Essentials for Building Your 1st VR Game
This section might get a little long winded. But is full of extremely valuable advice for first time VR developers. If you’re not interested in our advice before proceeding, and just want to jump straight to the development, hit recommendations in the table of contents!
Virtual Reality is Easier Than You Think
When we had a great idea for a VR game, we were very concerned that somehow the leap to VR would be very complicated. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Think about it. It really is just putting your 1st person perspective into a 3D game engine/world. The hardware and tracking sensors do all the heavy lifting for you! Most big companies that sell you VR headsets typically want the transition from 3D to full out virtual reality to be as painless as possible. Offering plenty of support and plugins to be up to date and work with all the big names in the game engine development world.
What to Consider
If anything, your biggest blockades are more philosophical questions than anything. After our experience of launching a full online multiplayer VR title, there’s a few things we would approach differently. These are great starting points to see if your project is right for virtual reality vs just a normal PC game.
Is your idea to jerky? Does the player have control over their movement and position in the world you are building for them? A variety of factors make some games unplayable if the movement isn’t suited for wearing a headset. Not everyone has iron stomachs and that could hurt your bottom line or even success in general. A roller coaster game sounds awesome! Until your brain is confused by your visual perception of flying through the air and your body not moving. Crossing signals and making you ill.
Great VR Idea? Or just great idea?
You know what sounds amazing in VR? Everything does. Even Skyrim implemented VR. It was received very poorly. You would think fighting those dragons inside their world would be mind-blowing. The controls didn’t translate into the game very well. You’ll have to take a step back and really think about your idea. Does it utilize the motion controls and head set in a fun unique way that should only be experienced in virtual reality?
Size of Market
All though it’s growing, it still doesn’t compare to the general PC gaming market. Which itself is in the shadow of mobile gaming. We prefer not to develop in mobile for enough reasons to warrant a page of it’s own some day. So if trying to maximize profits is your goal instead of pursuing the passion of creating a killer VR game idea, we recommend sticking with PC. Our research has shown even a super successful VR title only makes about 5-10% of what a successful PC game makes. Which takes us to you saying…
Why not both?
Great question! After extensive research playing and reading about a ton of VR games, here’s what we’ve concluded. Most games that go for both somehow lack in both. A game made for the keyboard and mouse, really doesn’t translate very well into VR. Kind of a half baked port really. And vice versa. A game made for VR doesn’t really play so well sitting at a PC. Steam is littered with games that attempted to do both at once. And one side of the experience ends up suffering because of it. You can even browse the steam store, choose VR compatible tag, and find a ton of games plagued with bad reviews due to the implementation of VR.
It definitely is more expensive to develop for VR. You could create your builds in VR simulators. But if you are at all serious about releasing a game people will actually be playing, you need to purchase a headset and controllers. And typically the PC that runs VR games is top of the line with a beefier video card. Unless you’re buying newer stand alone headsets like the recently released Oculus Quest. Which we would actually recommend. And don’t even get us started on multiplayer! It’s pretty pricey for a small up and coming indie dev team to buy four complete head sets, and controllers. Not to mention four PC’s that can run the headsets.
With all of that said, it’s still very possible to have an amazing idea specifically for VR, and make a lot of money. Right now the market share isn’t quite large enough for triple A studios with huge overhead. Indie developers are thriving in the VR market. Especially one man teams. QuiVR was created by a single person. So was Pavlov VR and Beat Saber. All of these titles earning millions each!
Great! We haven’t scared you away yet. Despite considering all the road blocks, you still have an absolutely killer idea that is perfectly suited for VR. Let’s get you on the right track.
Since we have no idea what kind of game you have in mind, we’re sticking to the basics you’ll need for VR development in general. You can easily pop between this page and any other guide we have to help keep your development moving smoothly.
As with all of our guides, we are assuming you are using Unity to build your game. Also, you understand the power and value of the asset store. We often link to purchasable assets. This is in the best interest of you the developer and streamlining your project.
Typically everyone develops for a release on the steam store. Biggest market, yadda yadda. So straight away you should be downloading the Steam VR Plugin.
Existing in VR
We’re assuming you already have a 3D space made for your players. Or some sort of testing ground. If not, and you want to have a decent space to get your VR legs going, a personal favorite of ours is this set of rooms. 3D Virtual Showroom. Specifically Vol 2. But Vol 1-5 are all pretty good.
Lighting and Rendering
Making sure the lighting and rendering look realistic is very important for VR being immersive. Even in simpler polygon worlds, people don’t realize what kind of effect the lighting can have on their environment and the players existing there. Luckily Steam has released the same system they used for lighting and rendering in their VR launch games The Lab. Even better, the released it for free.
UI and Menus
A very overlooked aspect. Unless you have an absolutely pure minimalist version of a game, which is unlikely, you’re going to need a way of toggling and selecting inside of VR. There is an incredible solution to this that is very customizable. Curved UI. Not only does it have a sleek VR design, it is completely compatible with TextMesh Pro. Which should be every developers go to in game text solution every time.
Setup Interactions Within Your VR World
Without knowing your particular game type. This asset is as good as anywhere to start. Really helps a developer get a feel for how things work in the VR world. And is an easy way to implement all the basics. Things like throwing objects. Setting up a shooting weapon. A boxing machine. Setting up haptic feedback. (Controller rumble.) Dual wielding guns or other objects. Shooting targets. Touchpad axis. Etc.
There are a ton of movement options for players inside the headset. This is not a one size glove fits all kind of situation. So we’ll suggest one of the popular, easy ways to get around. Simply teleporting! Point your teleporter in the spot you would like to warp too. Pretty simple concept and a great solution for the single player experience. It also helps mitigate motion sickness as well.
Your In Game Body
There’s a wide variety of ways to present your in game player. From a full bodied avatars or simply leave them as floating controllers in air. It’s up to you. But in our opinion, it’s more immersive to look down and see some sort of body standing under you instead of you floating mid air. Our multiplayer game has full bodies avatars. So we’ll show you how to get to that point as well as plenty of other options.
An easy option. Especially for single player games. NPC’s don’t much care if you have a full rendered body. These hands respond to triggers, buttons, and sensors. Moving similar to how your real life hands are moving. Especially good to have in the early stages of development. There’s a ton of hands on the asset store. But these match a lot of the newer gestures you can do with the most recent controllers. Including pointing. We’ve included several options, so pick what ever theme suits your game!
If you want to include a body that follows you around, and we recommend you do as it helps some players with motion sickness, there are several ways to do it. The first option we’ll show you is budget friendly, quick and dirty!
For us, developing a multiplayer game, we needed more than just a pseudo body below the player. We needed everything. The head, arms and hands that tracked tracked with controllers, and legs stepping in the direction the player moved. Honestly, this was a huge undertaking. But it paid off in the end. Not only was our game one of the few that had full bodied characters all playing real time with each other in multiplayer, the players loved it! It also allowed us to create a better user experience for our players.
Now your going to need rigging and movement for your in game body. We would be wrong to suggest none other than this mega popular asset. There really is no other comparison for Inverse Kinetics on the Asset Store.
Wrapping things up
As with all of our guides, this will be an evolving work in progress. Discussion and suggestions are encouraged!