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Eve: Valkyrie may be VR's killer app: Hands-on with the latest version of CCP's space fighter

You open your eyes inside a dark ship.

"Fanfest 2015" is written on the frost on one side of your canopy. "Clean me" is written on the other side. The lights turn on as your ship powers up, and suddenly you're shot into space, surrounded by a battle that dwarfs your small fighter.

This is Eve: Valkyrie, and it's one of the best virtual reality games I've ever played.

Moving towards release

Eve: Valkyrie began life as the work of a few developers inside CCP. It was called "Eve VR," and they showed it off at Fanfest two years ago, and the company seemed shocked when everyone became instant fans of the experience. It was quickly moved into full production, moved over to the Unreal Engine, and is now slated to be a launch title for the consumer version of the Oculus Rift and Sony's Project Morpheus.

So what have they been doing for the past year since we've tried it?

"We've been working on everything. We've changed the flight model completely, it's now totally physics based. We've changed the game mode where you have to drop a drone to gain territory on the map," Sigurdur Gunnarsson, the senior programmer of Valkyrie, told Polygon.

There's a new ship now, the heavy. The heavy is slower, but it has a warp move that allows it to move quickly around the battlefield. That move comes with a cool down, so you'll have to use it with some thoughts.

There are two stripes of gold on your canopy, and it takes me a second to realize one is for my shields, and the other for my ship's health. You can see what ship you have targeted on your main screen, which sits a bit below your eye line when looking directly in front of your ship. This also shows you the shields of your target.

All the information is right there when you look ahead, but turn to the sides to track a target and you leave the data behind. Everything, even your head movement, becomes game play.

"I think in terms of UI in VR, everyone is still learning. But I think there's a sense that we've learned that just because you can do something doesn't mean it's a good idea," Owen O'Brien, executive producer on EVE: Valkyrie told Polygon.

This UI, with everything on the same plane so your eye is either focused on the ship or on the battle, is both comfortable and efficient. They're learning. The changes made from year to year during these reveals at Fanfest in Iceland are some of the best evidence at how quickly virtual reality game design is evolving.

The single-player game will take you through the story of the game's lead character while teaching you the basics of combat, so every single-player mission is also a multiplayer map. This map is an escort mission, from your early day's in the Navy of one of EVE's factions, the Gallente.

It also gives you a sense of the scale and drama from Eve Online, giving you a sort of commercial for CCP's flagship product inside of this faster-paced VR game.

Even the game mode, which is something like a standard "king of the hill" format has a few added wrinkles. Every ship has a drone, and you have to release your drone to capture set points on the map. The more drones your team has deployed, the faster you take each point. If you don't want to take on the other team directly, you can just fly around take out their drones.

Everything, even your head movement, becomes game play

It's impossible to describe what it's like to play even a short round of this game in print. You're inside a spaceship, flying around epic battles and dogfighting the opposition. You can move your body and watch your virtual body in the cockpit mirror your actions, giving you a sense of presence and reality inside the battle that helps lock you into position.

I've played a few times during Fanfest, and it takes my breath away every time. This is what it's like when a talented developer understands virtual reality and crafts an experience aimed directly at the platform. It's a sit down experience that gives you a short, easy to understand blast of life as a deep-space fighter pilot.

This is one of the reasons the team feels comfortable with a VR-only competitive multiplayer game, a genre that operates as a niche inside of a niche. They know their audience. During a presentation O'Brien asked how many people in the audience, all hardcore Eve fans who traveled to Iceland for the show, had an Oculus Rift at home. A surprisingly number of hands shot up.

"I was surprised when I asked how many people in the audience had [Oculus Rift development kits], it was more than I was expecting," O'Brien said. "I think in terms of game we're making it works with the demographic of people who will be early adopters for virtual reality."

If you're an Eve fan, you're likely already into the idea of space flight and technology that simulates battle once you get there. Valkyrie delivers something that was science fiction only a few short years ago: An amazing, virtual reality game that simulates the sort of cinematic space dogfights that used to be exclusive to television and film.

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