CCP’s multiplayer spaceship dogfighting game isn’t especially notable for its mechanics. Lasers fire forward, and missiles lock on. Don’t fly into asteroids. But it was the best thing at Fanfest
and the most exciting demonstration at E3.
One minute in, I’m no longer aware of the box strapped to my head—I’ve stopped seeing the pixels in the low-res Oculus Rift dev kit. I arc my head back to spot an opponent zipping toward me on my Z-axis and wrench my ship laterally to avoid his lasers while still tracking him with my eyes. BEEEEEE
goes the lock-on noise, and I twist my head again to watch the swarm of missiles, the explosion, the small victory of a fighter pilot sitting in the cockpit of a spaceship.
It might be mundane in another game—explosions are cheap—but when you’re there in the cockpit, even just looking around the docking bay before takeoff is exciting. The Oculus Rift needs higher-res displays before launching, but even at this stage, it and a simple dogfighting game can turn grown men and women into breathless, slackjawed children in one five minute demo.
The next generation of gaming hardware was indeed present at E3 this year, but it wasn’t a console manufacturer that delivered it. Instead, it was Oculus VR, which not only brought a high-definition version of it’s Oculus Rift HMD
(head-mounted display) to the show, but also sent me trotting over to the CCP booth to check out EVR. Seriously, I could have played this five minute demo on a loop for six hours. In fact, after just a couple minutes I was so dazzled watching the stars streak behind me over the canopy of my fighter that I turned to look back ahead of me just in time to catch a flash of grey before I slammed into a carrier. (At least it didn’t hurt.)
Even with this relatively low-resolution hardware (the demo used the first version of the Oculus Rift made available to developers), the game made a staggering impression on me that’s become more vivid—not less—since I first tried it as I imagine all the possibilities, all the first experiments and games, coming to PC gamers in the very near future.