I thought that booking in to see EVE-VR on Oculus Rift as my first appointment would be a good way to kick off my E3 2013. I was wrong. It was one of the worst things I could have done.
• Developer: CCP
• Publisher: N/A
• Previewed on: Oculus Rift (PC)
• Release Date: TBD
EVE-VR is a space dog-fighting game set in the EVE Online universe. Before I got hands-on time with a PS4 or Xbox One, I had a chance to get eyes-on with an Oculus Rift showing off EVE-VR. This was a mistake, purely because everything that followed seemed like yesterday’s news. After a short time with EVE-VR and a brief time with the much crazier, drug inspired, SoundSelf, I am convinced of two factors;
• If either Microsoft or Sony can get Oculus Rift signed up as a console exclusive then it will be a significant advantage that will be an even greater weapon than motion controls in the next generation of gaming. I asked the developers of EVE-VR what the situation was with next-gen console hardware compatibility but the answer was “It is not information that we are privy to. But it would be nice to see.”
• 3DTV’s have had their day and about to become obsolete – in fact, as far as gamers are concerned, all TV’s may become an antiquated way of viewing your video game worlds. “So, let me get this straight. These ‘TVs’ you talk about, there were just flat 2D panels, Granddad?”
I am old enough that I was around to see the first false dawn of Virtual Reality gaming in the early 1990’s when movies such as The Lawnmower Man, helped fuel a desire that could not be matched by the quality of hardware and software available. The squarish, white plastic VR headwear looked almost as blocky and as unappealing as the in game graphics. Previous experiences made me slightly skeptical of this new pretender to the VR throne, but it did not take long for my head to be turned.
The first thing I noticed when strapping on the VR headset is that the headset itself is more comfortable than I may have thought. It does have a weight to it, but not so much as to make your head or neck ache. Although, I will add that these were quite limited demos (in terms of time) that were being offered, as the game time was only roughly 5 minutes long. So, I am not too sure how comfortable that would continue to be for extended play sessions — On a side note, as a Red Dwarf fan, I have to add that there was some fear that the rest of my week in LA was all part of a Better Than Life simulator that I have yet to actually exit — This may yet still prove to be the case!
However, graphically EVE-VR wasn’t all that impressive, at least no where near enough to fool me into thinking I was entering a ‘real world’, but the level of immersion it offered was more than enough to convince me that I was inside a game world — more than any script, voice-acted dialog, stunning facial animations or motion control has ever done. I have seen Mario, I have observed whole Galaxies in Mass Effect and watched as I saved the World countless times — the EVE universe is the first world I have ever stepped into and surrounded myself in. No longer an observer, now a passenger in a cockpit.
It is this cockpit where the EVE-VR demo kicks off. You get a moment to accustomize yourself while in the safety of the launch hangar, before being fired out of your launch tube in a very similar manner to Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rodgers. I think the similarity with these well known TV shows is probably deliberate, but the developers did point out that the time to get use to the cockpit and the design of the launch tube was pre-planned; “The launch tube is designed to be a tight constrictive space. The time we give you before the launch is just time to get use to it, to become accustomed to VR and to have a chance to look around before we just smash you out into a massive fight.”
Once launched into battle, my flight doesn’t exactly go like a dream. I successfully shot at many hostile craft in the ensuing space battle but spent more time attempting to avoid incoming missiles – with varying levels of success. I did (mostly) deliberately fly straight into the space station in the name of experimentation — which incidentally resulted in me being bounced back in the direction I was coming from while damaging my fragile little fighter. My close encounter with the space station and too many enemy missiles resulted in me finishing my few minutes of flight with a score of -100, I am guessing that is not very good.
I am going to claim that I was distracted though. Mainly by the sense of flight and the way your body reacts to the movement of the spaceship, seemingly more than it should. The closest previous gaming experience I can equate it to is leaning into corners while sat on your couch when intensely concentrating on a driving game. As the spacecraft lurches in sudden movements it wills your body in the same direction.
The video below is slightly odd to watch but also shows you the image projected for each eye.
I asked if EVE-VR was a good showcase to demonstrate the Oculus Rift; “It was built from the ground up for Oculus Rift, I think that makes a real difference. People say they get motion sickness or that they are not sure they can do this and then they play the game and they are absolutely fine.” Motion sickness seems to be an issue that is high on the list of concerns for Oculus Rift players, but it does not seem to have been a factor so far with EVE-VR. On the topic of motion sickness the two developers quipped: “We demoed it to everyone at Fanfest and nothing bad happened to anyone there” “And they were hungover people!” “The night after the pub crawl.” “And zero spews!” “This is a record we hope to maintain throughout E3!”
