A year ago, you could be forgiven for taking your VR development kit, hiding in a basement and not showing anyone what you were working on. That attitude has changed dramatically over the past year, and this was evident at the Virtual Reality Developer’s Conference in San Francisco last week, writes Alex Handy.
What A Tool
Perhaps the biggest open source tool in the VR world is the VRTK, originally kicked off by Harvey Ball. As the lead developer on the project, Ball first started a large discussion on GitHub to determine what, exactly, VRTK should be. Over time, it’s grown to include a huge number of helpful scripts for building with VR in Unity.
These scripts include translation tools for bringing games to all the various VR platforms. With the simple changing of a script inside Unity, developers can swap out HTC Vive controllers and their on-screen images, with Occulus controllers, or even with face-driven interaction dots like those used in the Gear VR.
That’s because the VRTK is designed to save time for developers. Ball said that no one else is building these cross-platform tools, so it has fallen on this MIT-licensed open source project to bridge that gap.
VRTK can also implement many simple functionalities that have become standard in VR, While he admitted that no one has really figured out which interactions are the best in VR, Ball said the idea of VRTK is to throw everything at the wall so the best ideas stick. Thus, VRTK also offers many methods of locomotion which can be quickly added to your games. These include pointing to teleport, swinging your arms to walk, and other experimental methods of avatar movement.
“In VR, we want to say no to coding barriers. We want to remove those barriers. The concept of VRTK aims at make building stuff with VR as accessible as it can be to everyone,” said Ball. “VR is a very new industry. Nobody knows what the problems are, or what the solutions are. The best way to solve this problem is to get the community of people working on it together. The VRTK community is about 2,500 people at the moment. It’s not just developers, it’s not just designers, and it’s not even just people in the industry. These ideas we come up with we put into a form people can use, which is a collection of Unity 3D solutions”.
VRTK also includes dozens of buttons, knobs, controllers, and even articulated hands that an be tied to the controller's buttons. Someone has even gone so far as to implement climbing via hand gestures, so players can scale walls.
Ball said there are currently 2,390 people in the Slack channel for VRTK. The project has 43 contributors and has put out 12 releases so far. There have been over 50 commercial games shipped using VRTK, and they include One of the Last, Richies Plank Experience, Deisim, Dragon Skies VR, Nock: Hidden Arrow, and Left-Hand Path. These games have sold 170,000 copies in Steam alone, and have generate $2 million in revenue.