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EVE Online's VR spinoff shows the value of side projects Exclusive

 EVE Online 's VR spinoff shows the value of side projects
June 12, 2013 | By Kris Graft

EVE Online developer CCP Games has a room at the L.A. Convention Center this E3: Room 514, where they have a few kiosks showing off their sci-fi shooter for PlayStation 3, Dust 514.

But as interesting as Dust 514 is (the online FPS basically plugs into the universe of 10-year-old PC MMO EVE Online, an impressive technical feat), the real attraction in the dimly-lit room was the row of people sitting down on a bench, facing the same way. They were all wearing noise-cancelling headsets, cradling Xbox 360 controllers in their hands, and were all masked with Oculus Rift VR headsets, rolling their heads around slowly, immersed in another world.

With all the VR going on, combined with warm red and blue glow of screens and LEDs, it was like an arcade out Blade Runner.

At CCP, working on the Oculus wasn’t a decision passed down from CEO Hilmar Petursson, but was a result of passionate group of game developers who wanted to tinker with the VR in their spare time.

“It was fairly grassroots effort within the company," Petursson says. “There was the Kickstarter for the Oculus, and a lot of people in the company participated in that. I think they surprised themselves, and everyone, about exactly what they put together.”

Even though CCP is proud to show it off, Petursson shrugs and laughs when he’s not totally sure if it’s just a neat tech demo, or if it’s something that might become a commercial product. “We just have this thing, and people love, so we should figure out some cool way way to bring that about," he says.

I was able to try out what CCP is calling “EVE-VR,” only for a moment before I was carted away to talk to Petursson. But in that moment, I was in the cockpit of a spaceship, looking up through the bubble glass, down at the dash to see the controls, behind me to see the back of the cockpit. The weirdest part of it all was the virtual representation of my chest, legs and arms, none of which I could control, so I was in a virtual state of paralysis. I’ve used the Oculus before (Hawken was before this, and it's also very immersive), but none of the games I’d played before had produced my “body.”

The interesting aspect of this is CCP’s willingness to support emergent “tinkering” that happens within the company. That falls in line with other studios who hold internal game jams or support small, experimental teams that prototype new ideas. While the people at CCP working on Oculus started working on it during their free time, Petursson says CCP has considered formalizing ways to encourage small teams of tinkerers who work on special projects.

“We’ve thought about doing game jams, in a formal way. We haven’t done that exactly, but it’s been a topic of conversation internally. We did sort of a 20 percent time program [which allows workers to devote up to 20 percent of their work week to special projects] to try it out, and [EVE-VR] kind of came out of that. But mostly it was just people taking their free time in evenings and weekends to work on it as a passion project.

“The guys obviously keep on doing their day jobs, and they [work on Oculus] because they have a passion for it. They do their best when they’re not told what to do. Just as long as it doesn’t disrupt the very serious business of internet spaceships,” he laughs.

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