At this year’s E3, I had the pleasure of using an Oculus Rift to participate in a 2v2 virtual reality space dogfight. I have never felt more like I was in the future.
I arrived at my appointment with developer CCP with a small degree of nervous anticipation. I had been told about a month previously that I would be able to demo the latest build of Valkyrie; the build that they had recently updated to Unreal Engine 4. A month is more than enough time to read about and hear about the colorful variations of simulation sickness that have been cropping up since the advent of virtual reality technology. Along with the excitement I was feeling, I hoped that I wouldn’t get nauseated in a professional setting. However, CCP is a big company and I knew that they’d want to talk EVE Online and Dust 514 before we got down to their VR project. Not that I was complaining. I love me some sci-fi MMOs/Shooters.
Past a reception desk and through a delightfully cool and dim waiting lounge, I met CCP’s product manager Ryan Geddes along with two other media members who hailed from the United Kingdom. He told us about the player-driven world of EVE Online and about a few of the newsworthy battles that have taken place there over the last year. In particular Geddes focused on the Battle of B-R5RB, which was a galactic kerfuffle of unprecedented proportions. Though not one of the largest battles in EVE history, it was by far the costliest. Over 75 titan-class ships were destroyed; Titans take over two months of real-world time to build. It is estimated that the in-game damages totaled over 11 trillion ISK. 11 TRILLION. This battle was so catastrophic that it has its own sizable Wikipedia page.
Geddes wanted to emphasize how much of the EVE Online universe is driven by player interactions. Going forward, CCP wants to be able to respond more fluidly to their shifting game world. To that end, CCP will be releasing around ten smaller expansions every year instead of one or two larger expansions. The first of these micro-expansions released on June 3. It was dubbed Kronos and added new ships for pirate factions. The second will be released on July 22 and will be the first overhaul to how industry works in EVE Online. All items, ships, ammo, etc. are created by more industrial-minded players; the overhaul should make pursuing industry a more enjoyable path to riches and power for those with a shrewd mind for business.
We were then given a brief overview of the history behind EVE Valkyrie. How it began as an after-hours project created by a few developers messing around with the Oculus Rift prototype in the office and grew into a popular attraction at CCP’s Fanfest events. It was originally developed on Unreal Engine 3, but has since been moved over to Unreal Engine 4. The single-player experience will center on the story of Round, one of the first Valkyrie pilots. Round will be voiced by Katie Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica fame.
Project Legion was fleetingly mentioned as well. It began as an attempt to port Dust 514 to the PC, but ended up growing in unexpected and divergent ways from the PlayStation 3 title. Currently it is still a prototype and more details will be released later. However, Geddes wanted to reassure fans, subscribers, and players that they are leaving indelible footprints in the EVE universe. Every kill or death that they’ve experienced in EVE Online, Dust 514, and soon EVE Valkyrie, is cataloged and has an impact, no matter how small, on the larger universe. The end goal of CCP, the very long-term goal, is to unite all of their games on one platform where gamers can switch between Valkyrie, EVE Online, and Legion on the fly. However, that dream is still a long way off.
The meeting concluded and I finally heard the long awaited words: “Would you like to try EVE Valkyrie?” Yes. Very much. Inwardly I exploded in eagerness. We were led over to an alcove in their lounge where four large chairs had been set up with Xbox 360 controllers and Oculus Rift headsets. Not quite knowing what to expect, I picked up the Oculus and found it to be surprisingly light. One of the British journalists to my left was about to take off his glasses when Geddes told him that he could keep them on. Newer models of the Rift can be used with glasses, apparently. And with that, I strapped the Oculus Rift onto my face.
It is a curious sensation, stepping into someone else’s head. As soon as I had placed the Oculus Rift over my eyes, it felt like I had fallen through some sort of dimensional chasm and found myself in the cockpit of a spacecraft. Never mind that a small part of me knew that I was still seated in the cool, dim comfort of the CCP E3 lounge, the rest of my mind was thoroughly convinced that I was elsewhere. Even my brain was unconsciously duped by the Rift’s illusion. I know this because after a couple minutes I had the strange sensation of not knowing spatially where my arms were. I had to look down at the digital in-game arms that grasped the Valkyrie flight controls for the feeling to recede. Just writing that previous sentence was magical. The amount of difference being able to turn your head makes when playing a game is almost absurd, but it tricks your brain into thinking that you are physically present. I was able to turn my head and remain ensconced within this digital cockpit and fly through an asteroid belt as I attempted to gun down one of the enemy space journalists. It takes some getting used to, that looking around with your head business, but Valkyrie provides a great way to acclimate players to this new form of digital space. Targeting missiles is done by moving your head along with your target until you get a lock. After achieving a lock, you can fire your payload.
The experience felt alien to me, but in the best possible ways. The Rift is an amazing bit of technology that is equal parts artifice and magic. I found myself unconsciously trying to shift my “camera” by using the right analog stick on the controller. Of course that didn’t actually work, but it speaks to how deeply current gameplay methods are ingrained into our gaming psyches. My time with Valkyrie was short and sweet. If you have the opportunity to sit down and play with it, I highly recommend that you do so. It is like having a small glimpse of the future.
Virtual reality is coming and it is going to drastically change the landscape of gaming.