VR or Virtual Reality games are the next big frontier for gaming. By putting on a headset with a screen, you’re transported into a virtual 3D world that surrounds you on all sides. Most of these games also allow you to interact with their worlds using two motion controllers.
Whether it’s the musical realm of Beat Saber or the post-apocalyptic landscape of Half-Life: Alyx, VR games offer immersion never seen before in gaming. Combine this with the intuitive control scheme of moving your body to influence the in-game environment and the rising popularity of VR becomes obvious.
But how do these virtual worlds come to be? Join us as we take a closer look at the process of creating a VR game, from planning & development to polishing & publishing.
Planning Your VR Game
Like with any creative project, you need careful planning to create a successful final product. This is especially true for VR development given the immersive 3D scope of even the simplest VR games.
Here are the key steps you have to take:
Identifying your target audience
Understand who you’re developing the game for. Will your game target a general, more casual audience like Tetris Effect, or are you looking to captivate the enthusiast VR community like Boneworks?
Having a direct answer to this question will set your VR development on the right path from the get-go.
Choosing a game engine
The next step in planning a VR game is choosing the right game engine for the job. This ties nicely into the previous point as the ideal option depends on the type of game you’re aiming to make.
For example, a game with realistic graphics — like the aforementioned Half-Life: Alyx — would be easiest to develop in engines such as Unreal or Source 2. On the other hand, Unity would be a solid choice for a more stylized and cartoonish game like Super Hot VR.
Creating a concept and storyline
This step involves crafting the foundation of your game. What is it about? What is its overarching story and lore? What will the player experience when playing your game? You need answers to these and other similar questions to flesh out the concept of your game.
Designing the game environment
Environment design is the single most important thing in VR game development. Ideally, this environment should be designed to be visually stunning and immersive — drawing the player into the game world. It should also be interactive, with objects that the player can pick up, knock over, and throw, to enhance the gameplay experience.
Developing Your VR Game
By this point, you should have a clear understanding of your game’s world, core mechanics, and graphics. So, the next phase of developing your VR game is to bring your vision to reality. Here’s how:
Creating 3D models and assets
Start by designing & creating 3D models for the NPCs & assets that will populate your game’s world. You can use software such as Blender, Maya, or 3ds Max to craft these models and add textures & animations to them.
Also, ensure that your models are optimized for VR so that they don't affect the frame rate or cause motion sickness for players.
Programming and scripting
The next step is to program the game's logic and mechanics. Depending on the game engine of your choice, you'll need a good understanding of programming languages like C# or C++. These will allow you to write scripts that define the interactions and behaviors of game objects. Modern game engines also come with pre-existing scripts for things like physics simulations or particle effects.
Implementing game mechanics and interactions
After you’re done creating the assets and programming the properties of each interactable object, it’s time to bring it all together. The exact process of creating these interactions varies between game engines.
Fortunately, most advanced game engines offer a node-based interaction editor with pre-existing script blocks.
Let’s say you want to create a button that opens a door. You can achieve this by attaching a “Press” node to the button and connecting it with an “Action” node that triggers the door’s opening animation. (Do note that this is an oversimplification of the actual process.)
Testing and debugging
The final stage of VR game development is testing what you’ve worked on and fixing any issues you find. You can also enlist the help of professional game testers for this task. These testers will play your game and give feedback on what works, what doesn’t, and the bugs they encounter.
Fixing glitches is an especially high priority for VR games since bugs — like disappearing items — can quickly break the immersion of the game.
Enhancing Your VR Game
Your next assignment in VR game development is to make the game presentable and more immersive. The three steps you can take to enhance your game include:
Adding sound effects and music
Sound effects are just as important for immersion in a VR game as the visuals in your game. If a metal cup falls in your game, it should sound like a solid metal object hitting a hard floor.
Similarly, the soundtrack should also complement the story being told. For example, a tense scene in a horror VR game should have eerie tones playing in the background instead of an adventurous song.
Improving graphics and visuals
VR games allow players to get super close to the objects in the game world. So, make sure that all the assets have high-res textures that look as good up close as they do from far away.
Choppy movements are also an instant immersion breaker. Fortunately, you can avoid this by ensuring that the moving parts of your game have crisp 60 FPS animations attached to them.
Implementing VR-specific features
Add features that are exclusive to VR. Take room-scale movement, for example. It allows players to walk in real life and that movement will translate to the virtual world of the game. Another example of VR-specific features is Hand Gestures like putting an item in the inventory by letting players throw it behind their shoulders.
Publishing Your VR Game
After your game is complete it’s time to pick a platform. On PC, the two most popular options are Steam and Oculus. Going with Oculus will narrow down the list of hardware that’ll run your game, but Steam will let you reach a larger player base.
Whatever platform you choose, make sure that your game complies with its terms of service. Even if it is accepted at first, violation of these terms will result in your game getting removed at a later date.
Lastly, market your game to the public. Some strategies for this include making a video trailer for your game, providing free review copies to content creators, and signing a deal with an existing publisher like VR Kiwi or Coatsink.
Tips for Success
If you want your VR game to succeed, put player experience before all else. A basic game with fun gameplay will garner more attention than a gorgeous game with shoddy controls and choppy movement.
Just be original with your ideas and implementation and don’t be afraid of trying something new. Experiment with creative control schemes, game mechanics, or unique story concepts to make your VR game stand out from the crowd. Some developers have even explored VR slot machines, at online casinos.
You can check out our other articles on game development to gain an even deeper understanding of the process.
Take a step-by-step approach to make your VR game. Start by understanding the basic concept and planning out the story & gameplay. Next, develop the game using engines like Unreal, include high-quality textures/sound effects, and weed out any bugs or glitches. Finally, publish your game online and market it to the relevant audience.
With growing popularity and endless possibilities, now is the perfect time to begin. So, don't wait and start making VR games today!