Interview: CCP Games on Developing EVE: Valkyrie for the Oculus Rift (Part 2 of 4)

EVE: Valkyrie's Executive Producer, Jon Lander, talks about how to make best use of EVE: Valkyrie's critical acclaim.

EVE: Valkyrie's Executive Producer, Jon Lander, talks about how to make best use of EVE: Valkyrie's critical acclaim.
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[This is Part Two of our full transcription of Crossing Zebras’ audio interview with Jon “CCP Unifex” Lander, temporary Executive Producer of EVE: Valkyrie. Part One can be found here.]

Xander: So you are currently leading both the fledgling mobile division within CCP and the Valkyrie project. Which is taking up most of your time at the moment? Is one prioritised?

CCP Unifex: Yeah, absolutely. Right now, the opportunity there is Valkyrie, so I’m spending the vast majority of my time doing that. I had some good time pretty much straight after Fanfest where I was able to look at the CCP strategy around mobile and get some good work done around that. And then Valkyrie kicked off and just looking at the opportunity we have with that in the short term.

It’s definitely something I’ve thrown my all into to get the project up and running. But the intention is – like I said – I’m gonna be handing over so that I can actually go and focus on mobile for CCP and all the various projects and products that we’ve got planned under that.

Xander: Is there any kind of timescale… can you give an approximate timescale when you may hand over and go back to the mobile side of things?

CCP Unifex: It’s going to be happening this year. By the time I get to the end of this year I should be completely transitioned over and looking at what mobile means for CCP and how we should start building things.

Xander: Valkyrie and the team working on that are currently based out of Newcastle I believe. Are you flitting between Rekyjavik [Iceland] and Newcastle [UK] at the moment? Or are you based in Newcastle? What’s your working strategy for that at the moment?

CCP Unifex: [Laughs] It’s tiring and complicated. I’m actually in Newcastle today, I flew in yesterday. It’s brutal getting up at 4.50 in a Sunday morning in Reykjavik.

Xander: I had to to that on the Sunday of Fanfest. I had to catch that flight back. Oh my word.

CCP Unifex: Absolutely, yeah. Basically the taxi and we had to drive from where I live right in the middle of Reykjavik and I’m like why are all these party people out drinking and that – oh yeah, the bars are still open for another hour. Very, very strange experience going through Reykjavik at that time in the morning.

I’m still living and based in Reykjavik, I then come out to the Newcastle office once every few weeks and then the rest of the time we’ve got really good video conferencing facilities. We’ve got some really good people dealing with the day-to-day […?…] I mean, just because of the stage of the project, most of what I need to be doing is in Reykjavik; budgets and accounts – all of those sorts of bigger picture things.

Eventual development is all happening in Newcastle. To be fair, the guys here are doing a fantastic job. They’ve jumped on this really quickly and they have made some amazing progress.

Xander: Okay. I did ask the community for some questions to ask you. Obviously there are a lot of people interested in this project. One of the questions that came up that a couple of people asked me… EVE is obviously a massive ongoing project, DUST is a game which I think portions of the community would suggest needs a lot of work, yep? World of Darkness is obviously another project which is taking up a lot of resources, I presume, at CCP at the moment.

Where does the development time, the budget, the resources come for Valkyrie? Is this a brand new development team with new people being hired in or is this re-allocation from elsewhere? How does this affect the bigger picture?

CCP UnifexSo the guys in Newcastle were working on a part of the DUST engine and they rolled back off that earlier this year – I can’t remember the exact date – and basically their part of the work was done. It’s one of the bits that got handed back over to the Shanghai office to take forward, so these guys had rolled off and that was one of the factors that enabled them to really push forward with Valkyrie.

The timing just worked out very, very well completely by coincidence. These guys were rolling off and we were looking at – okay, what are the options for them going forward in terms of how do they contribute to what CCP are doing. And that happened pretty much over E3. When we came out of E3 saying, “you know what, we should really do something with this. How on earth are we going to do that without disrupting our existing projects?”

What we’ve got is a small development team in Newcastle who can do something with this. And it’s a small team of 14-15 people. Not a big office by any stretch of the imagination.

