Excuse me this extremely broad and slightly dated generalisation for the purposes of making a point that will become obvious in just a short while. Science fiction comes in two styles: the Star Trek style that’s all about diplomacy, science and space-relations – basically the UN in space; and the Star Wars style which is all about adventure and daring heroics in combat – it’s a greek hero or a wild west story set among the stars.
CCP have spent ten years creating, expanding and perfecting the first of these styles of sci-fi in a game called Eve Online. It’s an incredibly deep, immersive MMO that continuously grows and generates the most amazing number of player stories and experiences that anyone could imagine. (If you automatically thought “I can imagine quite a bit” at this point, well done – you’re my kind of nerd).
Now CCP has tasked a development team to make their assault on the second of those broad branches of sci-fi: the adventurous combat game. Eve Valkyrie is that project, born out of a spare-time experiment intended as a thank you to Eve Online’s hardcore fans. It’s a space dogfighting simulator, built from the ground up to make the most of virtual reality systems and it’s incredibly exciting to an ageing sci-fi nerd like me.
Creating a more directed experience will bring its own set of challenges for the developers of Valkyrie. After all, their history is with something as free-form and expansive as Eve Online, so how does the mission structure of a space combat game evolve from the more liberal approach in Eve Online?
“We take our influence… from real events that occur in Eve Online.” Ian Shiels, Valkyrie’s User Experience Designer, tells me. “When we want to develop something like a level in Valkyrie, we’re looking at source material – videos and so on – of the aftermath of a major battle like, for example, B tack R.” That famous battle, dubbed “The Bloodbath of B-R5B” is one of the events of Eve Online that has spilled out into a wider consciousness among gamers, primarily because it destroyed over $300,000 worth of Eve ships and made for some exceptionally beautiful screenshots like the one below.
Starting from a solid base of narrative already created by the organic relationships in Eve Online is a clever way of making use of their unparalleled depth of material, but what if those events aren’t quite focused enough for a single-player experience? “Then we’ll move things around very slightly in order to suit our needs which are obviously to create points of interest and obstacles that players can fly around in,” answered Ian.
Playing Eve Valkyrie is a rare treat. I know that many of you are probably tired of hearing people tell you that VR is The Future of games, but within just a few short minutes sitting inside that virtual cockpit, listening to Starbuck in my ear (Katee Sackhoff is your radio contact), I was completely sold on the medium for this type of game. You look all around the cockpit of your fighter and even directly behind you to locate your nimble enemies, and that truly makes the control of your ship so much easier as you rotate, pitch and yaw to bring the crosshairs around to find your viewpoint.
It’s a curious kind of feeling, to dip your head into this other world, but it swiftly becomes so immersive that you’ll forget about the real world you left behind. I glanced down to notice the pilot’s hands precisely matched the position of my own, resting on his control surface in the same way my own hands gripped the PC controller in them. I noticed his legs extended and almost unconsciously moved my own to match his positioning. Perhaps more than in any other game I’ve experienced, I became the avatar who was representing me.
Your actions in Valkyrie probably won’t feed back into the wider universe of Eve Online though. “There’s no direct link to the server but there’s absolutely a link to the universe and the content as it emerges,” Ian said, although what hooks there are back into those Online servers and all their political cadences and currency implications is something that is still up for debate at CCP.
In many ways, that’s the most endearing thing about this Icelandic company – their willingness to act quickly, to change and adapt, to listen to the feedback they get from fans and press. When asked about potential for Move support as a kind of handheld analog within the Morpheus version of Valkyrie, Ian was enthusiastic about the potential. With new VR technologies being explored and announced, CCP is actively pursuing each new development, citing the already impressive progress they’ve made from last year’s tech demo on the first Oculus Rift dev kit to this year’s early-stage game on Rift’s DK2 as evidence of how swiftly they’re working to embrace the future.
Of course, none of the potential platforms for Eve Valkyrie have yet been given a release date so the game itself is left in a kind of open-ended development cycle, waiting for a platform to host it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. As Ian points out, every time they’ve shown Valkyrie, at all stages of its development, it’s been playable. Valkyrie is “battle-tested” and if anything is flagged up during this process, the team is able to return to Newcastle and fix it, ready for the next sortie.
Once there is a release date for Rift or Morpheus, CCP will have a target date and that will, I imagine, require them to focus on finishing a game for release. Given this company’s history though, a release date will not mark the end of their development process, but rather the beginning of another period of listening to what their fans want for the future and building the next stage of their incredible, immersive universe for us to inhabit.