EVE Valkyrie Wants To Be “Top Gun In Space”

I’m at a press preview event for EVE Valkyrie [official site]. It’s CCP’s multiplayer dogfighting VR game which they’ve just announced will come bundled with every Oculus Rift headset at launch. As lead game designer Andrew Willans explains the project: “The goal from day one was always to make you feel like a badass space pilot – Tom Cruise in Top Gun in space.”

I first took Valkyrie for a spin at FanFest earlier this year and the moment which stuck with me from that fledgling flight was when I dodged a pursuing craft by doing a loop-the-loop, coming up behind them and killing them. It was the exhilaration of a slick kill amplified by the “OH BOY I AM IN SPACE” which my brain was doing the whole time.

I’m telling you this mainly so that you know I am capable of cool space manoeuvers and can reference this intro when I later tell you about how many times I died while roaming one of the maps solo in peaceful exploration mode.

ANYWAY. Valkyrie is now much closer to being fully formed. There are still “what ifs” and “we’d like tos” but they exist alongside an increasingly solid game and explanations of how things like progression systems work and what form the PvE elements of Valkyrie have taken. Here’s what I found when I donned my headset:

The main mode we were playing was a 5v5 team deathmatch. Each side starts with the same number of clones which represents your team’s collective allowance of respawns. Clones are the bodies you use to pilot the ships. When your ship explodes the clone dies and you move to another clone body – that’s what the line “see you in the next life” is about in the trailer. The objective is to either burn through all the enemy team’s clones or to be the team with the most clones remaining when time runs out.

You launch out of carrier ships which have pulled up to the battlefield then fly about doing space murdering and maybe a bit of space healing. The exact range of your abilities on the battlefield will depend on which ships you’ve brought to load into the launch tubes of the carrier. “I don’t know if we’ll call it a launch tube at launch,” says Willans. “We might call it the deck but basically you’ve got this four card hand, effectively. You’re assigning these ships before you go into battle so they’re your options once you get into battle.”

The classes of ship break down as fighter, heavy and support with a few hybrids sloshing about in the mix too. Fighters are Valkyrie’s assault class and are intended as all-rounder ships. Decent speed, decent armour. Heavies are tanks. Heavily armoured and slower but with a powerful blast weapon which deals splash damage, letting you attack multiple units as they group up. They also have a microwarp drive which lets you scoot forward when you’ve charged it up as a compensation for the decreased mobility. Supports are the medics of spaceworld buffing shields for allies and removing them from enemies. They also have deployable spiderbots.

“How you’ll see it in the world is like a faint spiderweb. If an enemy dropped it and you fly through that it will remove your shields, you’ll get EMP damage and you’ll see little spider running round the cockpit and start trying to chisel through the glass. It’s pretty cool in VR.” If you fly through a friendly web you’ll get your shield recharged.

In the preview session we have everything unlocked but in the real game you’ll need to earn XP for each class by playing. The XP allows you to unlock new ships, upgrades, colours, interiors and so on. The XP across all three classes feeds into a central rank called your pilot reputation level. The XP you can earn in the classes is uncapped but the pilot reputation level is capped at fifty at the moment. Customisations are largely cosmetic because of balance issues but the progressions and unlocks should grant access to a range of ships supporting various playstyles.

Willans gives the example of someone thinking “I really like using spiderbots and the microwarp drive but I want a gatling gun – we have a ship that’s in one of the progressions which has those properties and it becomes your favourite. That’s one layer of the tactics.”

I went into our first match with a Wraith – one of the fighter class – because it seemed relatively nippy and all-purpose, plus I remembered doing well with one at FanFest, but after a terrible performance early on I found myself switching to the support class option CCP had put in my selection box. The Wraith gives you a gatling gun on your right trigger and a set of homing missiles on the left but I wasn’t finishing foes off fast enough (my gatling gun aim is atrocious). With the support ship I had a beam on my left trigger which can buff friendly ship shields and take out those of enemies. Being able to take out those shields before unleashing my gunfire improved my kill count somewhat. We weren’t co-ordinated enough to make use of the friendly shield buffing, though, although I can imagine that changing if you were on voice comms.

