Guide to Building your first VR application

“Just keep it simple, silly!”

It is often both exciting and intimidating while starting to learn new stuff, but it is also the only way to keep us updated, with one foot in the future.

Although there is so much of frenzy around Mixed Reality these days, there are really very few developers currently working on AR/VR.

While there already is a lot of shortage of tech talent worldwide, the scales of demand and supply are even more skewed in this particular category.

Here is all that you need to know to start building your first application for Virtual Reality:

 

Start by Exploring

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Before you sit down and start developing, you’ll need to know a little bit about the ecosystem itself and the scope of the technology in the current landscape. You do that by spending enough time exploring new applications and following relevant industry insiders, developers, and media channels who are already neck deep in the stuff and listen to what they have to say.

For more information on getting started with virtual reality, go here.

 

Get your tools right

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Don’t worry about having the latest and most expensive VR Gear in the beginning. Just get yourself a $10 Google Cardboard; that’ll be enough to get you started. Also, do not download the latest version of Unity or Google VR as they usually come with several bugs and need a lot of fixing which at the beginning might leave you stumped. Go for the most stable build out there.


The most stable build at the time of publishing of this article is:
Unity3d 5.4.2: Unity - Get Unity - Download Archive
Google VR 1.03: Google VR SDK for Unity

(To download GVR 1.03: Go to the above link. Then, click on "33 commits" under where it says Google VR SDK for Unity and above where it says Branch: master.

Where it says GVR Unity SDK v1.0.3, click on the "< >" button on the far right. That takes you to a version of the repository from a previous date, v1.0.3 in this case.

Finally, click on the green "Clone or download button" and select Download Zip.

*It’ll be a big file of size around 800 MB, but you’ll just need the Unity package which is about 50 MB; you’ll have to download the complete file though, then delete the rest of it later.)

 

Form a routine

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You might have classes or a job, but if you don’t take some time out every day, then with each day that you don’t get hands on the tools, it will push you back a lot and the next time you open the tools, you might have a hard time figuring out where you left.  You might have to start all over again!


What I did and what I recommend is committing at least half an hour each day to familiarizing yourself with the gaming engine you’re working on whether you are able to make significant progress each day or not.


Also, so that you don’t lose focus and interest along the way, I suggest you form a small group of 3–5 friends who are also interested in the space on Whatsapp, Facebook, or wherever you like and make it a point to share at least one article that you come across each day in that group. It will force you to develop a habit of reading something related every day. Do it even if nobody else seems to be participating.

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

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This is a no brainer; most development on VR depends on how well you know your gaming engine (Unity in this case) and a little bit of programming. And no matter what you think you’ll typically have to put in at least 40–50 hours of productive time on getting a hang of these tools before you can really start building your own stuff. A lot of tutorials are available online which will guide you while making your first application without much of a background.

I suggest that you read as many tutorials as you can to understand these tools. You will be deceiving yourself if you believe that you’ve got the hang of the tools the first time you follow the tutorial and what you create will actually work. You’ll soon discover that it will be hard for you to recall any of it a day or two later, Don’t pull out your hair if your application doesn’t come up as they taught in the tutorial, as what’ll happen most of the time is you’ll have different machines, different SDKs, and different versions of packages that you’ll be using. So, it will be only natural if something doesn’t work quite as it does in the tutorial.

 

Combinatory Approach

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Do what you know. After spending some time on the tutorials, you’ll have learned a couple of tricks and will be comfortable implementing some of the functionalities really well. Just focus on that and nothing else. Don’t go into your first project with a specific idea. 
Learn what you can do and design an application around that. Don’t let a specific idea bog you down. Remember this, your first project is supposed to be something of a disaster, and there is no shame in accepting that. You’ll get only better from there.

 

Start small

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Learn that complex applications are made with huge teams over a long duration. Starting off the first time, you might not necessarily have the correct frame of reference of how long it is going to take you to build stuff, so don’t plan any project which you think is going to take more than a couple of weeks. For example, if you’re building a game like Mario, then do so by stripping all the unnecessary items like keeping it to just one level only without any enemies to dodge or points to collect and other additional conditions; just focus on the minimum number of things that will make it work, say, setting the environment and making your player jump and move. You’ll be surprised that the first time around even this is going to take you a huge amount of time. You can always add things later on. Your first application is going to take you an amount of time that is cumulative of all the practice time that you put in and even more. But just stick to it and your routine; it is a part of the process and don’t be afraid to write a little bit of code. If you design it right, you’ll need to do very little of coding anyway to get anything done.

 

Don’t worry about making it look pretty; worry about it working at all

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When you are just getting started, you’ll want to go in with the idea of everything being perfect. Just make a note that it is anyway going to be time consuming and also difficult the first time, so do not waste your energy trying to make it look good, just keep striving toward making it work at all. The first ever VR application that I built on my own was very rudimentary, yet it took me about a month to build it, and a lot of time was spent figuring out small details. When you get started, you’ll realize that most of the time it will be the small stuff that keeps you from moving ahead. Sometimes, things won’t work because a library that you’re working on doesn’t exist anymore or because an update in the SDK makes a lot of what you’ve done irrelevant. This is part of the process as well, allowing you to learn the details of the process of building.

Here is the link of the application that I built:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.Pratham.ShootemVR

The project it open source, use it to learn and build if you want to. Here is the link to the assets: https://github.com/pratham2504/Shoot-em-VR

 

Set milestones

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Even though it sounds obvious, you’ll be surprised how easy  is it to let days go by without getting much stuff done. Setting small daily milestones will help. Don’t wait if you are not making progress; just ask around or in sometime you’ll convince yourself that it is not working and just quit. Use forums and repositories such as Stackoverflow or Unity Community resources or just ask people at random who’s working on similar things. Most of the time, you’ll find help.

Just remember, anything worth doing is a struggle but if you stick to it, you’ll eventually get there.

And have fun while learning and building cool stuff. You’ll be glad when you show what you built to your friends for the first time even if it may not look all that pretty.

Excited about VR?

Register at the UnitedByHCl hackathon
Happy mixing reality!

About the Author

Pratham Sehgal
Future Tinkerer.. Startup & Technology enthusiast.. Currently obsessed with Mixed Reality.. Always available to help people building new stuff.. Previously CoFounder @ Trustio (Now Acquired by Slicepay)
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