11 min read

According to Statista, the virtual reality software market is booming. It is projected to reach a value of around 24.5 billion U.S. dollars by 2020. Also, the estimated revenue of the virtual reality market in the year 2021 is3.56 billion U.S. dollars. This would be a huge increase from a very respectable 3.06 billion U.S. dollars back in 2016

This makes virtual reality a potentially lucrative opportunity if you’re a game developer. But it’s also one that’s a lot of fun, with plenty of creative opportunities, and which doesn’t require a load of money up front. Thanks to technological advancements in the VR space, it’s not easier than ever to build a VR game from scratch.

But with so many virtual reality tools out there, it can be hard to know where to start. It leaves you stranded with plenty of options but no sense of direction. To help you out, we’ve consolidated a list of what we think are the top 7 tools to help you get started.

1.Unity 3d: the leading game engine at the cutting edge of the industry

Developer: Unity Technologies

Release date: 2005

Why choose Unity for virtual reality game development?

In a nutshell:  it is the easiest way to get started with Virtual Reality development and doesn’t compromise on the quality of the developed game.

Unity offers a huge 3D asset store, which is an online marketplace by Unity. In this asset store, you can easily find the 2D, 3D models, SDKs, templates, as well as different virtual reality tools that you can download and import directly to your game. One of the most popular tools that you can find in the Unity asset store is the VR toolkit. So for times, when you don’t want to spend time on building a character model from scratch, you can simply pick one from the asset store. This helps jump-start the game development process. Some of these assets are free, and for some, you have to pay one-time.

Moreover, the documentation in Unity consists of vivid examples ( eg; Introduction to VR best practices), video tutorials, as well as live training sessions (eg; VR essentials pack demo). This is not only great news for the experienced game developer but the newbies too as unity makes it easy for you to quickly learn to build games, including the AAA quality virtual reality games. It also has an ever-growing community. So, for times when you get stuck somewhere during the game development process, a solid community will be there to offer you advice on resolving a wide range of issues.

Languages Supported: Unity supports three development languages namely, c#, Boo, and UnityScript.

Platforms supported: Unity supports all the platforms such as mobile, PC, web and console platforms. The free version supports Mac OS X, Android, iOS, Windows and among other mobile platforms. The paid version further supports  Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation. The free version, however, is more than enough to dive right into the development process.

Unity also supports all the major HMDs such as Oculus Rift, Steam VR/Vive, Playstation VR, Gear VR, Microsoft HoloLens, and Google’s Daydream View.

Price: Unity has three versions, namely,  personal, plus and pro version. The personal version is completely free, Unity 3D plus is $35 per seat per month, and pro is $125 per seat per month. However, the personal version is more than enough to dive right into the development process.

Learning curve: Unity 3d has a flat learning curve. It can be used with ease by both beginners and professionals alike.

Learning resources: Unity Virtual Reality Projects – Second Edition

                                  Unity Virtual Reality – Volume 1 [Video]

                                  Unity Virtual Reality – Volume 2 [Video]

2. Unreal Engine 4: a free game engine with exceptional graphics and capabilities for virtual reality

Developer: Epic Games

Release Date: 1998

Why choose Unreal Engine for virtual reality gaming?

Unreal Engine has powered games with some of the most exceptional graphics and features, so it naturally comes with features catered towards advanced Game development. For virtual reality, Unreal Engine comes with an advanced cinematics system, advanced lighting capabilities, a rendering pipeline offering 90 Hz stereo framerate or faster at high resolutions as well as tools scaling from simple to detailed scenes, environments and characters.

Similar to Unity, Unreal Engine 4  also comes with an asset store, which is an online marketplace by Unreal offering animations, blueprints, code plugins, props, environments, as well as architectural visualization. Again, just like Unity’s asset store, some of the assets are paid, and some are free. Documentation provided by Unreal Engine is not as rich as the one offered by Unity and comes with basic guides and live training streams on Virtual reality development. Unreal Engine 4 also has a strong community to guide you through your game development journey.

Languages supported: Unreal Engine 4 offers only C++ development language.

