The audience stands behind a fence. The event is streaming live on Twitch. The three live commentators make awkward jokes as 19 year-old women line up behind each chair on stage. They’re done up with face paint and back-combed up-dos. They are there to help put on the competitors headsets and add some sexiness. Unfortunately, beautiful, bored women watching men play video games is too realistic to be erotic. Finally, the competitors enter the room: the crowd goes wild.
At this year’s EVE Fan Fest, the first ever virtual reality tournament took place in Harpa. Using the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset, EVE Fan Fest attendees were randomly drawn into teams that would compete in Valkyrie, CCP’s still-in-development virtual-reality game. The game puts the player in the cockpit of a spaceship. The teams were narrowed down by elimination until the last teams competed in the live-streaming final: the first virtual reality tournament on earth.
“That was awesome. Just awesome,” said Thomas van Helvert, a member of the winning team. “I expected to be motion sick, but the developers have done a really great job making it feel real. It’s so fast paced. You really become that pilot. It’s completely immersive.”
The team that won was made up of random Fan Fest attendees from around the world: Netherlands, UK, and USA. The prizes for winning were EVE Online collectibles, 20 billion ISC (Interstellar Credits, not ISK), an Oculus Rift Headset, and access to the Alpha version of Valkyrie–making them contributors to the development of the game.
This event was only one of many events going on at EVE Fan Fest, which included other competitions, developer talks, face-painting, make-up and hair styling. The event allowed EVE Online gamers to meet, discuss specific game issues with developers, and dress-up like their virtual self.
I got the chance to play Valkyrie alongside fellow Grapevine person Jón Ben. The Oculus Rift has to be positioned carefully on your face to get everything in focus. You keep moving and shaking it until it lines up with your eyes. Jón Ben tried it without his glasses–assuming the screen was close so he wouldn’t need them, but the focal length of the Oculus Rift makes it similar to real life. Things that are far away in virtual reality are blurry to him just as things far away in real life.
“I was nervous when the game first started,” said Jón Ben discussing his experience. “I mean, I don’t know how to fly a spaceship. I looked down and saw my virtual hands on the joystick of the ship. I must know what am I doing. I look like I’ve flown one of these things before.”
I found the experience to be very fun and escaping. You forget about the outside world completely when you’re flying through space to shoot things and avoid crashing into debris. I never felt like it wasn’t a game, though. It feels more physical and real than a normal video game, but nothing close to riding a bicycle or running up stairs. It doesn’t have that visceral force of reality. I am excited to see what the future holds for this technology.