Andrew Willans Discusses What’s New and Better with EVE: Valkyrie – Warzone

The Oculus Rift launch title, EVE: Valkyrie, managed to turn some heads with its high-quality graphics and intense arcade multiplayer dogfights in space. It wasn’t without some flaws, however, and the title didn’t quite reach the heights it deserved. One of the issues was the fact that it was a virtual reality exclusive title, and the cost for one was prohibitive enough that the install base never reached the heights needed to sustain a solid player base. CCP developer Andrew Willans took the reins with the major reworking, and EVE: Valkyrie – Warzone is out, rectifying that issue among many others. We spoke to Willans regarding what Warzone has to offer.

[Hardcore Gamer] Valkyrie started off as an Oculus exclusive. It eventually made its way to the Vive as well as PSVR. Was the drive behind Warzone putting it on a monitor, solely a sales consideration or did you feel that there was more that you could do with it?

[Andrew Willans] It was more about building a community. You have a multiplayer focused game, the lifeblood of your game is your players. So, back at Fanfest earlier this year, we started some conversations about what we wanted to improve in the game. Primarily, it came down to wanting better battle rewards, and better sense of celebration. We wanted to redo this mechanic that we called Launch Tubes. We wanted to move to a more open hanger where you could grab any ship that you want. We wanted to look at the ships and remove this kind of progression, and unlock everything at the start. We took 27 ships and worked out what was the “Best in Show” and condensed it down to 13 ships that had iconic roles. Basically, we brought out the character in each ship. All of this was for the purpose of accessibility first and foremost. How could we make it more user friendly and not dumb it down? It’s meant to be more mass market, allowing players to come into the game and find the tools that they want for their play style so they can become badass pilots, hopefully, a lot quicker.

Those conversations started about the same time (while) we’re having conversations about how we do go mass market. We’re looking at the titles, whether they were going to be VR or non VR, what was the hybrid. We thought “what would that look like.” So, we started doing some tests in the studio, and we were really surprised that, we would play it without VR, and it actually works. We didn’t know if we were drinking the Kool-Aid, so we started sending out a lot of different tests where we had VR versus non VR with regular battles. We found that there was no disparity between the two. The disparity came down to who was the better player and not they hardware they using. Once we were done with that, with the parity side of things, then the consideration became what do we do with “look to lock” weapons. The was an intrinsic part of the VR experience. So we looked at the snap of the reticules. We found that, for most part, things just worked. For the ones that needed an extra bit of fidelity or a little bit of extra control, we can map the head movements to the right analog stick. Though it’s not our defaults, we do allow it. There’s a config that we call “the Owl” that allows you to look around the same way you would with your head in VR. All of those things, the early indications were that this wasn’t going to be a huge shocker. The VR guys weren’t going to stomp over the non VR guys.

The other consideration was mouse and keyboard versus gamepad. When we went full cross platform, we needed to balance the mouse and keyboard against the gamepad. Thankfully, whereas in a first person shooter where you can twitch and your avatar turns on a sixpence, we’re bound by ship physics. You’ve got to maneuver your ship into position and fire fixed weapons. There’s an inherent kind of latency, which is part of flying a spaceship. Again, we achieved parity with that. When all of those things lined up, we were like “yeah, this is the smart thing to do.” Then, at the same time, when we had discussions about how to drop the price to make it more appealing and include both versions of the game, it was a bit of a no brainer. It was an easy sell at that point. We know the game works. We have this huge pile of things that we want to do to the game to improve it, and we did it all. The past eight months has been a true labor of love. Where we’re at now represents the best version of Valkyrie to date. The mission now until Christmas is to get the social tools online that people have been asking for, and put in the spectator cams. It’s about how to put the power back into the hands of our increasing player base, to stream to share.

Are you offering any bonuses to the people who got in on the ground floor?

Oh, it’s unbelievable. Literally, they are the kings. Our compensation package was insane. Obviously, we don’t want to piss off our hardcore that have been with us since day one. All of their isk got converted across, every single cosmetic that they bought that couldn’t be applied to one of the current ships was crunched down to a really generous value of isk. They got capsules for every single rank they’ve achieved. Their avatar and customizations carried across. It’s mental. We went above and beyond to make sure that anyone who’s been upgraded from the previous version to Warzone was catered for.

When we were looking to iterate down the number of ships, and that was quite a controversial move, the community got behind it.What were seeing now is that we have complex analytics, tracking data, with the kill rates, the win rates, and the pick rates of all of the ships. We look at this graph. Previously, we’d see big spikes on the Wraith, the Banshee, and the Spectre, which were the default of each of our classes. Now, what we’re seeing across every single ship is like a horizon line. All of those win rates are lining up. I know it’s early days, but if we’re seeing that after two weeks, after a month, then we’ve done our jobs right. There’s a good level of balance and a reason to pick every ship now. It’s all about the interaction of the ships now, with their weapons and abilities that interact with each other in far more interesting ways in this version.

