The advent of the VRMMORPG: “Eve: Valkyrie” and “SAO: The Beginning”

By Matthew Chan and Sabrina Sun⎹ Editor-In-Chief and Staff Writer

For as long as humanity has been around, we’ve had an insatiable curiosity to explore and have new experiences.  In the words of Christopher McCandless from “Into the Wild”, “The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”  With the human population occupying every continent, NASA sending out probes into deep space, and marine researchers mapping every detail of deep ocean trenches, the opportunities for exploration on Earth seem to be waning rapidly.

In February, IBM Japan announced its plan to run an alpha test of a full Virtual Reality (VR) Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) Role-Playing Game (RPG) centered in Tokyo that will include over 200 testers. Titled “Sword Art Online: The Beginning”, based on a 2009 Japanese young adult novel by Reki Kawahara titled “Sword Art Online” (SAO), the alpha test will run over a three day period from March 18 to 20.  IBM’s introduction of a fully immersive virtual reality world could be the next step in satisfying the innate human hunger for exploring the unknown and plotting the uncharted.

Using technology like Watson, IBM’s cognitive computing technology, and SoftLayer, a cloud computing technology to power the MMO, IBM’s VRMMORPG holds the potential to break the boundaries between science fiction and reality. Even though the alpha test is limited to Japanese citizens above 18, the implications this game has for the future of fully-immersive virtual reality and multiplayer game interactions are immense.

The world of the SAO franchise is one where VRMMORPGs, like the one IBM is currently striving to create, have become popular platforms for gaming. Futuristic virtual reality technology known as “Nerve Gear” allows games to achieve a degree of immersiveness that challenges reality. The series opens with the release of a new VRMMORPG titled “Sword Art Online”, which 10,000 gamers eagerly flock to game in. However, when the logout button suddenly disappears and death in-game becomes equivalent to death in real-life, the gamers must struggle to beat the game. In addition,  main characters must survive the psychological consequences of a long-term stay in a world that is both real and not real.

While the VRMMO platform remains new and mostly untested, recent corporate endeavors have shown the vast bound by which virtual reality has improved.  “Eve: Valkyrie,” a spaceship dogfighting VRMMO being developed by CCP Games for Sony’s “Project Morpheus” virtual reality system have shown the realistic possibilities of this platform in the future.  Through its limited gameplay releases through testers online, “Eve: Valkyrie” clearly sports a much higher immersive quality and definition than previous independent virtual reality addons for existing games.  The alpha footage from “Eve: Valkyrie” shows that players are free to look anywhere, and the double high-definition displays render images at a quality and speed that makes players feel as if they are actually among the gigantic spacecrafts looming across a star-filled sky. Smaller spaceships dive and twist around the intricately rendered surroundings, leaving behind flowing trails of light. Basically, it looks amazing.

Games like “Eve: Valkyrie” show VRMMOs’ ability to redefine simulation games and entertainment. Although very little of its development has been released, “SAO: The Beginning” has a promising premise, which it will most likely follow up on.  With virtual reality no longer an artifact of the science fiction past, we can now continue exploration into another realm where the laws of existence are only limited by imagination.