Virtual reality gaming may seem like it belongs to the realms of science fiction, but the truth is you’re now closer than ever to pulling on a virtual reality headset in your own home and escaping into an immersive world of zombies, dragons or car chases thanks to the massive strides in VR development.
In the twenty years since the PlayStation launched, video games have continued to evolve. Consoles have become more powerful, graphics sharper, and gameplay more complex, with stories rivalling big screen blockbusters for entertainment and intrigue.
Popular games series such as Call of Duty and Fall Out have attracted big name actors, including Gary Oldman and Liam Neeson, to lend their likeness and vocal talents to proceedings, helping computer games find their place in the mainstream.
The global VR games industry was estimated to be worth $1.4 billion in 2014. Industry forecasts suggest this will rise to a staggering $9.55 billion by 2022, while Goldman Sachs believes that the overall virtual and augmented reality industry will grow to $110 billion by 2020.
During this forecast period, it is expected that industry leaders, including Microsoft, Sony, and Oculus (purchased by Facebook in 2014) will continue to increase investment to bring advanced technology to the games market. Making a virtual reality game is therefore a terrific opportunity to tap into this emerging marketplace.
Are You Ready to Tap Into The Next Big Thing?
Unlike other entertainment industries, the gaming industry has continually pushed the envelope and adopted emerging technologies in a bid to create more visually stunning and exciting games.
Virtual reality gaming is the next logical step for gaming as it looks to steal even more market share from the movie industry in particular.
VR allows the user to step into a virtual world thanks to specialist hardware and software. There they will encounter a real-world environment in which they will have more control and influence than in traditional console and PC games. The sensory feedback of sharp visuals delivered through the VR headset, and crisp audio delivered through specialist headphones will contribute to a wholly immersive gaming experience.
Investing in this evolving technology now is the ideal opportunity to position yourself as a leader in a marketplace that will have far reaching consequences beyond changing the face of the video game industry. Just like the advent of the world wide web in the mid-nineties, virtual reality will transform everything from clothes shopping to apartment hunting.
How to Make a Virtual Reality Game
If you’re ready to dip your toe into the VR gaming industry before the market matures, there are a number of things that you need to consider.
Firstly, how relevant is your proposed game going to be when developed for Virtual Reality hardware and software? It’s a little like making a film with 3D; for some films, the 3D effects can add value to the story, while in others it can end up as a distraction to the filmgoing experience.
The genre of your game is therefore probably the most important decision you can make. For VR to work, it’s all about helping your player feel present in the moment, immersed in another reality, regardless of whether or not it is based on our own real-world reality.
The games that lend themselves to VR are most certainly the first-person platforms, such as popular shooters like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Halo. It also wouldn’t be a stretch to develop third-person games like Batman Arkham Knight or Assassin’s Creed as VR first-person platforms, allowing the player to step into the shoes of the Dark Knight or Altaïr.
These types of games are very much storyline-driven, eliciting complex emotions in the players; be it fear, excitement, happiness, or indeed sadness. By placing the player squarely in the centre of a virtual reality world, these emotions can only intensify.
Beyond these types of games, interactive puzzles, simulators, and even sports games can add a new dimension to their gameplay by including a VR element.
The second consideration, beyond game genre, is ensuring the game itself runs quickly. A single break in reality will remove the player from the world you’ve carefully constructed.
Latency is therefore fundamentally important. Without it, you cannot deliver the experience required to set your game apart from competing titles in the industry. When your player moves their eyes, their head, their body, the game must register this movement in real time, otherwise the illusion is shattered.
Where Do I Start with VR?
Understand the Hardware
Right now, the virtual reality gaming industry is dominated by the major consoles, Xbox (Microsoft) and PlayStation (Sony). Sony look to have stolen a march on their competitors with the upcoming release of the PS VR, however Microsoft are set to partner with the other major player in the world of VR, Oculus, rather than develop their own technology.
So these are the likely hardware options to keep in mind when setting about developing a virtual reality game. It’s therefore critical to have an understanding of the available hardware and its capabilities.
How does the hardware handle tracking? What’s the range? What’s the field of view? If your player moves their head, what will they see in their peripheral vision?
Ensuring the hardware can deliver the game in a high resolution with a wide field of view means your virtual world will appear expansive and detailed, adding to the feeling of immersion.
To maintain this real world appearance, you must also develop in a 1:1 scale. Head movements should feel natural, and your player should feel like they stand at the right height. The field of view should match that of the VR headset, otherwise you run the risk of ruining your player’s experience, or even making them feel unwell due to unnatural movement confusing their brain!
Understand Your End User
To avoid uncertainty, it’s important to retain a consistent point of view for your players. Don’t use cinematic cut scenes or have your player switch from first to third-person in the middle of the game. All this will serve to do is break the immersion and spoil the gameplay.
It’s also necessary to appreciate that console gamers are habitual creatures, and VR gaming will need to break these bad habits. When onboarding new players, it’s necessary that they don’t fall into old ways by sitting with a headset on, not really moving at all.
The constraints of console gaming need to be unlearned, so a tutorial guiding new players through the fully interactive 360 degree virtual world is a must. You should also keep the player engaged as unlike console gaming, which can sometimes be a little passive, VR gaming requires a degree of alertness.
