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Frontier Talks Elite: Dangerous SteamVR Support, Oculus Progress & More

It’s an interesting time for Elite: Dangerous and its support for virtual reality (VR) head-mounted displays (HMDs). Creator Frontier Developments last month announced that it was halting work on the Oculus Rift support for the title due to Oculus VR’s own schedule for software development kit (SDK) updates. But that isn’t the end of the VR story; the studio has this week confirmed that it will be adding support for the HTC Vive HMD in a free update this holiday season. VRFocus recently got the chance to speak to the developer about this news.

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In the interview below Elite: Dangerous programmer Oliver Powell talks about the decision to add support for the SteamVR HMD into the title, and describes the process of doing so. He also clarifies Frontier Developments’ current stance on Oculus Rift support and what the future might hold for the HMD. VRFocus will continue to follow Elite: Dangerous closely, reporting back with the latest updates on the title.

VRFocus: Elite: Dangerous has supported the Oculus Rift from a very early stage. What made Frontier decide to branch out to other HMDs?

Oliver Powell (OP): After trying SteamVR at GDC this year we very quickly moved to support it. SteamVR offers a great, high definition VR experience that we all thought would fit Elite: Dangerous perfectly, and Valve has been incredibly supportive during development.

VRFocus: Has work on HTC Vive support started? Does Frontier Developments have HTC Vive kits in possession?

OP: I’m wearing a Vive atop my head as I’m typing this! Yes, we’ve had kits for some time, and anyone reading this can try it for themselves at EGX in Birmingham later this week.

VRFocus: How is previous work on Oculus Rift support helping SteamVR development? Is integration a simple process?

OP: It’s been incredibly helpful having that foundation, and supporting Vive has been made easier for it. Supporting any emergent technology is never a ‘simple’ process, but Elite: Dangerous is such a natural fit for VR even before Alpha support went in – it’s a seated experience, always first-person, with an in-world HUD – that VR support is immediately ‘natural’ for players. Making it work is one thing, but making it work well is the technical challenge, and we’ve been working hard on it.

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VRFocus: Will you be taking advantage of SteamVR’s unique features such as Room Scale tracking and the HTC Vive’s controllers?

OP: Our initial update will add support for SteamVR’s HTC Vive headset. Our SteamVR update doesn’t include support for the SteamVR controllers, but it’s something we’re looking into.

VRFocus: How is VR itself being considered in Elite: Dangerous’ continued development? Are upcoming expansions and updates being designed with the tech in mind?

OP: For us, VR is just another way to experience the Elite: Dangerous galaxy, no more or less valid than a 1080p TV, 4K monitor, HOTAS flight stick, Track IR or any of the other ways you’re able to explore our Milky Way in the game. VR doesn’t dictate the direction the game is headed; we just try to make the best VR experience possible for the experience as it’s built.

VRFocus: Has there been any progress on the Oculus Rift support and when we might see it reintroduced?

OP: Right now Elite: Dangerous supports Oculus Rift SDK 0.5, and we’re looking forward to working with the consumer headset and release SDK. We’ll have more to say about Rift then.

VRFocus: It’s previously been suggested that a PlayStation 4 version of the title will release after the Xbox One version. Will this edition support PlayStation VR?

OP: We haven’t announced a version of Elite: Dangerous for any console except Xbox One, so we have nothing to announce right now.