Eve Online developer is moving deeper into VR with a series of strange, fascinating demos

“We have made a decision to go further into VR.”

These are the words CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar offered to attendees of Eve Fanfest in Iceland earlier today. He admitted the company has a history of talking big and then taking its time to fulfill those promises, but they learned a lesson with Eve: Valkyrie, a game that gained notoriety as a demo shown at Fanfest two years ago and is now a full product that looks, and plays, much better than most other VR games in development.

The lesson is clear: Start small, and listen to the audience.

CCP now has two teams, one in Atlanta and one in Shanghai, creating small experiences in virtual reality just to see what’s possible. “It’s almost impossible to talk about,” Veigar said when describing VR. They’d rather let people try their demos and collect the feedback at stations located at the show.

The VR demo room at Fanfest looks like a motion capture studio. CCP is using Microsoft’s Kinect units to “see” the players, and in the “Workshop” demo I was able to look down and see a sort of shimmery, grayscale version of myself.

I was able to reach out and punch and kick boxes, as well as interact with a giant, Godzilla-sized version of myself. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to see a black and white version of yourself the size of a house, but welcome to virtual reality. I saw the shimmery outline of the CCP dev, and he gave me a high five.

Using the Kinect hardware in this manner isn’t perfect; the tracking was lost a few times and it’s not as accurate as other solutions I’ve tried, but they proved they can get most of the way there. “This is basic prototype stuff, this is stuff from our labs,” Veigar said about these demos during his keynote.

vr labs

There’s no pressure for these teams to make games, they’re just seeing what they can find if they start to play around. Veigar joked last year about throwing fireballs with his hand in virtual reality, and oddly enough that’s an option in the Workshop demo.

Veigar showed a slide that from SuperData Research that claimed there was over $2.6 billion invested in virtual reality and augmented reality companies in 2014, and there 286 “currently available virtual reality applications.”

“There are currently over 200 developers working on virtual reality projects and 15 different virtual reality HMDs at different stages of completion,” the slide stated. “A wave of PC devices will launch in mid 2015 while the first console device will launch in mid to late 2016.”

The space, it seems, is already getting crowded.

Making Tron

I tried a demo called “Disc Arena” that allowed two players to face each other, each with their own large square of carpet, Kinect and Development Kit 2, and throw discs at each other. Your left arm was equipped with a shield; if you let a disc hit it, the disc was destroyed. If you moved your arm to swat it away, the disc would fly in the opposite direction. I faced my ghostly opponent, and threw my first disc.

“Where is this going?” Veigar asked. “We’re not entirely sure.”

The trick was to keep as many discs in the air as possible, and to swat them back instead of destroying them. They’re easy to block, but I found myself overwhelmed by the number of discs in the air. It was also hard to aim, which meant you could be more precise with your shield than with your attacks. It was a fun game, and the trash talk began immediately.

It’s also very clear that very few people will have the equipment needed to play the game at home.

But it was fun. There was another demo called Ship Spinner that allowed you manipulate Eve ships in 3D space. These aren’t games that can ever ship, but they give you a few hints about how the studios are thinking about, and using, virtual reality. It’s interesting that CCP is also making large-scale tech demos that require specialized equipment and a large amount of space; this is the direction Valve is moving in with the HTC Vive as well.

“Where is this going?” Veigar asked. “We’re not entirely sure.” They’re just feeling their way around in VR for now, trying to stumble on something the same way they stumbled on Valkyrie. The demos were fun, and certainly interesting, but there’s nothing that grabbed me in the same way. They’re the work of talented artists given a doodle pad and no direction, and now the challenge will be figuring out how to move towards a more game-like, commercial application.

I dutifully logged my comments in the kiosk.

Gameplay preview: EVE- Valkyrie – Gameplay Trailer (Fanfest 2015)