Starting VR Game Development is a thrill and at the same time a cold chilling ordeal. You want to make beautiful games, you are confident of your creative abilities, one little hitch though - you have no idea where to start, what to use, or even why to use them. In this tutorial, I drastically simplify the entire process in my most preferred way of communication - layman terms. Are you with me?, well, then Read On!.
- VR SDKs ?, What are they?
- How many Plugins do we have?
- Comparing One against Another
- Selecting Unity VR Plugin for VR Dev
NOTE: This post is focused on implementation with the Unity 3d engine as it is best suited for beginners (from experience). if by chance, your heart lies with Unreal, worry not, the plugins' name can be easily tweaked for Unreal Engine. You would understand better my meaning as we progress.
You have no doubt heard constantly about VR SDKs and plugins. As a beginner to Vr development, perhaps with no previous experience with APIs and Plugins, these terms might all seem very strange and confusing to you. The good news for you is that it shouldn't anymore after reading this article, my goal is to simplify the idea around them in simple words.
VR SDKs (Virtual Reality Software Development Kits) are a collection of scripts (Long gist of Codes), prefabs, components, and packages, i.e all accumulated into one single Unity "Asset" - the purpose is to make the building of VR experiences easier for the end-user. Let's take a different perspective to understand better;
In a Virtual reality Game or Experience, We (Users) can involve in a lot of basic to advanced interactions, most similar to how our natural behavior in the real world, example is (looking around yourself, walking, running, picking, grabbing, and throwing objects) - All these we can do in a VR world, Normal 3d games are limited to devices. The fact that these new actions mentioned above are possible in VR means there must be new ways to create them, and usually, the efforts and coding skills required are too advanced for the majority of developers like you are me ..... And we have VR SDKs; Simply a set of predefined scripts that aid us in developing. This approach should give you a much better idea of the whole concept.
In Unity, there are several SDKs for VR development, the reason being to accommodate support for various headsets and controllers. As new brands release their unique VR headsets, we see inevitably the introduction of their SDK published to simply the development process for their unique platform. Some SDKs support a wide range of headsets while others don't. We are going to talk about these two variations and what SDKs exist for them;
Right now, I can't say accurately how many SDKs for the Unity Platforms, probably because one is usually released now and then, but for sure, we have some popular ones common among the majority of developers:
Open VR Unity Plugin: OpenVR is a software development kit (SDK)developed by Valve for supporting the SteamVR (HTC Vive) and other virtual reality headsets (VR) devices. (Meaning that Using Open XR in Unity for VR Dev, all other headsets can access VR content created with it) The SteamVR platform uses it as the default application programming interface (API) and runtime. It handles display, tracking, and input for Open VR devices.
Steam VR Unity Plugin:
Unity XR Interaction Toolkit: The Unity XR Interaction Toolkit is a Package Provided by Unity for creating VR, AR Experiences. It provides a framework that makes VR and UI interactions available from Unity input events(Keyboards, Gamepads, and Controllers, etc.). The core of this system is a set of base Interactor and Interactable components and prefabs and an Interaction Manager that enables the relative working of these two components. It also contains helper components that you can use to extend functionality for drawing visuals and hooking in your interaction events. It can be used in both VR and AR Instances and comes with different functions, scripts, and classes for building gameplay.
The Unity XR Interaction Toolkit is a very new package released in the fall of 2019 to take the place of popular VR and AR Plugins like the HTC Vive Utility plugins, Oculus VR Plugin, VRTK, etc. The goal is to provide a framework that allows simple integration of different VR SDKs, i.e (Building experiences that can be tailored to different standalone/ VR Headsets without hassles). Without diving into the details - The XR Interaction toolkit works to detect the device plugged in and switches functionality to it solely.
Among the Plugins listed, the UIT is currently the easiest way to build VR Experiences, while not the most feasible as it's still in preview release but holds unity support fully. For Developers completely new to VR dev and aiming for fast progress, this package can be used to familiarise with. It also supports the integration of third-party SDKs found on the unity assets store to build realistic experiences. To get started with this, read this guide Unity XR Toolkit - Important points to Note
VRTK: VRTK is a collection of useful, reusable solutions to common problems found when building for virtual reality. VRTK aims to help productivity by speeding up the creation process from prototyping ideas to building complete solutions.
The VRTK Unity Plugin brings a whole lot of functionalities with a Drag-and-Drop System. It allows compatibility with a set of popular VR SDKs like Oculus Plugin, Steam VR Plugin, and even for Open VR.
