Sat. Feb 4th, 2023
Coming soon on SteamVR.
Enlarge / Coming soon on SteamVR.

Space flight/trade/combat simulator Elite: Dangerous has had support for Oculus Rift development kits almost since the start of the game’s closed, backer-only testing phase, and playing it with a Rift is a surprisingly immersive experience. When Ars Gaming Editor Kyle Orland spoke to lead designer David Braben at GDC earlier this year, Braben said his commitment to VR went beyond just supporting Oculus. On Monday morning, Frontier Developments followed suit and announced that Elite: Dangerous will receive an update this holiday season to work with SteamVR. The first non-Rift headset to Elite support will be the HTC Vive.

“Starting VR early was a huge benefit,” Frontier communications manager Michael Gapper told Ars in an email conversation this morning. “We’ve been working with VR since December 2013 and have been constantly evolving the experience. We’ve learned a lot, not just about the technology, but about design best practices.”

It was unclear for much of 2014 and 2015 when exactly consumer versions of VR headsets would hit the market, but now it looks like devices from multiple manufacturers, including Oculus and HTC, will start appearing in significant quantities in the first quarter of 2016 (the Vive is scheduled for official launch in late 2015, but all indications are that quantities will be extremely limited at launch). At least for now, most devices depend on a specific “platform” with its own SDK and API; the HTC Vive is for use with Valve’s SteamVR, while the Oculus Rift works with the Oculus SDK and run times. There have been some attempts to unify the fragmented VR space, but at least for the first year, consumers will likely need to choose a VR platform and pay attention to the VR games they buy to ensure that they are supported.

Ever since Elite will support multiple devices, we asked if Frontier had a preferred headset in mind for the optimal Elite experience. Gapper explained that Frontier intends to be egalitarian in its VR choices. “We’re not looking for the ‘best’ VR experience because we’re confident players will have their own preferences; we’re just trying to make sure the experience is the best wherever you want to play it,” he said. “And we’re not working with a ‘reference’ headset; we’re supporting Oculus today with SDK 0.5 and we’re supporting Vive with a free update before the end of the year.”

Gapper’s last sentence brings up an important point: there are currently no officially released VR headsets. Enthusiastic early adopters probably bought Oculus Rift DK2s, but the Oculus SDK continues to evolve towards release, and the latest update (to version 0.7) introduced major functionality changes. Elite: Dangerous doesn’t yet support the updated Rift SDK and runtime, and it’s possible that the only VR platform supporting the game at the end of the year will be SteamVR.

People who want an early look at Elite on the HTC Vive can visit Frontier’s booth at EGX in Birmingham this week and try it out.

By akfire1

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