Last week I went to Cologne, Germany, for Gamescom. Now, as most people reading this will know, Gamescom is the biggest video game convention and trade show in the world, and this year, it had over four hundred thousand visitors. To say it was big would be an understatement akin to calling Hurricane Katrina a “big storm”. Inside, hundreds of vendors and demonstrations catered to the thousands of cosplayers and gamers who all shouted and sweated and enjoyed a week of glimpses at the newest, hottest stuff in gaming. I had never been to such an event before, but I was not to be distracted by the amazing costumes, mindblowing displays, and… ok, yeah, so I was distracted. Way distracted. Anyway, my primary reason for attending was to play EVE: Valkyrie on the Oculus Rift, and I did achieve my goal. Let’s carry on!
I accompanied Shannon and Jonathan Doyle, also of MMOGames, and together we approached Oculus Rift’s amazing setup. The Oculus Rift display – if you can even call this a display – wasn’t so much a “display” as an actual building-like thing inside the large convention hall, complete with interior room and hallways, lighting, its own air conditioning, and dozens of employees and assistants who were eager to answer our questions as they introduced us to this fascinating new technology. We entered a small private room, oohed and aahed because it was SO much cooler in there than it was everywhere else, and sat down and waited while our guide to all things Oculus prepared the headset for my use; you see, it was decided that I would try it first. Squee!
The Oculus employee who joined us in the rather comfortable little room prepared the headset and helped me put it on, and then handed an X-Box controller to me. Now, a bit of background; I have never used any sort of VR device before, nor have I ever played anything using an X-Box controller before, so my impressions here should be relatively free of those sorts of bias when it comes to my opinion of the equipment and experience. As an aside, the Oculus Rift will ship with a standard X-Box controller when it is released next year – barring any changes, of course – but they have also developed a special pair of controllers called the Oculus Touch, which sadly I did not get to try out. In any event, I was all ready to go in short order. The employee suggested that I play Edge of Nowhere, which was one of about ten games that players could choose to try. I wasted no time in blurting out “I wanna play EVE: Valkyrie!”, and after the employee’s confirmation that I could indeed do so, I selected the game and was off on my first ever virtual adventure.
The headset completely obscures your vision from everything save the screens which display the game you are playing, and the experience is really, really amazing and difficult to describe… but I’m gonna try to describe it anyway. I was suddenly at the controls of a small fighter craft, staring down the catapult launchway and through a door into the blackness of space. A countdown sounded and, when it reached zero, my little fighter was hurled forward, through the door, out into the vastness of space. As I looked from side to side – moving just my eyes – I could see things to my sides, and as I moved my head around, it was exactly like being in reality and moving my head around; things spun into and out of my field of view as I looked up, then down. I could see my hands, my virtual hands, gripping the twin control sticks of the teeny craft. As I looked to my left, my breath was quite literally taken away by the sight of an immense Brutix-class battlecruiser, which slowly drifted by me, and then beside me. More ships of all sizes, from huge carriers and battleships to much smaller cruisers, drifted around me. I was flying right in the thick of an immense fleet of Gallentean ships, and, unlike in EVE, those ships seemed truly immense.
I think that was the most mindblowing part of the whole experience, actually; in EVE Online, we are told how massive the ships that we pilot are, how inconceivably powerful their weapon batteries are, how many thousands of people are required to keep them operational, and all of that adds to the wonder and grandeur of gaming in New Eden. However, in EVE Online, we see our ships from a distance of hundreds of meters – if not hundreds of kilometers, should we desire to zoom out far enough – and much of that feeling of scale is lost. Our ships in EVE are beautiful, no doubt, but you tend to think of them as being fairly small, because, frankly, on your screen, they’re fairly small. A Brutix-class battlecruiser in the universe of EVE Online is 391 meters long, which is a fair bit larger than a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier of the United States Navy. Now, if you can imagine the feeling of being in a small motorboat or runabout and coming up alongside one of the aforementioned aircraft carriers, while in the midst of a fleet of ships that all were even larger than the carrier is, you can begin to imagine the experience of flying that tiny fighter among that fleet of Gallentean warships. It was like the opening scene in Star Wars; the first time you see that gigantic Star Destroyer lumber onto the screen, filling your view as far as you can see… yeah, like that, only better.
I have a few moments to familiarize myself with the controls a bit – this trigger shoots missiles, that trigger shoots guns, the little control stick makes me pitch up and down, and yaw left and right… oh! Something is happening! All of a sudden, warnings sound, lights flash, and a huge fleet of Amarrian warships drops out of warp, right on top of us! It’s go time! I quickly push my stick forward, diving toward one of the nearest ships in the enemy fleet, an immense Oracle-class battlecruiser, and I press down on my guns. Fire streams from the cannons on my fighter, tracing its way across the Oracle’s hull… no, wait. Nothing happened. I hit the hull, but don’t seem to be doing any damage. I turn and climb, looking over my shoulder as I do, keeping a watchful eye for enemies on my tail, and come back for a second pass at the Oracle.
That’s when the nice Oculus employee informed me that I should shoot the enemy fighters, who were, by the way, conveniently outlined in bright red boxes. I just told myself that my EVE instincts took over; you see, you always primary Tier 3 battlecruisers in EVE. Anyway. I approached the enemy fighters, acquired a missile lock, and fired… and the Amarrian ship disappeared in a cloud of debris! Woo! For the next few minutes, it went on that way, with me and my teeny ship diving, climbing, shooting, getting into turnfights one moment, and the next, coming straight at the enemy fighters in high speed slashing attacks. Now, it took me some time to figure out how to roll – remember, I was completely unfamiliar with the X-Box controller, and the game didn’t give me a great deal of time to learn – and I never did figure out how to change my throttle settings, but overall, I gave a good showing of myself. I scratched six or seven enemy fighters before one got in behind me who I simply could not shake, no matter how frantic my maneuvers, and finally I heard the missile warning. A second later, my screens turned bright white, and then faded out, as my teeny ship was destroyed. I removed the headset, smiling from ear to ear, and had to rest a moment, to recover my senses from the intensity and acuity of the experience.
In a nutshell, it was utterly amazing, and I whole heartedly recommend that anyone who is even remotely interested in EVE Online or any sort of flight simulation seek out an Oculus Rift and have a go at EVE: Valkyrie as soon as they can. I stepped aside and Jonathan had a go, and I am pretty sure he enjoyed himself as much as I did. I was very skeptical about any sort of virtual reality up until this. I was quite concerned that with my severe vision problems, any sort of VR headset would cause me no end of problems, and while that may or may not be true after a longer period of play – I only played it for about five minutes – I had absolutely no issues whatsoever. It was, hands down, the most immersive gaming experience I have ever had, and the graphics, sound, and controls were all top notch, in my opinion. If I have a complaint, it is that I could not shoot that blasted Oracle! Bahs. I would love to see this technology actually interfaced with the wider universe of EVE Online, but I understand any sort of project quite that ambitious will be a long time in coming; still, the thought of flying a Slicer or Firetail in a ‘plex fight via the Oculus Rift is very, very appealing.
Until next time, fly it like you stole it, folks!Related: EVE Online, EVE Valkyrie, First Impressions, Gamescom, Gamescom 2015, Oculus Rift