Valkyrie: Building the Cockpit
I’m watching a video of actress Katee Sackhoff, excitedly talking about the first time she played CCP’s upcoming space dogfighter. From the sound of things, she’s impressed.
“Are you f*cking kidding me? This is so f*cking real! It’s just like being in the f*cking cockpit!”
EVE Valkyrie has that effect on people. I remember saying something similar at EVE FanFest last year; even though it was a six-week-old prototype cobbled together in spare time, I felt a raw spark of fun from weaving around asteroids, roaring through space and firing missiles at anything that moved. Right at that moment, I was sold on the idea of virtual reality gaming.
It’s now a year later. EVE VR has become EVE: Valkyrie, a project greenlit into becoming a full game. I’ve played the evolving spacefighter twice since, each time accompanied by an updated Oculus VR Headset. And every time, both the game and the virtual reality experience get better. It feels like a gift from gaming’s future, and I can’t wait for it to arrive.
At CCP they call it ‘lightning in a bottle,’ pushing other projects like EVE Mobile to one side in order to build it, and hiring former DICE and Mirror’s Edge developer Owen O'Brien to head up the team as Executive Producer. It’s a move that’s given the small team in Newcastle, England a renewed focus on working out what it is they’re trying to build.
The fruits of their labor are evident: Valkyrie has gradually morphed from rough arcade-style shooter to a more refined and simulation-heavy dogfighter. Despite my grumblings about not being higher on the scoreboard, I can accept that it’s a change for the better, as it raises the skill cap and makes for more interesting play. Coupled with the new progression system that’s being brought in, it’s clear that the intent is for this to become a game we want to play again and again. Something like Battlefield in Space, perhaps.
When I interviewed Sigurdur Gunnarsson, EVE: Valkyrie’s Senior Programmer, I started off by saying how it reminded me of classic space shooters like Tie Fighter and Wing Commander, before asking what inspired the original prototype. “Besides picking something to make in the EVE universe, our drive was that we wanted to make a VR game, to make a fun experience, to have something to show people. But we also saw this old genre niche of the space combat fighter, so we wanted to experiment a little bit. Essentially, we made the game we wanted to play ourselves.
“There are definitely two faces to the game. One was the original demo that we made, which was in our spare time. We left a lot of ideas on the floor there, there was a lot we wanted to try and get in. But, like I said to the team back then, I’d rather have a more stable, functional, fun game than a lot of knobs and whistles that hardly or semi work. It was about concentrating and hardening the game at that point.
“Right now, we’re still defining what Valkyrie is, and what you see here is just our first stab at that. We’ve mentioned other ship types, more weapon types, all that stuff. There’re a lot of ideas, a lot of thinking about how the ships could interact with each other - we have different roles for different people so they can work together as a team, to promote team play. The sum of the individual players becomes something bigger when they play together. A simple analogy is the medic and heavy playing together in Team Fortress 2, and those are the kind of interactions we want to have.”
Besides the Wraith Mk II Fighter I’ve already flown, EVE: Valkyrie will have two further types of ship at launch – a heavier but less agile ship that can soak more damage, and a support fighter that can fly close to others and provide benefits. These aren’t designed like classes, with rock-paper-scissors style strengths and weaknesses, but are all about the different kinds of roles you can have as a spacefighter in EVE’s universe.
So how did it all begin? Like many of the stories that emerge from EVE Online, Valkyrie’s origins are rooted in a chance encounter. Had things gone differently, we might be playing a very different game. “I actually started this team along with Robert Clark, and it just so happened that we were both enthusiastic about VR. I was looking to put together a team and he was as well, and by chance we met during lunch at our canteen. For some reason I was telling someone about VR and he overheard, and you know how those things happen.”
“And then we started this thing, and we knew we wanted to make a video game, so we were thinking about what kind of experience to make. I sent a mail to the program list to get more people interested, and got actually quite a lot. We formed this group that started meeting after work, occasionally at the pub, and discussed what we wanted to do. I originally wanted to do something more like exploration, and some slower-paced gameplay, all about immersion and atmosphere. And it might have even been Rob Clark that suggested ‘why don’t we just fly EVE Drones?’ When that was on the board it just clicked, and everyone wanted to do that. There were many ideas, but this was by far the most popular one.”