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Preview: Sparc – Don’t Stop Movin’

CCP Games’ Sparc is only as good as your opponent.

EVE Fanfest 2017 is underway; the annual event in which CCP Games talks about EVE Online, its spin-off titles and the many other properties that the company’s studios are working on. Unsurprisingly, Sparc is being showcased as a highlight of the event as while VRFocus had already been hands-on with the title at this year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC) – and many times before as Project Arena – for the core EVE Online audience this is the first showcase of the near-complete virtual reality (VR) eSports experience. The trouble is, Sparc is a videogame that becomes more enjoyable with more time investment.

For the uninitiated, the premise is simple: two players enter an arena in 1 vs. 1 ball-based combat. Throwing a ball will see it bounce off walls at it travels towards your opponent, while vice-versa their balls travel towards you. Get hit and your opponent scores a point, hit your opponent and of course you score. In the mode VRFocus played you also have a knuckle brace to punch and return balls, but in the core gameplay mode this defensive ability is removed and the videogame becomes more about your physical abilities than using in-game items.

There is a default defence throughout all gameplay modes that comes from judicious use of throwing your ball. When not thrown a shield is mounted upon your arm which allows for rebounds, but as soon as the ball is launched this disappears and the player is left to duck and weave in order to avoid incoming balls. It sounds simple but Sparc is a videogame which can inspire a great deal of competitive play, as is the intention.

Earlier builds of Sparc, formerly known as Project Arena, saw players battling with multiple discs, a variety of shield types and more complications. This has been streamlined however with that emphasis on real-world ability opposed to in-game assets. Those lucky enough to have played both certainly have a preference as the experience is significantly different, but one thing is evident of this new version: Sparc is only ever going to be fun if your opponent gives it their all.

Pushing the agenda for real-world athleticism has both benefits and advantages. Like a tennis match or a game of squash, Sparc simply isn’t enjoyable if you don’t start moving; or if your opponent refuses to. The adrenaline needs to be pumping and the challenge set high in order to get the most out of the experience, which is what lends the videogame to the eSports agenda. It’s inherently designed for direct competition, with handshakes, gesturing and spectators all built into the fold as standard. While EVE Valkyrie could also be said to be a competitive experience, it can be enjoyed as a lone player joining a random match or as part of a team; simply playing with your own objectives or with that of your squad. Sparc however, finds its wealth in the thrill of the competition.

Sparc is currently in development for HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR. The two PC formats have already had cross-platform gameplay confirmed (indeed, it was HTC Vive and Oculus Rift cross-play that VRFocus experience at EVE Fanfest 2017), but PlayStation VR hasn’t yet been included in that agenda. Of course, CCP Games would be foolish not to wrap the PlayStation format into this openness given the eSports ambitions – even one division in player community is one too many – but VRFocus will keep you updated with any further news on the as-yet-unseen PlayStation VR of Sparc.

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