Sidebar: An interesting point about the homing missiles is that they use a “look to lock” system designed to get people turning their head more in the game. “A lot of the time you put people in VR and they wouldn’t move,” explained Willans. Now you have to. For the missiles you hold down the left trigger button to bring up a secondary reticle. It’s this one you use to lock onto ships by looking at them. Releasing the trigger fires the missiles.

Pro tip: maybe also try to keep an eye on where you’re flying because this is how asteroid-based spaceship insurance claims get made.

So there are spaceships and spiderbots and the thrill of VR. But is it actually fun?

Yes.

Well… yes.

Prevarication is something I want to be careful about because I don’t want it to be read as a lack of enthusiasm for the game. Valkyrie looks fantastic but I wasn’t excited when I played that day. I’ve been thinking about why that might be. The feeling I was having was one I know from other team-based games. Getting killed over and over is simply not much fun. Our side of the fight was the losing side and I could feel that frustration I associate with MOBAs where your team is getting trampled or has fallen behind or where you yourself feel like you’re playing terribly. Getting a kill or a killstreak feels amazing in games like this. Being on the receiving end of someone else’s killstreak, not so much.

There’s no in-match levelling so the other team won’t be pulling ahead in terms of firepower but there are other ways you can end up in patterns that make your own space life difficult. One is that the team can fall off their tempo. By that I mean if the other side gets a few pick-off kills suddenly your numbers are depleted and ships are then waiting to respawn. If you aren’t careful you just end up in a rhythm of dripfeeding kills because the other team has a numbers advantage and picks people off as they rejoin the fray. You see it in games like Overwatch and Paladins too.

At a press event people are trying things out, experimenting rather than practicing or being all MLG about it. If we had been playing seriously or if it was post-launch and my friends had formed a little squadron I’d probably have told everyone to wait and regroup to see if that reset the balance a bit for the fights. I’ve found myself chewing over what I could have done differently and wanting to play again.

“When you get this – and I’m sure you’re going to get this! – and you’re at home with your microphone on and your squad, that MOBA [knowledge] will shine.”

Obviously other factors – individual skill, understanding of the different classes of ship, switching tactics and map awareness, or even how the matchmaking system finds opponents – are important and I’m not wanting to rake over a single loss in a videogame unnecessarily. Rather, I want to point out that playing Valkyrie for a second time having already processed the “HOLY SHIT IT IS SPACE” moment I started to see it as part of that family of skillz ‘n’ stratz* team games that can leave you feeling amazing or miserably frustrated. With that in mind I’ll be interested to see how the player communication side shakes out – friendly, functional or quick to anger?

The other mode we tried has you capturing and holding control points. I play a lot of Control maps in Destiny so it’s probably no surprise that the control maps here were my preferred stomping ground. Rather than you guarding the points yourself – an experience which works badly in virtual reality spaceships – you deploy drones in the nearby area and have them do the capturing for you. Deploying multiple drones speeds up the process and you can shoot enemy drones to destroy them, spoiling their own capture attempts. I spent most of my time trying to work out how to position my drones in hard to reach spots – in gaps in structures, behind asteroids.

“That’s a sly technique. I like it. I appreciate that,” says Willans.

The last mode I tried was Scout. It’s the non-violent option that lets you just potter about on the maps without anyone trying to blast you out of the sky. It’s been a much-requested feature at events, apparently and I can imagine why. People want to chill out and fly in space.

It’s a slightly odd experience at the moment but the team are going to work on adding more information to reward the exploration. At the moment it’s just a case of flying around the deserted multiplayer maps. It was useful for practicing maneuvers and scoping out playspaces but I found more of the sense of wonder in the multiplayer deathmatches. I suspect this is because as soon as you’re concentrating on the space and not being distracted by death threats pew-pewing at you you’re aware of how game-y the spaces are. You feel the limits so quickly and the impulse to explore planets in the distance is thwarted because as soon as you leave the map area you get a set of warnings and, if you fail to heed them, you blow up. It’s simply not a space exploration game, it’s a team-based shooter. I wonder what other people will make of the mode.

