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EVE: Valkyrie and the future: how CCP Games looks for life beyond the stars

EVE: Valkyrie is just one new evolution developer CCP Games is bringing to the online world of Tranquility. VG247's Dave Cook speaks with company CEO Hilmar Petursson to learn more about the future of Eve Online.

I first saw Hilmar Petursson at the Edinburgh Interactive Festival in 2007. He was talking about how his company's space game Eve Online was growing across the world, and how Scotland's rats were chewing through Iceland's internet cables, making development of the game quite difficult.

His lecture blew my mind. I had only heard of Eve Online in passing and the prospect of a world that offered full autonomy in the MMO space was both intimidating and awe-inspiring. I struggled to comprehend how such a landscape could exist and picture what players could do there. We were told that people could become legends on their own terms without CCP's interventio, and he stressed that the evolution of Tranquility would be dictated by the people. That philosophy has remained to this day.

While CCP makes the content, Eve Online's growth and steady stream of free updates are steered by the player-base. If conflict is lacking, the studio will stoke the fires of war by throwing in a bounty system. The same is true of EVE: Valkyrie, an Oculus Rift-powered dog-fight simulator that aims to lend more immersion to the game's PvP component. The VR device is proving quite popular at the moment, so it's natural that Petursson's team is bringing it into the fold.

I caught up with Petursson recently to discuss the development of EVE: Valkyrie and to touch upon Eve Online's long-tail success. The fact that it's still a subscription-based MMO with a steady volume of players suggests it is doing many things right, while other studios submit to the free-to-play model. I wanted to explore how the team approached this issue, and how the game might evolve moving forward.

"We were one of the early adopters on Kickstarter last year," Petursson said of Oculus Rift. "I remember seeing it thinking, 'Woah that's awesome, let's be backers of that.' Also, some guys at the company also backed it with their own money. They were playing around with it, and there was a team that played together at the office earlier in the year, and they were trying to figure out where this could go. Out of that came a tech demo that was in like a cantina, just sitting around. It was cool because you looked down and you saw your own body. I was like, 'wait a minute, I'm not wearing this shirt, this is unreal!'

Petursson was convinced, and over time the EVE: Valkyrie concept was born. It was first shown off at CCP's yearly Fan Fest event in Reykjavík, and then at E3. Feedback from both fans and critics proved positive and this told Petursson and his team that it had the beginning of a new arm in Eve's ever-growing world. It's coming out in 2014 and for now it's viewed internally as an extension of the core Eve universe, rather than an integral part of the experience.

"It is a separate product," Petursson continued. "Lately we've been thinking more about how the EVE universe has many products in it with Eve Online, DUST 514 and now with Valkyrie. It will still all happen in the same universe, so as you might be playing Valkyrie, earning some impact there, it will in some way affect the whole organic universe. I mean that was a huge focus for us in the beginning, but there's just such an epic opportunity to make it all connected."

Petrusson clarified that while the aim is to have events in Valkyrie bleed into the wider EVE universe, CCP won't start as strongly with that angle as it has done previously. He's keen to have the team focus on gameplay first, seeing as it's a faster, more immediate experience that its parent EVE Online. "It's definitely action-orientated dog-fighting," he stressed. It's doing things that are very complicated to do in EVE Online in that EVE Online is very involved, very strategic and has a different pace to it. It takes six hours to gather 2,000 people together to try and conquer the universe, but Valkyrie is meant to be a little more 'dig in-dig out,' fast-paced with smaller teams, smaller spaces and with fighters rather than cruisers."

As with all things EVE, the studio has reached this point by looking at what the fan base wants. I've interviewed CCP many times now and I've been told repeatedly that this was an established method of design since the beginning. "For us it's maybe less about the content and more about the players, and what they're doing together or against each other," Petursson continued. "It all revolves around this synchronised sandbox where everyone is playing in the same universe with the same experience more or less.

"By doing that you are less reliant on putting out updates or new content, because it's really that the players are the content of that world. Some of the most amazing things that happen in EVE Online are just players doing things, like the Battle of Asakai earlier this year, where a guy accidentally pushes the wrong button and then like [makes explosion sound and laughs]."

So can this reliance on player-driven, emergent moments and 'content' continue for another ten years of Eve Online? It seems that steps are already being taken to keep the player-base ticking over, with CCP-hosted beginner seminars being held to ease newcomers into the often-harsh world of Tranquility. Factor in rolling updates, the presence of DUST 514 and soon enough, EVE Valkyrie, and all of this can only serve to help the brand flourish.

"The game just keeps growing," Petursson explained. "That's because new people constantly come into it. We haven't necessarily seen a huge uptake per se, as we're still polishing off the start of the experience. That part could still use a lot of work, like starting out in EVE Online takes a while to figure out what it's all about. It's a strength and weakness of these open-ended, emergent things where the game goes on forever and all that. We will continue to organise the UI, keep the game fresh to the best of our abilities, and we see a lot of user interface and experience innovations just happening in the world.

"It's a vibrant field, and of course mobile phones and things like that make us really think about user interface experiences, and informs how people do applications and things like that. We will continue to bring this into EVE, to make it fresh, to make it modern, to make it as slick as we can so it doesn't feel like you're playing a ten-year-old game. I mean it is ten years old, but it looks amazing. I look at some of the screenshots and just think, 'jesus christ!" [laughs]"

He concluded, "It feels that even though I've been doing this for a decade, [Eve Online] is just beginning. It's going to out-live us all, our best work is ahead of us. That's because the game is expanding and growing, becoming different and unpredictable because of all the players doing all these amazing things, inspiring us."

EVE: Valkyrie launches in 2014.

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