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Tron disc fights come to life in Project Arena – CCP’s post-Valkyrie VR contenders

Your opponent isn’t really there. Strapped to VR glasses, standing in another room, perhaps living on another continent, they cannot be. But in the arena, “really” feels like a pedantic distinction. Adapted to Oculus Touch controllers and Kinect-style body tracking, your rival is physically present in most cases that are important to your brain. You visibly shift your weight from one foot to the other, examine the orange energy shield attached to your forearm, slowly raise the middle finger of one hand and gesticulate towards you.

It’s just getting started, but these are the best VR games on PC as it stands.

Formalities done, the missiles begin to fly. First you learn to block with your shield – and then to fling. It’s Tron Rules: with a swing of your arm, the disc is sent down the long corridor towards your enemy, bouncing off the back wall before returning to your wrist.

The problem is, if your shield whizzes through the air, you will be defenseless. Here’s how you learn to dodge by dodging your opponent’s plate as they rush by. And then a strange phenomenon occurs.

“You start to take an attitude,” says Adam Kraver, the CCP programmer. “You start posing.”

Once you’ve uprooted yourself, start playing with body language – repulsive feints and whatever you have to twitch. The competition in the Project Arena becomes a performance.

The VR Labs team behind Arena is what’s left of CCP Atlanta – the studio that once hoped to succeed Eve Online with World of Darkness. When the vampire MMO was canceled, a small crew stayed to experiment with full-body VR. Project Arena is the result.

The game was first shown nascent at Eve Fanfest 2015 and always had Kinect tracking (it was later removed from setup) – but players originally threw their discs in prescribed ways.

“The body portrayal was absolutely fantastic and seeing the people around you was amazing,” recalls Kraver. “But the Kinect wasn’t that good at tracking an accurate throw.”

The look of Oculus’ new touch controllers, which look silly but feel natural enough in the hand, allows Project Arena a more detailed, physics-based throwing system. It takes a bit of gentle aiming – enough that it doesn’t take “years of practice” to hit your opponent – but accuracy is key, and Arena now feels just like a traditional sport, like a video game.

Every good performance deserves an audience, and with that in mind, CCP has been working on a spectator mode. Players begin the Project Arena demo with a view of the action as if the court were in the middle of a stadium.

“We want several people in this room on the field to watch a live game,” explains Kraver. “The spectator aspect is very important to us because we want it to be a sport.”

Spectator sport, as CCP sees it, is a form of emerging drama. It consists of moments – for example, a player distracting a disc and chasing after it, making their opponent desperately grab the incoming shield. It also encourages the offensive body language we were so fond of – or “expressiveness,” as Kraver calls it.

“It turns out that when you put someone in a costume and put them on stage, they act,” he laughs. “Everyone messes up and you want that. You want that thing where it’s like, ‘This is a real person.’ “

That tangible, human connection is a powerful thing. Project Arena players faced each other at this year’s Fanfest – but the game might as well bring players who are physically separated countries together and reunite distant friends for sci-fi sports sessions.

Project arena

“The idea of ​​doing it over long distances is incredibly convincing,” agrees Kraver. “I think one reason we haven’t seen much of this stuff is that it’s not an easy task. It requires an enormous amount of equipment and the right people. “

On top of that: While the game is undoubtedly better off due to its technical upgrade, it currently requires three bits of expensive kits to run. Is Project Arena a real commercial prospect?

“CCP firmly believes in the future of VR,” says Kraver. “We know it will go so far beyond that [the currently available hardware] – that’s just the beginning dribs and dreary. We are a very small team, we don’t have a ridiculous budget, [but] We are able to iterate very quickly, to get things out and show their potential. “

Kraver draws a parallel between Project Arena and Eve VR – the budding space dogfighter unveiled a fan festival that became Valkyrie, the proud launch title of Oculus Rift.

“They called the Fanfest folks the Valkyrie midwives, and that’s one of the reasons we’re here,” he explains. “This is an opportunity to validate the idea and that we are on the right track. That will help determine if this is a worthwhile investment. I personally think it’s a no-brainer [but] There are smarter people than me who make these decisions. “

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