EVE Fanfest is an annual event in Reykjavik hosted by CCP Games where fans of EVE Online from all over the world come together. The universe of EVE Online is harsh, cruel and one of the most brutal and predatory worlds someone could enter, though the opposite is true of the fan community when they return to Earth from their intergalactic wars and piracy. Ryan Geddes is the VR Brand Director for CCP Games and spent some time with Hardcore Gamer discussing some of the virtual things coming from CCP Games.
[Hardcore Gamer] VR Brand Director sounds like an interesting title. What exactly does that entail?
[Ryan Geddes] My job is basically two fold. On one side what I’m doing is making sure with our publishing team and our player base that we are releasing the right games at the right time for the right people and telling the story of our vision for VR and where we want to go with it. And it involves a lot of unsexy things like sitting in meetings and sending out emails and things like that. The other side of it is telling our story so people understand what we’re making and why they should care so anytime you see our trailer, our videos, our events, just anything that is leaving our footprint on the world I’m responsible for making sure we do that right, though that isn’t all me, there is a huge team that helps with that. We have VR studios all over the world and I world very closely with those guys.
A lot of things you have on display outside of EVE Online are focused on VR. Can you tell us about the VR projects that are currently in production?
For us we are in a really exciting moment since we have released three VR games into the world, EVE: Valkyrie, Gunjack, and Gunjack 2. Valkyrie is really exciting, it is live and we are updating it all the time. We are continuing to work on that which is an online multiplayer space shooter set in the EVE universe and it is a seated cockpit experience. You sit in the cockpit, you see yourself there, and you shoot and launch yourself into space. We have released four free updates to that game since it’s been out and we have another on the way, which is coming out April 11th called Groundrush and for the first time we are bringing the fight to the ground.We’re really excited about that, we don’t have any more specific announcements about Valkyrie today but more cool stuff will come to Valkyrie in the future. We also announced Sparc which is the polar opposite of that, while EVE: Valkyrie is heavy PvP online shooting and blowing stuff up Sparc is a full body V sport so it’s one person versus another person on a court, there is a ball in play, you’re dodging, blocking, throwing, it’s very athletic and very social so that is a game we’re shooting for a 2017 release. Gunjack is mobile, it’s easy to take that anywhere with you and pop in and pop out, it’s mobile but very arcade. We have a variety of VR experiences we are creating and supporting. As to what’s next we don’t have anything specific to announce after Sparc but as you’ve heard our CEO announce VR is a huge priority for us and we continuously playing around with the hardware so expect more to come from us.
CCP is pretty much synonymous with EVE. What made you decide to branch completely out of EVE to create something more casual and accessible like Sparc?
Sparc is really interesting since it didn’t start out with a bunch of sitting around saying let’s make a V sport next. It was totally the opposite of that, our guys in the Atlanta studio were really focused on R and D and Valkyrie was coming to market so this was like 2015 and we know we were going to have a good VR game. We didn’t need another game just like that so we told them to go splash around in the deep end of the VR pool and see what you can find over there. So they were taking Kinects and plugging them into computer rigs and messing around with full body scans, this was before any of the hardware like the Vive and Oculus was really a thing, we knew they were coming but we didn’t have any to work with. Sparc came out of them trying to decide what is the purest experience we can bring out of this, what can we do to bring the CCP experience to this full body virtual space? In Sparc we wanted to create this full body court experience where you’re in the game and see a friend across the court waving at you and you know it’s them because of the certain way they wave and move their body, everyone has their own certain way of moving in the world. I might twitch my shoulders, you might twitch your neck like this, I might look over and see you doing that and know it’s you since I know you do that. The guys really liked the idea of throwing the ball back and forth, deflecting and dodging and there is a couple ways you can go with that. You can say I want to make a video in which sport is part of it or I want to make a sport that is kind of gamified so we want that path and wanted to purify it and make a V sport. So once we went down that path and starting becoming aware of what we were really making we started asking ourselves what kind of experience do we want to create with this, what’s the story around this, what’s the world, what’s the IP, so naturally we thought about the EVE universe since to date all our games have been in the EVE universe, we love the EVE universe and are going to continue to make new games in the EVE universe but the question was does setting Sparc in the EVE universe make it a better game or does having it in the EVE universe add to the game for a richer experience we found the answer to that is no. This game didn’t belong in the EVE universe, this is a sport where you are you, when you step into the arena you are you and not a character. You are not taking on some persona. Your VR hardware is your sporting equipment, adding a persona to that really doesn’t add anything so that’s how we came to that decision. But that doesn’t mean that because this is the first game we made that is not set in the EVE universe that is the direction we taking with all games going forward. The EVE universe is part of our DNA and we will explore all opportunities with it.
