Impressions: EVE Valkyrie

By Nathan Grayson on October 25th, 2013 at 3:00 pm.

I love the idea of being in space, but I’ve recently come to realize that the reality of space is entirely horrifying. No air, no gravity, no control. Humans weren’t meant to exist outside our warm, loamy cradle of a planet, and mortality’s icy hand becomes much harder to ignore when it’s inches away from your face. That’s the power of EVE Valkyrie, the suck-the-air-out-of-your-lungs appeal that virtual reality – truly well-done virtual reality – brings. It’s one thing to watch your EVE ship float around from some detached camera angle like a roving intergalactic deity, but it’s quite something else to see fog overwhelming your cockpit’s glass, creeping like fear. Can that added element of immersion sustain a full game, though? And are Valkyrie’s other elements up to snuff? Here’s what I found during an all-too-brief play session.

I felt my stomach lurch as my ship rocketed out of a claustrophobically narrow hangar. As someone who grew up having no trouble with speedy racers and shooters of all shapes and settings (I remember Tribes 2 matches better than most of my graduations, birthday parties, etc), this was a new sensation. It was most akin to a drastically reduced version of the feeling people get when a rollercoaster drops. Whoosh. My in-game “body” moved before my brain was prepared to acknowledge or understand it.

At that moment, I looked up. A glass panel. Back. The rest of my chair, riddled with bumps and contours for comfort. Down. I had legs and arms and a torso. They were stock still. Well, at least my in-game avatar was feeling pretty calm about the whole thing.

Seconds later, space engulfed me. The narrow tunnel opened up, revealing a glittering sea of stars, dotted with precarious asteroids. Ships buzzed and hummed about, just barely audible over the deafening disquiet of space. And then, as often is the case with games, I found myself in a fight.

But it was less like a typical videogame space battle and more similar to those scenes in Battlestar Galactica when a pilot’s glass cracks or the prospect of death otherwise looms heavy. I can’t think of many space games that – anti-gravity aside – couldn’t have been more or less replicated with a pleasant, birdies-chirping blue sky background. In Valkyrie, I was there. Everything was massive and fatal and terrifying, and a new HD Oculus Rift kit only made that all the more apparent. That brittle pane of glass separating me from an infinite, unyielding vacuum suddenly felt much, much thinner.

It was a bit like seeing the movie Gravity in 3D, an experience which had me gazing up at the night sky and shouting, “YOU’LL NEVER TAKE ME” before skittering into nearby basements for weeks afterward. That film went to great pains (and, in doing so, arguably caused them) to be extremely physical – to engage a sense that’s often ignored by screen-based media. Sight and sound get front-row seats, but touch/feel? What’s the point when we can’t actually be there?

So Gravity shoved all of its action into enclosed angles, was in constant motion, and never let up. It tricked our senses into believing we were there even though we weren’t. My heart tried to escape from my chest in the same way I wanted to escape from the theater. Piloting a ship in EVE Valkyrie felt similar. Spinning and spinning and spinning. Everything so close to my eyes that I reflexively attempted to dodge when enemy ships came whirring directly at me. I didn’t get motion-sick or anything, but this heavy, knotting tension was ever-present, even after I got the hang of combat and started to hold my own.

But maybe that’s just personal fears and phobias I brought along to the experience. I imagine that really engaging with virtual reality will be a slightly different experience for everyone, and that’s in part what makes it so exciting. Outside of my own gut reactions, though, where does that leave EVE Valkyrie?

Well, the build I played was a tight yet exceedingly basic space shooter – controls far more arcade-y than sim-y. Visually, details teemed and squirmed right and left, but combat took the form of stripped-down dogfighting. It was serviceable, but nothing revolutionary. One trigger (I was given an Xbox controller for the purposes of the demo) handled machine gun fire, but the other offered a far more Oculus-specific means of attack. If I held it down, a lock-on reticle would appear, preparing a barrage of homing missiles for whatever fly I couldn’t swat with manual aiming.

Here’s the thing, though: I had to physically look at enemy ships in order to begin the lock-on process. That little detail made a huge difference, physically engaging me ever-so-slightly, but increasing my sense of “there”-ness exponentially. Also, it just felt damn cool to dart my head in one direction and then watch something explode seconds later. Before long, I found myself dancing through missile trails, gunning nearby foes from on-high, and – simultaneously – hurling missiles at ships that had the misfortune of popping into my peripheral vision. I multi-tasked like the most diabolical of space squids.

