Epic Games has invested in ambitious virtual reality technology and content with each step in the hardware evolution.
In order to explore the possibilities of the new medium, particularly over the past 18 months, the studio has built a series of leading-edge demos: Couch Knights first demonstrated the capabilities of the Oculus Rift DK2, and then Showdown pushed the Oculus Rift Crescent Bay forward.
Most recently, using the Oculus Touch controllers for locomotion, Epic created Bullet Train, a world-scale VR gunfight experience with gameplay that weaves in and out of bullet time.
The demo was met with praise at Oculus Connect 2, where speakers at the conference discussed how they’re using Unreal Engine 4 to achieve their creative vision and technical quality bar for VR experiences, including Oculus’ Toybox and Oculus Story Studio’s Henry.
Epic’s Ray Davis says: “When you first jump into VR development, there are a few requirements that become rapidly apparent: you need a rich rendering feature set to craft compelling visuals
for the experience, and you must maintain a high level of performance to avoid discomfort.
“You’ll also likely need features such as physics simulation and particle effects to create worlds that respond in believable ways, and allow you to make truly immersive experiences that take full advantage of VR.”
Davis also described how Blueprint visual programming enables anyone, even without any prior programming experience, to add logic and interactivity to VR worlds and characters.
“All of these tools are effectively required for building modern high-fidelity games, and we’ve been refining them through many years of first-hand games development, which means VR developers using Unreal Engine are able to hit the ground running that much quicker,” Davis adds.
While Bullet Train was developed to demonstrate the capabilities of the Oculus Touch controls, Epic maintains that Unreal Engine 4 is platform-agnostic when it comes to VR. For example, with Unreal Engine 4.9, HTC Vive controller features are exposed through a common abstraction layer for universal VR controller support.
The point of Bullet Train is to take VR gameplay to the next level through input, with a highly dynamic environment where hand interactions can be layered together for complex combat. The demo’s teleportation mechanic can slow time, aid in weapon manipulation and make traversing the virtual train station quick, easy and comfortable.
That being said, Davis says teleporting ratchets up the intensity.
“It keeps the pacing faster overall, and it also forces you to use clever design tricks,” explains Davis. “For example, when a player teleports, let’s always make sure to face him or her toward the centre of the action. So, you’re never wondering ‘Where am I? Where did all the fun stuff go?’”
The new wave of VR controllers will continue to open up new forms of interaction. In contrast to Bullet Train’s overture to gamers, Oculus’ sculpting experience Medium, also built with UE4, enables people to use Oculus Touch controls to shape clay-like materials into pieces of virtual art.
Epic is sharing lessons learned from making Bullet Train at events and on www.youtube.com/unrealengine.