Oh, FYI the other two times I died in the non-violent mode were because I was experimenting with fast turns and careened into asteroids and space girders too many times.

I also had the briefest dabble with the PvE side of things but that was only a minute or two as we needed to start the multiplayer session. Basically the idea is that through DNA memory fragment technology things (it sounded a touch Assassin’s Creed-y at this point) you’ll be able to play through memory fragments from other pilots. One of them, Convoy, you might recognise from that Valkyrie trailer at FanFest earlier this year. The other PvE plan is for a survival mode where you face down increasingly difficult waves of AI foes.

Beyond this you start to run into uncertainties as the team are still working to finalise parts of the game or how particular systems will work. For example, ranked play is still being figured out, as is whether daily quests or challenges will be available at launch.

Speaking of launch, Valkyrie will be “premiering” on Oculus Rift, with all pre-orders of the technology including a copy of the game. As per Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, “[Valkyrie] perfectly captures the promise of immersive gaming, shooting you into a sci-fi adventure as you pilot a spaceship in search of combat. Battling your friends (and enemies) in multiplayer space dogfights is the ultimate VR thrill, and we’re excited to partner with CCP to bring this experience to Rift owners everywhere.”

I think the bundling will be incredibly useful because trying to explain the experience of VR or a particular VR game to someone who hasn’t done it themselves can feel like you’re forcing them to look through pictures of your child. You’re all enthusiasm (as with Palmer Luckey’s quote) and they’re politely interested but you worry they don’t see how cool the thing you’re explaining is.

“I can talk about VR to you all day, chew your ear off in the pub about how it’s going to change the world and show you pictures but you will not get it until you have the headset on,” is how Willans phrases it. “[The problem is] not unique to our game, it’s unique to the medium. Do I imagine a world where every Game and HMV up and down the UK has got a VR station – I hope so. This is the way people will understand it. It’s a challenge absolutely.”

With Valkyrie, the team have started to focus in on delivering a wow factor from the moment you boot the game. Currently when you’re browsing menus and customising ships you’re standing in a huge hangar. Turning to look behind you you’ll see the words “Crow’s nest” on the back wall. Ahead is the edge of the mezzanine you’re on, a sheer drop to the floor below (why you would actively choose to sit next to a sheer drop is not clear to me). Hovering in front of you are holographic ships and menu icons and so on – augmented reality inside virtual reality. It reminded me of the galaxy map room of the Normandy in Mass Effect.

“The whole of the front end, the UI, was done in the last 6 weeks,” says Willans. “That was because we had an amazing game but there was no wow from the get go. There are a lot of people who are going to be into VR who might not be gamers, they might be VR enthusiasts. We really want them to boot the client and be like ‘Holy shit, this is the future’.”

Valkyrie is currently set for a Q1 2016 launch in line with the Oculus Rift release schedule.

*You might be horrified at this turn of phrase now but next year everyone will be saying it.

27 Comments

  1. Noc says:

    Sorry, this looks cool but it’s a no-buy for me without shirtless stationside space-volleyball.

    • spaced says:

      That’ll be in the DLC pack, along with being able to ride alongside a launching craft on a space motorcycle so you can pump your fist and go “WOOOOOOO!!”

  2. Aventinus says:

    So, is this a mode of the game? Will you be able to play the main game like this?

    • DevilishEggs says:

      Eve the mmo is about to add 1st person perspective next week (I think), and there’s already a slightly wonky version of WASD controls in place. But it’ll never be this responsive because the server ticks are too slow.

    • Mctittles says:

      Valkerie is just kind of a side thing based in the Eve universe. Currently it’s not connected to Eve Online in any way.

