Ben Kuchera

EVE Online devs debut beautiful first-person space dogfighting title for Oculus Rift

EVE Online devs debut beautiful first-person space dogfighting title for Oculus Rift

Good things happen when developers give their artists time to work on original projects. There has long been a group of VR enthusiasts at CCP, the developer behind EVE Online and the DUST 514, and they bugged the folks at Oculus for development kits to play with. CCP enjoys something called the “20 percent rule,” which allows developers to spend up to 20 percent of their time on their own projects.

Once the Oculus Rifts came into the office, a small group of developers got to work creating a dogfighting game set in space, built from the ground up for the Oculus Rift. The result was shown to the public for the first time at Fanfest in Iceland, and the bad news is that it may be some time before it’s available to a wider audience.

I had a chance to play it for myself, and it’s just as good as you’d expect.

Turn and burn

Each round begins with all the pilots secure in their cockpits, held tight by metal launching tubes of lumbering capital ships. You can look up and see the glass keeping you from the vacuum of space. Look down and there is your body, clad in a military flight suit. The game was built in the Unity Engine, using assets from EVE Online. They call the game EVR.

Suddenly the ship shoots forward, shot into combat like a torpedo. The left analog stick of the Xbox 360 controller flies your fighter, and your lasers can only shoot forward; you have to point your ship’s nose at your target to hit anything. You can also move your head and look around, trying to find your enemies, making sure no lasers or missiles are being fired. You can see the light reflecting off your cockpit, and the sense of speed, danger, and excitement are hard to describe.

One of my team mates flies in front of me, firing his lasers at a distant target. I crane my head to the right to watch his enemy explode. Score one for our team.

“Don't get cocky!” I called out.

By holding the left trigger button you can enable your missiles, which are aimed by moving your head. You look at your target, it takes a second or two to lock on, and then you let go of the button to see a swarm of missiles fly from your ship.

An alarm, complete with blinking red light, sounds if another ship locks onto you, and you can look around to find the missiles coming towards you, and then hit a button on the controller to boost out of the way. There were six of us playing, three on each team, and we found ourselves flying from the conflict when things got too intense, or rushing to the aid of a friend under fire.

It wasn’t the most complex game, only a small number of developers worked on it and we were seeing the results of seven weeks of part-time work, but all the elements worked together to make you feel like you were inside a ship, blowing away the enemy fighters while being supported by your team. It's even weirder to watch others play; you see a row of people with VR headsets over their faces, looking around and wincing as they either kill others or explode due to the fire of others.

If you ever dreamed about being inside a game of Wing Commander, this game delivers that feeling. The cockpit is detailed, although the displays don’t share any information with the player. You don’t feel like you’re controlling a ship, you feel like you’re a pilot inside a space fighter, screaming into battle.

I asked about the chances of the game being released, and the developers were cagey. This was a side project. It wasn’t finished. It was just giving them ideas for the future. It was something they were doing for fun. I nodded politely while I tried to hand them 5,000 ISK notes to get them to give me a copy of the game for my personal collection of Rift content.

They weren’t tempted by the bribe.

The game is playable by fans at Fanfest, and the intro movie brought the house down at the night’s keynote. It’s one thing to play flying games on a screen and image what it must be like to be in that cockpit, and it’s quite another to play a game with a piece of hardware that allows you to see and feel that reality.

Unfortunately they wouldn’t share any screenshots of the game, but I’ll was able to film a short video. If this is what a small group of developers can do after a long day of work in only a few weeks, I can’t wait until a studio of this size and talent dedicates time and money to a retail project. I can only hope this is someday released as its own game and becomes more than a wonderful demo at a fan event.

This is the first step towards a true virtual reality space sim, and it's only going to get better.