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    EVE: Valkyrie, CCP’s space dogfighter was looking stellar at EVE Fanfest.

    The opening of an EVE: Valkyrie match is already one of the standout VR experiences. My ship is in a claustrophobic tunnel, surrounded by lights and noise. A siren blares and ‘Fly Safe’ flashes on my cockpit’s heads-up display. Then it happens: I’m ejaculated into space. The force is conveyed so well I can’t help but move my body backwards in anticipation. I emerge into a scene of devastation: the metal graveyard of a battle long past. It’s this opening that makes  EVE: Valkyrie  so memorable. It’s an instant and immediate thrill that plays well to the places Valkyrie has been demoed.

    Valkyrie started life as EVE-VR , a prototype space dogfighting game created by a small team within CCP. It was the reception to its unveiling at EVE Fanfest 2013 that ensured its continued development. For CCP, Valkyrie  is already a triumph, even if its success as a commercial VR product is far from assured. Away from the Fanfest show floor, a breathtaking launch sequence won’t secure the game a dedicated community. If CCP wants Valkyrie to work as a proper multiplayer, it needs to make sure that what happens after take-off is just as exciting.

    At this year’s Fanfest, CCP revealed its plan to do just that. On stage at the EVE: Valkyrie  keynote, executive producer Owen O’Brien revealed his vision for the game. “We want to be the best competitive multiplayer in VR,” he told the crowd. It’s an ambition reflected by this year’s demo. Valkyrie  is no longer a prototype it’s a game, and one that offers multiple ships, an objective-based game mode and a much improved flight model.
     I emerge into a scene of devastation: the metal graveyard of a battle long past
    The work seems to have paid off. I only get to play one round not enough time to learn all of the game’s intricacies but come away impressed with the basic dogfighting and the breadth of possibilities. CCP is touting its reworked, physics-based flight model, and while I don’t really notice the technical achievement, I do appreciate how immediately responsive it feels. The default speed of the vessel feels smooth and manageable, with the option of a temporary boost when I need to dart away from danger.

    Later, I get to see what a more experienced pilot can accomplish. On the last day of Fanfest, CCP holds the final of a tournament that’s been running across the weekend. It’s here I get to see combat as it might look when the game is released, as people dodge and weave through impossibly tight gaps in the debris. It’s an exciting spectacle, and confirmation that skill and practice will be rewarded.

    In the demo, my team is fighting over capture points. It’s a familiar scenario and works a lot like  Battlefield ’s Conquest mode albeit with some key differences. There are three control points around the map and we need to capture them to increase the score multiplier on kills. Initially, CCP had trouble implementing a capture mode into VR. “We had a mechanic before where it was proximity based and people were just circling,” O’Brien tells me. “That’s the one thing guaranteed to trigger motion sickness, if you’re susceptible to it.”

    The solution was a drone system. As I approach a capture point, I’m given a prompt to place a static deployable. The more drones my team drops near the point, the quicker we capture it. Our opponents can respond by shooting down our drones and placing their own. Not only does it prevent mid-match vomit, it forces me to prioritise my actions. With my drone placed, I’m free to move on. Do I head for
    another capture point, chase after enemy ships or stick around to protect the area? Unlike  Battlefield  there’s no score tick for holding control points, so if I’m not actively destroying enemies, I’m not directly helping my team. If I can ensure the capture, though, I give my teammates a better chance to give us the lead.

