Top 10 VR DevTools Every Developer Should Know
This year is expected to usher in significant developments in the virtual reality (VR) space! With more people switching to a remote work setting and international travel becoming a pipe dream for most, VR is now more relevant than ever. Accordingly, the latest reports suggest that the VR market is growing fast — from a $3.9 billion market size in 2018 to a whooping $24.5 billion by 2024.
VR experiences are becoming more commonplace and accessible for both consumers and businesses across a wide range of industries. Not surprisingly, developers and non-developers alike are leveraging many platforms, developer tools and software development kits (SDKs) to create immersive VR applications and experiences. Here is a list of the top ten VR developer tools that every developer should know (in no particular order):
Unity is one of the most popular game development tools out there and has been used to create popular games such as Pokémon Go, Hearthstone and Rimworld. Its real-time game engine, high-fidelity graphics, and numerous integrations and compatibility with different VR headsets, make it a prime choice for developers looking to create VR apps and experiences. In particular, the Unity game engine offers a VR mode to preview work on your own headset as you work to design your virtual environment.
2. Unreal Engine
Unreal Engine is one of the best real-time game engines and 3D creation tools released to date. This is an extremely powerful tool for creators looking to build hyper-realistic interactive VR experiences at scale for different VR headsets. Since March 2015, Unreal Engine 4, along with all future updates, have been provided for free for all users, subject to Epic’s commercial license in cases where the engine is used for commercial use.
echoAR is a cloud platform for AR/VR that provides tools and server-side infrastructure to help developers & companies quickly build and deploy 3D apps and content. With its flexible cloud infrastructure, intuitive content management and system, fast content delivery network, and other functionalities, echoAR provides for highly efficient 3D development and delivery processes. It enables VR developers to build an app backend and allows content creators to easily manage and publish 3D content to their VR app.
Blender is a free open-source 3D computer graphics software suite used by many VR enthusiasts to create 3D models and animation. It supports 3D modeling, simulation, rendering, compositing, animation, editing, and more.
5. Maya by Autodesk
Maya is Autodesk’s VR software development tool which allows you to create 3D computer animation and VFX graphics. This powerful software allows developers to build their own 3D assets and sciences with tools for 3D animation, modeling, rendering, shading, simulation, and more (you won’t believe how many tools can be found on the Maya platform if you just keep digging!). Autodesk also offers 3ds Max, a similar 3D modeling and rendering software for design visualization, games, and animation, yet Maya is compatible with more operating systems.
Maya is offered on a free trial basis as well as on a 3-year, 1-year and monthly license fee basis here.
A-Frame is a great open-source web framework for building VR experiences which allows you to create 3D WebVR-based scenes by simply using HTML (it is in fact a powerful entity-component framework build on top of three.js). A-Frame supports almost all VR headsets and allows you to create fully immersive VR experiences even if you only have a background in developing for web.
OpenVR is an SDK and application programming interface (API) which supports numerous VR hardware and allows them to inference with different VR software and applications. Despite being developed by Valve to serve as the default SDK for HTC Vive, VR developers can use OpenVR to design controller and motion tracking functionalities for other devices, such as Oculus. OpenVR is closely associated with SteamVR, listed below, as it serves as its API, but developers can use it independent of SteamVR to create VR experiences.
The full repository can be accessed for FREE here and contains great samples for a developer to start with.
SteamVR implements OpenVR and serves as a runtime environment of the latter (although Valve expressed its intent to transition off of OpenVR in the future). This tool allows VR developers to create a single interface to experience VR content on different hardware. VR enthusiasts can later use the SteamVR system to access the immersive VR experiences built by VR developers through the device of their choice, including Valve Index, HTC Vive, and Oculus.
SteamVR can be installed here (note that you first need to have steam installed on your device).
VRTK is a useful toolkit for creating VR applications. It offers a collection of reusable scripts to common problems encountered when creating VR experiences in Unity. It includes many great design patterns and pre-built assets that can save a lot of time for your average VR developer.
VRTK is completely FREE and can be used for both personal and commercial purposes. VRTK can be found here.
10. PlayStation VR Dev Kit
In order to develop VR applications games for Sony PlayStation VR (PSVR), one must become a registered developer with Sony and use its dedicated development kit, the PSVR Dev Kit. If you are lucky enough to be approved by Sony, you are granted access to a powerful tool for developing VR content exclusively for the PlayStation 4 and 5.
[BONUS] Google Cardboard
While Google has abandoned its Daydream VR headset, it is still very much in the VR business. Google offers a handy open source VR SDK that offers a streamlined API, improved device compatibility, and built-in viewer profile QR code scanning. Developers can use the Google Cardboard SDKs to build immersive cross-platform VR experiences for both Android and iOS.
Learn more and get started for FREE here.
Many of the above VR platforms, developer tools and SDKs are complementary and can be used in conjunction with one another. For example, SteamVR implements OpenVR and is natively supported by Unity and Unreal Engine. echoAR’s cloud platform supports many client-side SDKs, including Unity-based SDKs. With the increasing popularity of VR, developers are always looking for the best way to create novel immersive 3D experiences. These developers are always in search of great tools to help them create amazing apps while saving them time, money, and effort.
Not sure where to begin? Join the echoAR community of 3D builders on Slack and reach out to VR developers and enthusiasts just like yourself.
echoAR (http://www.echoAR.xyz; Techstars ’19) is a cloud platform for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) that provides tools and server-side infrastructure to help developers & companies quickly build and deploy AR/VR apps and experiences.