Owen O'Brien, executive producer of EVE: Valkyrie at CCP Games, wants everyone to focus. He's on stage at the 11th EVE FanFest in Reykjavik with the best part of 1,200 EVE Online players and 200 CCP devs in front of him.
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Outside the hall, someone's getting an EVE tattoo. Before CCP's CEO Hilmar Veigar kicked off the VR keynote, a fight almost broke out between two players meeting IRL for the first time. When we're shown the new gameplay trailer (below) for the first time, there are shouts of "Again!" and "More!" before O'Brien allows a replay. And some attendees are still distracted from the confirmation that players of the MMO can expect dozens of new features, every six weeks, to expand their gigantic in-game universe.
But O'Brien and his team haven't been making a VR replica of EVE Online since 2013. They've been perfecting the art of focus.
"We want to be the best competitive multiplayer in VR and that's it," said O'Brien. "It's a great razor to cut through feature lists and decide what we're going to focus on."
Playing EVE: Valkyrie
For anyone who has been following the development of EVE: Valkyrie, the trailer is made up from pre-alpha gameplay footage captured from a VR headset, including a pretty epic space battle at the end there.
It's the same build of the game that we played at FanFest 2015 on both an Oculus Rift DKII and Oculus' Crescent Bay prototype - a CCP dev told us it's the first time the hardware has been used in non-Oculus demos. We played through a short multiplayer dogfight between two five-man teams of pirates in a Necropolis graveyard map, the wreckage of the single player convoy mission shown in the trailer.
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In a seated position to pilot our Wraith starter ship, the gameplay required us to look left and right but also above and below our ship to find our enemies and lock on with our missiles via the controller. The action was everywhere and pretty fast-paced with CCP's experiments in fog intensity adding to the confusion wonderfully.
Speaking of the controller, Oculus is experimenting with hand-tracking, as is CCP with its VR Labs projects, but that sort of input would be out of place in a title like this. Erich Cooper, a game designer on Valkyrie, confirmed that joystick support is being currently being worked on, much to the delight of some fans.
In terms of what's new, there's lots of fresh content including a new ship to pilot. You can trade up from the "iconic" starter Wraith ship to a Spectre, which is less agile but more powerful, by selecting the new ship from a virtual menu environment when you die.
There was an added layer of strategy in the Necropolis graveyard multiplayer scrap that we played too- there were three control points to capture, using drones, and depending on which team held these, the points acted as a multiplier so each kill counted more towards the win.
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There's plenty of new game design details to discover if you've played EVE: Valkyrie before from the aforementioned fog to the way the cockpit disintegrates around you as your ship takes damage.
Looking at the shattered glass up close and remains of your ship around you is weirdly beautiful and almost worthy dying a few times to appreciate it. Your character is immortal, after all, though O'Brien warns that the game mechanic means kamikaze tactics will just mean your opponent end up with more points.
CCP devs told players that they're not looking to use too many effects - smoke, lens flares, 'blinding' pilots - as it's essentially not a very nice experience in VR.
We wore headphones to make the most of the immersive audio which including our ships' engines, the sounds of enemy fighters and big "moving obstacle" ships around us and the instructions in our ear from the game's female protagonist Ran Kavik, a Gallente pilot who wakes up in a cloning facility and breaks away to form the Valkyries.
The character, voiced by Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff, now has a face thanks to artwork revealed at FanFest and it was also announced that a series of Darkhorse comics exploring her story is set for a release just before or around the same time as the game.
"Ran is such a pivotal character, we can't have her running around like Judge Dredd all the time," said O'Brien. "She's not a stereotypical gaming character. I wanted her to look ethereal but project menace and power, an angel of death."
There's no single player campaign mode whatsoever in EVE: Valkyrie - O'Brien pointed out these are "hugely expensive" to produce even when not developing for VR and returned to his theme of focus and making the best multiplayer VR game.
But Ran does take you through three (offline) new player experiences in this version to act as tutorials and explore the maps that you'll later return to for multiplayer gaming.
Welcome to EVE
"We want Valkyrie to be the stepping on point for the EVE lore," game designer Erich Cooper told Wareable. "We're basing our ships on their technology but it's not a limiting factor. It's the same sort of style but we don't want players to have had to play EVE Online to play this, we want to be more accessible."
The team also doesn't want to alienate its existing players. "We work with the guys here in Reykjavik to make sure everything is kosher," said Cooper.
"We give you the fantasy, the world, why do I care?" said O'Brien. "What I like about the set-up that we have is there's a great backstory to delve into if you want to but it's also very simple to explain to someone in the street. You're a space pirate, go blow shit up. You can play it on that level if you want to."
It's an ambitious project so there's still a lot of experimentation. CCP's Audio Lead Jonathan McCavish says it is one of the only game developers to have taken Oculus up on the offer of using its 3D stereo sound plug-in. So the team is now working to add binaural sound to the head-tracking so that you can hear which direction your enemies are shooting at you, for instance. That's on top of missile warnings, when your guns are overheating, when you're banking.
As for a release date, the party line is that Valkyrie will ship when the hardware ships. According to Cooper, if the Oculus Rift goes on sale before the end of 2015, Valkyrie will be ready. In a Q&A, O'Brien wouldn't be drawn on whether Valkyrie will launch on the consumer Oculus Rift or Sony's Project Morpheus first if there is a gap between when we can buy the VR headsets.
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"We will be a launch title on both those platforms," he said, also confirming in the same session that though it's the same core game on PC and PS4, CCP won't support cross-platform play. The game will be exclusive to Oculus and Morpheus at launch but CCP isn't ruling out alternative platforms for the future.
Looking ahead to this weekend, Twitch is streaming the first EVE: Valkyrie multiplayer VR tournament from FanFest on Saturday starting at 2pm, UK time.
40 players will compete and the winning team of five will receive Oculus Rift DKIIs and guaranteed access to the very limited, invite only pre-alpha testing. Everyone else can sign up here and hope they're selected.
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