So with that: good coincidence and timing, and a product that needed to be done and these guys actually fitted what we wanting to do with Valkyrie in terms of their skillset and the graphics and a ton of just very happy coincidences. We said, “hey, studio – are you interested in doing this?”

They took one look at it and I actually brought one of the Oculus Rifts down here, we had the guys in Reykjavik all standing by on the other headsets and we actually ran what was the first cross-country demo of what was then E-VR.

It was actually in this room we had a stream of the developers just coming in, having a beer, playing the game and at the end of it I said, “what do you think? Do you think it’s something that your studio what like to be involved in?” and they just unanimously went, “Yes! Let us at this.”

So we did that and then there were a few of the core who did the original development [to whom] we said, “look, this is your baby. CCP wants to take this labour of love and turn it into a real product, we’ve got a studio who can do it. Are you guys happy with that?”

Of course, they were. They were eager to turn this thing into a real product. Basically, we’ve brought them over to Newcastle to help with that transition and we will see where that leads to get to the end of the year.

Xander: I know that you’ve mentioned that these guys were coming off the part of DUST that they were working on at the time, but is there any reason for DUST player to be nervous that they’ve lost some developers. DUST is a game which I think certain portions of the community would suggest is still very much in development and they’ve lost that personnel. How exactly does that work?

CCP Unifex: They shouldn’t be concerned. I think things which DUST needs to work on right now – if you look at what’s in the 1.4 release, I mean 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 – they’ve all been developed without these guys. I think players will see, when it goes out tomorrow – fantastic advances.

The views we were getting coming out of Gamescom, a lot of the guys who played went, “ah, you’ve fixed that, you’ve fixed this…” so the things that need to be iterated and worked on are a different class of things from what the guys in Newcastle have been working on, so actually we at the company have no worries about that. […?Nothing?…] very cognizant of the fact of yeah, being clogged up.

Xander: Okay. So you’ve touched on it already, but at what point did CCP go, “right – E-VR, it’s had all this great press, it’s had all this great reception but at that point it was just a tech demo, it was an example of what could be done potentially with Oculus Rift.

What was the point at which you guys went, “we need to go ahead with this, this needs to be a full game? What happened there?”

CCP Unifex: It was in a hotel room in Los Angeles and there was myself, Hilmar [Veigar Petursson – CCP CEO], David Reid our CMO, and Thor, our VP of BizDev. We sat down and went through all the various bits and pieces and just looked at each other and just went, “You know what? We’ve just got to make this happen,” and it was really coming off that amazing reception at E3.

So from that, everybody looked around and we had that thing of, “yeah, but how are we actually going to do this? Who’s going to do it? And then they all looked at me…”


CCP Unifex: But then like I said, we had a whole bunch of developers who were also, luckily, becoming available. I mean, to me, this was the big concern: is there a way we can actually take advantage of this opportunity? Because it’s a heck of an opportunity. I mean, you’ve played it…

Xander: Yeah, I have.

CCP Unifex: … and it’s the people who played it at E3 and Gamescom – and actually the Gamescom build has come on hugely since Fanfest. I mean, it’s in 1080P HD, instead of 720 on the kits you had. And they’ve polished and added a ton of stuff to it. I mean, it’s just an amazing opportunity, but how do you do that without screwing up all the other things that we currently have going on. I think – anybody who knows my background on EVE and at CCP – we’ve learned some pretty tough lessons over the years; how not to try to do everything and do most things not particularly well.

We’ve focused down and are very clear on what our priorities are. We have these other projects; EVE Online, DUST 514 [ …?World of Darkness?…] – these are very important things for us that we can’t just suddenly disappear and pull everybody off because there’s this cool thing over there in the corner.

So that was really our big concern and the big hurdle that we had to get over; how do you build and take advantage of this without impacting, in a bad way, the other projects?

Then you’ve got the thing, like I said, with the fortuitous timing and we’re still very, very clear on that; whilst this is great, we’re making great strides with what we’re developing and how it’s moving forward, we can’t just ignore other products because they’re the lifeblood at CCP, the games that we have out there, they’re the community that we have.

We’re not going to short change them.

NEXT: The EVE Community Questions CCP Unifex About Valkyrie


Jon “CCP Unifex” Lander Interview by Xander Phoena

About the author

Mat Westhorpe

Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.