We create our therapeutic virtual reality (VR) experiences using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. At this exact moment in time we are using Version 4.17.1 on Windows 10, with Oculus 1.18 drivers. While we won’t be straying away from Windows or Unreal Engine, we will be updating with each upcoming software release. We like to keep up with the times!
For those unfamiliar, Unreal Engine is a leading game development platform primarily used in the video game industry that allows developers to create realistic 3D environments. With it we can design lifelike virtual worlds that adhere to the same physics as the real world. Of course sometimes it’s fun to break the rules, just like in the real world. We do our best to bring imagination and reality together in creative, dynamic ways, designing environments that play to and encourage our wildest dreams. Want to fly? Now’s your chance!
We decided to use Unreal Engine versus Unity (another popular engine for VR content creation) based on a number of reasons, but chiefly cost. Since we’re just starting out, being able to utilize a free premium software that included every feature was a huge benefit. This means the full engine, with every tool and asset available right out of the box (or rather, download). To be able to do this, Epic Games profits from game publishers and generates royalties on large sales. As a nonprofit with no intention of selling our VR experiences, this is a win-win. Unity on the other hand has two distinct versions of their software: Personal, with limited features, and Professional, complete with all features and monthly fees. We like unrestricted access to software that allows us to create freely, so this helped make this decision an easy one.
Another thing to consider was graphics fidelity. Unreal Engine features advanced technologies such as complex particle simulation and advanced dynamic lighting. With current hardware limitations in today’s computing, we must ‘turn off’ some of these features in order to provide a smooth VR experience. With new progressions in technology and the exponential way in which we invent, hopefully soon these limitations will be lifted. Working with Unreal Engine and their more advanced graphics capabilities guarantees us to be ahead of the curve once those improved hardware technologies emerge. Once integrated we can easily ‘turn on’ those features without having to go back and re-code our entire experience.
Thanks to Unreal Engine’s intuitive design, we could jump right in and begin the creation of our new VR world. For a complex development platform, Unreal Engine has some serious usability up it’s sleeve. It uses a system called BluePrints, a visual scripting language designed for rapid development and prototyping without the need to write a bunch of code. Their system is rather intuitive and also extremely powerful. For efficient testing, it allows for live visual debugging of your application in real-time, which is a huge plus. And if needed, Unreal Engine allows for coding in C++ and integrates well with Microsoft’s Visual Studio, Community Edition.
Lastly unlike Unity, Unreal Engine has worked with Oculus’ Rift from the onset, without requiring any plug-ins or SDK’s. With this advantage, you can immediately put on your Oculus Rift, click ‘VR Preview’ and are instantly in a 3D world. With the efficiency, accessibility, visual and developmental benefits of Unreal Engine, it’s not hard to see why we chose such a powerful platform. No one else offers rapid development, industry leading graphics, and free, well-crafted, full-featured software. Thanks, Unreal!*
*This has not been a paid advertisement by Unreal Engines, and/or is not sponsored by Epic Games in anyway. But hey, Epic Games, give us a shout out if you’d like it to be!