CCP discusses Eve Valkyrie and being a VR pioneer

CCP’s VR dogfighting title Eve Valkyrie was one of the most visible virtual reality titles ahead its launch earlier this year.

We catch up with the game’s global brand manager Ryan Geddes to see how the roll out of both Valkyrie and virtual reality has gone.

Eve Valkyrie launched in March bundled with Oculus Rift, before coming to PlayStation VR in October. How would you assess the game’s launch so far?

It’s been quite a ride. We started this project around the time of Oculus’ Kickstarter. Some of our guys in Reykjavk who made Eve Online had backed the original Kickstarter because they believed in VR so much. It was a group of four or five guys. They had alway had this dream of actually flying a fighter in VR in first-person and that the player would be that pilot in the cockpit. So they started building this thing.

Fast forward a few years and here we have this VR game that’s live and people are playing and they’re fighting against each other in the Eve universe. It’s been great. We’ve really enjoyed it, as have our players, who have us a lot of great feedback. One of the great things about being out on Oculus Rift before PlayStation VR is that we had this good chance to tweak and iterate on the game with our community ahead of that launch. The PlayStation VR audience saw the benefit of the blood, sweat and tears of the PC community that went before it.

2016 has also seen virtual reality launch. How would you say that has gone?

It’s been amazing. We’ll probably look back on this year and not realise just how crazy it was as we’re in it. Being a part of that birth year for VR is a really amazing thing and we’re really humbled to be part of it. We believed in VR from the very beginning and have gone on this crazy journey, and feel that a lot of that has cleared up now. We were really looking forward to launching on PlayStation VR as it’s a totally different audience. Oculus’ audience is obviously PC-centric, not everybody on there is a pure gamer first, they’re people who love games but also love the latest tech, but the PlayStation VR audience are gamers first.

What challenges did developing Eve Valkyrie in VR pose?

In Eve Valkyrie, you have complete situational awareness in the cockpit, total 360-degree vision, you can look over your shoulder and see a ship behind you, you can look at the wing to see which way your friends are coming in. That’s great but you have to design the gameplay around that. We need to make sure that cover works the right way, that when you’re flying in formation with your squad that you can look over at your mate and know where they’re going to go. These are new challenges. The fire power that’s needed to run VR is significantly higher than it is for standard games. You have to make a lot of decisions about what’s important to have there, what do we need players to see and what do we need them to interact with and deploying our development resources wisely, meaning memory and graphics resources.

Given that virtual reality titles have to run at a constantly high frame rate to stop the risk of of motion sickness, has the technical aspect been a bigger focus than normal?

I’m not sure anyone’s released a perfect game so far. But we really pay attention to getting the technical details right because if you have latency or lag in a VR game, it has an effect beyond annoyance. In a 2D game, if you have latency or lag, you notice a visual impairment that hampers your ability to enjoy the game to its fullest potential. If you have latency or lag in VR, if it’s bad enough it can make you want to leave the experience altogether. We try to avoid that at all costs. We’ve been doing VR for a while. There are always going to be bugs, there are always going to be issues that arise. We don’t expect everything to work every time.

Has virtual reality created issues for your bug testing and QA teams?

One of the first things a QA person will ask themselves when there’s a bug or problem is where the player was when it happened. In VR it’s a more difficult question because it’s an entirely 3D space. It’s a case of finding out where the player was and where the player was looking. Those can be two different questions with two very different answers. It’s multiplied the amount of awareness that developers have to have about what’s going on in the game at any given time. That’s a challenge but it’s also super cool. We forget sometimes as developers that we have to step back and realise we are actually putting people inside games now.

Where do you see virtual reality in the next few years?

I wish I knew. There are many different ways that game audiences are going to want to interact with virtual reality. You see it happening now with mobile VR, seated VR and this standing room-scale VR. We have Eve Gunjack, a mobile VR game. Valkyrie is a more traditional seated game experience with a gamepad. And there’s our R&D project, Arena, which is a standing title that’s really cool in VR that shows what we can do with this whole room scale thing. Where VR goes from here is an interesting question. These experiences are going to get richer, more like what we think of as traditional games. We see Valkyrie as a more traditional game for core players. We’re going to start seeing a lot more of that and a lot less of just ‘here’s an experience that we feel is interesting but the novelty is going to wears off quick’. Then it’s going to be about what the rich, deep content that we can have – the things that get you excited about switching on your VR device.

What are your plans for Eve Valykrie going forwards?

The important thing is create a game and world that people want to be in for the long term. You probably hear that a lot, but for us it’s a very serious thing. It’s what we built our company on and we intend to continue doing it. It’s a long term brand for us.

Whether there’s a sequel, I don’t know. We haven’t even thought about that yet.

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