EVE: Valkyrie vs. Oculus Rift HD sounds like some sort of 90s remix.
As I pull the Rift HD headset over my head -- a feat that proves a bit more difficult for me than my fellows due to something of a fat head with an unkempt shrub on top of it -- one of the CCP reps reminds me to look around. I don't need telling twice. As the cushioned visor slips down over my temples, the claustrophobic business booth fades away and my vision is filled by a launch tunnel and the cockpit of a small dogfighter.
I wasn't sure if a three-minute game demo could feasibly make such an impression on me that I'd be thinking about it weeks after it happened. But, make no mistake, the cluster of minutes I played of EVE:Valkyrie form The Most Immersive Gameplay Experience I Have Ever Had.
You see those precious few minutes took me right back to playing Wing Commander and X-Wing and TIE Fighter and Freespace. This was dogfighting at its finest, with smooth, responsive controls: easily accessible but demanding of one's attention, awareness and focus. The stage was set, daubed in nostalgic dressing, ticking all of the right boxes for a man who spent much of his childhood gunning down fighters set against a twinkling, starry backdrop.
It was the perfect compliment to the Rift HD.
Those of you who followed our adventures at Gamescom last year will know that I came back from Cologne in 2012 raving about the Rift. But that demo saw me slipping i to the boots of a space marine in Doom 3: BFG and, immersive as it was, there was a disconnect between the ambulation in the game and what my body was actually doing. It was mindblowing in terms of situating me in the action -- my eyes were the marine's eyes -- but it left me with a dizziness that didn't subside until several hours later.
Sat in a cockpit in 2013, there was no disconnect. Again,, the first-person view was essential to the experience. The Rift works well for third-person titles, situating the player as a camera inside the game world, but here I was once again inhabiting a character. The fixed position in the game perfectly mirrored my own, and it's clear to see that this is the Rift's sweet spot: matching real-world positioning like-for-like in the game world. Expect it to produce similar experiences in driving games.
CCP have installed certain things in certain ways to promote playing around with the Rift and exploring its potential. The radar, for example, is situated just out of shot, below the player's field of view so you have to look down towards the floor to get an indication of where your fellow wingmen and enemy fighters are in relation to your ship. No longer do you have to turn the camera or physically turn the ship to track a fighter that's doubled back on you and screamed past overhead. The cockpit itself is generously windowed to provide the maximum visual perspective; simply turn your head and you be able to chart their path.
But the best thing about the whole experience is that the developers have mapped missile targeting to the position of your eyes. It's as if the Rift is a targeting computer: hold down the relevant button and scan over your enemies by looking at them. The reticule will blink red, there'll be a confirmation chirp in your ear as you lock-on, and you'll blast your enemies to pieces. It turns out Skywalker was wrong: having that targeting computer is awesome!
A few technical things to note: these were classed as prototypes. Handmade by Oculus and delivered to CCP only a couple of days before, the Rift HD kits are extremely rare, incredibly valuable, and offer up superlative graphical fidelity. Whereas I'd had to remove my spectaclees for the Doom demo the year before, here I could wear them quite happily, though it was a little snug, with the Rift automatically adjusting the focus after a little adjustment of the headset. The HD prototypes also had a slightly restricted field of view in comparison to the dev kits that have been shipped out as part of the Kickstarter campaign, probably due to the fact that the new 1080p panel is slightly smaller.
But that all fades away. The black hues as deliciously inky, the neon blasts of the lasers fizzle and pop, and the Rift HD really allows you to marvel at all of the minute detail and level artistry that has gone into the game. Having seen X-Rebirth the day before, I began to daydream about all of the space sims that this device will make even better, and was rudely brought back to (virtual) reality by the missile alarm. A glance down at my radar, some twisting and turning with my afterburners straining as far as they could, and I managed to evade my attacker.
It was over far too quickly, my disappointment at how quickly time flew by only alleviated slightly by finding out that I'd somehow topped the leaderboard by several hundred points (this never happens). I could have quite happily spent hours sat there playing that demo over and over again, such was the degree to which it whisked me away and fulfilled an incredibly strong childhood dream. The Rift -- just saying the word makes me excited -- is an outstanding device, its HD prototype even more so than, but in CCP's hands it became more than just a new entertainment experience. This was a perfect match: 1-1 player action replication and utter sensory immersion breathing new life into a genre that has struggled to progress and grow since before the turn of the millennium.
CCP are being coy on all of the details, presumably because they themselves haven't quite worked out all of them yet. So we have no idea on what form the final game will actually take, the degree to which it'll integrate with the EVE universe, and no definitive word on platforms. The Rift HD isn't in full production yet and even when it is, it's likely to be a very niche, enthusiast-focused piece of hardware. Making a dedicated game for it might not be a smart play. But I don't want to go back. Every space sim, driving game, and fixed-position first-person title that I come across where I'm not using a Rift will now be an undeniably disappointing experience simply because I now know the potential for immersion in virtual reality on a 1-1 basis.
Better start saving, really. Accepting something less is no longer an option, especially with Star Citizen supporting the device too.