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CCP's newest first-person shooter wants to be a great shooter first, an Eve game second

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The hard lessons of Dust 514

Project Nova is the code name for CCP's free-to-play PC first-person shooter that's being shown to the press and fans for the first time at Fanfest in Iceland.

Unlike the recently canceled PlayStation 3 title Dust 514, which tied directly into Eve Online via interactions called orbital bombardment where players in one game could influence the battles in another, there are no direct ties between Eve Online and Project Nova outside of being set in the same universe.

"The orbital bombardments we had in Dust 514, it was a cool feature, but it was played by the one percent of the one percent," Snorri Árnason, senior director of Project Nova, told Polygon. "If we were to ever go into connected gameplay I would assume it's on the economy or more thematic stuff like that."

This was one of the weaknesses of Dust 514; it was just too hard to get the games to link together in any meaningful way from the point of view of the players.

"It worked for the people who were very invested in it, it looked cool and felt cool, and felt real, but you had to be a corporation in planetary conquest and you had to have a friend in Eve who really wanted to help you, so you'd schedule a match in planetary conquest and say meet me here in 24 hours and blast these suckers," Árnason said. The games best features, in other words, were out of reach for most people.

project nova 2 CCP

It's a mistake they don't want to make again.

"We're trying to stand out in the free-to-play area niche, not against any FPS that's going on right now ... we're kind of going into the sci-fi, semi-realistic, tactical, kind of old-fashioned in a sense, just a great shooter. That's where we want to be ... we want to be perceived as a really good free-to-play shooter. Sometimes you sit down and say 'holy shit, that's free-to-play?'"

And this is how the game is being promoted at the show: As a great shooter first, and something that ties into the greater world of Eve second. We were told that the goal was to create a shooter that felt great, and was instantly understandable by fans of the genre. They are also aiming for an experience that runs at 60 frames-per-second on the recommended specs, although those have yet to be provided to us.

Another aspect of the game they're hoping helps it stand out is the way classes and loadouts are handled. This isn't a game where you'll feel weak out of the gate.

"I also want to make loadouts easy to access and to try, so in many other games you start with nothing, and then you add the gun and you add the armor ... I really want to give you a full loadout with all the things you want and that should be on the loadout," Árnason said.

You'll be able to access a variety of classes, right now there are "eight or so," without having to level up to get workable equipment. Then, as you begin to "invest into" these classes, you'll be able to mix and match weapons and abilities. It's not a matter of unlocking things to make each class or loadout feel powerful, but rather unlocking options to make your own classes if you want to mix it up.

"Instead of saying I know I want these things in the equipment tree, I'm giving you everything in the equipment loadout, and then you say 'OK these are the things I like, and I'm going to start customizing my experience," Árnason told Polygon.

Making the case for the game's existence

Having played a few rounds of the game, I can say that CCP has, so far, succeeded in its goals for the game. It's fun to play, and looks strong ... although the performance hitched now and then on the test machines. It's also very early days for Project Nova, and showing it at Fanfest will help guide the game's development.

That is, if the game continues on its path to an eventual release.

"We have in the last two years, at CCP, gone into a stronger framework for how we approach new projects," Árnason explained.

Project Nova has to clear certain hurdles, or "pass fail" stages as Árnason refers to them on the project timeline. "We've passed a couple, and after Fanfest we hit another one of those stage gates, and basically we make a case," he says, listing the things they need to compile. "This is the feedback we got from Fanfest, this is what we think, this is the competition we're looking at ..." This is all presented to senior executives at CCP Games, and the decision is made on whether to keep going or to pull the plug.

My vote? There is the skeleton of a great game that needs to find a bit more personality to stand out. Árnason, despite struggling through a bit of a cold during the show, doesn't seem worried.

"I can't predict the future, but we've been doing well," he said. "We'll just have faith it's going to work."