Leverage Special VR Features
Virtual reality opens up a whole new level of functionality for video game developers to take advantage of. For instance, games could take place in real time, meaning as time passes in the game, it passes in real life. This encourages the player to take decisions quickly and then face the consequences, just like they would in the real world.
This also creates realistic challenges for the player, such as providing them with puzzles that require real problem solving skills. For example, can they remember the combination to a safe as the clock ticks down, or where a character might be hiding based on clues picked up earlier in the game?
Lastly, the advent of speech recognition (Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and “OK Google”) opens a number of doors for game developers to change the way players control the story and interact with other characters. Natural behavior becomes central to the gameplay experience, from body language and movement to how players actually speak with the inhabitants of the virtual world.
All of this contributes to creating real feelings of excitement, intrigue, and pressure.
Which Code Should My Game Use?
The creation of VR games requires a wide spectrum of expertise. From the creative element of art direction and storytelling to the nuts and bolts of the coding, there’s a lot to consider. You must ensure the development company you select to work on your game is able to produce high quality visuals, have a deep understanding of an industry standard gaming engine such as Unity or Unreal, and are able to build an immersive world with all of this information.
It’s this last part that can be hard to find in your average gaming company. The creation of a virtual world requires talented mathematicians in addition to talented artists and developers.
Unreal vs. Unity
The debate continues to rage within the game development community regarding the Unreal and Unity gaming engines. Both are excellent options for VR games, however there are advantages and disadvantages to consider.
Firstly it depends which platform you wish to develop your game for, console or mobile. From there you must also consider the budget attached to your project, and how agile you need to be, i.e. are you happy being constrained by the code of the engine, or would you like to customize beyond what is provided ‘out of the box’?
Here’s a quick overview of the main differences between Unity and Unreal:
- Perfect for mobile-based games.
- The better option for lower budget projects.
- Has an active and welcoming game developer community, however does not provide access to its source code.
- Perfect for console-based games.
- The better option for high budget projects and 3D gaming.
- Shipped with the full source code, meaning developers can amend it when necessary.
Which Headset Should My Game Use?
Over the coming months a flurry of new VR hardware will enter the marketplace, from the previously mentioned PS VR to the Rift from Oculus. Focus has been on creating affordable lightweight head mounted displays (HMDs) to ensure maximum mainstream market penetration.
VR game players will therefore look to invest in hardware that provides a comfortable gaming experience, top quality display, and a level of integrated audio. Anything less than these three mandatory features and VR hardware companies will be in for a rude awakening.
The most important element of the HMDs coming to market this year will certainly be comfort. Gamers are renowned for spending hours on end playing, and with a VR headset on, this could end up being quite irritating. This means the manufacturer has to pack all the technology into the headset without making it feel unwieldy and heavy.
The next aspect for consideration is display quality. High refresh rates are required to avoid straining the eyes, while the viewing angle will determine the field of vision. Headsets should also avoid any gaps that allow light to leak in, therefore spoiling the display and breaking the immersion.
And with the headset’s screen mere inches for the player’s eyes, there cannot be any drop in frame rates, as this will undoubtedly leave gamers feeling nauseated and turned off from VR gaming.
As we touched upon earlier, sound is crucial to a good VR gaming experience. By integrating headphones into the headset, players will find themselves fully immersed in your virtual world, hearing helicopters flying overhead, or an enemy sneaking up behind them.
PS (PlayStation) VR vs Oculus Rift
With all those features considered, it looks like it will come down to Sony and Oculus to shape the future of VR hardware.
Here’s a brief overview of the two main players in the battle for VR headset supremacy:
Sony’s sleek PS VR is scheduled for release in October 2016. Its tech is evenly positioned throughout the headset, making for a more comfortable gaming experience. The consumer version of the device, which debuted at 2016’s Game Developer’s Conference, has placed the majority of the weight on top of the player’s head rather than the bridge of the nose or cheeks, and it can even be worn over glasses.
Sony also know a thing or two about sound design, and with their 3D Positional Audio Engine, the PS VR will be the industry leader right out the gate when it comes to VR audio.
- Refresh rates: 120Hz (2015 prototype)
- Viewing angle: 100-degrees
The Rift headset is set to be light and comfortable, with a real focus on the user. HDMI and USB cables are smartly packaged into the device, and there’s even been a consideration for lengthy gaming sessions by improving the ventilation for the player.
There will be integrated audio in the Rift, and the device will allow the use of HRTF (Head-Related Transfer Function) technology which, combined with head tracking, will create a true 3D audio experience. According to Oculus, this means Rift developers can ensure players are surrounded by realistic sound at every turn.
- Refresh rates: 90Hz
- Viewing angle: 110-degrees
How Can AppReal Help?
As Virtual Reality gaming experts, AppReal is here to help you gain a foothold in this emerging marketplace. Our team of experienced specialists can guide you from the concept stage through to art direction and custom development.
With a strong background in both Unity and Unreal gaming engines, we can develop games for both mobile and console/PC platforms. We also understand the importance of “presence” when it comes to VR game development, and our team are able to deliver this thanks to an in-house expertise in sensory technologies, image processing, and speech recognition.
So if you’re ready to make your virtual reality idea an actual reality, speak with one of our experts today.