  3. Themadcow says:

    Yay, another multiplayer based space game. Let me find that Spiderman jpg.

  4. Marblecake says:

    Okay, I’ll sound either preachy or overly defensive, but I just have to say it: these modes are exactly what the Star Citizen Alpha 1.3 has to offer. PvP vs modes (CTF, deathmatch and team deathmatch), as well as PvE against increasingly difficult waves of AI.

    My point is…okay, uh, maybe I don’t have a point. My point will either coalesce within the next 2 years or explode while a million voices cry out in disappointment and are suddenly silenced by torrents of schadenfreude.

    • metric day says:

      yeah but this is actually fun and people want to play, unlike AC. The alpha has been a blast and it works in VR, which Croberts just bumbles blathers and lies about supporting.

    • Apocalypse says:

      And on a total unrelated note Star Citizen 2.0 is out. ;-)

  5. AriochRN says:

    I always thought Tom Cruise’s “ass” in Top Gun was not so much “bad” as “allegorical”…

  6. Alberto says:

    I’m quite skeptical about the whole VR topic.

    I see it as a cool gimmick in controlled environments, but little else.

    It’s expensive, it’ll age really quick as resolutions and displays improve, will add a new layer of trouble to games already troubled by graphical issues and poor performance. Arkham Knight and Just Cause as latest best examples.

    I understand the enthusiasm among developers, but let’s not forget Kinect and the other “revolutionary” gaming tech.

    • Cropduster says:

      I know what you mean, at the moment VR feels to me like a roller coaster, a lot of fun but not something i really need in my house.

      But I don’t think the comparison to kinect is fair, considering that thing never worked as they hoped at any point during it’s lifespan while VR tech demonstrably works right now works almost perfectly. They just don’t yet know what a vr game should look and play like outside of spacegames.

      I’m not going to be an early adopter on this but i’ll keep an interested eye on it. I loose enough time to bog standard 2D eve as it is anyway.

    • roothorick says:

      > …but let’s not forget Kinect and the other “revolutionary” gaming tech.

      Like motion controls (Wii)? Handheld capacitive thumbpads (Steam Controller)? Hell, let’s get oldschool. Lightguns (say what you will, they were a fundamentally important breakthrough in the arcade days). Real-time 3D projection. The mouse.

      Kinect, and many projects before it, failed not in the what, but in the how. To quote a certain really famous webcomic author: “I’ve never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive.”

    • Rindan says:

      I don’t think anyone is really arguing that VR is going to change gaming in its current form. I think what folks are arguing is that VR is going to really change SOME gaming.

      Any game where you are seated, VR is a huge game changer. There isn’t a flight sim, race sim, or basically any vehicle (be it mechs, space ships, whatever) fan alive that isn’t furiously wanking off at the thought of VR. Granted, this sort of seated game play is nearly dead currently, so the market is small, but VR might change that. I wouldn’t be even a little shocked to suddenly find one of my favorite and thoroughly dead genera, World War II flight sims, get resurrected with gusto. Playing these seated games with a VR head set is absolutely game changing. It solves a problems that these games have always struggled mightily with. If you are in a cockpit, you need to be able to look around. VR solves that cranks the immersion to 11.

      My prediction is this; VR comes out and other than a few games, it gets light support. Most people wont use it, and the second generation consumer sales will be smaller than the first generation that is going to hit in 2016. At the same time though, there is going to be an explosion in vehicle based games. It will be a blip on the radar next to the Call of Duties of the world, but it will rapidly grow. Give it 3 years, and the world will be awash with mech games, World War II flight games, space games, and vehicle sims of all flavors. Sales for VR will slowly crank back up, and there will be a sim renaissance on the scale of our current indie renaissance.

      So, will it change the face of gaming? Probably not, but it is going to usher in a revolution for seated games and grow that rather small market. It will also likely get a little love from open world games. I might want to play Call of Duty with a VR headset because I will get stomped by people not using one, but I would stomp puppies to play Fallout 4 with its pretty minimal combat and nice vistas.

