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It's not all about EVE: Valkyrie, CCP's VR Lab tech demos are tons of fun too

It's not all about EVE: Valkyrie, CCP's VR Lab tech demos are tons of fun too

When CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar took the stage for his keynote, one of the first things he brought up was the 2013 Fanfest, when he and Nate Mitchell share the stage together. During that talk Hilmar painted a vision of one day being able to throw fireballs in VR. Now, two years later CCP has brought that vision to reality, and it is actually pretty fun… when it works.

While EVE: Valkyrie has rightfully stolen the show, the special projects dreamed up by CCP’s teams in Atlanta and Shanghai are incredibly compelling. Using the Kinect 2 and an Oculus Rift the Atlanta team put together three tech demos, Ship Spinner, Workshop and Disc Arena all of which represented scans of your actual body in game. According to Hilmar, these demos are “really rough prototype stuff,” despite that they are extremely fun to play. Even with the Kinect’s sometimes wonky tracking.

The first demo I tried was the Ship Spinner. Putting on the headset, I see myself as a ghostly orange figure, turning to my left I see the guy running the demo, represented as a slightly more yellowed ghost. “Shake my hand,” he says, as his ghostly visage extends its hand outward. I grab it, thinking how surprised I was that the Kinect 2 was actually being fairly accurate. He then directs my attention ahead to the ship floating in front of me. By ‘grabbing’ one end of the ship and swiping with my hand I was able to spin the ship around. Leaning in close to the ship activated an X-ray mode that let me peer into the ship like a cross section book. The level of detail was pretty impressive, and each area of the ship came with it’s own specific audio. For example, when you lean into the bar at the front of the ship, you can hear muffled conversation and cantina music. Turing to your right there is a dot which brings up a menu accessible by pointing.

The point and swipe gesture UI was actually really good.
The point and swipe gesture UI was actually really good.

When you point at the dot there are a number of options to choose from, which you can do by swiping in the direction of the option. From this menu you can activate the ship’s guns, which you can actually fire by pointing in the direction of the asteroids floating around the demo. Perhaps most fun was the ability to launch drones, and then slap them out of the sky like some kind of Space Kong.

Moving on, I then tried the Workshop demo, which actually was four demos in one: a block kicking and punching demo, a crazy demo showing off scale in a wild way, a interactive ‘map of Iceland,’ and the aforementioned fireball demo. Each demo was accessible through a point and swipe interface, similar to the one in the Ship Spinner demo.  I started with the crazy scale demo. Loading it up a narrator tells me to “say hello to yourself,” as a ghosted image of myself appears in front of me mirroring my every movement. Behind regular sized me, a giant Godzilla sized model of myself sprouted up, and in front, on a pedestal a micro version of myself. All three versions of me were simultaneously mirror my moves and the effect was quite wild, if not mildly unsettling. From there I shifted to the fireball demo. On my right side a panel with a lightening element appeared on a podium, and to my left the fire element. Reaching out, I was able to grab each element as a number of red pillars rose in front of me, targets. I look down at my hands, sparkling with elemental power. I smirked and went all Vegeta on those pillars, breaking them apart with blasts of elemental energy. It was more than a little difficult to actually aim the blasts, as the Kinect showed it’s age and lack of effectiveness. Despite this, it was still exceedingly fun and it worked better than most ki blast style demos I have tried on the DK2. From there I moved on to the map, which the narrator assured me was a map of Iceland. Perhaps I just don’t know Iceland, but this was at the very least an extremely stylized map, comprised of octagons in different shades of blue and at different heights. Slapping down on the table created a ripple effect on the map. Other than that I could not find any other functions within this particular demo. The last demo in this particular experience placed a number of blocks in front of me, I was able to punch and kick these and send them flying off into the space.

A look at the world of Disc Arena
A look at the world of Disc Arena

Rounding up the last of the Atlanta demos was the Disc Arena, which is a two person battle to the death throwing charged discs at the player across from you. The discs reflect off the walls much like Curveball. Each player also is equipped with a shield attached to their left arm. Simply blocking the discs with shield destroys them, but the true strategy for the game came when you pushed back against the discs which caused them to reflect back at your opponent. This honestly was often more effective than throwing the discs themselves because it was so difficult to aim them (again, Kinect issues).

Lining up across from me was Ben Kuchera from Polygon, pointing and him I warmly boasted, “you’re going down,” as I put on the DK2. In the world I saw a ghostly visage, similar to the ones from the other demos, of Ben as he prepared for battle. We both throw our first discs, and both struggle with getting any real accuracy. Working through the kinks, I continuously reflect back the discs headed my way. Beginning to realize the strategy I attempt to reflect them against the wall behind Ben, so they can bounce back in his blind spot and hit him. Ben begins to pick up the strategy as well but not before I had rushed out to an insurmountable lead. As the experience comes to an end, I wipe off the few beads of sweat that had begun to accumulate on my brow, and smile, confident in my 8-1 beat down. Despite the annihilation Ben shared in my sentiments, we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in what was far and away the most fun demo of the three from the Atlanta team, which really focused on bringing the body and movement into VR experiences.

A screenshot from Project Nemesis by CCP's Shanghai team
A screenshot from Project Nemesis by CCP’s Shanghai team

The Shanghai team, on the other hand, chose to go a different route creating a Gear VR demo called Project Nemesis. The demo uses the touchpad on the side of the device as input. The demo put you in the turret of a massive starship defending itself from a Wraith ambush. Pressing down on the touchpad (not tapping, because that is tiring), the turret fired in the direction you are looking. The experience, which was rendered using Unreal Engine 4, is among the most gorgeous I have seen on the Gear VR, and while it is a simple game relying on classic mechanics (drawing influence from “Invaders and Missile Command”) it was a ton of fun to play. Currently CCP is calling Project Nemesis a “tech demo,” but it would really be fun to see it turned into a full fledged game.

Right now it is unclear what these VR experiments mean for CCP. Obviously the team is beginning to focus on VR, but as Hilmar himself said, “where this is going to go, we are not entirely sure.” Hilmar continued, “this has the potential to go somewhere,” while acknowledging these are early prototypes of concepts the team is exploring. After seeing what the team has done with EVE: Valkyrie, I can’t wait to see what comes next from the VR Lab at CCP, I just hope they find a more elegant solution than the Kinect which has a tendency to be occasionally inaccurate in practice.

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