We here at TURBO are always exploring new things, new ideas, new technologies. And with all the hubbub surrounding VR --thanks to Oculus Rift and, more recently, Sony’s Project Morpheus-- we were fortunate to spend some quality time checking out CCP’s EVE: Valkyrie demo, running on Oculus.
To me, VR represents a whole new paradigm in gaming. I truly believe this. I feel that every console generation since the PlayStation 2 and beyond (this includes the millions of PC iterations and upgrades over the years, too) have only really represented upgrades in processing power and visual fidelity. Very little, even factoring in Nintendo’s once-popular Wii motion controls or tablet touchscreen inputs, has changed in the last 14-15 years. But Oculus, and now Morpheus, are changing all that.
We have, for one reason or another, been discussing VR as of late, partly because it’s a hot topic, and partly for future exploration. This technology opens up myriad design possibilities, so of course we’re at least going to think about it, daydream out loud, and ponder its potential. This, however, drew a line in the sand for the team, between those that had tried the Oculus, and those who hadn’t. Those who hadn’t were simply lacking context. Through no fault of their own it is possible that one might associate the term “VR” with those antiquated headsets of old, which at their best mimicked a floating HD display that moved wherever one’s head moved. With the current-gen VR tech, YOU are the fulcrum around which the world moves, not the other way around.
So, no matter how you might describe the Oculus experience to someone, there’s nothing to replace the sensation of actually trying it. With a pal from CCP in the house, lugging his high-powered rig with him, the members of team TURBO lined up to jump into the virtual headspace of EVE Valkyrie.
We first strapped TURBO COO, Ken Suguro, into the Oculus gear, a --to be fair-- cumbersome assemblage of visor and headphones. He had not tried Oculus yet, and despite a long history with AR/VR and Little Red Riding Hood (don’t ask) he had yet to see the current generation of VR in action. As we expected, he thought it was very cool.
The feeling of putting on the visor is one of Total Recall. It is, to abuse an overused word, immersive. When I first tried the Oculus, it was with the RPG-style demo where I began the experience in a medieval home of sorts. It wasn’t just a screen floating in front of me; it was a complete, fully realized world. Looking behind me, the entire room was there. Turning my head left and right resulted in seeing things as you would in real life. A table here, chairs over there, and the camera didn’t jostle or do anything remotely video game-y. The objects in the environment were so convincing that everyone who tried the demo would instinctively reach out as if to touch it. Everything had depth. This is, after all, a 3D technology, but it’s like the surround sound of 3D graphics.
Having sampled the EVE: Valkyrie demo myself, I can recall how fresh it was to try the game, as it was actually a proper game, unlike the previous demos I had tried (rollercoasters, driving games, medieval castles, etc.). Upon firing up the game I was already impressed, looking to my left and right and up and down inside my cockpit. Looking down I could see my glowing chest armor, although my hands didn’t move as I somehow wanted them to. Immediately surrounding me I could tangibly ‘feel’ the geometry of the cockpit. It was very cool. Looking further beyond my immediate trappings I could see the wings of my ship, and upon pressing the right trigger button of my controller, witnessed subtle, real-time lighting effects as I tested my laser cannons. We’ve all seen X-Wings and Y-Wings in Star Wars movies, but this is basically what it must feel like to actually sit in one.
The ship itself felt quite large, with the wings spanning as far out as they did. But as I raced down the launch tube as if I was a pilot in Battlestar Galactica, hitting the freedom and chaos of open space was exhilarating. As I got acclimated to the controls I began doing my best Stevie Wonder impression as I lurched my head backwards to keep track of my target who had just flown past me, overhead. I can only imagine how awesome an Ace Combat game designed for Oculus/Morpheus would be. I began to think how incredible a Virtua Cop-style game could be, crouching behind cover in realistic environments, and taking out snipers in windows or militia that pop up from behind shell-shattered environments. VR isn’t just a new way to control your game, like a controller would; VR is a new way to experience your game.
One by one the guys and gals at TURBO lined up and took Valkyrie for a spin. Each one --even the ones who’d tried Oculus in the past-- left impressed, chirping out ideas as soon as they took the headset off. I personally can’t wait for Morpheus to come home to PlayStation 4. I can imagine almost every game, redesigned or designed to be played in a virtual space. The experience might not be for everyone, but it’s impressive to behold. It will require significant resources to create games for VR, though. Imagine a Spider-Man game where you’re swinging through the streets of Manhattan. Assuming you want to play in a very big city, running at 720p or higher, well, someone’s going to have to build that city. Can you imagine a Final Fantasy in such an environment? Maybe it’ll be just like walking around Shibuya, Japan, with zippered pants, but a large dev team will still have to create those resources.
It’s too early to compare Oculus to Morpheus, but I expect they will offer largely similar experiences, despite the technical differences, which is a good thing. This is exciting stuff coming down the pipe, and it’s nice to be right there as the industry embraces this tech. There are challenges ahead --significant ones-- if we’re going to double down on an industry where VR is an ongoing concern. But based on the evidence at hand, it’s one that I’m more excited about than any tech-related gaming advancement in the past decade.