  7. seroto9 says:

    I’d be interested to know how this compares to Elite’s CQC mode…which I don’t enjoy. I’d really like a space game that wasn’t multiplayer, for a change.

  8. Faults says:

    I need to say this yet again, why IS VR necessary here? There is literally nothing about this that requires, or even benefits from using VR. Why is this being forced?

    As a title on its own, I probably would enjoy this, but as it stands, I’m not buying a stupid looking blindfold with monitors in it just to play a game that’s essentially a prettier Freespace 2 without a singleplayer campaign.

    • Windows98 says:

      It’s not necessary, but it is fucking awesome. The sense of where your opponents are you get when you can follow them with your gaze as they fly by you can’t be understated.

      It’s just a totally different experience from playing on a monitor and has to be experienced first hand to understand it.

      • Faults says:

        That’s really cool, but I’m simply never going to get a VR headset. I get immense eyestrain and discomfort whenever I look at anything in ‘3D’.
        I find it immensely frustrating when I see stuff like this when games I would otherwise enjoy are declaring themselves ‘VR ONLY’, not because of any actual requirement, but purely in order to push VR as a format while offering very few compelling reasons for doing so. The whole ‘look to lock’ thing described here is a prime example of this approach – it’s a solution to a problem that didn’t exist.

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          Henke says:

          So you have constant eyestrain then?

          • Faults says:

            Yes, because dual monitors strapped to your face, constant luminance value and an entirely unwavering, fixed focal point is objectively exactly what real life is.

        • Mctittles says:

          The biggest takeback I get from showing people VR who are on the skeptical is the word “natural”. Like me and many others when you hear 3d, you think 3d movies and stuff that “pops out” at you.

          VR 3d is not like that…in fact you don’t really think to yourself “man this is 3d”…because it’s 3d like the real world is 3d.

          You don’t gush over the desk in front of you being 3d, because it’s not doing anything fancy like popping out in your face; it’s just there…in 3d. VR is like that, it just feels like you are somewhere else. A boring room in VR is the same as a boring room in real life, but a space game in VR is an amazing vacation.

      • EhexT says:

        “The sense of where your opponents are you get when you can follow them with your gaze as they fly by you can’t be understated.”

        Padlock View. Been in flight sims since the 90s.

        On a more general note, nothing says “Have a game to convince people that VR is good” like a pre-order bonus they themselves then cannot take advantage of if they’re getting it shown to them by someone else who just got his Oculus.

  9. racccoon says:

    Typical CCP copy n paste.
    Looks boring and over done, a long with trying to keep up with the jones’s while never delivering any kind of change throughout eve’s life.
    I see this a last ditch effort to keep up with a time they could of had years n years ago but choose to ignore it, instead they choose to play around with eve updating a very old concept of a game, where they spent years frozen in a set of ice just constantly copying and pasting updates.
    CCP = the worlds best copy n pasters.

  10. NephilimNexus says:

    “The goal from day one was always to make you feel like a badass space pilot – Tom Cruise in Top Gun in space.”

    I’m over 40 and I only barely got that reference.

    I know Iceland isn’t part of the real world but c’mon…

    • Cederic says:

      Really? One of the few good films one of Hollywood’s biggest ever stars has been in? A film containing Meg Ryan at her cutest best? The US Navy’s best recruitment aid since Pearl Harbour? The second greatest film by one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, with genuinely iconic footage of modern military hardware? The de facto standard in subversive homoerotic cinema?

      Anybody watching the first four minutes of link to youtube.com in the cinema has just met Tom Cruise and the movie’s already proven Philippa’s point even that early in. Shit, there’s raw quality dripping out of every frame of that credit sequence.

      Valkyrie makes me feel like that, I’m buying it.

  11. dorobo says:

    THE DOOR!

  12. JAS54 says:

    Closet homosexuality in space? SIGN ME UP!