You have a variety of different VR experiences covered between Valkyrie, Gunjack, and Sparc. What are some other avenues or developments you would like to explore with VR going forward from the immediate future to maybe say five years down the road?
We all kind of understand what VR is now and where it is at and maybe where it will be six months from now. Maybe a year from now if you’re really smart. Going much further beyond that it’s hard to say, the technology is moving so quickly and it can end up taking on several different shapes. There’s looking ahead and planning ahead and one is far different from the other, we really don’t know what’s coming down the line a few years from now. What I’d like to see is for the hardware to come down in price so it’s easier for everyone to have access to the technology. I think the prices are fine where they are right now, it’s a not a huge problem but we’d all like to see the prices get lower and it will happen. It’s already happened some. I think all of us in VR would like to see freedom of movement increase and we’re already working on that now in terms of taking the wires off so we would have an untethered VR experience, lower profile headsets, so it doesn’t feel like there’s such a big box on your head. Those things are already starting to happen. I’m especially interested in making sure as we continue to develop VR we are doing it in a way that makes the players comfortable and at ease. I’ve talked before about VR being the most intimate and vulnerable media we’ve ever created and when you put that headset on you are at the mercy of whatever is in that headset, the only way to escape it is to take it off or close your eyes. It’s so different from looking at a TV with a controller in your hand, if you don’t like what’s going on you can just look away. With VR you can’t look away.
The technology is still in its infancy stages and still a very niche market. I predict it will be like what happened with games in general over the past few decades where they began only being a few households and generally were just marketed to kids where now it’s a lot more mainstream and geared towards all ages of adults of kids.
With VR we are changing the face of computing which in turn changes the face of entertainment. CCP is on that cutting edge of being where that change is happening and we have this really exciting opportunity to shape that transformation. And it is a long term, we all want it all right now, I know I do, and I love the technology we have now but I want it to keep going. If you look back on the last year and a half the pace of VR innovation is amazing. In 2015 we had nothing, Gear VR, Google Daydream, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, more on the way. That’s just a year and a half so what’s going to happen in the next year and a half is going to blow our minds and that’s a really cool opportunity. If you look at what CCP is doing now a lot of people come to us and are like you guys are the EVE Online company, you guys are the best sandbox MMO ever. Your community creates this amazing universe where they thrive and they scam each other and its this meta game and when are you bringing that to VR. The answer is those pieces aren’t in place yet. We have great challenges just making great VR games that are fun to play. We’ve succeeded with that, we feel, and we’ve also succeeded with making the most amazing sandbox MMO, those are both very complex things so to smash them together at this point is absolutely unrealistic so what we’re doing instead is trying to make the best stand alone VR games we can make and learn everything we can about that listening to our players and looking at the data and going out into the world and seeing what everyone else is doing and bring that in our studios. Over time we are placing waypoints on a journey to get to our vision where we’d like to be in our VR existence.
On one hand having EVE Online in VR sounds amazing but on the other it sounds like that would be a logistical nightmare to put that together.
Oh absolutely it would be but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to try it. But it is not something anyone should be chasing that in a world where that is impossible to achieve, we shouldn’t try to do that when knowing from the outside it’s not something we can do. There are some interesting questions around doing VR in EVE Online in the future but as you can see from being here at Fanfest we care about giving our EVE Online players what they want and the best experience possible and right now VR isn’t a part of that equation. It may be in the future, and if it is and it becomes that, but not right now.
What are some of the unique challenges that come with making a game in VR versus making just a regular PC/console game?