    As for why the scoring is purely based on kills, it ties into a problem CCP observed during testing. “You’re a clone and you get instantly reborn in an identical ship, so people were just kamikazeing all over the place,” says O’Brien. “The problem is everybody was doing it and it wasn’t making the game any fun because people weren’t dogfighting. They were just ramming each other.” O’Brien compares the new system to a MOBA one of a number of times he makes the analogy. “If I die, the other team is getting more points and closer to victory, so it’s worth me staying alive,” he says. “You hang on to that 1% of life, because if you’re still alive you’re denying the other team.”
    Not only does it prevent mid-match vomit, it forces me to prioritise my actions
    The other way Valkyrie discourages suicide runs is by making death an uncomfortable experience. “One of the things that can be jarring with VR is the second your avatar does something in the VR world you’re not doing yourself, it’s a real jolt,” O’Brien says. “We’ve very purposefully not done that. You don’t see the pilot touching things. What I’m using it for is that moment of death. As you look down, the hands start to move. They’re letting go of the yolk, but it’s also you letting go of that body. It’s a weird thing, because it’s the first time in the game you look down and it’s doing something different.”

    The trick isn’t to punish players, so much as to convey a sense that death isn’t trivial. “You’ll die a lot, so we don’t want to make it so people are having their hearts ripped out every time, but we do want that sense of unease,” O’Brien says. “I want life and death to matter.”

    I’m not sure if I picked up on that unease in-game, at least not over the more familiar feeling of adrenaline that comes from a narrowly lost battle. If nothing else, death was an opportunity to try out the demo’s second ship. Called the Spectre, it’s a heavy class that’s slower and more armoured than the starting Wraith. Instead of machine guns, it’s armed with an area-of-effect flak cannon, and instead of lock-on missiles, can fire an EMP round that stuns enemy ships.

    The eventual plan is to have multiple branches of unlockable classes. I ask O’Brien about the power curve of the ships and he again makes the MOBA comparison. “The heroes don’t become ridiculously overpowered,” he says. “You unlock a few extra things, but it’s not crazy. We’re going more after that than maybe  Call of Duty  or Battlefield  where you can unlock so much of the tree and then you’re fucking impossible to beat for a new player. I’d like to keep it reasonably flat on progression in terms of sheer power and more about specialisation.”

    The planned process for unlocking new ships sounds more akin to a game like  World of Tanks . Players will start in the Wraith and earn XP towards new upgrades. Installing heavier armour and munition-based weapons will eventually unlock the Spectre. Beam weapons and agility upgrades will lead towards a different class. The idea is to foster different tactics around specific builds and encourage teams to plan their team composition before the match.

    In designing the different ships, CCP has approached esports players from FPS and MOBA teams. “We’re reaching out to esports players,” says O’Brien, “and saying, ‘What would make this attractive to you?

    What sort of things are you looking for? How do we take your fantasy classes and translate that into sci-fi ships?’” The process isn’t just because CCP has designs on making Valkyrie an esport, but also because of a more fundamental problem the studio faces. “There are no consumer VR headsets out at the moment, so our target market doesn’t exist. We’re going to create it. So we’re going to get the esports guys in and say, ‘You’re the guys we want to play this game. Put on these headsets and tell us what you think.’”
    We don’t want to make it so people are having their hearts ripped out every time
    Talking to the team, it becomes clear that despite the progress made Valkyrie is still very much in flux. During Fanfest, a new trailer shows a solo tutorial mission that doubles as the prequel to the multiplayer map of the demo. The player is escorting NPC ships before an attack that causes the graveyard of debris I was fighting across. It’s met with thunderous applause and leads to fans asking whether they’ll be able to experience similar scenarios in multiplayer.

    “We’ve got a capture mechanic,” says O’Brien, “but that could be applied to other types of structure. It could release a fleet of AI, or it could mean repair bots come out. Another area I want to look at is more NPCs on the map. Again, like the creep AI you get in  League of Legends  and  Heroes of the Storm .” It’s clear he’s still processing the Fanfest feedback. For O’Brien, and CCP in general, the event functions as an intense brainstorming session, as fans continually generate new ideas and wishes.

    EVE: Valkyrie is still an unknown, both in its design and its commercial potential. Nobody knows what the VR install base will be and so nobody knows what sort of player base  Valkyrie  can sustain. Similarly, nobody knows how many of these ideas the team at CCP Newcastle will be able to implement. Whatever the final product looks like, it will, at least, enable you to experience the thrill of being spunked out of a spaceship.

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