I did have some trouble, though. Escaping from enemy missiles was pretty wonky, given that I couldn’t launch any flares to get them off my trail. Instead, my only option was to physically look down at a holographic pseudo-map near my character’s lap and pinpoint which direction the missiles were coming from. It’s actually a pretty cool idea on paper, but in practice it was extremely frantic and confusing. Maybe with more time to practice I’d have gotten it down, but as was, I just spun wildly like a drunk bee while praying that the Gigantic Projectiles That Absolutely Could would get distracted by, I don’t know, a satellite or god or something.

EVE Valkyrie’s still very early, and CCP’s only just now really knuckling down on turning it into more than a razzle-dazzle tech demo. That shows, but not necessarily in a bad way. The groundwork’s in place, and the potential’s there. That much is certain. But what happens when the virtual reality “wow” factor wears off? And how long will that take, exactly? Those are the big questions surrounding not only CCP’s giant leap into more-first-person-than-ever space, but virtual reality in general. Opportunities for mindless gimmick-ery abound, but I really, truly hope that – deep in the reaches of this new universe gaming’s about to plumb – we also find far more than that.

Check back soon for an interview with CCP about plans to expand Valkyrie and connect it with the rest of the EVE universe. Also, read this and become worried that we might not see Valkyrie on PC for quite some time.

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45 Comments »

  1. Williz says:

    I need an Oculus Rift HD version ASAP

    • BobbyDylan says:

      apparently that’s months away, not years. I cant wait.

      • ditar59 says:

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    Cinek says:

    That actually works on a PC? Cause last time I checked they weren’t sure if they game will hit PCs or not.

    (ps. Xbox controller? Seriously? *facepalm*)

    • Kapouille says:

      When you wear occulus rift glasses, you can’t see your hands and your keyboard, so by using a controller it should be easier to “touch sense” where your controls are.

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        Martel says:

        People can’t use a keyboard without looking at it?

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        Cinek says:

        Ever heard of something called “joystick” ?
        And you really, really need to LOOK at the mouse and keyboard to use it? Man… I bet you’re horribly bad in any sort of shooters.

        • Kapouille says:

          Of course it doesn’t apply to you outstanding individual, but most mundane human beings will struggle to place their fingers once the goggles are applied.

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            Cinek says:

            Mundane human never played after sunset with lights turned off? Seriously? Oh come on… you disappoint me.
            I’m also curious how you, as a mundane human, play any kind of FPS game? You know – there is no time to confirm that your finger is on a correct key. And sometimes these use more than just WSAD. ;)

          • airmikee99 says:

            http://www.typingstudy.com/

            Learn to type by touch, your wpm will thank you.

          • Kapouille says:

            I played FPSs a long time ago. I remember back then requiring a short glance before initially placing my fingers above wsad. But that’s a moot point, here’s your basic explanation for requiring (at least initially) a standardised controller in conjunction with the occulus.

          • Kapouille says:

            I know pretty much everyone playing Eve (and perhaps reading RPS) is working in IT, making games or a computer science student, but believe me or not, some people may not be able to touch type (And CCP might hope to sell them games).

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            Cinek says:

            Kapouille – it’s just a simple space shooter. Not a game where you need to type entire sentences blind and use 4-key shortcuts. If guy managed to fully control it with xbox controller – I’m sure he will be more than capable of fully control it with mouse + WSAD + few keys around it (F/Q/E/R/space should be more than enough for this kind of game) – you EASILY can do that blind. Heck: 10 year old kid can.

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            Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

            Home key notches are your friend. I added a little divot on my W key with a sharp knife to aid in touch-finding it.

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            phuzz says:

            Probably at least once per game I’ll try and move only to find I have my fingers on esdf rather than wasd, and I also work in IT, so you’d think I’d be able to use a keyboard by now…

          • hotmaildidntwork says:

            I discovered some while ago that despite having a lifetime of touch typing skills, my accuracy drops precipitously in complete darkness.

            Also is this what we’re doing now? Input device elitism? Really?

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            @Kapouille – If you wanted, a little training could upgrade you from mundane human to Augment Level I Human? I taught myself to touch-fight with Half Life 1 and 2. Fingers on WASD, then I would experiment with jutting fingers forward to change weapons to see which fingers were most comfy. My middle finger is ’3′ (hello shotgun). My index finger is ’4′ and ’5′ (ah, pulse rifle and grenades). It made the fights much easier being able to rapidly switch (you needed ‘fast weapon switch’ activated) whilst still moving or backpedalling and watching the action. From that I got really good with most of the common keys, though I still need to look down if I am playing something like Arma 2. I struggle with anything east of TFV ….

