Sparc: Hands-on and interview for the Tron-like VR sports game

CCP Games has always been synonymous with the blockbuster MMO, EVE Online. At this year’s Eve Fanfest though, we were treated to an all-new game called Sparc that actually wasn’t based in the EVE universe. I was lucky enough to get my grubby paws on it to see what the fuss was about. I’ll tell you right now, the hype is real. Obviously, something to note is that the game is a VR-based game (as the title says).

The easiest way to explain Sparc is that it’s a full-body virtual game of Pong combined with disc wars from Tron. Using motion controllers, players throw a ball at their opponent with the goal of trying to score a hit on them. You have the ability to dodge, deflect and block attacks coming against you whilst trying to catch your opponent off-guard. It is important to tell you that this game is purely skills-based, meaning you’re only as good as your personal abilities. If you want to get better, just like in any other sport, you have to train.

Check out the announcement trailer below.

We had a chance to sit down and speak with  CCP Games (CCP Atlanta) Executive Producer Morgan Godat regarding Sparc, and here’s what he had to say about creating a VR game based solely on skill:

“Can we design a game that you can move your coffee table out of the way, feel embodied and play an actual skills-based game. The sport angle came just from the physical action of it… Do we really want to put in mechanics that would limit your skill? Do we want mechanics that you would have to get your strength up? No. How about you just learn the game and learn how to play it yourself, and learn how to do the actions yourself. The skill cap is your own skill. Do we really want to put in an endurance meter, how would that manifest?”

Jumping into Sparc, I began with a tutorial that gives you the rundown of the games’ mechanics, which are fairly basic. The motion controllers are your hands, pulling the trigger picks up the ball, and releasing it lets it go. Simple enough right? Here’s where it gets interesting. In throwing the ball, the speed solely depends on how you throw. Meaning if you go through the full motion (and by full motion I mean the speed at which you’d literally throw, not just the motion) of throwing a baseball, the ball will travel very quickly at your opponent.

Likewise, if you do a slower-motioned throw, the ball will react as such. This is definitely not similar to what you find with Wii Sports, for example, where you can just flick your wrist and get the power results. And I absolutely love that aspect of it, the fact that you actually have to try. Other mechanics included wrist-mounted shields and knuckle guards for deflecting the opponent’s ball. Once you’ve acclimated yourself with how to play, the time then comes to go head-to-head against a live opponent.

Morgan goes on to talk about what it was like coming up with the idea for Sparc:

“How do we design a sport for these things (VR and peripherals). We wanted to do something you couldn’t do in real life. If you wanted to go outside and play tennis, then go for it. But if you wanted to turn the six foot square of your living room into a Sparc court and play against your friend on the east or west coast, that sounds like a really cool concept to me…We really want to put people in the space together, we want them to be able to talk, just like when you go down to the courts. You’ve got to expect some amount of basic human interaction.”

I was ready to do battle, and my opponent was none other than our Editor-in-Chief, John. The stakes were high and the odds against me, as John had already tried out the game at GDC earlier this year. I could only hope that my brief time in the tutorial was enough to help grant a victory. There are 2 modes we played, Regular and Pro. The difference being, Pro mode doesn’t have the knuckle guards and you actually have to dodge more.

Starting with Regular, we went at it with John taking the advantage early. It really does take a moment to get your bearings down when you have to move around so much. But when you do, it’s one hell of an experience as you’re playing. You learn different techniques and strategies on how to throw the ball differently as well as try to catch your opponent off-guard. At the end of the first round, I was able to come away with the win. But the real challenge lay ahead with the Pro mode.

This more difficult mode really ups the ante on your physical movements and definitely gets your blood pumping. With one less defensive item (knuckle guards) and having to physically dodge attacks adds a lot more depth to the game. The intensity kicks up as well because the competitive bar has been raised. You really do feel like you’re fighting for your life in a Tron arena.

Morgan did have something to say in regards to having that Tron feeling you get while playing:

“We are kids of the ’80s, most of the people on the team. We love us some Tron and some Tron: Legacy. For us, it was a huge inspiration growing up. It was just a matter of saying, do we want to tie this to one specific thing. Do I want to make a game where I’m playing fantasy characters or do I want to make a game where at the end of the day, I can just strip everything away if I could and just have you in there playing.”

Sparc Will Make You Sweat

By the end of the match, we were both sweating fairly profusely, but it was worth it. I was able to come out the victor, albeit being a close game the entire time. Being a sports fan in general, I can easily see Sparc breaking ground in becoming the first ever VR sport. It meets almost every standard that’s required of an actual sport, with the only difference being that it’s played on a virtual playing field.

There hasn’t been any official word on release yet, but we’re hoping it’s soon. Also, the platforms it will be available on are the PS VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. It is also worth noting that we played head-to-head on 2 different VR systems, as I was on the Vive while John was on the Rift. We look forward to playing more Sparc in the coming months, as well as seeing you all on the courts when it finally releases.

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