Eve: Valkyrie had one hell of a year.
The multiplayer-only space combat game (which only works with the virtual reality headsets Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus) grew from a side project with a small team to a full-fledged game with an entire studio working on it. While the massively multiplayer Eve Online and its thriving community is still developer CCP Games’s bread and butter, Eve: Valkyrie is quickly eclipsing its older brother in terms of visibility, at least at video game trade shows.
At this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, Valkyrie was the star of CCP’s second-floor room, where huge TVs showed Valkyrie’s gameplay, and wall-sized art prominently placed one of its characters next to figures from Eve Online and the free-to-play shooter Dust 514.
It’s amazing to see how much Eve: Valkyrie has changed since the last time I saw it at E3 2013, when it was still a prototype known as Eve-VR. User experience designer Ian Shiels has been working on the game since the beginning, so I spoke with him about Valkyrie’s dramatic growth in the past year and how it seemed to take a different shape at every industry event it appeared in.
Let’s start with April 2013.
Eve Fanfest 2013
CCP Games was one of the many financial backers of Oculus VR’s crowdfunding campaign for the Rift in 2012, and after receiving the first dev kits, a small group of developers (pictured above) started tinkering with it. They all had other jobs within CCP, so they worked on a demo during their own time (CCP employees can spend 20 percent of their work time on side projects). This eventually became Eve-VR.
CCP decided to unveil Eve-VR during its keynote address at Eve Fanfest, a convention for hardcore Eve fans. Thousands flock to Reykjavík, Iceland every year for detailed game panels, tournaments, concerts, and an infamous pub crawl. In 2013, they were the first batch of gamers to play Eve-VR outside of the studio.
Here’s the first Eve-VR trailer CCP made for its presentation.
Fresh off the enthusiastic response at Fanfest, CCP Games brought Eve-VR — which was just seven weeks old — to E3 in June 2013. After playing the demo for the first time, I interviewed senior programmer Sigurdur Gunnarsson about their exciting prototype, and he told me that they were still trying to figure out what to do with it. He was optimistic about its chances of being a part of Eve’s “second decade,” a term CCP uses to describe its years-long plan for new developments in the Eve universe.
Shiels reiterated that feeling.
“It was very much something that we brought to E3 because we wanted to show it to people,” he said. “There was no master plan. There was no intention to make Valkyrie. The E3 audience can take a bit of credit for their enthusiasm, which then inspired CCP to really look at it and think about, ‘What can we do with this? How far can we take it?’”
Around this time, CCP learned of Sony’s entry into the VR market with Morpheus, months before the video game giant revealed it at this year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. The positive response from the show floor and hearing about Morpheus convinced the company’s top brass to turn Eve-VR into a full game.
“They really saw it for themselves at E3 last year. From then on, they were keen. … Of course, we had to do our due diligence to make a convincing business plan,” said Shiels. “Things like knowledge of the Morpheus really helped because we could see that VR games could actually be really big. And VR feels like it’s really snowballing in quality and improvements and also just people’s awareness that VR is coming and available.”
In August 2013, at the annual Gamescom consumer show in Cologne, Germany, CCP Games said it was turning Eve-VR into a real game, ditching the old name for Eve: Valkyrie. It also announced that its Newcastle, U.K. studio — which formed in 2009 and had most recently worked on Dust 514 — would handle development. Five members from the original Eve-VR team in Reykjavík moved to Newcastle as a part of the transition.
Eve: Valkyrie was playable on the show floor, and it supported the new HD version of the Rift. This was the new trailer.
In February 2014, Oculus VR announced that Eve: Valkyrie will be an exclusive launch title for its PC-compatible Rift headset. But that doesn’t apply to consoles. So when Sony showed off Project Morpheus at GDC in March, CCP Games said that Valkyrie will also support the PlayStation 4.
Eve Fanfest 2014
At this year’s Fanfest, the company had a lot of news to share. First, it revealed that Eve: Valkyrie would run on Epic Games’s Unreal Engine 4. Previous versions of the game used the versatile Unity engine. Unity allowed the Eve-VR team to quickly make a “polished-looking” experience with a small number of people. But the switch makes sense for the staff at CCP Newcastle, since Dust 514 runs on Unreal 3.
