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EVE Fanfest: EVE: VALKYRIE Runs on Unreal 4, Katee Sackhoff

“Internet spaceships is serious business”
– CCP Games CEO Hillmar Pétursson during his opening remarks

Of all the keynotes, panels, and game demos going on at EVE Fanfest this weekend in Reykjavik, the one I was most excited to see in action was EVE: Valkyrie, CCP’s virtual reality fighter pilot sim and the newest addition to the ever-expanding EVE Online universe. My colleague, Malik Forte, was equal parts jealous and excited that I’d get to try it out first-hand, and I can tell you that his cocktail of emotions was well warranted, especially in light of today’s EVE: Valkyrie keynote address.

Taking the stage to a packed audience, EVE: Valkyrie executive producer Owen O’Brien first told us about the game’s odd history. “This was a game that was born out of passion and a genuine enthusiasm for a new technology,” O’Brien explained. Originally titled EVE-VR, the game first came into being as a tech demo created by a few CCP developers in their spare time as a special treat for Fanfest 2013. The result was so popular that they took it to E3 where it received rave reviews, and then formally greenlit the title at Gamescom 2013, where it won numerous accolades. To accommodate the new title, CCP opened a new studio in Newcastle, UK with 20-25 developers to realize their vision of full immersion dogfighting.

When it comes to VR, a high level of immersion is required for the moment-to-moment experience. Or, as O’Brien puts it: “It’s about being fired out of a launch tube into these massive space battles with missile salvos coming at you.” After spending the last year elaborating on the original concept’s rock-paper-scissors system, the dev team at Newcastle has put together a tremendously enjoyable, wholly engaging multiplayer VR experience.

“The most important thing was accessibility,” said O’Brien. “We wanted to give people a frictionless entry into the EVE universe,” he continued, “but that doesn’t mean it’s a simplistic game.” And while the game is definitely easy to pick up and play, it’s anything but simplistic. Today, I was fortunate to try the game on both the Oculus Rift DK2 kit and on the con-exclusive Sony Project Morpheus edition. The Oculus Rift build looked and played better than the Project Morpheus version, but not due to a major difference in the hardware. The Oculus build, completed just days prior to Fanfest, is running on the Unreal 4 engine, which the final game will employ, and the Project Morpheus build was running an older Unreal 3 version of the game which they have brought to trade shows previously. With intuitive gameplay and controls, I can easily see this becoming VR’s killer app, and the elated faces of journalist after journalist as they emerged from their helmets told me I wasn’t alone.

As lead game designer Chris Smith told me, there are only 18 Oculus Rift DK2 kits in the world, and half of them are on hand at EVE Fanfest for attendees to try. The biggest challenge when it comes to EVE: Valkyrie isn’t design-based; it’s a matter of actually getting people to experience it. When it comes to VR, seeing is believing, and after spending some time trying out both the Oculus Rift DK2 and Sony’s Project Morpheus, I am a believer. Having been skeptical of the technology in the past, I am glad to have finally had the chance to experience this wonderful, immersive style of gameplay. It may not have been as mindblowing as riding a rollercoaster in Russia, but it was still one of the coolest things I’ve experienced in recent memory.

Of course, a new addition to the EVE universe means new lore. Like the title would suggest, the game focuses on the Valkyries, named for Odin’s infamous warrior shieldmaidens from Nordic lore, ace fighter pilots that have been snatched at the point of death to become immortal privateers. Dropped into specially designed clones by the lawless Gurista Pirates, the Valkyries became a deadly force with which to be reckoned.

The first Valkyrie was Rán Kavik, a Navy pilot who died and woke up in a clone body in the new army being built by the Guristas. She started off as a pirate and quickly rose through the ranks to become the leaders of the Valkyries. Something happened – they can’t say what or why the Guristas created them in the first place – and Rán fell out with the Guristas. Now, the Valkyries are freelance guns for hire.

Who will be voicing Rán Kavik? Well, if you have a badass female fighter pilot, there’s only one choice as far as I’m concerned, and CCP agreed: Katee Sackhoff. After a round of thunderous applause, O’Brien played a brief, expletive-laden message from the actress:

As always, well put, Ms. Sackhoff.

As EVE: Valkyrie‘s development continues, the game mechanics have continued to expand. Ships will have roles, which are different than classes, although I’m not quite sure I see the distinction, personally. The game will launch with three: fighter, heavy and support craft. In lieu of telling us about each one, O’Brien instead focused on the Fighter, a lightweight all-around assault craft that’s handy in nearly every situation. A blend of existing EVE Online ships, the Amarr Templar and the Caldari Dragonfly, the Fighter has been dubbed the Wraith Mk. II. “Built for surgical strikes, [the Wraith] has the brawn and defensive systems to stand up for itself,” said O’Brien.

Every role has will have two weapons systems, a primary and a secondary, and special abilities. The Wraith has front-firing dual autocannons and a missile launcher which can be autolocked or blindfired. To defend itself, the Wraith has gatling guns mounted all over as countermeasures to shoot down enemy missiles as a sort of point-defense system. There’s a minigame system too — if you’re in your ship and a missile’s coming toward you, your countermeasure system will activate. You have to lock on to ensure success. If you fire too soon, it might hit you. Too late, you’re going to be another piece of debris floating in the infinite blackness of space.

In the final game, ships will be upgradeable, as will pilot skills, ground crew bonuses, and you’ll even be able to customize the craft with decals and skins. A skill point system allows you to modify the ship’s loadout, which has a persistent passive effect allowing you to shift your role within combat to better suit the situation. Need to chase down an enemy? Become an interceptor by eschew missiles in favor of additional boosting capability and a higher rate of cannon fire.

To add further depth to the game, CCP has added a variety of “turfs”, different environments like asteroids, open space, wreckage, interiors, and dust fields that offer various advantages and disadvantages depending on your ship type. For example, in open space, fighters reign supreme. In an asteroid field? Maybe not so much. Unless, of course, you deploy your Decoy ability, which generates a holographic version of your ship designed to distract your pursuers. Just be careful — it may fool a human, but you can’t fool missile lock.

While there isn’t a firm timeline on when we can expect the game or the Oculus Rift/Project Morpheus tech in our hands (Q4 2014 is what I’ve heard), this is definitely going to be one of my most anticipated titles in the months to come, and I can’t wait to see what CCP has in store for us next. Stay tuned for my interview with lead game designer Chris Smith and continuing coverage of EVE Fanfest all weekend long.

What do you think? Are you excited for EVE: Valkyrie? Would you rather play it on Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus? Let us know in the comments below or tell me on Twitter.

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