Though Unity is the popular candidate for VR game engines, it hasn’t prevented its competitors from trying. Epic Games, for instance, is widely known not only for its beloved franchises like Unreal and Gears of War, but for licensing out the engine that powers those games as well. Unreal Engine has powered everything from BioShock to Batman, and now it’s getting full-on VR support.
Epic plans to demonstrate the technology first at the Game Developers Conference in March, where it will show how game designers will be able to create and iterate on their creations with a set of motion controllers in their hands and a headset, whether it be an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, on their face.
“As soon as we got our hands on the first Oculus, we were intrigued by the possibilities,” Mike Fricker, a Technical Director at Epic told Ars Technica. “[Co-founder] Mark Rein came to us in 2013 with the first Oculus DK1 and asked about getting an editor in VR.”
Presently, the VR rendition of the Unreal Engine editor is all about placing and scaling art assets in a 3D environment. You won’t be able to actually create these assets in-engine, as an Oculus Touch controller or HTC Vive wand is essentially the VR equivalent of a Wii Remote — meaning it would be a god-awful modeling tool. With those controllers, however, developers will have the ability to move around the world they’ve conceived, making minor edits to their objects from above.
Fortunately, the system Epic has in place isn’t just limited to 3D games, as the company promises utilities optimized for 2D games as well.
“The ability in VR to move things 1:1 in space just makes you more efficient,” explains Fricker. “Especially when it comes to repeating that action 1,000 times a day to lay out a level. We think this tool will help any developer create content.”
There’s even an “iPad-like” system that lets users pull up text menus in a traditional Windows fashion, although based on the YouTube preview Epic has included, it doesn’t look like it would be intuitive to use for more complex tasks. Epic does note, though, that this aspect in particular is still being worked on. It’s not hard to see why.
Higher-ups at Epic recognize that one of the most difficult parts of bringing the traditional Unreal Editor to VR is the alteration of its user interface.
“The 2D UI adapting to 3D space is probably the most challenging part of this project,” Fricker admits. “We have a start, of presenting editor panels as floating UI iPads. What’s the next thing you want? Maybe to drop the iPad somewhere, resize it, attach it to the wall of your Vive tracking space and configure a static layout like that, so when you navigate a scene, it comes with you.”
While it’s an interesting prospect, our main concern, too, is translating the UI. Nonetheless, we’ll see what Epic Games has in store for us when it exhibits Unreal Engine VR for the first time come March 16 at the San Francisco Moscone Convention Center.