Frontier Developments Discuss VR Support for Elite: Dangerous

Elite: Dangerous is considered a pioneer for modern virtual reality (VR), with support for the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD) built into the videogame at a very early stage and continually updated alongside new developments with the gameplay itself. However, a recent change in Oculus VR’s SDK, namely the removal of ‘Extended’ mode, has stunted Frontier Development’s efforts. VRFocus recently spoke with the studio about their long-term plans for Elite: Dangerous and VR support.

“Our prospective remains the same. We’re huge fans of VR, and we’re trying to support it whenever we can, wherever we can, on whatever platforms we can. We’re constantly looking to do that,” stated Ben Dowie, Product Manager at Frontier Developments, when openly discussing the issues the team have been having with the Oculus Rift SDK. “Since we were notified that the change is going to happen we’ve had to adjust our position. We can’t commit to supporting the future version [of the Oculus SDK] if it’s not going to be supporting our game without compromising our game so heavily that every single person can’t enjoy the experience they’re used to. I mean, they’ve paid for a certain experience.”

Elite Dangerous screenshot

Frontier Developments had built a commendable VR experience with Elite: Dangerous that relied heavily on the Extended Desktop mode offered by the Oculus Rift development kits. However, Oculus VR’s decision to remove this feature from future SDKs has meant that Elite: Dangerous – and many other early supporters of the HMD – no longer works with the device. Despite having been committed to delivering Elite: Dangerous as a VR experience for some time, reengineering the title to work with the ‘Direct’ mode of the Oculus Rift would take a great deal of work, and Frontier Developments are not currently sure that investment would pay off.

“Oculus have said that they’re going to get back the framerate; they’re going to get back the performance. It’s just a matter of time until they get there. So we’ve said to them, ‘look, we want to do this’, so we’re just waiting for both of our trajectories to realign,” states Dowie, keen not to rule out the possibility of future support.

Elite: Dangerous does still work with earlier editions of the Oculus Rift SDK, which at the moment is Frontier Developments’ only opportunity to offer a VR experience: “The best we can do is say, ‘look, stick on that same revision and you’ll get the experience that you’re used to’.”

Elite Dangerous Mac screenshot

When questioned further about the future of VR at Frontier Developments, Dowie acknowledges that it’s in the studios’ best interest to further pursue the work they’ve already started, both with Elite: Dangerous and potential future titles: “As long as it’s feasible for our game, we’ll support as many and any possible VR options. Because we love VR. It’s the reason we supported it as early as we could. As far as we’re concerned we’re one of the best VR experiences; why would we ever not want to support that?”

Frontier Developments have hit a bump in the road, of that both the team at the studio and the Elite: Dangerous community are well aware. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, as the developers are clearly keen to continue to work with VR and contribute to the goal of bringing it to the masses, as Dowie teases as our conversation comes to a close: “We’re hopefully going to have more information in the future about potential VR stuff.”

Elite: Dangerous is now available to purchase on PC and via Xbox One as a ‘Game Preview’ title. VRFocus will continue to keep you updated with the latest details on the VR support for the title, as well as any future reveals from Frontier Developments.