Platforms supported: UE4 supports all the latest HMDs such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR, Google VR, and Leap Motion among others. Unreal Engine 4 lets you deploy your VR game projects to Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac OS X, iOS, Android, AR, VR, Linux, SteamOS, and HTML5. You can run the Unreal Editor on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Moreover, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch console tools and code are also available at no additional cost to registered developers for their respective platform(s).

Price: The great thing about UE4 is that it is very cost-effective for all the game nerds out there, as it’s free to use, with a 5% royalty on gross product revenue after the first $3,000 per game per calendar quarter from commercial products.

Learning Curve: Unreal Engine 4 has a steep learning curve and is suited mostly for professionals.

Learning resources: Exploring Unreal Engine 4 VR Editor and Essentials of VR [Video]             

      Unreal Engine 4: The Complete Beginner’s Course [Video]                     

3. CryEngine: a game engine with a powerful range of assets for virtual reality games

Developer: Crytek

Release Date: 2002

Why choose CryEngine for virtual reality game development?

Similar to Unity and Unreal Engine, CryEngine also offers an asset store, offering tools and assets across different domains such as 3D modeling, scripts, sounds, animations, etc. The documentation offered by CryEngine is not as rich as Unity, which makes it difficult to approach for the beginners. However, it does have an online forum which can guide the experienced developers during their virtual reality game development journey.

CryEngine also includes CE# Framework, new Sandbox Editor, Improved Profiling, Reworked Low Overhead Renderer, DirectX 12 Support, Advanced Volumetric Cloud System, new particle system, FMOD Studio support, and Visual Studio 2015 Support, which all collectively can amp up the virtual reality game development process.

Languages supported: It supports languages such as C++, Flash, ActionScript, and Lua.

Platforms supported: CryEngine supports Windows, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Oculus Rift, OSVR, PSVR, and HTC Vive. Mobile support is currently under development.

Price: CryEngine is free but takes five percent of the revenues generated by each game built with CryEngine – after the revenues have passed $5,000.

Learning curve: CryEngine has a steep learning curve as for anything other than basic games, you need to have strong command on languages such as C++, Flash, ActionScript, and Lua.

Learning resources: CryENGINE Game Programming with C++, C#, and Lua

                                 CryENGINE SDK Game Programming Essentials [Video]

4. Blender: an accessible tool for building exceptional graphics and animations

Developer: Blender Foundation

Release Date: 1998

Why choose Blender for virtual reality?

Blender, a modern 3D graphics software is not only great for 3D modeling but supports the entirety of the 3D pipeline such as rigging, animation, simulation, rendering, motion tracking, video editing, and game creation. It also comes with a built-in powerful path-tracer engine called Cycles that offers stunning ultra-realistic rendering, real-time viewport preview, PBR shaders & HDR lighting support as well as VR rendering support.

It also has a solid community of developers and offers tutorials, workshops, and courses on character modeling, character animation, and blender fundamentals. Blender comes with add-ons for VR such as BlenderVR that supports CAVE/VideoWall, Head-Mounted Displays (HMD) and external rendering modality engines. It helps with the cross-platform development of virtual reality applications as well as porting of scenes from one VR platform configuration to another without any requirement to edit the actual scene.

Platforms supported:  Blender supports Windows, Mac OS, and Linux

Price: Blender is free to use.

Learning Curve: Blender has a flat learning curve and can be used with ease by both beginners and professionals alike.

Learning resources: Building a Character using Blender 3D [Video]

                                    Blender 3D Basics                           

5. Amazon Lumberyard: an accessible and fast tool for building virtual reality games

Developer: Amazon

Release Date: 2015

Why choose Amazon Lumberyard for virtual reality game development?

Bases on CryEngine’s architecture, Amazon Lumberyard, is a powerful cross-platform game engine comprising of tools that help you create the highest-quality games, and connect your games to the vast storage of the AWS Cloud, and engage fans on Twitch.

