Virtual Reality Development
Virtual Reality development involves a combination of factors coming together to bring a finished VR title. VR games or simulations are seldom developed by a single developer as a title will involve, at a minimum, deep knowledge in a number of fields including physics and mathematics, level development, character development, and 3D rendering. Complex VR titles will involve knowledge in more practices and can have a large number of people working on a single title for a long time to bring out a polished product.
Half-Life Alyx, a VR game developed by Valve and released recently on their Steam platform had reportedly a team of 80 people working on the game since 2016. While this game is an outlier, and is considered the first AAA title released for Virtual Reality platform, it can be an indicator of where this industry is headed as it matures.
Virtual Reality games or simulations are similar in their development cycles, but mainly differ in the design approach:
Simulations portray, as accurately as possible, a real world scenario to allow people using this simulation to feel what it would be like to experience the real thing. Simulations include racing, driving, and flight simulations which allow the user to experience what it would be like to operate such a vehicle. Training simulations, such as ones used to training police or first responders put the users in scenarios in VR that trains them on cases that they could possible face in the real world.
Virtual Reality Game development approaches the design of the project with focus on entertainment. Games forgo part of the realism to maximize fun! They involve bringing a concept imagined by the games lead developer to life through this medium and pay particular attention to art styles, sounds and music and character development.
Virtual Reality development procedure involves:
Concept and Prototyping:
Every Virtual Reality development project starts with concept creation and prototyping of the main idea and bringing it a step closer to reality. There are many prototyping software tools with team collaboration options and version control; but pen and paper works just fine for smaller projects. The main idea here is to play around with a concept, place some parameters around it and see if the idea makes sense to being development.
At this stage of development, you are looking at solidifying the main concept, picking a platform and an engine and development tools that are suitable for what you are trying to accomplish assigning roles to the project as well as having a general direction of how to advance with the project.
Art, Character and Environment Design
The second part is to take the concept art, create models of characters, levels and the environment. You can play around with a few models to come up with the art direction that you want your project to take. If you’re developing a simulation, you would want to model the real world 1:1 as closely as possible; here 3D scanners and shader models taken from real images are useful. If you are developing a game then you can decide to have cartoonish or more realistic 3D designs, and decide on the color and scale of your art.
For character modeling you should start off with the character you interact with. In Virtual Reality there is no modeling for a main character as you interact in VR in first-person. You should consider the art style taken and building all characters up to that standard.
For environment and level design start with simple parts of the modeling and add detail as you refine the environment. Begin with building a border of the level and designing elevation and main structures, as the level takes shape you can add fancy shaders and effects. Focus on detailing the parts of the environment that the user interacts with the most and spend less time on further away objects.
Game Engines and Programming
Deciding on the game engine for your project is one the most important factors in achieving the required result as functionality mainly comes from the engine. Programming is not a 100% must these days as there are many software libraries available for VR games and simulations, but you have to at least have a high-enough level of understanding to be able to manipulate attributes or modify existing code to suite your project.
The main two engines used for Virtual Reality development are Unity Engine, and Unreal Engine, as they are the most user-friendly. Source engine and cry engine have also been used by game developers to create VR games but these engines are much more specialized and don’t have as much community adoption.
Unity offers the biggest library of free and paid character models, environments and even full projects that you can take as a starting point and modify to suite your VR project. Unreal engine has less adoption is harder to work with but allows more flexibility and modifications and has modeling and shader tools that are not available in unity. In general, you should consider Unity for smaller projects and Unreal for more realistic larger projects especially if you’re working with a team.
Many of the large studios start developing a project in Unity as a proof of concept get a basic understating of the prototype quickly and then move the project to Unreal engine or a more complex engine like Source or Cry Engine.
SDKs and Platforms
Virtual Reality platforms are mainly split to standalone VR and PC VR. Standalone platforms are much simpler and limited in specifications, while PC VR are comprised of many headsets and are dependent on the PC that the headset is attached to. Each of the platform has development advantages and challenges but in general developing for a standalone platform with defined specifications is easy especially if this is your first project as you won’t have to customize you project for many headsets and PC specifications.
In addition, adapting your project from something that you run in engine on your development computer to the platform that you would want to use is easy with the Software Development Kits that are offered for the platform you want to launch on. You should always consider the advantages and limitations of the platform and fine tune your project accordingly.
Once you are happy with the look and feel of your project you can compile an alpha version that you would want to share with others for testing.
Testing and Launch
For smaller projects you can begin testing after you have a version that you consider an alpha, try it out internally and with close friends, after that you can either consider beta testing on a larger group or launching if you are confident with the quality of your work. Testing methodology and procedures depend on your project and what you are trying to achieve, but the main purpose here is find any flaws, or further optimizations that can be done that have been a blind spot for you or the development team.
For Virtual Reality projects, you should consider the usability of your software and always consider the VR limitations of the platform. Don’t think of this like PC games and simulations, the interaction time in VR is usually lower and user interface design is crucial to make sure that your project is a success.
At GameIN, we have developed many simulations and games for companies and institutions that want to adopt this new medium in bringing their message to the masses. Check out our custom developed games and our custom developed simulations sections to check out our previous projects or contact us to see how we can help you in developing your next project in Virtual Reality.