News / 29.08.2018
Developing For A Single Platform – Worth It?
– Ben Maltz-Jones
Marketing Co-ordinator, REWIND
As more and more VR headsets enter the market, alongside varying hardware specifications and control mechanisms, it’s becoming increasingly important to ask the question: ‘which platform should I be developing for?’
Many VR developers tailor their experience for a single platform and then scale it to other VR hardware depending on demand. But this can lead to instances where the experience doesn’t quite fit with the hardware it’s being played on – control issues, visual fidelity… there can be a myriad of problems that surface when moving an experience from one platform to another.
Is developing for a single VR platform a better idea? Let’s look at the various pros and cons.
Fixed Hardware Specifications
While harder to nail down on PC, platforms like the Oculus Go, Lenovo Mirage Solo and PlayStation VR all have a fixed architecture to work with (or two versions in the case of PlayStation VR). I’m of the mind that the best VR experiences showcase the hardware they’re designed for – technical tour-de-forces that show off the power of the device. This can come through specific optimisations, unique uses for a device’s input mechanisms, or a combination of the two. It’s also a case of knowing what can be done with the hardware – one platform means fewer variables to keep in mind during development, so you can really push what’s possible within those limitations, rather than designing for multiple goalposts at the same time.
Even better – when developing for a fixed platform, you only need to test on one set of hardware. For smaller developers, this is an absolute godsend. Imagine putting out your first VR experience, but having to negotiate the compatibility nightmare of multiple launch platforms. Even the big players in this field stagger their launches to ensure that they can bugfix before their next platform heads out the door.
If you’re going to develop for multiple platforms, at least make sure that your core design tenants are readily transferable across said platforms; Arca’s Path is an example of this. The game is entirely controlled through the movement of the user’s head, something each platform naturally supports. Therefore, it’s easier to make that game work across multiple platforms. The visual style also makes use of geometric shapes and flat pastels – meaning less intense texture work, and less trouble making it work cross-platform. Think about being cross-platform first if you’re going to do it – you’ll be grateful for it at the end of the day.
While it’s true that many of the locked down hardware ecosystems, with the exception of the Mirage Solo, don’t support large playspaces, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Experiences like BBC Earth: Life In VR have the user planted in one spot, but the environment around the user is dynamic enough to negate this. If the experience does a good job of immersing the player in the world that the developer creates, then the lack of a large playspace shouldn’t be an issue.
The team at REWIND focused on this during the development of Ghost in the Shell. Knowing that the user wasn’t going to be moving – only looking around – meant that this became the focus of the experience. As such, the interactions that the user could have within the space were designed to allow them a better look at the scene they were witnessing, rather than moving through, and interacting with, the action. Not having a large playspace doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t make an interesting VR experience, but if you know that your experience is going to end up on a platform with a limited playing field, designing around large playspaces is perhaps unwise.
Know Your Optics
The same thing can also be applied to the optics of each headset. Knowing what the user will be seeing through those lenses is important! There is no sense in creating incredible, high-resolution assets that scale down, when you know that people in a particular headset won’t notice that detail. Resolution isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to creating a good immersive experience, and sometimes, visual bells and whistles just get in the way of immersing a user in your world. These locked-down platforms lack super high-resolution displays like the one in the Vive Pro, so use that to your advantage – the brain will help make up the difference.
Whether you develop for a single VR platform depends on where you want your experience to sit. If you’re in the fortunate position of having the funding to create a very specific experience, then creating for one platform is the smart move – rapid testing, fixed specs, and an optimised end result. However, if you’re looking to commercially release an experience and reach maximum numbers, then looking into multiple SKUs is a smart move. However, it’s worth remembering that you’re only as good as your base platform – design for that, ensure that what you’re making is transferable to other hardware, and save yourself a headache in the future. You’ll be thankful for it.
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