In-Engine: The Play for VR Game Design

Unity, Unreal and CryEngine show what's next for VR.

Virtual reality (VR) was undoubtedly the hot topic at the Game Developers Conference (GDC), San Francisco, once again this year, with many new videogame titles and technical demonstrations revealed throughout the various panels and on the show floor. However, arguably more important for the future of the medium were the discussions around the technology empowering developers to deliver their visions, with Unity Technologies, Epic Games and Crytek all delivering potentially industry-changing announcements.

CRYENGINE 5 / CRYENGINE V

Two years ago you’d be hard pressed to find developers looking beyond Unity 4 for development of their VR projects, and while Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey suggests that a lot of videogame titles being developed for the medium are still using Unity Technology’s engine, the uptake of Unreal Engine 4 has been significant. The higher graphical fidelity and the ease-of-use of Unreal Engine 4’s Blueprints system is an attractive proposition, and while Crytek’s technology arguably leads the former, the developer support for Unreal Engine 4 far surpasses the documentation available for CRYENGINE 3.

This is an issue which Crytek promise to address with the recently announced CryEngine V, with which the company is directly targeting VR developers. Much of what Crytek are planning with CryEngine V remains hidden behind a barrier of PR fluff at present, despite the engine being publicly available, but VRFocus did get some hands-on time with a very early edition of the VR Editor currently in development for the engine.

Suggesting that CryEngine V’s VR Editor is ‘very early’ is an understatement. At present, it’s limited to manipulating only the assets provided in a very basic environment. Demonstrated on the HTC Vive, the user is able to grab objects, place them where desired and adjust their size or orientation. Future plans would see the newly launched CryEngine V Marketplace directly connected to the VR Editor, so that designers are able to buy assets and immediately bring them into the space, but functionality is limited at present to an extent that it lags behind Epic Games’ debut demonstration of the Unreal Engine 4 VR Editor from several weeks ago.

VR Editor Unreal Engine 4 stream

Being first out of the gate will undoubtedly benefit Epic Games’ effort, but more so will the fact that the VR Editor of Unreal Engine 4 is actually closer to being feature-complete than either of its biggest rivals. At its reveal the Unreal Engine 4 VR Editor was simply used to place and manipulate objects in a virtual environment, similar to that of CryEngine V’s VR Editor. However, even then traversal of the world and the visual fidelity evidenced were of a superior standard, and upon the official launch of the VR Editior – available to download via Github now – many new features have been incorporated to offer developers a functional starting point.

Unity Technologies are arguably the dark horse in the race, discussing their own offering but delivering very few details. The VR Scene Editor, revealed last month shortly after Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 VR Editor announcement, has been showcased publicly twice yet details on how and when developers will be able to get their hands on the technology haven’t yet been announced. Furthermore, Unity Technologies openly stated that the team working on the project was ‘still just getting started’, so as with CryEngine V’s VR Editor, it may well be several months until a workable solution is released to the developers.

Of course, you could’ve surmised from these brief overview of the progress of each engine developer and their plans that Unreal Engine 4 is in the lead. Right now there’s no argument that this is the case, but VR development isn’t in a situation where it will be defined by the next few weeks or months. There’s years left on this roadmap, and first out of the gate isn’t always going to be first across the finishing line.

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