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This Could Be Oculus Rift's Killer App

Eurogamer's Martin Robinson contemplates Eve Valkyrie and the exciting future of VR.

Palmer Luckey thinks it's one of the best games out there for the Oculus Rift.

I'm yet to play everything -- and Gamescom last week was my first experience with the headset that's sent excited ripples throughout the industry -- but I'm not about to argue with the Oculus founder. Eve Valkyrie sells you on the virtual reality dream better than anything else out there, delivering a bespoke experience that transports you into another world with startling efficiency and effectiveness.

Valkyrie started, much like the Rift itself, as a technical demo cobbled together by a team of enthusiasts within CCP. "It all started last year," recalls CCP's Sigurdur Gunnarsson. "I was watching E3 and I saw Carmack demoing Doom on a Rift. It got me really excited that virtual reality might actually come back for real this time. I backed the Oculus Kickstarter on day one, as did a colleague of mine. Then we started looking around to people at CCP to make a game with me. A few of us were thinking the same things, and we made a group for a game to make."

Within days of receiving some Rift dev kits the small team of five had built a bare-bones demo that nevertheless sold the proof of concept well -- here was the rich sci-fi universe that CCP's built up over the past decade seen from the first time from a new perspective. "From that point we spent the next five weeks -- and we were allowed to use 20 per cent of our company time -- working towards making an experience for Fan Fest," says Gunnarsson. "We bought it there and people really, really liked it. It was a pretty big queue all Saturday."

There might be a little Scandinavian understatement going on there -- the tech demo that CCP bought to this year's FanFest was the star of the show, with queues snaking around the halls. "It was very surprising -- we just wanted to have a couple of units to enable people to experience it. We were quite sceptical at first, but when we got the Oculus we were blown away by the potential of it. Then quickly people saw the potential, and at E3 CCP wanted to go bigger with it."

That's when the decision to turn EVE VR into a full game was made, with work being shifted to a bigger team of 20 within CCP's Newcastle office. The announcement was only made last week at Gamescom, and even though the demo's changed little since it was first shown at FanFest EVE Valkyrie still threatens to be the game of the show.

The Rift can take some of the credit, its ability to draw you into a world bolstered by the new HD versions that are being shown for the first time to the public in Cologne. It's still not a perfect image -- getting that close to even a 1080p image will show up imperfections and allow you to pick out each pixel -- but it's an improvement nevertheless. And CCP's done well to work to the strengths of the Rift; there are other games out there with virtual cockpits, but none of them sell the claustrophobia of being entombed in a fighter ship as well as Valkyrie, the glass that surrounds you seemingly in reach of the tip of your nose.

That's probably why Valkyrie works so well, actually. There are other games that have been impressively retooled to work with Rift -- iRacing, Hawken and Half-Life 2 immediately spring to mind -- but this is one of the first designed bespoke to work with the headset. A lot of the control is still handled by a wired Xbox 360 pad, though you're free to move your head around to take in your surroundings. It's a feature that removes so much of the frustration associated with open space dogfighting games (a frustration that, I think, is partly responsible for their absence for so many years) and one that makes circling opponents a pleasure rather than a chore.

Head-tracking's also figured into how you target missiles -- hold down the left trigger and a reticule appears in the centre of your view, and you just need to line that up with an enemy ship and keep them in your sights for a matter of second to lock on a volley of missiles. It's deeply satisfying, to the point where it's not the sense of being transported into the middle of a galactic space battle that impresses the most; rather it's the fact that Eve Valkyrie is an incredibly entertaining game to play.

Along with Star Citizen, Valkyrie shows the space fighting genre's coming back with some style.

Valkyrie remains slim, though, with the three-on-three dogfighting within a small arena all that's to show. How that blossoms out into a full experience is something that CCP's still figuring out itself, though it has ideas for possible directions. "We're working with a new team and setting the foundation for the actual game. It's being done in a little of a different way, like getting involving gameplay in there. It will definitely be multiplayer, and an e-sport like game is something we're considering, so an arena makes sense -- but we haven't laid down what kind of game modes we're going to have."

Neither is there any word -- or any real idea, for that matter -- on how Valkyrie will connect with the wider world of Eve. Dust 514's set a precedent that Valkyrie's likely to follow on from, but exactly how it will intertwine with the larger universe depends largely on what style of play CCP settles on for the game. Could they factor into the epic battles that have marked Eve Online out, or will they be compartmentalized with corporations' machinations feeding into the action?

They're questions that CCP is slowly coming to as it ramps up production on Eve Valkyrie, but in allowing the early demo to blossom into a full game they've answered one very important one. The Rift works brilliantly for bespoke game experiences, and if this is indicative of what we can expect to play when units become commercially available at the end of next year then it's well worth getting very excited indeed.

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