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Stories in Space

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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At its core, EVE: Valkyrie is a multiplayer space dogfighting game. The arcade-style action, delivered through an Oculus Rift headset, makes for some of the most intense virtual reality gameplay currently available. And yet, those short combat matches make CCP’s former experiment an easily accessible experience.

Just as the game has grown on the journey from initial prototype to early access launch, the story behind EVE: Valkyrie has also evolved. Anchored within the EVE universe, the tale of Ran Kavik and her isolated mercenary outfit has become intertwined with the experience, partly in new new single-player content, and partly in a comic-book series developed in conjunction with Dark Horse.

That narrative will continue to develop alongside the game, as new content is developed and new platforms are added. To take us through the journey, and where it’s headed, I sat down with artist and narrative designer Andrew Robinson. From developing the world of EVE: Valkyrie to extending out the characters, there’s a huge amount out there, just waiting to be tapped.

Building the Foundation

Pull on the headset and fire up EVE: Valkyrie, and you’re not immediately greeted with a firefight. Instead, your senses gradually pick out the details of a vast chamber, as if your conscious has been transmitted to the innards of a supercarrier. It’s a subtle piece of visual storytelling, a fragment of a cohesive whole. As Robinson explained, that consistency was no accident.

“When we moved from EVE: VR to Valkyrie, when I moved from Reykjavik to Newcastle, it was important building it from a 3-minute presentation to a fully-fledged game, that it had structure, it had backbone. I started to put together a creative framework. Something that I could give everyone who started, every audio designer, ever graphic designer, artist. Anyone who came to join, I could give them an idea of the world we were trying to build, so we were building it from the same page. And I think think that makes a huge difference to the immersion. To know the game world inside and out means we could build better stuff, and I think the cockpits and ships and characters all came from this framework, this structure.”

That feeling, of waking up inside the belly of the supercarrier, also helped to separate the experience of Valkyrie from EVE Online. As Robinson explained, that separation gave the small team in Newcastle the freedom to work on their own thing, while still being part of the same universe.

“One of the headline things that we had in the game was that you are the pilot. To transpose the outside person and the inside person as one thing, and not have you play as a character - you play as yourself. So we started to work around those aspects of how do we build that into a thing? The story thread: people being stolen from New Eden and transported – all their data, their soul – over to this Valkyrie game, and reborn there and used for purposes over there, all came from that. And that gives a nice little mystery thread from EVE, where people are disappearing or going missing. Taking an anonymous pilot out of EVE, dropping them into Valkyrie, and just saying ‘This is you, this is your new life, accept it, and carry on as you wish.”

Of Tales and Titans

Although Valkyrie is light on what Robinson calls “front-of-house” storytelling, new single-player content has been added at launch. Chronicles train new players on some of the basics behind piloting a fighter, but also share some of the background behind the characters and their lives. Each multiplayer map can also be accessed in solo ‘Scout’ mode, where desolate space has been sprinkled with audio logs that describe what happened. And, if the player response at EVE FanFest is anything to go by, there’s a clear hunger for more of this content in the future.

“We are a small team; we’ve been as low as 17, 18 people, up to 30 people just now, so we have to prioritise stuff. At the heart of it is always going to be this multiplayer game, keeping that balanced, tight, and making a great game through that. But one of my main jobs there now is to continually work on this story, to reveal more about this, and Chronicles as we call them, like Convoy is a chronicle, is a great way to do that. It’s a great way to let people experience different aspects of Valkyrie.”

“Convoy was an ambition of ours from day one, to have people fly in and amongst huge ships. To be the smaller part of a larger whole. Fighting all these smaller things while all this crazy stuff is happening around me, and you feel the sense of scale more than anything else. It’s quite overwhelming, and the titan jumping in and stuff. That’s a little snippet, that’s a piece we can show.”

While most of the existing story content has focused on Ran Kavik’s time in the Gallente Navy, Robinson also shared that future Chronicles might be from the perspective of Fatal, a former capsuleer and Guristas lynchpin. Beyond his particular arc, there are no current plans to include other pirate factions in Valkyrie, such as the Blood Raiders or Angel Cartel.

