How to choose the right virtual reality development engine

The promise of virtual 3D worlds has captivated programmers for decades. Virtual reality (VR), once a faraway fiction, is becoming a reality. Failures like Nintendo’s infamous Virtual Boy are now a distant memory, and major successes like PSVR and Google Cardboard have become the norm. In fact, Statista projects incredible growth for VR, estimating that the market will expand to $40 billion by 2020.

It’s more feasible now than ever to create your own VR applications. The cost to participate in VR, for both consumers and developers, has lowered dramatically in recent years. A plethora of tools is available for new development teams to enter the fray as well.

One of the most important elements to your VR gaming development process is the engine you use to build with. Unless you have unlimited time and resources, it’s in your best interest to use a commercial engine rather than create one yourself.

Develop VR apps with premium engines

Akin to other development environments, there are many free-to-use and open source engines at your disposal. You’ll have plenty of options to choose from, but you’ll need to educate yourself about these tools to ensure you’re making the best project in regards to your specifications.

The Unreal Engine and Unity have been used for a myriad of 3D video games and VR applications. They have been classic choices for video game development and even for mobile app development.

The Unreal Engine is free-to-use and allows development teams to create their own interactive applications at no cost. The caveat, however, is that you’ll have to share a small percentage of your profits with the Unreal team.

How to build VR apps without coding

Interestingly, you can code your entire application with simple logic through Unreal Engine’s Blueprint Visual Scripting functionality. With Blueprints, you can design programmatic actions, methods, and computer behavior without writing a single line of code.

You won’t find this design feature on any other major engine. If you have a design-heavy team, filled with more analytical designers and artists than programmers, you may see the appeal Unreal Engine.

Unity is a developer favorite

Unity, a similar if underpowered engine compared to Unreal, costs a small upfront fee, but you won’t have to pay out any royalties once you’ve finished your application. In order to use Unity, though, you’ll also need to have a team with strong C# skills.

If you don’t have a strong background in C# or the funds to bring on a more experienced C# programmer, you should strongly consider using the Unreal Engine. If your team has the programming ability and design ability, Unity can be a great and relatively low-cost option that sacrifices little in terms of quality.

There are great open source options, too

If you’re looking for the lowest cost possible, you’ll want to investigate completely free engines. Godot may be serviceable, but VR compatibility is not completely assured. You’ll have to devote more time and resources to fit the engine to your needs.

Completely open source VR-ready engines are also available for use. Apertus VR is one such example. It’s a set of embeddable libraries that can easily be inserted into existing projects. Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR) is another VR framework that can help you begin developing your own games. Both OSVR and Apertus VR are fairly new creations, however, and you may experience bugs and other issues you wouldn’t with Unity or Unreal.

VR applications are incredibly hard work, but with a bit of persistence and some help from experienced developers, you’ll get the hang of the VR development process.

While you can’t control a great deal of what happens within the development process itself, you should make absolutely sure that you select the right engine or VR framework. Take the time to weigh the pros and cons of the available tools available. It’s the most important decision you’ll make in the development process.

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