EVE Valkyrie

A year on, CCP’s sim­ple tech demo has be­come a vir­tual re­al­ity poster child

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher CCP De­vel­oper In-house For­mat PC, PS4 Ori­gin Ice­land Re­lease TBC

PC, PS4

CCP is no stranger to tech­no­log­i­cal leaps of faith. EVE On­line hosts all of its western play­ers on a sin­gle server clus­ter, Tran­quil­ity, rather than opt to split them up over mul­ti­ple shards, while Dust 514 am­bi­tiously at­tempts to marry a con­sole shooter with a PC MMOG. Now, with the commercial re­leases of Ocu­lus Rift and Project Mor­pheus still a way off, CCP’s New­cas­tle stu­dio is cre­at­ing a dog­fight­ing game that will re­quire a VR head­set to play.

That game is EVE: Valkyrie, which started life as a pro­to­type, shown off as a cu­rio at EVE Fanfest 2013 un­der the name EVE-VR. Its un­ex­pected pop­u­lar­ity there was a clear sign to CCP that this could be much more than a tech demo, and now a 25-per­son team is work­ing on what has be­come a third ma­jor strand in the com­pany’s port­fo­lio. And in just one year, Valkyrie has come on a long way.

“We’re one of the few games, if not the only [one], at the mo­ment be­ing de­vel­oped from the ground up for VR,” says se­nior pro­gram­mer Sig­urður Gun­nars­son. “Other games are fo­cus­ing on sup­port­ing VR [as an op­tion]. I’m a big fan of both Star Cit­i­zen and Elite: Dan­ger­ous as well – I backed them both, and I can’t wait to play them. Star Cit­i­zen, Elite, EVE On­line and Valkyrie are all star­ship games, and all space com­bat games, but they’re also re­ally dif­fer­ent. We’re fo­cus­ing on im­me­di­ate com­bat [and] in­tense mul­ti­player pilot­ing. That’s our pri­mary fo­cus for now.”

As we’re hurled down a launch tube and out into space, hec­tored by chirrup­ing alert noises and a busy-but-read­able HUD that points us to the en­emy, it be­comes clear that Gun­nars­son and his team have cap­tured the im­me­di­acy he speaks of. Com­bat feels ur­gent and vi­o­lent, and our ship is re­spon­sive, but protests just enough to make it feel hefty. And, just as in Elite: Dan­ger­ous, be­ing able to track your en­e­mies sim­ply by turn­ing your head to look at them proves trans­for­ma­tive.

The con­trols are sim­ple, too. On our 360 pad, the left stick points the ship in the de­sired di­rec­tion, L1 and R1 trig­ger bar­rel rolls, Y cy­cles tar­gets, X de­ploys coun­ter­mea­sures, and our pri­mary and sec­ondary weapons are fired us­ing the trig­gers. While our ship is al­ways mov­ing, A and B pro­vide a boost or retro thrusters re­spec­tively.

But im­me­di­acy needn’t mean a lack of depth. As of the lat­est build, Valkyrie is drop­ping EVE-VR’s stan­dard, heavy and sniper ship classes, which were based around their weapon load­outs, and re­plac­ing them with a se­lec­tion of more nu­anced ‘roles’, which are in­tended to in­ter­link. On paper, it seems like a se­man­tic dif­fer­ence, but Gun­nars­son is adamant that the change makes sense.

“[In EVE-VR], we were try­ing to find a way to dis­tin­guish those kinds of ships, but we found they were all kind of the same. It felt like you were fly­ing the fighter but you just hap­pened to have a sniper gun. It didn’t feel dif­fer­ent enough. Our lead de­signer, Chris Smith, said, ‘All right, let’s stop think­ing about classes and start think­ing about roles that pro­mote team game­play.’ So now we have the mid­dle-ground fighter, which is a jack of all trades. Then we have a heav­ier ship, which is more specialist – imag­ine a ship that’s more like a slow-mov­ing tank on a bat­tle­field – and it will have some in­ter­est­ing func­tions you can de­ploy. And then we have the sup­port role… The teams that win the most fights will be the ones that com­bine those dif­fer­ent kinds of ships well to help each other.”

