this always sound like game-changers when they're first spluttered into the ether, but as with any big machine, it needs its cogs and gears to be grinding together smoothly or it'll all fall apart.
Hence, then, CCP's closed beta for its ambitious online PS3 exclusive - a weekend-long trial that saw avid Eve-rs pay a moderate sum to help stress test and sample Dust 514's 48-player skirmishes. Diving in myself, two things immediately struck me. Number one; this is definitely a beta. This is not CCP's version of these polished, final-code tasters that flaunt the beta moniker but are really a demo in disguise. Here frame rate issues, balance problems and connectivity irks were all present and correct. And number two, man, Eve and Dust 514 are complicated. This may be a console shooter, but its hardcore PC lineage is there for all to see and, for many, to fear.
Upon booting up, you're immediately asked to select your class and corporate affiliation from a series of quite confusing questions. As with everything in Dust 514, though, it's all a case of reading in between the future-corp lines. Break down the jargon and a fairly typical class system reveals itself - snipers, hackers, infantrymen and heavy troops - but CCP's penchant for wordiness might put off those just looking for a brainless blast. Perhaps that's the point.
Today, gritty science fiction MMO Eve Online is famous for many things: its player-driven, emergent gameplay, its complex virtual economy, and, perhaps most of all, its daytime telly quality drama. But nine years ago today, Eve Online was famous for nothing. It was a fledgling persistent world made by a little known Icelandic developer with big ideas but no guarantees. Since then, every year, it has grown. And now, Eve is on the cusp of becoming something even greater: a PC MMO that interacts with a console first-person shooter spin-off.
We know everything and nothing about Dust 514: it's a shooter, it focuses on large-scale multiplayer combat, it'll even be free and - based on our hands-on experience at this year's Eve Fanfest - it plays impressively (even more so when you consider that this is virgin territory in both game style and platform for the developer CCP). But when it launches, it will also be irrevocably intertwined with the history of gaming's most infamous sandbox, and against a backdrop of villainy, greed and controversy.
This is the unknowable. Actions large and small rock idly back and forth like dominoes - when they fall it can mean the last gasp of an Alliance, which causes a shortage of essential goods, which drives a market price up, which scuppers expansion elsewhere. Some may make a louder noise than others when they fall, but the cascade never really ends - from start to finish, the universe of Eve Online is an intricately woven history of kingdoms and nails.
And yet it's this uncertainty, and this melding together of two of gaming's most unlikely bedfellows - the ruthless sandbox PC MMO and the console first-person shooter - that heralds Dust 514 as the first of our Actual New Games of 2012.
Check it OUT! God DAMN! We're SLAMMING Eurogamer Podcast 106 out right now! BAAAAAM!
Back in December the Eurogamer editorial team had a massive public fight about whether 2011 was a good year for games. Well, we had the closest thing we're capable of having to a massive public fight - we wrote polite editorials disagreeing with one another. One thing we all agreed upon, however, was that we would very much like to see more Actual New Games in 2012.
Although EVE Online is considered by many outsiders to be populated by the more Machiavellian, sociopathic elements of humanity, there's a surprising amount of camaraderie uniting the players who have travelled to the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik for this year's Fanfest convention.
Someone asks Atli Mar Sveinsson if DUST 514, the console shooter that will share a universe with sci-fi MMO EVE Online, will have character classes. You know, like engineer, medic, or assault. "That stuff is for computer games," the game's creative director says, dismissively. "This is not a computer game. This is a world. If you want to be a medic, take some stuff with you."