Getting Ready for VR Development

The end of 2015 is nearly here, and it has been an eventful year filled with exciting things in my life. Our second child, Isolde, was born and I finally managed to release Animal Drivers! The last few months have mostly gone to bug-fixing the game, and carrying a (mostly screaming) baby around the house. This week I even had myself some rather lovely appendix-killing surgery which I am currently recovering from.  

In between these epic life-battles, I've been working on a couple of prototypes and ideas for new games. Suffice to say, I have become extremely excited about the prospect of working on virtual reality games and have been doing a lot of interesting research lately. So if you're an indie developer like me, you might be considering how to gear up for development in VR. 


First of off, you should probably decide whether or not you're going to enter the desktop-VR market or the mobile VR market. You can do both of course, but focusing down on one effort will probably be ideal if you're a lone developer. Personally I want to have a little more power available to me than I'm used to from mobile, and I will be hitting the desktop-VR market. This market will be smaller initially, but it will also be more hungry for new software.

Soon you can look like a dork too!


You'll need a fast PC. Like really fast. My 6-core i7 from a few years ago is apparently still rocking some serious CPU juice, so I'm all set on that account. You'll also need 16 GB of RAM and probably an SSD drive or two. But most importantly, you'll need to get a new graphics card. 


I am an Nvidia fan-boy, so I will only be considering their products for my VR needs. Oculus seems to think similarly and has set an Nvidia Geforce GTX 970 as their baseline requirement to have a good VR experience. So as a developer, this should be my baseline too and I will need to make sure that anything I make runs really smoothly on this card. But what are our options?

With the current 900-generation of cards, your options are
Nvidia GTX 970 (Oculus baseline requirement) 
Nvidia GTX 980
Nvidia GTX 980 Ti
Nvidia GTX 970 SLI (two 970s)

Benchmark from Notice how the 970 SLI kicks the 980 Ti's butt!

Benchmark from Notice how the 970 SLI kicks the 980 Ti's butt!

In 2016, the new Nvidia Pascal cards will be coming out with some serious juice, but it's hard to say just when they'll arrive. I would bet my money on that the first line of GTX 1000-cards will be released along with the launch of the Oculus Rift Consumer Edition. But that's no good for us as developers, those cards are way too fast in comparison to the baseline that Oculus has defined with the 970-cards. We need to know that our products work on the lowest spec, as well as the highest spec. 


What I think is the smartest solution is to buy two Nvidia GTX 970 cards and bridge them together with SLI. It's the cheapest option too because you can buy one card first, and get the second one later down the line. You'll get the top line performance that outrivals the 980 Ti, and have the ability to turn off one of the cards to test your baseline performance making sure everyone can play the game. Both your super rich players and the rest with less hardcore cards will be happy. Everybody wins! 

SLI is also an interesting choice now that Nvidia has announced their Gearworks VR API. With it comes their new VR SLI technology, that lets the two GPU cards render one eye each to "to dramatically accelerate stereo rendering". So I believe this is this 970-SLI solution will also be popular for a lot of gamers, even after the newer 1000-series cards come out.


Next up, let's consider the options for desktop VR HMDs (head mounted displays).
The Vive is the first room-scale system, and seems to be technologically more advanced than the others given it's two laser-sighted lighthouse solution for tracking the player. However, it does require a lot more room in people's houses and probably a higher PC-spec than Oculus.

Oculus on the other hand have described themselves as a "seated experience", and I am guessing Sony Playstation VR will be going the same route. It makes a lot of sense, because most people's houses or living rooms aren't easily converted into play rooms. Who has a spare room available these days with current housing prices? Walking around in your living room, tripping over your coffee table and/or cat/baby isn't going to be possible for most people. You can do standing-in-one-place type experiences, but walking around is very unlikely in the Oculus/PS VR market. So if you choose to go for a room-scale experience, you are essentially cutting down your market quite a great deal. On the other hand, you'll be creating a much more immersive experience that players willbe much more involved and engulfed in. Tough choice!




The HTC Vive will be the first one out of the door and it will also have the first hand controllers. 
Oculus's Touch controllers won't be released along with the headset, so the choice for developers who want a head start is simple. The HTC Vive is the best HMD to get because you will have everything you need to develop for the Vive, Oculus Touch and the PS VR in one headset. You can create seated experiences as well room-scaled experiences, and don't have to buy several systems to do it. The Vive let's you author both types of experiences. Oculus will not, at least not initially. Converting your game from the Vive will be pretty painless too. Especially if you use SteamVR's OpenVR system! 

So there you go, those are my thoughts on what gear is the best to get to start a VR development career. Now I just need to start saving my pennies to be able to afford all of this stuff... 

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