The full list of Compatible Unity VR Plugins with VRTK and their Uses are listed below;
- Oculus VR SDK: For Targeting Oculus VR Headsets(Quest, Quest2)
- Steam VR SDK: For Targeting Steam VR (SteamVR Platform on Steam)
- DayDream VR SDK: For Targeting Daydream VR Headsets(Google Daydream)
- Windows MR SDK: For Targeting Windows Mixed Reality
- HyperReal VR SDK
- Simulator SDK: As a Mock HMD, VR without a Headset
- Ximmerse SDK If you wanna explore deeper using VRTK, ensure to follow this guide, take it from me - there are countless errors to run into VRTK for Vr Development
Oculus Integration Plugin: Unity provides built-in VR support for Oculus devices. The Oculus Integration package adds scripts, prefabs, samples, and other resources to supplement Unity’s built-in support. The package includes an interface for controlling VR camera behavior, a first-person control prefab, a unified input API for controllers, rendering features, debugging tools, and more.
The Oculus Integration package, OculusIntegration.unitypackage, is available for download from the Unity Asset Store using this link Oculus Integration Software/SDK
Before you import the package in unity, check the hardware, software, and Unity version requirements. The minimum supported Unity Editor version for Oculus development is 2018.4.
Open XR Unity Plugin: I left this for the least Plugin so as not to cause confusion among readers. Do you feel like we already mentioned this?. Go ahead and scroll up to identify the Difference.
Yah!. The former is the Open 'VR' Plugin and this is the Open 'XR'. So what's the difference. Very Simple; The Open XR must be used with Unity's new XR Plugin Management. Confused?, Pls don't be. let me shed some light.
Unity alas, has chosen to refer to VR content as XR, since they strongly believe their engine is more than capable of building AR experiences. So instead of lone VR, it's now referred to as XR. The Plugin Management is just straightforward: The Plugin Management. A way to manage the various plugins installed in a unity project. The image below shows how this management system looks. It checks and unchecks boxes to notify you of which XR Plugin installed is currently active. One of the main purposes of this system is to enhance "multi-platform development and publishing", i.e When you are targeting several VR hardware for your content, you can install their SDKs and manage it with the Plugin Manager.
Now, why leave this important information for the last part, because there's a whole new world for you to uncover?, Or just Read? 😶. That's where the Open XR comes in, practically invades.
The Open XR Plugin is one of those SDKs that can be used with the XR Plugin Management and what is it?
It's shares similarities with the Open VR Plugin in that it can be used for multi-platform development. It supports head tracking, display but... it ends there. Yeah, this is a relatively new plugin, still in preview mode, and no suitable interaction/input system method(grabbing, throwing, teleportation) is currently supported. It can be used by itself or integrated with steam VR for full input support. Still, you can choose for hooking up input systems between the input Steam VR Plugin or Unity XR Interaction toolkit. Only one can be used at a time, both aren't compatible. A detailed guide is coming soon on how to set this up on unity, but if you want to test the waters urself, you can follow this link to download the preview version Open XR Unity SDK.
After a briefing on the XR Management and how Open XR is compatible with it, I want to pass across an important point to note:
By using the XR Plugin Management, You CANT use Standalone SDKs like (Steam VR, Oculus VR, Open VR, etc). And likewise, by using any of the standalone SDKs you can make use of the XR Plugin Management Tool in your Project. You either use one. Open XR as we have seen is a compatible plugin, what other SDKs exist that are compatible, below they are listed with a singular way of installing them;
- Oculus XR Plugin
- Windowsmr XR Plugin
- Mock HMD XR Plugin
- Oculus Android Plugin
The common way to install them among your project's package is Goto Windows > Package Manager > Search for Individual Names > Click Install in the bottom right corner.
After this detailed summary of the various VR SDKs/ XR SDKs, can you Identify those requiring usage for special hardware and those that can be used for multiple platform development? If you can't, I've failed as a developer and writer 🤔. Ah, let's leave that for later, we shall see
You read enough, in fact, you deserve a congratulatory message, drop your email and that would be attended to. I mean, you've read enough of them theory, your teeth must be craving for just some practice. Lucky, I made the necessary plans for that. Among the various SDKs Listed, you probably have a favorite already, but is that the most suited for you. Read On, In this section, we talk about choosing an SDK to start Development along with consideration of some Factors:
- The easiest SDK: UIT
- The most profitable: Open XR & Open VR
- Suited for Professionals: Steam VR & Oculus VR
- Unity's Recommendation: Possibly Open XR
Now it's been quite a long informative guide on the various VR SDKs that exist for Unity VR Development. As I said earlier in the article, if you are rather going to be developing using Unreal Engine, for all SDKs mentioned, I have provided links in case you want to download it. The components and features remain the same, the only difference being that the name unreal is used instead of unity.
- Steam VR for Unreal EngineHere
- Unreal Engine has Built-in Support for Oculus VR
- VR Expansion Plugin - Like VRTK but for Unreal Here
- Setting up Open XR in Unreal Engine Here 5.
Right back on track and i have a little task for you; Can you identity SDKs which are multi-platform and those that are compatible with specific devices? Leave your answer in the comments box below!. I can't wait to see how your mind works 🙃