For all the noise around virtual reality recently - for reasons good and bad - it's easy to forget we've yet to really see any serious-minded, dedicated games emerge for any of the systems. There are demos, patched-in support and exciting little rollercoaster rides, but if it really is the future of gaming then you might be wondering where the more traditional games are by now.
All of which has left CCP's Eve Valkyrie, a project that began as an experiment at the Eve developer's Newcastle studio, as the unlikely poster child for this bold vision of the future, for now at least. It's a poster child for both Oculus and Morpheus, too, with Valkyrie playable exclusively on PC with the Rift and to be available on PS4 via Sony's in-development headset, a position of some pressure on a relatively small team.
"Part of the pressure on us on being early pioneers on the VR systems is putting our necks out there to a certain extent and saying we believe this is important," says David Reid, CCP's chief marketing officer. "The fact that Sony's entering the business alongside Oculus, it just adds that much more credence and validity that this could be a meaningful thing. But now the pressure is on us to do our job as an early developer on these platforms in the same way the responsibility's on Sony and Oculus to make great hardware and to get it out to the public and do the things that they need to do.
CCP Newcastle's right at the eye of the storm, then, going from tinkering with early Oculus dev-kits to being pioneers in the space. "There aren't a lot of white papers and APIs and ways of doing these things yet," says Reid. "It makes a certain type of partnership to make these things happen. We fundamentally have to trust that they'll get their part right, and they have to trust that we'll get our part right - that puts the pressure on. We want to be a flagship game. We're on the cusp, potentially, of a really big transformation in how games are built and played, but we have to do our part to make sure that's worthwhile for everybody."
Eve Valkyrie is also the first VR experience that's been played by the public on both Morpheus and Oculus, and while there are clearly some differences between the two there's a fair amount of parity too. Reid's unable to divulge exactly how long CCP Newcastle's had access to Sony's headset ("What I can say to you is that if you see Sony's presentation, they've been looking at this for several years, and we had some of the earlier dev-kits"), but he's able to say the experience of working across both is fairly painless.
"We're on the cusp, potentially, of a really big transformation in how games are built and played, but we have to do our part to make sure that's worthwhile for everybody."
"I'm not the ideal guy to talk about the details," Reid admits. "But what I can tell you is coming into an event like this where we need to have a build on Morpheus and a build on Oculus, the developers are focused on that. One guy was getting the build ready on Morpheus, one guy was getting the build ready for Oculus - beyond that, we're working on effectively a content-parity product. The game is the same, but there's a little bit of knob-tuning and dialling."
Bar some minor differences, then, the Eve Valkyrie experience is remarkably similar across both platforms. The demo itself remains much the same as the one shown at Gamescom last year - you're thrust into a team deathmatch-like mode against a swarm of bot-controlled fighters, with the ability to lock onto other ships simply by looking in their direction. Back then, though, Valkyrie was still in an early, incubative phase of its development, and in the time since the wider game has begun to come into focus.
"Right now we're toying with the idea of a rock/scissors/paper mechanics," says Reid. "You've got your front-line fighter, there's one that's a bit more like a sniper with a more powerful gun and there's more of a heavy that has better shields but moves slower. And this is just the beginning of how we want to think about taking this forward, where you'll have people in a squad together and playing different roles. What would a support role look like? Those are the kinds of things we're going to start doing more of."
The final product will still have a firm emphasis on multiplayer. "For us at CCP, it's the human interaction that makes games interesting," says Reid - although PvE elements will also figure by way of getting new pilots up to speed before setting them against the world. Slowly, too, the ways that Valkyrie will interact with the wider Eve universe are beginning to come into focus, and how it'll play into CCP's wider in-game economy.
"I'll go and do a battle, and it's the beginning of that endless cycle of harvest, build, destroy, harvest, build, destroy," explains Reid. "As I go into a battle and I earn skill points and I earn currency, I can translate those to having the capabilities to fly bigger, better different ships and can kit them differently. It's a fundamental mechanic of the Eve universe, in Eve Online and in Dust, and it'll be coming to Valkyrie as well."
It's all too easy to forget about Dust, and given its less-than-stellar reception you wonder sometimes whether CCP would like to forget about it too, but given how it's forging on with console via the PS4's Morpheus-enabled version of Eve Valkyrie, it's keen to learn lessons as it still supports the first-person shooter.
"There's a lot that we're very proud of in Dust," says Reid. "It's the only game in the world that connected a PC game in one genre to a console game in another genre. But you're right, and we've been pretty upfront about this, that the launch wasn't as smooth as we'd have liked, and we have not delivered on the vision that we set for gamers and we know what, and we're working every day to improve that. If you go back to Eve in 2003, it was a pretty rough product as well. We firmly believe there's room for a first-person shooter in the Eve universe, and that's a vision we haven't abandoned by any means. It may take us a little longer than we'd thought, but we have not compromised on that vision.
"It's a good, strong vibrant community, but it isn't the millions that are playing other shooters, for sure. Again it's going to be up to us. At some level the promise of Dust is I can have a great F2P shooter on my console that I already own, and I can become a part of these crazy Eve stories without having to learn another game on another system with a different business model. That's how we see it coming together, and Valkyrie is another expression of that."
Whether Dust will join Valkyrie on PS4, or whether Valkyrie will join Dust in adopting a free-to-play model, remains to be seen. Will it also struggle to find a foothold on a console market that's been resistant to the Eve universe's charms? CCP's ongoing commitment to expanding the Eve universe to new, sometimes strange horizons, means you can be assured that won't be the case.
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