Lumberyard’s professional tools such as its virtual reality system use Lumberyard’s Gems, self-contained packages of assets and features that can be added within your game. In fact, these gems act as templates for you to build your own gems and supports all the VR devices without requiring any engine code editing.

Lumberyard is also integrated with Amazon GameLift, which is an AWS service meant for deploying, operating, and scaling dedicated game servers for session-based multiplayer games.

Lumberyard also speeds up virtual reality development with the new VR Preview function. This full VR preview function is in the editor, which you can click to see in VR right away. This lets the game developers make VR-specific adjustments and level the designs right in the editor, which is quite convenient and saves a lot of time.

Platforms supported: Lumberyard supports HMDs such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Open Source Virtual Reality (OSVR). It offers support for  PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, iOS (iPhone 5S+ and iOS 7.0+), and Android (Nexus 5 and equivalents with support for OpenGL 3.0+). Lumberyard also offers support for dedicated servers on Windows and Linux.

Price: Amazon Lumberyard is free, with no seat licenses, royalties, or subscriptions required. You only need to pay the standard AWS fees for the AWS services that you choose to use.

Learning curve: Lumberyard has a flat learning curve and is easy to use for both novices as well as professionals.

Learning resources: Learning AWS Lumberyard Game Development

6. AppGameKit -VR (AGK): an easy way to build games for beginners

Developer: The Game Creators

Release Date: 2017

Why choose AppGameKit-VR for virtual reality game development?

AppGameKit-VR lets anyone quickly code and builds apps for multiple platforms with the help of AGKs BASIC scripting system. It adds easy to use VR commands to the core AppGameKit Script Language, which delivers immersive VR experiences. It also allows full development control for SteamVR supported head-mounted displays, touch devices, and Leap Motion hand tracking.

AGK does the majority of the work for you, so it makes it super easy to code, compile and export the apps to each platform. You mainly need to focus on your game/app idea.  AGK-VR offers 60 VR commands ranging from diagnostic checks on the hardware and SteamVR, Initialising the HMD, creating standing or seated VR experiences, rendering a 3D scene to the HMD, etc. AGK also offers demos on how to how to get started with using these commands in your games. It also has an online forum where you can ask questions, learn and interact with other users. The details of the AGK script is also fully documented.

Platforms supported: AGK VR offers support for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS Android (inc Google, Amazon & Ouya), HTML5, Raspberry Pi (free from TGC website).

Price: AGK is available for $29.9

Learning curve: AppGameKit VR has a flat learning curve, which is ideal for beginners and makes the VR game development quick for the experienced.

7. Oculus Medium 2.0: software designed with virtual reality in mind

Developer: Oculus VR

Release Date: 2016

Why choose Oculus Medium for building virtual reality games?

Oculus Medium is a great tool that brings sculpting, modeling, painting and creating objects for the virtual reality world all together in a single package. It’s a very handy tool to have during the character designing process.

It lets you sculpt and create a variety of 3D objects to include within your VR game with the help of Oculus Touch controllers alongside the Oculus Rift. It comes with features such as grid snapping, increased layer limit, multiple lights, and 300 prefabricated stamps.  It is quite simple to use, and anyone, be it a newbie or an experienced game developer can use this tool.

The rendering engine in Oculus Medium uses Vulkan, which results in smoother frame rates and better memory management when building higher resolution sculpts. Other than that, Oculus Medium offers tutorials for you to quickly get hang of different features in the tool. It also has an online forum where different VR artisans and developers discuss tips, information, and videos to share with others.

Price: Oculus Medium 2.0 is available for $30 which is quite affordable for novices and professionals alike.

Learning curve: Oculus Medium has a flat learning curve as its pretty approachable for novices as well as professionals.                                

Each of the tools mentioned above brings something unique in terms of their abilities and features. However, keep in mind that selecting a tool solely based on its technical features is not the best idea. Rather, figure out what works best for you, depending on your experience, and requirement.

So which tools/tool are you planning to use for VR game development? Is there any tool we missed out? Let us know!

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Tech writer at the Packt Hub. Dreamer, book nerd, lover of scented candles, karaoke, and Gilmore Girls.