Virtual Reality Development For Beginners
Virtual Reality has been around, in various iterations, since the 1960s, but it has only recently become a viable means of entertainment for home users and consumers. There are mobile headsets like the Google Cardboard Viewer and the Samsung Gear VR, as well as higher quality but bigger budget headsets like the Oculus and the HTC Vive. Game developers are also beginning to author premium games for the PC specifically for the VR gaming platform, while both Sony and Microsoft are in various stages of launching their own console based VR headsets.
Analysts Gartner predict that 2 million headsets will be sold in 2016, which represents a significant increase over 2015 and earlier years. Now is the time for existing developers and would-be game developers to get into the development of Virtual Reality apps and games.
Start Small, Aim big
You don’t have to start with an open world, immersive experience the size of premium games; develop an app for mobile use because this takes less time, requires fewer assets and resources, and it allows you to get to grips with the technology before you throw yourself headfirst into the development of a massive and complex project. Biting off more than you can chew is likely to be enough to put you off VR development altogether.
For the time being, there are basically two VR development platforms – Unity and Unreal. There are pros and cons to using either, as well as the question of personal preference. Both, however, offer blueprints that developers can take advantage of. Blueprints are basically templates for full VR apps and games. The source code is readily and freely available for developers. This means that you can find a blueprint that offers some or all of the functionality that you require from your next app. You can customise the look, add new features or remove old ones, and you can turn the templated blueprint into a customised VR app for your own benefit.
Unity is based on C# while Unreal Engine utilises C++. If you have experience in either of these coding languages then you would be advised to use the platform that matches your previous experience. This means that you will have a lot of the experience and knowledge that you need in order to be able to start creating your app straight away, or to more accurately and reliably work with the blueprints that you have.
As well as being able to use blueprints, you can also purchase assets for use in VR development. You can buy anything from 3D models to the audio files that will accompany your graphics. You can even have video developed, leaving you to basically put the world together and ensure that the motion and triggers are reliable. Use sites like Best 3D Model, where you can buy models created by 3D artists and designers, access all of the available files, and enjoy assets that are basically ready to drop into your development.
App And VR Monitoring
Whether you are creating a VR app or a fully-fledged PC game that utilises Virtual Reality, you can add more than the graphics and audio that you require. Install analytics and you will be able to accurately monitor exactly what your users are doing in your app. You can determine how they arrived, how they found your app, and statistics like how long they last in the app, whether there are any particular sections or areas where users are more likely to drop out, and the most popular sections. For a developer, this kind of information is vital because it enables them to make improvements to the existing app, and it is also beneficial information for use in future apps and VR games.
Platforms To Develop For
The affordability of the Google Cardboard Viewer has helped make it a popular means of trialling and trying out Virtual Reality, and this has led to the Google Cardboard platform being one of the most popular at the current time. Samsung Gear VR is another popular platform, thanks to the development of the Gear VR headset; The Gear VR is only compatible with Samsung phones, but Samsung are developing a standalone headset. In PC gaming, Valve and HTC have combined in order to develop and manufacture the HTC Vive headset while Oculus Rift are the most established name in the VR industry – they have enjoyed a close relationship with Microsoft, which means that the Oculus headsets are not only compatible with PCs but are truly plug and play.
You can develop for any of these platforms using either the Unity or Unreal engines, which means that it still comes down to personal choice and developer experience.
What To Develop
The joy of Virtual Reality is that the possibilities really are endless. Developers are not bound to any specific design requirements, and if you can envisage it then you can create it. However, this total freedom can be restricting. It can be very difficult to know where to start unless you already have an idea. You can choose a favourite level from an existing game, attempt to turn a book or short story into a VR world, or you can develop a VR app that matches your business and commercial requirements.
You can envisage existing worlds or situations and recreate them, or you can create something completely outlandish and unique, and create these. The joy of creating something from scratch is that there is no right or wrong when it comes to the final development – recreating or imagining something that already exists means that you may run into controversy if you don’t recreate something entirely accurately.
Virtual Reality Development
Virtual Reality has many possible applications, from commercial and industrial to retail and entertainment. It is likely that the gaming industry will lead the sales of VR headsets, but it could be healthcare or manufacturing that helps forge better quality VR headsets and equipment. If you have experience in coding or game development, then now is the right time to at least start exploring the world of Virtual Reality.