I played using an Xbox pad to pilot my craft utilizing anolog sticks for movement and buttons or triggers for weapon options and throttle. This highlights one of the disconcerting factors of playing with Oculus Rift that I can see in the game — as you are unable to see the control pad in your hands, and the position of the character’s hands or arms, you do not get a representation as to the real position of my hands or arms. Oculus Rift is currently being displayed on PC, but not being able to see outside of the game does make using a keyboard almost impossible.
The developers explained how controls for Oculus Rift games may to need to adapt; “It will change how developers will have to constrain games. If you put something like a First Person Shooter on Oculus Rift, you are probably talking about neck injuries from people twitching around too quickly. So, developers may have to place constraints so that people don’t move around too violently — and I mean that as in real life — and whenever you put on Oculus Rift you are obviously blind to your surroundings and you need an input device. We use an Xbox usb cable controller, just because that is what people are familiar with and doesn’t require drivers. Oculus Rift doesn’t play too well with a keyboard and mouse yet. So we may see a renaissance of arcade-y type controllers with joysticks and so on.”
After my flight time I sat down with one of the developers and the artist who built EVE-VR, they explained; “Everyone at CCP loves EVE Online and this is just a different skew on our universe.” They went on to explain how EVE-VR was launched into into existence; “We built EVE-VR in our spare time…it was built as a side project. We were both working on EVE Odyssey during the day and EVE-VR at night…We gave up on sleep a long time ago!” I asked how long it had been in development; “It came together…well, we having the idea about way back in last November, just kind of scribbling on napkins and coming up with ideas, but it wasn’t until we got the dev kits, that we punch through all the ‘we could do this’ or ‘we could try that’ – we put them on we saw what it was all about and then we put the game together in under seven weeks.”
The developers went on to talk about revealing the game to the world and how that came about; “The first time we showed it anywhere was at Fanfest in April. A couple of the guys that are here today were early Kickstarter backers [of the Oculus Rift] and they were really interested in VR and in developing something cool for it…this was something that they were working on in their free time and they started creating this first person dog-fighter, a cockpit dog-fighter…In quite a short space of time it became apparent that this was really cool and so we starting getting into the idea of maybe we can show it at Fanfest. So we showed it to Jon Landu, Executive producer and Dave Reid CMO of CCP and they had a go on the Oculus Rift and within 30 seconds they were like ‘Yep!’ “
I asked how it was developing for Oculus Rift and if there were any new skills they needed to learn; “From my perspective as an artist, my pipeline was almost identical. We used Unity, it was built with rapid prototyping, constant trial and error – Around 80% of the art assets are made fresh for EVE-VR. The models we use in Eve Online are tiny [in comparison] so they just weren’t going to work, so we built those out from the first person perspective. It was changing my point of view as much as anything. It was changing the mindset rather than the tools per se.” The developer added “It is worth noting that you need to have playable builds. You can not go in development for weeks on end where everything is broken and it doesn’t allow you to play it as the perspective of the Rift is so different to what you see on the screen.”
When asked if they made a dog-fighting game particularly to take advantage of the Oculus Rift: “It is something the players have taken to really quite warmly. With the way the EVE universe works, or how it has transformed in to, it is something that we can create games like Dust  and hook them into the EVE universe.” Are there any plans to hook EVE-VR into the EVE universe? “‘Plans’ is a pretty strong word. They are looking for ways to expand upon the EVE universe, whether EVE-VR is part of that is something that we will have to wait and see. We are still committed to experimenting, to developing anything that we think is a really cool idea and there are some interesting platforms on the way, so will see what can we do to ourselves fresh.”
When questioned on the future plans for EVE-VR the reply was; “It is a prototype and it has got some legs. We will continue working on it no matter what. We do it for the love of it. We want the Oculus Rift to succeed. It is a great piece of kit. It is how I like to play games. We are really keen to keep making stuff, but I don’t know as for its future, in EVE — we did get a lot of fan backing at Fanfest — but right now it is just an internal thing and we are just going to keep at it.”
I asked if there were other games or genres that they would like to see developed for Oculus Rift and suggested a Mirror’s Edge style game as somthing I would like to see; “I think you could ask anyone that question and they would give you fifty different games. Imagine Slenderman or something. Everyone’s mind comes to something different. They want to be transplanted into. And this [EVE-VR] was our vision this was wrapping our world around it.”
It is a world that I am keen to revisit, but with no sign of a retail release date for Oculus Rift and not knowing if EVE-VR will ever be commercially available it may be a vision of the future that is still beyond my immediate grasp. The sense of flight and, the holy grail of gaming, the feeling of immersion, is one that is unparalleled in anything I have played before and since. I want my spacecraft back. The future can’t come soon enough.