There’s a moment in the tutorial missions of Eve: Valkyrie where you’re literally shot out of a capital ship’s launching tube, and suddenly, there it is: the infinite reaches of space, pockmarked with huge ships and fighters. It’s a stunning sight in virtual reality — the sense of being inside your ship’s cockpit in deep space is thrilling — but I was used to playing on the Oculus Rift, connected to a beefy, not to mention expensive, gaming PC.
This was all being done on a PlayStation 4. And it looked incredible. Eve: Valkyrie on PlayStation VR isn’t a hacked-down version of the original; it’s a nearly unbelievable port on a system that seems like it wouldn’t be powerful enough to deliver these visuals at a frame rate high enough to be comfortable in virtual reality.
How the hell did CCP Newcastle pull it off?
I was curious about the graphical compromises that were made in order to get the game running so well on the PS4, while still looking so impressive.
“Thankfully, not too many, largely due to the dynamic resolution feature, which scales back some of the finer details when there’s a lot of action on screen,” Andrew Willans, lead designer on Valkyrie at developer CCP Newcastle, told Polygon.
“It’s barely noticeable in the heat of combat, and then adjusts and sharpens up image quality when things become less intense,” he continued. “We disabled shadows, but this is a purely aesthetic [setting] and something we will be looking into again as we optimize for any PlayStation Pro features.”
One of the biggest advantages the developers at CCP have enjoyed — and this isn’t easily replicated — is that they’ve been developing for the PlayStation VR platform for a very long time. There are no shortcuts to good VR design; the more time you have to work on your experience, the better.
“We’ve been regularly playtesting cross-platform battles for nearly half a year, and I think that’s a critical part of the process,” Willans explained. “When you become accustomed to just grabbing any available headset on a daily basis, you spot the differences quickly. Calling them out and fixing them as you develop a game mode, feature or asset becomes second nature. Aside from maintaining that all-important gameplay parity, it also helps you develop and improve interactions within menus or in balancing inputs and key bindings.”
That was the hardest part of development, according to Willans, and arguably one of the most groundbreaking. You can play Eve: Valkyrie against Oculus Rift players and, soon, people who picked up the game for their HTC Vive. The team has implemented a quick-chat system called Com Alerts to make sure everyone can communicate with their team, even if they aren’t all playing on the same platform or don’t have their microphones turned on.
“Aside from the more obvious challenges of ensuring visual effects provides the same player feedback regardless of optimization, we closely examined our input calibrations so no one could claim an advantage due to tech as opposed to skill,” Willans said. “Having such a dedicated and vocal community for the past six months really helped us out in this respect. They’re the first to tell us if they detect any advantage due to the dead zones on a pad versus a joystick, for example.”
The result is a game that looks and plays as close as possible to the original version on the PC, even though the PS4 offers developers much less raw horsepower. The ability to play with or against the communities on the other two tethered VR headsets should also help alleviate the issue of finding full games.
It’s something CCP planned for from the beginning.
“Our technical director would shoot me if I said easy, but it actually wasn’t too stressful,” Willans said. “This was due to some good foresight when planning and designing our own, in-house backend systems. Cross-platform play was a consideration from day one, and having full control over those systems meant we [weren’t] reliant on anyone else. As Valkyrie evolved, and continues to evolve, we have the systems to plug straight into.”
That’s interesting, and will allow the game to grow with time but, just on a gut level, Valkyrie on PSVR looks amazing. You can see some of the graphical loss from the PC version if you slow down and know what to look for, but none of that will matter once the fun begins and you’re pushing your fighter to the edge trying to splash as many enemy ships as possible. The performance remains steady and the action comfortable, and your brain fills in the rest.
This is the science fiction dogfighting game that PlayStation VR needed, and it survived its move to the less powerful hardware in all the important ways. See you in the next life.