Since all of the ships are unlocked up front, how are you handling the progression?

Every time you use a ship you earn XP. We wanted to give people more control over how they customize their ship for gameplay. This wasn’t about min/maxing. It was about how you put on upgrades which appeals to the way you play the game. So, we have a progression for every ship which has 12 modifications, which is what we call them so they aren’t confused with the old terminology. They’re in four different categories: attack, defense, mobility, and tech. You can go through the mods and invest XP to craft them all. You can only assign four abilities, one in each category. There’s a mix of of flat upgrades, which might increase the power of a primary weapon, or trade off upgrade, which might boost acceleration by twenty percent, but your top speed is reduced by thirteen percent. So there’s a trade off to consider that might be my style of play, or based on game type, like Extraction where I might want more junk in the trunk. Every single ship has that and it’s totally unique for every ship. It’s far more engaging than what we previously had which was three upgrades, and once they were crafted that was it.

Also, now when you die, you can choose any ship that you might need at that specific moment. It makes dying part of the strategy. When do you need speed? When do you need high powered weapons? It depends on the situation. The new open hanger makes that a lot easier.

Do you guys have any plans to tie Valkyrie in more directly to EVE Online?

We’re always looking for ways to narratively link the two. We love it when something happens in EVE and we can take influence from that to create a dramatic MMO. We’re looking for ways that the narrative can tie in in a greater capacity. Our big focus is to get the best possible version of Valkyrie out there and build from a solid foundation. Where we go in a year, where the events are, could UNC bring two carriers with fleets of ships in and have that battle play out in Valkyrie is pure speculation right now. What we need is to grow our player base where something like that could be considered for development. So…Watch this space. It’s not impossible, but we’ve got to make our way in the world and become what we’ve always wanted to be.

The impression I get about Valkyrie is that you were proud of it when it launched, but it ended up not being what the community wanted.

Everyone has a different perception of what they want out of a game, especially one that carries the EVE brand. They have certain expectations. It didn’t have that meta of EVE Online, but it was never meant to. Valkyrie was always about putting you in a headset, a pad in your hands, and not having to overly tutorialize things. It was an immediate, visceral dog fighting simulator. From that point of making combat feel amazing and fluid, that’s when we start to build all of the other things around it. I think we’re in the best possible place now.

It was a situation where we’re in a rush to get out in time for the launches of the headset, working with cutting edge hardware. Nobody’s ever done this stuff before. We’ve not had exposure to VR play testing. It was nonexistent. The kits weren’t even out! A good example is in the UI, the HUD. We had this infinite space in VR, with all of these things that you could interact with all around you. People were missing it. We didn’t understand why. (It turns out that) it’s because we’re %^&*ing lazy. Human beings are %^&*ing lazy, right? We don’t want to be looking around, we want to bring the information to us (front and center). Tom Cruise, when he was in Minority Report, didn’t go looking around the room. He pulled the information in to him. That’s how we interact, we want it in front of us. Our cone of focus is actually quite small. We’re somewhere between predator and prey. We’ve weird cone of focus and there’s an optimal distance where things are visible and clear where we can get information. So, (the team) has learned a lot about VR and where to put this information and how to interact with it. It was almost too much too soon, so we had to work on making things accessible so people could find their way through menus even. It was definitely a lot of trial and error and a lot of testing.

Eighteen months in now, we’re in a better place with or without VR. Quality of life improvements was made to the interior of the cockpits, instrumentation to let you know when your abilities are online, being clear and consistent. It’s what people expect from a multiplayer online shooter.

What’s your endgame, your next goals for Valkyrie?

We’ll be talking about the next steps. We’ve ran the game as a live service effectively 18 months with no sign of that stopping. We are looking at what content to add. What games modes we add, maps, new ships (can be brought in). Covert ships are a good example of that. We’ve got one in there and we’re looking to the community to help us develop the next one, to help to find the abilities that they want.

We have published a road map right now, because the immediate road map are the social tools. Our fans have been screaming for that for the past year, but we had to get the community to the right size. What’s the point of adding something like private matches when you don’t feel that you are in a position where you can fragment your player base? You’ve got to be smart about when you bring these features online, and I think we’re finally ready for it.

For more insider knowledge from CCP, be sure to read our interviews with CCP Argent about Project Aurora and CCP Burger.