Since the cur­rent build fea­tures only the fighter, it’s im­pos­si­ble to tell yet whether this new de­sign will make a pro­found dif­fer­ence, but other changes are more ob­vi­ous. Mis­siles were over­pow­ered in EVE-VR, and have been tem­pered by smart new con­straints. You still hold LT to lock and re­lease to fire, but rather than sim­ply un­leash a vol­ley of rock­ets, now five dots light up se­quen­tially around the tar­get marker, and re­leas­ing the trig­ger fires only as many mis­siles as have been primed. This not only al­lows play­ers to loose, say, one mis­sile to fin­ish off a stricken ship, but also means it takes more skill to hold your lock long enough to fire ev­ery­thing you’ve got.

Fur­ther nuance will be in­tro­duced by Turfs, the name CCP has given the ar­eas where com­bat takes place. Rather than sim­ply of­fer­ing a se­ries of at­trac­tive star boxes, each re­gion will con­tain nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena that play to the strengths of cer­tain types of ships, while dis­ad­van­tag­ing oth­ers. The nim­ble fighter will find it easy to hide in an as­ter­oid field, for ex­am­ple, while the heav­ier tank-like craft will have to ma­noeu­vre more care­fully. Sim­i­larly, ships with strong shields will thrive in an area with an elec­tri­cal storm, while weaker shields might col­lapse and leave you vul­ner­a­ble. CCP is still ex­per­i­ment­ing, but other pos­si­bil­i­ties in­clude dust fields, ar­eas strewn with wreck­age and even huge in­te­ri­ors.

The ar­eas we do see look in­cred­i­ble, thanks to the com­bined ef­forts of Un­real En­gine 4, which the team has now switched to from Unity, and Rift De­vel­op­ment Kit 2’s higher-res dis­plays. The view is sharp, with de­tailed tex­tures, ex­trav­a­gant weapon ef­fects and ex­plo­sions, and lit­tle no­tice­able lag. Move­ment is nat­u­ral­is­tic – you can lean out over the side of your seat and look down be­low it – and we ex­pe­ri­ence none of the nau­sea we’ve en­coun­tered in the process of try­ing var­i­ous Rift demos in the past.

We also spend some time play­ing the game on PS4 with Project Mor­pheus, which, while com­fort­able and vis­ually ar­rest­ing in play, can’t quite match Rift’s smooth track­ing.

Valkyrie is run­ning at 75fps on PC right now, but at a lower rate on PS4, il­lus­trat­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties in­volved with ren­der­ing two in­stances of a game si­mul­ta­ne­ously. It’s worth not­ing, how­ever, that the ver­sion we played with Mor­pheus was an older build, and Gun­nars­son is con­fi­dent that the dif­fer­ence

The view’s sharp, with de­tailed tex­tures, ex­trav­a­gant weapon ef­fects, and lit­tle no­tice­able lag

won’t be too pro­nounced by the end of de­vel­op­ment. “Both plat­forms have strengths,” he says when we ask him if he thinks PS4 is ca­pa­ble of stand­ing up to PCs when it comes to VR. “Per­haps if you have the high­est-end PC ever, you might be able to have some op­tions in there that al­lows it to look slightly bet­ter on PC. But our goal is to make both ver­sions look re­ally sim­i­lar”

In­deed, CCP’s big­gest chal­lenge so far has been to es­tab­lish the right rhythm for a game that im­merses you so com­pletely. Mak­ing

Valkyrie too fast meant it was tough to track foes and the Turfs felt smaller, so now ve­loc­i­ties are slower and the sense of pace is main­tained with par­ti­cle ef­fects. “We con­stantly have to ex­per­i­ment with Valkyrie to see what works and what doesn’t work, be­cause there’s not a lot of pre­vi­ous ex­am­ples to look at of things be­ing done well,” says Gun­nars­son. “With VR com­ing, I be­lieve that you need to de­sign your games in a dif­fer­ent way – VR games are go­ing to look very dif­fer­ent to the games you see to­day.”

Sig­urður Gun­nars­son, se­nior pro­gram­mer

The Wraith Mk II – so named be­cause of the ex­is­tence of the Wraith in EVEOn­line – com­bines the de­fence of On­line’s Amarr Tem­plar ship with the Cal­dari Drag­on­fly’s of­fen­sive ca­pa­bil­i­ties

The larger craft in the game sug­gest a fu­ture in which Valkyrie and EVEOn­line are meshed in some way. There are no im­me­di­ate plans for this, but Gun­nars­son ad­mits that CCP al­ready has ideas for how it might work

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