Michael Antonov discusses what the changes to the new dev kit and SDK mean for developers

‘The killer Oculus Rift app could come from anyone’: The VR firm on making games with the DK2

The latest Oculus Rift development kit, the DK2, is now shipping to developers and offers them the chance to start making games for the consumer release of VR headset, as the kit will be compatible with the final version.

To find out more about the DK2 and the upgraded SDK, Develop spoke to Oculus chief software architect Michael Antonov about what the new additions to the dev kit offer developers and just what these changes mean.

What are the biggest new additions in DK2 and the upgraded SDK?
The biggest improvements in DK2’s hardware are the 960×1080 per eye resolution, low-persistence display, and computer vision positional tracking. These are all fundamental building blocks necessary to deliver great virtual reality experiences.

With the new SDK, our focus was on tuning the computer vision and sensor fusion algorithms to deliver the best possible positional tracking solution with the lowest possible latency and sub-millimeter precision.

We’ve also introduced an Oculus display driver, which allows for direct rendering access to the Rift’s display, rather than having it mirror/extend the user’s desktop. This really simplifies setup and use of the Rift for end-users and developers.

What feedback have you acted upon from the previous model’s users?
We received a huge amount of feedback around DK1 and the original SDK from the Oculus development community that we integrated into the product. The most common hardware feedback from the community was around image resolution, positional tracking, and motion blur.

With the SDK, we’ve introduced a new C API that was influenced heavily by developer feedback, along with improvements to device initialisation and our engine integrations to make the Rift easier to use out of the box with UE4 and Unity.

What is the biggest new feature for devs who already have the first DK?
The most significant new features are positional tracking, which fundamentally changes the types of experiences that developers can create, and low-persistence, which reduces motion blur and improves visual stability. Positional tracking and low persistence are critical building blocks for delivering presence and great consumer virtual reality.

What have you done to make DK2 and the SDK accessible to new Oculus developers?
We’re always working on improving our samples, documentation, and engine integrations to help new developers hit the ground running with DK2 and the Oculus SDK. The updates to the Unreal Engine and Unity integrations, like out-of-the-box Oculus support in UE4, have made a big difference, since these integrations tend to be the easiest way for new developers to dive in and start building ground-breaking VR experiences.

What support is available from Oculus and your website?
The majority of Oculus developer support is provided through the Oculus Developer Forums, where users can collaborate directly with Oculus engineering and other Oculus developers.

We also do our best to provide feedback on design and engineering to studios looking for additional, targeted insight on how to improve their made-for-VR game or experience through the developer relations and publishing teams.

Why is important to give developers access to the source code? What will this enable them to do?
Access to source allows engineers to fully understand how the SDK works, and it significantly simplifies debugging issues they may run into building their own game. It also means that developers can find and fix bugs, re-build it with different compiler settings, or even add features to better suit their needs. These types of changes can then be more easily shared with other developers, rapidly improving both the SDK and the Oculus ecosystem.

One of the most exciting aspects is that everyone, from major triple-A studios to two-man indie teams, is discovering what works in virtual reality together, on a very level playing field. The killer application could come from anyone.

What samples are available, and how do these demonstrate what the Oculus Rift can do?
We include basic samples with the SDK and engine integrations that demonstrate the Rift’s functionality and software integration, but the very best demos are generally built by the community.

Unreal Engine 4 actually includes the Couch Knights demo that we developed in collaboration with Epic for GDC 2014, which features a simple two-player, third-person brawler that was built for VR from scratch. That particular demo generally shows people the possibilities for VR are well beyond first-person shooters.

How will integrations with Unreal and Unity help developers acclimatise to VR development faster?
The Unreal Engine and Unity integrations provide developers with pre-built samples that look great, render correctly in the Rift, and include an optimised tracking implementation. Game developers and designers can use these out-of-the-box integrations to start prototyping and experimenting with VR immediately without waiting for their engineering team to integrate the SDK with their in-house engine.

What advice would you give newcomers on how to develop virtual reality games?
Virtual reality is a completely new medium, and everyone working with it today is a pioneer. Since there’s no rulebook, the best way to learn is experimentation, prototyping, and rapid iteration. We also recommend reading through the Oculus Best Practices Guide, written by the team here at Oculus, which provides a foundation of VR knowledge to build from.

One of the most exciting aspects is that everyone, from major triple-A studios to two-man indie teams, is discovering what works in virtual reality together, on a very level playing field. The killer application could come from anyone.

What type of experiences do you hope to see from DK2 developers?
DK2, even as a development kit, is still one of the best virtual reality headsets available to date and allows developers to build entirely new experiences that weren’t as powerful, or even possible, with DK1.

I’m confident we’ll see many new gameplay techniques discovered and built using DK2, but I’m most excited to see more top-down strategy and/or board games, where you’re observing the world or map from above and leaning around to examine characters from all sides. These types of experiences do an excellent job of demonstrating the power of virtual reality and I think we’ll see more of these types of experiences in the future.

Develop has been told this will be the last DK before commercial release. How will feedback from this influence the development of the final product?
I suspect the largest influence will come from feedback on the software stack and SDK. As developers integrate more deeply into their engines, they will inevitably discover areas where more improvements can be made. Similarly, we’re already receiving feedback on our tools, utilities, and services that we’re integrating to provide a better user experience for the upcoming consumer Rift.

Anything else you’d care to add about the next step for Oculus Rift?
We’re still a long way from the Holodeck, but DK2 is a major step in the right direction. I think it will be exciting to watch the hardware and software evolve between now and the launch of the consumer Rift. And even beyond, with virtual reality moving so quickly and the endless possibilities around areas like input and binaural audio, ultimately heading toward something like the Metaverse, I expect the next few years to be very exciting indeed.

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