Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A Complete History of the DUST Franchise




So you've heard about DUST 514, but you're worried you won't be able to get into it as you've not played the 513 prequels? Do not fear, what follows is everything you need to know about the earlier games before attempting to play the revolutionary massively multiplayer first-person shooter that is DUST 514.

The history of the DUST franchise is shrouded in mystery, but now in the hands of Icelandic MMO developers CCP, there are high hopes that this 514th iteration will recapture some of DUST's former glories. However, those are hugely ambitious goals, as this brief history of the DUST franchise will show. Here is the never-before told story of the previous 513 iterations. 

Sort of.


DUST 1 (originally released as "Cosmic DUST")
The initial DUST release was hugely broad in scope and the legendary Big Bang distribution campaign is widely considered to have been the most effective marketing ever. Sadly, exact records are unavailable due to the pre-history release date, after all, pens, writing and even existence as we know it hadn't really been invented. With nothing but rocks forming out of the cosmic DUST, early subscribers could only really do mining or attack each other (PvP). Some scholars claim that the entire DUST project was originally conceived, built and distributed by God. However, there is no hard evidence to support this. In any case, DUST quickly spread across the entire universe and was considered a huge success.


DUST 2: Terra Firma
Still in the hands of the mysterious Original Developers, the first DUST was continually being iterated on, but ongoing expansion was slowing down the release schedule. It was decided to aim at a single Carbon-based platform, introducing the concept of permanent death (later shortened to 'permadeath'). Elements of the original DUST were taken and moulded into a smaller, but more detailed environment. Using the DIETY development system, this enabled releasable material to be produced on a six day cycle, allowing for one day of rest. The Development team looked at their work and "saw that it was good". There were some early problems with "Dev Hax" and a snake with an Apple, but these were ironed out fairly quickly, copyright litigation notwithstanding.


DUST 3: Evolution
Taking the work that had been done on previous versions, the team continued to build on the theme, combining DUST elements to create more complex content. Using the DIETY system, two key systems were put in place to create better emergent gameplay; the Evolution character system enabled users far greater customisation of their avatars and the Ecology system formally integrated the way players interacted. But there was a problem - it soon became clear to the Original Developers that the Giant Lizard character class was hugely overpowered. The decision was made to shut down the servers and start work on a 4th version. The final day in-game event is still talked about today as the mischievious developers wiped everyone out with a DUST cloud.

DUST 4: The Cold and the Dead
This 4th version was initially unremarkable, retaining the some of the framework from the previous versions but starting character classes from scratch. However, the new visual aesthetic was universally panned as being too monochrome. An over-reliance on ice environments led to an unpopular and sparsely populated world. Only the hardiest of gamers continued to take part, with the only real playable race being the Proto-humans. The Woolly Mammoth class was fun for short periods, but once the novelty of being a giant hairball wore off, there really wasn't any depth to the advancement options - as there were none. So it didn't. Advance, that is.

DUST 5: Rise of the Humans

The introduction of new, warmer zones meant that subscriber rates picked up. More work was put into the Human race, with a number of sub-classes being made available through the Evolution system. The was a brief period where the Neanderthal class became popular, but their demands for a PvE-only server were ignored as they were beaten into extinction by the PvP-proficient Homo Sapiens players.


DUST 6-15 
These releases were really iterations on a theme, with the Fertile Crescent server becoming over-crowded, various new elements were introduced in order to encourage the proliferation of players to other parts of the server-cluster whilst reinforcing high population areas. Broadening the environments appealed further to a variety of playstyles, although the aggressive Homo Sapiens continued to dominate and the majority of new features were introduced to appease their thirst for violent interaction. DUST 9: Civilisation was notable for its introduction of agriculture and community tools.

DUST 16: Blood and Iron
With antiquated code under ever-increasing pressure, more and more bugs, hacks and exploits began to appear. Most notably, one player claiming to be a Dev was using hacks to heal the sick and turn water into wine. In that particular case, his account was banned for three days, but the problem rose again when he did and so the account was deleted. Events leading up to and including the now infamous J35U5 hack have been well-documented elsewhere and are beyond the scope of this article.

