Virtual reality has been the redheaded stepchild of the gaming industry for a long time, but now things are starting to move at a much faster pace thanks to the Oculus Rift, which has finally created a reasonably affordable solution after a smashing success on Kickstarter, and has just debuted its HD prototypes. The only thing that’s still a bit in the air are the games, something that tends to be a rather crucial element for the success of every gaming platform or peripheral (as the Rift can be considered a mix between the two).
The latest EVE Fanfest CCP Games surprised everyone by introducing EVE Valkyrie, a multiplayer Virtual Reality space combat game based on the Rift that could really help propel the headset to new achievements. When well known developers start jumping on board, others may very well follow, and the popularity of the EVE Online IP is no small attention magnet.
At Gamescom in Cologne I finally had a chance to try both the Oculus Rift and EVE Valkyrie, but I admit that I entered that room with my expectations set very low, as I always do when virtual reality or potentially gimmicky peripherals are involved. Boy, was I wrong…
After a brief explanation that mostly focused on how to wear and remove the Rift (the thing is a bit unwieldy, that’s for sure), and on how to get used to the VR environment, I was finally put into the virtual cockpit in a three versus three battle with five other reporters.
The controls of the game are fairly simple: steer your starship around and manage its speed with the controller, at long range use lasers that have better pinpoint precision, and switch to missiles at short range. You can aim your missiles just by looking at the target, hold the trigger down until lock, and release to fire.
As soon as my eyes adapted to the 3D virtual cockpit the low expectations were gone. I was pumped. Things really looked like they had depth, and the adrenaline of the count down to the match’s beginning was starting to have its effects. I’m a gamer before being a reporter, and an old EVE Online shark to boot. I was absolutely determined to show those bored journos sitting by my side how the job is done.
When the count down ran out I was propelled into the depth of space. As an EVE Online player, it was familiar and foreign at the same time, due to the 3D depth of field effect and the ability to seamlessly look all around me. I turned my neck around 180 degrees to watch my back… No one would have surprised me from behind…Fantastic.
It didn’t take long for me to spot the first enemy. I started peppering him or her with laser fire, but aiming at that distance was quite difficult, so I hit the afterburners to close in. As soon as I was in missile range I tried to aim, and it was the most natural thing in the world.
I started to fire missiles in bursts and my target tried to evade. He was a tad on the clumsy side and he was going nowhere. Seconds later he was space debris.
Then it was my turn to be targeted. Someone started to fire missiles at me and the screen began flashing an alarming red light. Luckily I had listened to the briefing quite carefully, and I knew exactly what to do to evade several times. I looked behind me, and tried the old “Top Gun” trick by hitting the brakes to make him overshoot. Too far, or he simply wasn’t as naive as I expected.
I looked ahead and saw what seemed to be a part of a space station drifting in space. I hit the afterburners and flew past the obstacle by shaving it as close as I could as the missile warning continued to flash. I actually had no idea if there was any kind of collision detection activated, but it was worth a try. Indeed it worked.
My pursuer bumped on the obstacle, and I pulled my starfighter into a half loop while he tried hopelessly to regain speed. It didn’t take long for me to have another kill to paint on my virtual hull.
Immediately after the missile lock warning started to glow again. This time it was easier. My third opponent wasn’t as good as the second, and I turned the the tables in just a few seconds. Lock… Fire… Lock… Fire. I was already savoring my third victory when the match suddenly ended. We only had four minutes, and the game really left me wanting more. A lot more.
As I took off the headset, I watched the scoreboard. Of course my callsign was way on top with 430 points. Take that bored journos!
The battle left me with my blood pumping and my hands shaking. I have to say that EVE Valkyrie was the most visceral and most exhilarating four minutes I spent at Gamescom. It’s a pity that it was only four minutes, but they were plenty to propel my expectations for the Oculus Rift way above what they were before.
EVE Valkyrie itself was an experience that EVE Online fans should look forward to. Being finally in full control of your capsuleer, able to look around in every direction and aim your missiles almost like they were controlled directly by your mind is a powerful sensation.
It may not be for everyone, as only the most hardcore gamers will manage to get a Rift and a rig able to handle it (at least for a while) but it’s a glimpse into a possible future of gaming that I can’t help being excited for.
After my rather successful test run, I had a chance to talk with CCP’s Robert Clarke, one of the original few members in the EVE Valkyrie team, and ask him a few questions about the project, its future, and the Oculus rift itself. You can enjoy the mini-interview in the video below. I apologize for the audio quality, as the booth was extremely noisy, but luckily you should still be able to hear what he says.