“I would like to see them peek into the game at some point, but it’s not something I have immediate plan for. With the initial launch especially, it was about focusing and drilling down into the Valkyrie story, and making sure it could stand up on its own two feet as a game in itself.”

“I’d like to see aspects of New Eden bleed into it. For the first time, Valkyrie starts to shine a light on the pirate side of EVE. It’s one of the reasons we went into that side of stuff, because it gave us a great flexibility. The Guristas and pirate aspects haven’t been explored to any great extent yet; there’s bits about them, little scraps here and there. It gives us an opportunity to get into them, really get into them. I’d like to see other pirate factions at least have an impact or grow the world of Valkyrie a little bit in the future, but it’s definitely in my mind as one of the pieces.”

Ship of Suspicions

Through Chronicles and the dark horse comic, a sizeable chunk of Valkyrie’s story has already been shared. That said, it’s largely setting the scene: why Ran Kavik can’t return home; why Fatal remains a thorn in her side; and why the Valkyrie have to fight for every scrap of resources they can get.

But, as with any early access game, Valkyrie continues to be updated with new content. Players got a chance at EVE FanFest to try out a new map called Crossroads, based on a scattered asteroid field somewhere in Gallente space. A new combat mode dubbed Carrier Assault will be arriving later this year, which will directly involve attacks on larger ships for the first time. The spectacle of space combat feels like it can only grow with every subsequent release.

And yet, as Valkyrie grows, the evolving narrative can only grow with it. When asked how much story he still had to share, Robinson was upbeat. “The back-of-house stuff is quite extensive. The focus was always first and foremost on building the world, building the characters up, and building this great multiplayer game. But yeah, I’ve got a lot of stuff tucked away.”

 “So we’ve got Ran and Fatal. We’ve also got the barfly guy from the Crow’s Nest who talks a little bit about conspiracy theories. He gave me a great angle and opportunity to talk about stuff in a totally different way. Not in such a knowledgeable way but, like the players, is scrambling around for information in the world, trying to make sense of it and figure things out.”

“We deliberately left the quartermaster as quite a sinister, nefarious figure. He’s in the background. There’s a lot of talk about him being a little untrustable, where have his things come from. I’ve worked a little bit on him; in some different ways we can introduce more aspects of him.”

Rather than adding further new characters, Robinson was also clear that he wanted to focus on expanding the stories behind the existing cast, giving them room to develop further. “I’ve established some characters there, that I think over time we’ll build on and put more stuff in. It’s not a linear single-player game, so we get it in where and when we can. Chronicles, scout mode stuff, we’ll see more of that in the future for sure.”

Player Character

Ultimately, EVE: Valkyrie is about player experiences. It’s about pulling on that headset and being transported to a different time and a different world. As long as the narrative is consistent, littered with small hints and nuances, and rooted in the EVE universe, it’s also strong enough for players to form and share their own stories.

It’s something that Robinson described as “not playing, but living,” where the person clutching the controller doesn’t feel they’re playing the game, but is living that brief moment as a fighter pilot. “The first time people tried VR, the first time they tried Valkyrie, they come off with this incredible sense that they just lived it.”

“That was the real mantra of the game initially. Transpose the player, make sure they feel like they’re achieving these things, they’re doing these things. People come off, and they have all this information they need to get out of them, and we’ve reacted to that constantly, built the game around that. If people feel that they’re experiencing stuff, that’s the stuff we should be pushing further.”

For now, Valkyrie’s biggest struggle remains outside of the studio’s control: getting headsets into the hands of players. That particular problem should ease up with the launch on HTC Vive and PlayStation VR later this year, with cross-play supported across all three platforms. That said, I’m told that every time headsets get delivered to players, Valkyrie sees an uptick in pilots.

Even so, Robinson’s not waiting around. “It’s about just growing the world. Valkyrie’s now a great baseline, it’s a great foundation. It’s got the potential to grow in all kinds of interesting ways. The multiplayer aspect will grow, the community will grow, as more people get the hardware. We’re going to see more chronicles, more stories. Every aspect has room to push out.”


Gareth Harmer

Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.