Clearly players were developing the means to harness more power than was good for the gameworld so, in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the DUST 3 reset, the Pandemic system was introduced to deliver basecode-level changes without the need for a world-ending event. This allowed the introduction of fundamental revisions and code changes to be obscured by a localised or worldwide catastrophe, enabling the covert deletion of any affected accounts without harm to the basecode. A brutal but effective solution.

DUST 17-49
Whilst exact records are still sketchy at this point, it is notable that during this period the development team almost certainly expanded or changed hands. As the gameworld and its residents evolved, there is evidence to support the possibility that players were recruited into development teams. This resulted in the introduction of some interesting new social systems using the new RELIGION engine (actually the formalisation of some metagame elements introduced by players as early as DUST 4). Team Hindu seemed to be a significant early contributor, but as time went on Teams Christian, Islam and Judaism became more responsible for much of the content. There were some interesting contributions to lore from Teams Norse, Roman and Greek, but sadly records show their input seemed to dwindle after a short time and presumably were disbanded. Team Buddhism was responsible for catering and contemplation.

DUST 50: New Order
This release was significant as it was the last of the old numbering system. In a bizarre and confusing move, it was decided that subsequent versions would retain the "5" in recognition of the introduction of the now exclusively dominant Homo Sapiens class around which the gameworld had since been entirely reshaped. As a reward to the PvP-obsessed Homo Sapiens, they were reclassified as Humans and all other Human sub-classes were removed from the game as they had fallen into disuse.

It is also significant, but coincidental, that around this time a group of Human players got lost whilst roaming for PvP and discovered the previously unexplored Iceland zone, an isolated area of the gameworld occasionally used by the Developers for testing.

DUST 51-54
This was another period of granular iteration seeing the continuing development of society-based gameplay. PvP continued to be popular with player-driven territory-based warfare and meta-roam "crusades" being particular highlights introduced in DUST 52: My God or No God.

DUST 55: Renaissance
With a significant portion of subscribers becoming increasingly unhappy with the prevalence of PvP in all game zones, the Developers responded with this expansion, which introduced player-made content-sharing on a much grander scale. The popularity of art, literature and philosophy rose as a result. Exploration and trading playstyles got a huge boost with the introduction of new Seafaring skillsets and equipment. 

However, as with the RELIGION-based expansions, this just gave the PvPers new things to fight about. 



DUST 56: Industrial Revolution
Built almost entirely around player-created content as a result of an explosion of shared knowledge, the Developers introduced a robust new interface for player-created items. The Humans quickly embraced this and invented many new ways to solve old problems. Mostly how to kill the enemy in larger numbers more quickly. DUST 56: The Industrial Revolution is still widely regarded as one of the most successful expansions in Human history.

DUST 57-59
These releases were largely focused on refinements to the technology tree as the Humans devoted significant resources to research and development gameplay. As iteration progressed, further subdivisions to the Industry branches were fleshed out, allowing the development of modern science, the discovery of more chemical elements and the harnessing of electricity.

DUST 510: Combustion
To the confusion of many, the impact of the new version paradigm finally became apparent (re-read DUST 50 for an explanation). What fans of the more popular decimal system would call "sixty", was known to those who moved in higher circles as "five-one-oh".

This edition also heralded the great advancements of the internal combustion engine and the glorious total-hell-death that PvPing humans could inflict on each other as a result. Things now went faster, flew higher and exploded louder. It was hoped that the popular World War events, a product of emergent gameplay, might deal with a resource and balancing problem caused by over-subscription. But despite the ever-present threat of character permadeath, these brutal new environments made little impact on subscriber rates and DUST continued to see year-on-year growth of the playerbase.  Furthermore, the Developers started to see a flaw in their development plan, with the player-driven World War events highlighting how overpowered the Human class had become.

