Eve Fanfest 2013: Hands-on with CCP's experimental Eve Oculus Rift dogfighting game

Tom Senior

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CCP have made an experimental 6v6 Eve dogfighting game in Unity for the Oculus Rift. I had the chance to play it at Eve Fanfest in Reykjavik and I'm quite eager to tell you about it, because it's basically the game I've wanted to play since the age of six when I decided that I wanted to be a space pilot.

It was created in less than seven weeks by a team of CCP staff utilising "20% time" - CCP's catchphrase for time they give their devs to work on projects of their choice. Each player sits in one of Eve's fighters and blasts the others to space dust in a warzone stationed around one of Eve's mighty carriers.

First, I put the headset on and calibrate the view. I'm sitting inside the cockpit. The ship is socketed at the base of the carrier's long launch tunnel. While the other players around adjust their own headsets I get to look around. I can look up through the clear canopy and see the metal ridges of the launch tunnel wall above. There's a bank of glowing displays in front of me. I twist my head and find the dark seat-back behind me. The Oculus Rift devkits output at 640x480, but it looks good. The red light of the launch tunnel picks out ice on the canopy. A bulb hangs down from the metal banding supporting the glass. I soon learned that this was the "you've got a stalker and it's a missile" alarm. As I'm examining the minutiae of the cabin an alert pops up. We're about to launch. There's a brief countdown and WHOOOSH.

I'm spat down the tube into the vastness of space. I feel like I've been squirted out of a giant interstellar ketchup bottle.

I'm in space! The first thing I do is rotate upside down and look directly upwards through the canopy. Mistake. I experience a dizzying pang of complete disorientation. I try to fix it by looking straight down at my body. At my virtual body. Shoulders, torseo, legs and arms are all modelled, but they're all in slightly different positions to my real posture. Something's *wrong.* I don't feel queasy, it's an odd fuzzy inability to reconcile what my eyes are seeing and wht I'm doing. I try to adjust my posture to match the body of the pilot and the feeling intensifies that the polygonal, armoured frame beneath my neck really is mine. God. This is weird. But brilliant.

I have to stop thinking about my legs because lasers are happening. We're circling the outside of the battleship. I'm flying with an Xbox pad. Controls are simple: the rIght trigger trigger shoots lasers, twin sticks adjust pitch and yaw and the left trigger controls missiles. The missiles are the smartest design element. You hover the reticule over an opponent to get a lock, but the reticule isn't latched to the front of your ship, it's at the centre of your vision. I fly underneath an opponent, look up through the canopy again - less dizziness this time - and hold down the missile button. The reticule locks, I release the button and watch half-a-dozen spears spiral out towards the player. My enemy activates their afterburner (hold A) and successfully outruns the missiles.

It's a simple, arcade knockabout, but the spectacle and sensation of spinning through space and physically looking around is fantastic. By the end of the three minute round I'd pretty much exhauseted the limited demo, but it's only intended as a prototype. "God knows what we'll do with this," Eve executive producer Jon Lander told me shortly befoe I squeezed to the front of the press queue. According to him the dogfighting sim "came out of the blue."

"This is a bunch of guys in their spare time, basically last year we saw what oculus were doing on kickstarter and we as a company threw in a load of money. If you invested to a certain level you got a load of devkits," he explained.

A team of CCP developers started playing with the devkits immediately. "Really, really quickly they got this networked-up dogfighting game. They just came along one evening and said "can you have a look at this?" I took a look at it and was like ... "fucking hell, guys. This is amazing!"

The prototype uses Eve assets in Unity, but it's not connected at all to the Tranquility server. It's an experiment that CCP decided to break it out at Fanfest, because if you've built a virtual reality space fighting sim by accident, why not show it off? As for Eve integration, that's a pipe dream at the moment. "6v6 instanced combat isn't what Eve -with the whole single shard thing- is about," said Lander.

"Is there a way to work this in? We've got some really interesting questions to look at now."

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