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            Nathan says:

            I’m not sure how many people in this thread have used a Rift, but just finding where your desk physically is can be hard enough with the headset on. The 360 controller is definitely better.

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            Cinek says:

            And finding controller is SO much easier. LOL
            You do exactly the same with controlelr what you do with M+K – step 1. find it, step 2. put your fingers in right spot, step 3: play the game.
            Jeez, you make it looks like keyboard is some uber-complicated device. WTF?! I never got any issues with playing in VR googles (even though I haven’t tried OR itself yet) with mouse and keyboard. I don’t know what’s wrong with you people.

          • RiffRaff says:

            God what a bunch of f@kking noobs! I play fps in complete darkness with bag over my head and a sheet over my hands to cover my keyboard because I am a proper !PC GAMER! unlike you casual noob3. You all need to learn to KeyboardXmouse!11!

        • mickygor says:

          Mmm yes if this game isn’t played with a joystick, something’s gone horribly wrong

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            Cinek says:

            Well, if it won’t work on a PC, or their primary controller will be an xbox one – than I don’t care about this game.

          • mickygor says:

            It does work with PC. They’re just not sure if/when they’re releasing it. In any case, reading Nathan’s article on the platform support of the game, it looks like a misunderstanding – he’s talking specifically about launch day, and it strikes me more as him confusing what Nathan was saying as “it’s PC exclusive.” After all, he took issue with the claim that DUST 514 was the only non-PC extension of the EVE universe.

      • vahnn says:

        There’s no disputing this, as it’s a clear fact. A gamepad is more tactile and more simply laid out.

        However, most “pc gamers” have no problem whatsoever finding their home spot for gaming. I do it without even thinking about it. Left pinky to shift; ring, middle, pointer to a, w, d; thumb to space. It’s instinctual by now. Moving from that spot to typing home row, hitting T or Y to chat, then moving back comes as naturally as speaking. I think most regular pc gamers would be inclined to agree with me.

        (You know there are 2 keys on your keyboard with raised surfaces so you can find them easily?)

        • airmikee99 says:

          Exactly, it’s such a habit now I no longer think about where to put my hands on the keyboard. Even if I’m not playing a game, my hand automatically rests on the board as if I were.

          • P.Funk says:

            I think resting your fingers on a familiar place on a keyboard without visual aide is very different from reaching to touch a single key in the dark without a point of reference. I can land mostly near my chosen key but the risk of hitting the wrong key and thus triggering the wrong action means I’d probably be hesitant and thus have to rest my whole hand in the home position and then use that as a reference to find the correct keystroke.

            The fact that most gamers haven’t had to play with a keyboard in total visual isolation while trying to key individual strokes rather than using the keyboard in a traditional typing format (ie. hands with index fingers resting on F and J or Left hand hovering over WASD/ESDF) suggests to me that its a lot of bluster saying “oh its nothing, I played CS int he dark for all of college”.

            Even if you’re not looking at your keyboard or you’re in total darkness your eyes still have peripheral vision and there is some ambient glare that’ll create some kind of shadow to give you a sense of relative position towards the keyboard. If anything the science of how eyes work tells us that not directly looking at a keyboard in the dark is actually BETTER for seeing it. If you’re using a stick and reach for the keyboard now with your eyes totally removed from any awareness of your desk I think it’ll be a whole new ballgame and that it’ll require people to develop a different sense of their surroundings.

            I think its a bit dismissive to assume that years of PC gaming without a Rift has prepared you to be the next Stevie Wonder of gaming.

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            Cinek says:

            P.Funk – you have no slightest idea what you’re talking about. So please – stop. Thank you.

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    Tinus says:

    I saw this trailer right after reading yesterday’s choice quote “One of my pet gripes is that every game today wants to look like it’s shot through Michael Bay’s sunglasses or JJ Abrams’ asshole” and had to snigger a little.

    I would totally play this though, being an Eve fanboy.

  4. jellydonut says:

    I don’t care about this game any more until CCP retracts their idiotic statement from yesterday.

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    amateurviking says:

    I really really need to try a rift. And I want someone to patch in support for it into FSOpen immediately.

    Somebody make all this happen. Go.

  6. Didden says:

    CCP are a funny old bird. Valkyrie was originally created in the ‘spare’ time of some dev’s willing to work unpaid to play around with the VR technology and rushed out the door for the Fanfest earlier this year.