Where do I start? I think one of the most challenging and fun things about making games in VR is no one has really set the rules yet so we’ve been making console and PC games for decades so over the years we’ve developed an understanding of what those are, and by we I mean the games industry. There’s always new challenges, there’s always new mediums, there’s digital versus retail, there’s all these new parameters that arise but it allows fits a certain mold. In VR there is this new way of treating the player if that makes sense, with VR/AR it’s really about putting the players inside the games. That’s crazy if you think about it, video games went from something you do on a screen to something you enter. Whenever you make a shift that momentous you need to think about how to help the player with that transition, that’s why things like user interface are so important. During the experience, getting on board into a game. Some things that worked really well in a 2D game, something really simple like drop down menus don’t fit as well in VR. It’s not something you want to do, it just doesn’t feel right so we have to figure out a new way to get that information to the player. Some things we need to continue are motion tracking, field of vision, motion control as ways to invent a new interactive language, and that’s a huge challenge, one that we really enjoy being part of. And everything we think about what good graphics are. What you think about for good graphics in a non VR game is very different than what you would think for a VR game because the graphics are all around you. You can’t just render the thing that is looking straight ahead, you have to be prepared for the player to turn their head in an instant so those are things you don’t have to worry about in a flat screen but those things are very important in a virtual space. Hopefully that makes sense.
Like take Sparc and imagine it like EVE Online where there are a ton of different menu windows open at all times. There are all these text boxes moving around, and Sparc is just box box box, take the ball and drop it into whatever you want to do so that’s a way to address that menu. What we’re trying to do with Sparc is very quickly orient you to that physical space. We thought about what does that mean, why would we put someone in a virtual space and tell them they are now going to play a game and face off against someone who is over there doing that neck twitch and shaking his shoulders. Why would we ask them to start clicking menus and pulling down tabs and that sort of thing? Why not instead teach them to start using physical activity to start moving around in that world, it’s a very natural aspect to use in transitioning from physical space into a virtual space.
The whole thing with Sparc is it seems like its trying to replicate playing a sport with another person, and having a menu in there seems unnatural and would disrupt that level of immersion, and while there is no real life equivalent to picking up a ball and dropping into a hole to indicate what you want to do it feels more in step with the rest of what Sparc is trying to do.
When I was in high school I played tennis and there was a local free tennis court down the street and there was always this one court that you could reserve. My friends and I would show up on Saturday morning and there was a chain link fence around the court so we would stick a tennis ball in one of the holes in the fence to say we want to use the court next so we’d know who was playing next. It was very much like going to arcade and putting your quarter on the Street Fighter machine to say you’re playing next. That’s an interesting and organic way people communicate in the physical world in their hobby. So like in Sparc the player sees someone put their ball in a hole and they’re like okay, I get it, that person is next, which will help a culture develop around the sport itself. What’s cool about Sparc is it’s a sport that is only possible in VR with the way it abides by the rules of physics. The things it does are not the same as how they would work in real physical space, otherwise we could just play tennis, and that is something we like about Sparc, where we can play with the rules of physics and have this ball behave in ways different than how it would in real life. It’s fun to explore and we try to make it up as we go along. You don’t have to be an athletic person to win at Sparc, though being in good physical shape helps but the goal is not to make it so the most athletic person will win. The more you understand the game and more you can slide into the flow of the game and understand the rules and how to dodge will give a greater advantage. Understanding how your body moves in the virtual space and understanding the nuances of how the ball moves in that space are two very different things but understanding both will make you a better Sparc player. There is no one right way to play the game, there are different play styles and each bring their own advantages and disadvantages.
Existing in virtual space does allow the player to do things they would never be able to do in real life, such as holding on their ball and throwing it with any kind of accuracy while they deflect their opponent’s ball.
Right, you can’t, and it’s a good strategy in Sparc and you can win with that for a while until your opponent figures it out and starts trying to do that themselves.
Kind of like those cheap things you can do in fighting games until the other player figures them out.
And there’s plenty of those in games like Soul Caliber and Street Fighter, which also have their own culture and have kind of become sports in their own right.
What do you see climate of VR fanbase being like currently?
They are very passionate about the medium and what we currently have out there. We found there is this whole movement out there of people that understand VR and see the promise of it and we are excited to be working with those people and building VR games as the medium advances. We want to make great games in VR, and we are the EVE company but are also becoming the VR company so the question with how are we going to make the best VR games in this company is to find the people that are most passionate about VR and work with them. We don’t want to say let’s make a VR game and take an idea we had for another medium and put it in VR, that is rarely the right way to go about doing things. Our best stories start when we take an idea for something that we want to do in VR and build it for VR from the ground up. All the good results we’ve seen with VR have come from teams that have built up that passion and motivation. You have to first be focused on making a great game regardless of the medium, and you have to allow yourself to fail since you can learn from that make something better next time.