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EVE Valkyrie Paves the Way for AAA VR

CCP Games’ EVE Valkyrie has been the poster child for virtual reality (VR) gaming for some time now. Having begun as a simple tech demo for EVE Online fans at EVE Fanfest 2013, a year later a full videogame production is moving forward at pace. Along with the news that the Newcastle based development team heading-up the project have made the move to Unreal Engine 4 and that they have enlisted some star power to add a little drama to the experience, as well as a Dark Horse comic book tie-in, CCP Games were keen to show a brand new build to both the press and fans at EVE Fanfest 2014.

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In the past twelve months EVE Valkyrie has changed dramatically. It’s no longer a simple 360-degree dogfighter; it’s a fully fledged space combat simulation. It’s a videogame, not just a videogame-like experience. What has it taken CCP Games to get to this point? A whole lot of bells and whistles.

The fundamental experience hasn’t changed all that much. Players are still mounted in single-pilot craft and are still battling against rival humans – although a single-player tutorial component has also been discussed – and still have two different weapons available. They still look to aim their rockets (hoping for that quick lock-on) and rely more on their ability to react with their head movement than that of the more familiar analog stick control. The latter is used to steer your craft of course, but EVE Valkyrie is best played aggressively; always be in pursuit rather than being pursued.

Where the videogame has evolved most is in it’s use of aesthetic. Each build that VRFocus has witnessed has been substantially more impressive than the last. While CCP Games will undoubtedly be spending their time fleshing out the all-important progression system and ensuring that the videogame will encourage long-term investment, it’s the increasing smoothness of EVE Valkyrie‘s once hazardously sharp edges that are more impressive.

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VRFocus reported on the addition of on-screen information added to the build showcased at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) back in March of this year, however CCP Games has now pushed this one stage further. Though insisting that the placement is far from final, the information provided to the player is now perfectly formed for tactical execution of learned strategies. Enemy and ally location markers, ship speed indicators, missile lock warnings and countermeasure delays are all present and are genuinely useful as a direct assessment of your ability to take control of a combat situation. At an EVE Fanfest 2014 panel a small team of developers working on EVE Valkyrie debated the merits of having this information locked to the player’s view rather than the cockpit, however VRFocus is currently in agreement that it’s positioning should be fixed to encourage constant head movement as opposed to simply allowing the player to follow their target and never returning their view to a central, forward-facing point.

Cosmetic improvements aside, another big change comes with the addition of Katee Sachoff. Playing Ran, a clone of a once championed pilot, Sachoff is regularly in direct communication with the player. She is the voice you hear through the headset, informing you of your objective and commenting on the success or failure therein. Some may suggest that this too is a cosmetic addition, but in truth it runs much deeper than that. The addition of a character to the proceedings makes EVE Valkyrie a much more believable experience. It’s a move towards a saleable product – and a very clever one at that – with the signposting no longer limited to the on-screen information but now delivered aurally, too.

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With the additional of a celebrity voice actor and the move to Unreal Engine 4 it could be easy to suggest that EVE Valkyrie has a considerable budget available for its development. However, CCP Games have maintained that this came about not due to the outlook of the studio or the development team, but rather the response from the fans and media. EVE Valkyrie started life rather humbly under the name EVE VR, and it was the fan reception that lead to the technical demonstration making the trip to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) last year. It was the media response there that forced CCP Games’ hand, and in doing so they have created the mould in which AAA VR will be produced and received for the foreseeable future.