The announcement of the HTC Vive VR headset at Mobile World Congress earlier this year was low on details, and instead focussed on getting people to experience virtual reality. In the wake of Microsoft’s Build conference, where game support for its augmented reality headset HoloLens was announced, HTC and Valve have now released a Software Development Kit (SDK) to make virtual reality apps and games.
The SDK works with Valve’s SteamVR platform, with the custom controllers and motion tracking that comes with the Vive. The SDK also works with two of the most popular game development engines, Unity and Unreal Engine.
Epic’s Unreal Engine is also supported by the two biggest competitors to HTC and Valve’s Vive hardware – the Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus – and so is Unity. Microsoft hasn’t made any announcements about Unreal Engine for now, but it’s worth noting that the augmented reality platform is less gaming oriented than HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus.
So far, Oculus probably holds the lead in terms of interest and developer support. The SDK for earlier iterations of the prototypes have been circulating for a while now. Since the Vive is made by HTC along with Valve – which is one of the biggest and most popular game development companies and the owner of the immensely successful Steam game distribution platform – this could change now, as it starts to get its SDK in the hands of actual developers.
Our own experience with the HTC Vive was nothing short of stunning, and really shows how VR has developed in leaps and bounds over the last few years ever since the first Oculus Rift prototype was shown. Between the HTC Vive and the second generation Oculus Rift (it’s now on the third generation prototype), not much time had passed but the two experiences were already worlds apart, and neither company has reached the final stage of development yet.
The challenge for app makers will not just lie on the hardware side though – the experiences are completely new and completely different from familiar games, and so developers will have to entirely rethink how people will interact with their creations. Something like a first person shooter is likely to be too frantic, and we believe that many of the first games that are released for these platforms will be more akin to “experiences”. For example, some of the most fun we had with the Oculus Rift was taking a virtual roller coaster ride, and with the Vive, the most spectacular moment was just experiencing being underwater, and seeing a whale swim by.
The availability of engines like Unity and Unreal Engine should not be taken as a chance to just port existing games over to these new platforms, but rather to make something that is completely new and unique.