    Since it created a fair bit of buzz, you could see the marketing folks ears prick up and it makes sense for them to try to create a halo effect with a spin off game. After all that has happened in the past then, it is no surprise to hear them wriggling out of trying to say Valkyrie would be coming out on PC, thus once more confirming they still don’t understand their actual paying customer base and said player base, able to play more than one game on their PC.

    And so, Dust 514 remains on PS3, and the pace of development for EVE – their main cash cow – continues at the sort of deathly development pace that makes snails look nippy.

    Comparing EVE to the much vaunted Star Citizen and it’s lofty goals, makes me worry for CCP. RSI are promising not only a space game, but effectively a simulation, tied to the very latest graphics and ability to not only see the outside of the spaceships, but actually walk and interact with them on the inside. Then you’ll also eventually be able to walk around stations and so forth. And then have a FPS aspect of that eventually added to boot. As well as VR support of course.

    And while, I personally have a great deal of reservations of these lofty goals ever being achieved in a satisfactory or relevant gameplay manner, there is a definite sense it will eventually happen as long as people keep buying into sales pitch videos of virtual spaceships at $$$ a pop, in the weirdest mishmash of Mad Men and Spaceships I’ve yet seen.

    EVE on the other hand, continues to plod along, now sans some of those developers who have been pulled into Valkyrie – a cool game demo perhaps – but will not really play into the core development of EVE in any way.

    This is completely obvious in the lightweight nature of this winters EVE Expansion. For example, the graphics engine will be upgraded to allow Direct X 11, but there will be no actual benefit at this point in doing so as no graphical niceties have been added. That’s right – because half of the art and graphics staff are working on Valkyrie.

    The tessellation demo from Fanfest 2012 relies on Direct X 11 technology being implemented of course, but it wasn’t long ago that the forums were inflamed at CCP basically saying they weren’t going to bother with this after all, given the time investment needed to update each ship. And that is just one feature they have promised and failed to deliver on over the years. That closed door still taunts CCP in its failure to deliver on ideas in a timely manner.

    By the time this years Fanfest big reveal of building jump gates is realised, over two years will have passed. All the current development talk from CCP is of gradual incremental progress towards it. so next year’s summer expansion will almost certainly be another step along the road.

    Thats is a long time to wait. Given that in that time, you’re basically going to have several space games been effectively developed from scratch, not only come out, but also offer more complicated feature sets and graphics than EVE, although none of them will be a true MMO in the same way EVE is, I grant you.

    I love EVE of course, despite all of CCP’s mismanagement and the games nuances. But I look at Valkyrie and wonder if it’s a vanity project designed to remind CCP themselves, that they can create cool stuff, while making something that doesn’t actually benefit its core product or players.

    As a long time paying customer, I do worry if the game will bleed players as more interesting competition finally arrives. Only then will we see if marketing led development of something like Valkyrie, has actually paid off.

    • nitehawk says:

      I always read RSI as “Repetitive Stress Injury”, which does describe EVE quite well.

      F1… F1… F1…

      This is the thing that Valkyrie and Star Citizen are trying to fix, make the game really interactive. Hopefully RSI learns from CCP on the overpromising things that are simply not feasible…

  7. BenLeng says:

    Nathan: How does the HD-Rift compare to the older developer kit? I own the DK and am really wondering what difference a doubling of the resolution will make. Please tell.

  8. SupahSpankeh says:

    Look, WTF are CCP up to? Inviting a PC gaming blog to demo a PC game, then telling them it might not come out on PC?

    Srsly, they can either confirm a PC release or FOAD at this point. I come here for PC gaming news, not to get jerked around by CCP and their on/off relationship with Sony. I’m totally stoked that it’s looking good and that it’s being built on PC, but until it’s confirmed for PC we really should (in my opinion) stop getting press articles like this on RPS.

  9. Jake says:

    No air in space? But there’s an air in space museum.

  10. jnqvist says:

    This whole thing had me from the usual :| to :) , but after reading the final paragraph I’m left with :( . THAT SECRETIVENESS IS A NO NO MISTER DEVELOPER

  11. Pecisk says:

    Looks like CCP doesn’t have money to complete game, so they fishing for exclusive. Makes sense but time is running out for being first and best space sim with OR support, as “Elite: Dangerous” and “Star Citizen” closing in.

  12. Trespasser in the Stereo Field says:

    I tried to watch the video in the post but the camera kept cutting out, some weird strobe lights kept blinding me, and it sounds like someone forgot to turn down their Nine Inch Nails album in the background. Let me know when they fix that.

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