DUST 511: In Virtuum 
In Virtuum was to be the final iteration by the mysterious Developers, and was their last, desperate attempt to control the negative impact the over-powered and over-subscribed Human character population was having on the game environment. So effective had the Humans become at the game, they were close to destroying the entire gameworld. The proliferation of PvP and advancement of technology had become so destructive that the Developers realised they needed to find a way to restrain the population or even the Pandemic system might not be enough to contain the problem.

They seeded their final solution: THE INTERNET.

It was a stroke of genius. The spread of in-game knowledge went off the scale, whilst an explosion of pornography meant an entire generation of male Humans spent more time indoors masturbating and less time outside PvPing. They also found ways to simulate PvP in their new virtual environment, often one-handed. Relieved, the Developers saw their work was done and they retired to Another Place.

DUST 512: Hættuspil
A group of individuals who were descendants of the geographically embarrassed Viking roam from the time of DUST 50, discovered a seed of greater truth within an arcane invention they called "The Danger Game". This was a very modest DUST release and went almost unheard of, making no significant impact in the wider gameworld. However it did give those individuals the key to taking up the mantle of DUST development and continuing to push the advances of Human PvPers game-wide.

Identifying that the gameworld subscriber-base was approximately 7-billion strong, there was an ever-increasing resource and space issue in DUST's game environment (referred to as "reality" by hardcore roleplayers). The Sons of the Lost Vikings noted that the former level designers had covered most of the gameworld with water, but just as the oceans had presented their ancestors with a navigational challenge, it gave them a design headache. Without the world-building DIETY development tools the previous Developers had created, the Lost Viking group realised they needed to find another way to control the huge crowds of subscribers to prevent a further, almost certainly catastrophic, World War event. 

So they formed Crowd Control Productions, otherwise known as CCP.

DUST 513: EVE Online
This was CCP's first attempt at harnessing the new INTERNET technology to provide a virtual environment mini-game within the DUST gameworld. It was only an experiment, but if successful would serve as a repository of invention, violence, creativity and immorality. With these elements focused away from "reality" and into this new limitless virtual environment, the real DUST gameworld might still be saved.

Fortunately, the experiment was a modest success. CCP had proved that Humans would embrace the opportunity to replicate their destructive deeds in this new space. The experience gave the weak strength, and the timid voice. EVE Online captured imaginations and many Human players chose to devote their lives to this minigame, preferring it to "reality". Most Human players either didn't notice or didn't care about the satirical and subversive nature of their new favourite mini-game. For them, EVE Online became a very Serious Business.

DUST 514: One Universe // One War
As yet unreleased, CCP plans to expand on lessons learned from the previous DUST versions to captivate and ensnare a much larger Human player demographic. This will further immobilise and control the crowd and subvert them from "reality" whilst simultaneously saving the original DUST gameworld from certain destruction.

PvP will never be more meaningful. 


For more details see the following links:

DUST 514 official site
DUST 514.org

8 comments:

  1. Well played, sir, well played. This post needs a bigger audience - hope you get a retweet from Manifest on this one, it's a riot.

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  2. You sir win all the internets for today.

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  3. I agree with Adhar, even though I think I married the girl he had a crush on (if you don't know what I mean, I apologize). You win the internet, plain and simple. You win.

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  4. Someone call me an ambulance, I think I've torn something :D
    Oh, wait, Stan's a paramedic...

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  5. Cheers folks, I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's a little "mischievous" in places, but no offence is intended. It's just a bit of fun.

    @Anonymous (II) thanks, but you lost me with the married, crush thing. It's got me thinking though, it's like a Rubik's sentence.

    @mandrill Heh, please don't sue. Blame the deficiencies of your avatar design or something.

    Also, I'm now pretty much a former paramedic (retiring from service due to back injury) and am looking for paid writing work and involvement in creative projects.

    Just thought I'd put that out there.

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  6. How could I not retweet this.
    Also shared to Facebook, G+ and Reddit.

    -CCP Manifest

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  7. Cheers Manifest, nothing like a bit of CCP love to iron out the wrinkles in my wiggly traffic line. ;)

    ReplyDelete

Lay it on me.