Forming the Legion
In gaming circles, second chances are a rare thing. But that’s what’s happening at CCP; built from the foundations of Dust 514, Project Legion is an early prototype MMOFPS on PC. It takes everything the Shanghai studio learned about making shooter, and aims to broaden it with the sandbox expertise that made EVE Online top of the genre. During EVE FanFest earlier this month, Senior Producer Julien Dulioust sat down to talk me through it.
When I first heard the proposal for Project Legion, I almost cheered. Dust 514, CCP’s console-based shooter hasn’t exactly set the galaxy on fire, hamstrung by a combination of intense competition, early performance issues and arriving late in the PlayStation 3 lifecycle. Nevertheless, fans have tenaciously stuck with the title through 8 updates of steady improvements.
It’s fair to say that the Shanghai-based studio has learned a lot from the experience. But, while Dust 514 feels like a part of the EVE universe, the team wants to push further. After joining in October 2013, Executive Producer Jean-Charles Gaudechon started to develop a vision of ‘EVE on the ground’, a sandbox MMOFPS that was just as deep as its spacefaring counterpart. It all sounded very ambitious.
“We really want to bring a new experience – a sandbox MMOFPS experience, something a lot more immersive, something that fits a lot more the EVE universe and the CCP philosophy. We’re building tools for the community to make their own metagames.”
“Basically, we want Legion to be EVE on the ground.”
That vision includes a player driven economy, trading and other sandbox-heavy components that have made EVE Online so popular over the years. But trying to crowbar those features into Dust 514 just wasn’t going to work. Instead, the studio decided to start with a clean slate.
“First of all, Legion is not a game yet; it’s a prototype of something new we want to do with all the learning we had from Dust. When JC, our executive producer, came to us, he had a vision of what Dust should have been and what we wanted to deliver. And we found out that iterating on the live game was almost impossible, the changes we wanted to make are too complex and too deep in the core systems. Which is why Legion is a prototype on its own.”
For gamers seeking a quick 15-minute skirmish, Project Legion will still support this kind of conflict. But it’s the sandbox and social aspects that Dulioust hopes will make it something more than other online shooters, providing deeper meaning and context. “I think we’re coming with some really innovative ideas around PvE, around scavenging, around doing things on the planet that have never really been done on an FPS. On top of that, we’re redoing the progression, the monetization part of things. I think we will have an edge, yes.”
“In the sense of MMO, yes, a lot of people are doing it. But an immersive experience where players are the core of the loop, broader than just shooting someone in the face, is what we want to bring to the game.”
Fans will also be involved in helping to shape that vision, through Dust 514’s player-run Council of Planetary Management. “Yes, we have the CPM group with Dust 514 on PS3, and they’re actually aware of some stuff already. JC talked to them about the vision, about what we want to do, where we want to go. It’s one of the main pillars of CCPs philosophy. “
Being able to iterate rapidly and cheaply is likely one of the biggest reasons behind the switch to PC; the studio can test ideas without having to go through console certification. That doesn’t mean that Dust 514 is being abandoned – in fact it’s quite the opposite. While most of the Shanghai team are now working on Project Legion, a number are still working on future updates for the console shooter.
“Right now, we’re focusing quite a lot on project legion. We have a vision of what we’d like it to become, a vision that would fit a lot more with CCPs philosophy, and most of our resources are focused on that. Dust is still running on PS3 obviously, and we’ll keep on improving the experience for the next months.”
In the future, we might even see Project Legion on the PlayStation 4 once the prototype has solidified into a mature game. Raising the prospect with Dulioust, he added that “it’s not in the plan right now but there’s nothing off the table. Right now we’re far away from even thinking platform.”
What about links between EVE and Legion? We’ve seen capsuleers in EVE engaging in Orbital Bombardment to blast soldiers on the ground, but that might not appear in this new PC based shooter, or at least not at the start. “They are part of the things we think of. Part of the vision though, is we need to make Legion an experience by itself within the EVE universe. We are really far away from thinking of a proper EVE link for now; if we find the experience satisfying enough, we will have a link with EVE.”
If anything, it represents a changing face of CCP – humbler, more experienced and more focused on the core sandbox experiences the developer has become known for. Whether or not Legion becomes a full-fledged game remains to be seen but, after seeing a glimpse at EVE FanFest, I’m optimistic. Here’s hoping that the team manages to deliver on Gaudechon’s vision
Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.