“Unreal 4 is brand new, and it has great support for Oculus and Morpheus, so it felt like a good fit for us,” said Shiels.
In addition to a new engine, CCP upgraded Valkyrie to work on Oculus Rift DK2, a slight improvement from the Crystal Cove dev kit that came with a small camera for positional tracking, which makes players’ movements feel more natural in the virtual world (like being able to lean in to look at something). The main difference with the DK2 is the 1080p resolution OLED screen, which helps cut down on latency. Oculus VR isn’t shipping these units to developers until this July.
The third piece of news was Valkyrie’s first cast member: actress Katee Sackhoff, best known for her role as Kara “Starbuck” Thrace in Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica reboot. She plays Rán Kavik, the leader and mentor for the Valkyrie mercenary force in the game. She’ll teach you how to fly your ship, give you status updates, and brief you on your missions. Rán actually has an extensive backstory in Eve lore, and CCP said it will talk about her more later on.
With the strength of a full studio behind it, Eve: Valkyrie has also been starting to form its own identity. After experimenting with a few ideas, the developers settled on a class-based system, where ships will fall into one of three “roles” that you can customize with different loadouts: Fighter, Heavy, and Support. They scrapped their placeholder vessels and introduced the Wraith Mk. II (pictured below), a fighter that’s a blend of the Caldari Dragonfly and Amarr Templar from Eve Online.
“This fits in with the lore of what the Valkyrie do. They’re crack fighter pilots who have splintered away to form their own sub-faction,” said Shiels.
The demo CCP Games brought to this year’s show mainly focused on the Wraith Mk. II and its role as a fighter ship. Shiels told me that the mode we played — a straightforward deathmatch — was just for the demo, and they’ll show the other multiplayer modes in the future. The team wants to make sure that Eve: Valkyrie can stand on its own as a good multiplayer game, so they don’t have any plans for connecting it to Tranquility, the shared server between Eve Online and Dust 514.
This connection allows players in both games to interact with each other. For example, a ship in Eve Online can send down aerial strikes on Dust 514’s battlefields.
“The Eve community will let us know what, if anything, they want to see [in terms of] crossover between the games,” said Shiels. “However, learning our lessons from development in the past, we really need to focus on this game being really good on its own, and then we can consider what hooks it might have in Tranquility and Eve Online.”
Eve: Valkyrie has been evolving alongside the VR technology it’s built on. So far, CCP Games has done an incredible job of keeping up with the new dev kits and game engines, and increasing its staff when needed — CCP Newcastle has 25 people working on Valkyrie. Nothing was more indicative of this fast-paced cycle than Valkyrie’s shiny kiosks, where convention goers sit down to play the game. These were originally made for the Oculus Rift DKHD (which didn’t have positional tracking) and extend a couple of feet above you. So when a CCP representative told me to turn around and look at the back of my ship, I hit the kiosk pretty hard.
Outdated props are the least of the developer’s worries, however. Eve: Valkyrie still has a long way to go, and Shiels sounded confident that they are on the right path.
“I think you can tell that when you’re here, we’re very serious about Valkyrie,” he said. “If anything, it has [turned] from the sideshow to the star of the show. Of course, CCP is still primarily focused on Eve Online: We have three times more developers working on Eve Online than on Valkyrie. And we have an amazing, vibrant community with Eve Online. But at these events, Eve Valkyrie is super show-friendly. Everybody wants to see it.”
Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc. is a major video game company specializing in a variety of areas in the video game industry, and is a wholly owned subsidiary and part of the Consumer Products & Services Group of Sony. The company was... read more »
CCP was founded in the summer of 1997 with the goal of becoming a leading massively multiplayer game company. With the launch of EVE Online in May 2003, CCP has established itself as one of the leading companies in the field, winning n... read more »
Oculus VR™ was founded by Palmer Luckey, self-described virtual reality enthusiast and hardware geek. The company launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund development of their first product, the Oculus Rift, a ground-breaking vir... read more »
Powered by VBProfiles