VR/AR Design Primer 2 — Time to Start Building

The platforms to build for and the tools to use.

In a previous article I shared my favorite resources to use when learning about VR and ways of keeping up to date with the industry. This time we’ll have a look at what you’ll need to start building new experiences: the hardware and tools.

Photo by Andrew Robles on Unsplash


A category with as many choices as there is potential outcomes for its role in the success of AR/VR as is its possible poisonous affect on the future of the industry. With inside out tracking technology be built into devices or added externally and computer vision getting better these devices are finding uses as both AR and HMD VR hardware.

For The Masses: Google Cardboard

This is by far the most common denominator when it comes to what people have used for a VR headset. With some of the products on the market now I almost don’t want to call it a VR headset because I don’t want people thinking this is anywhere close to the levels you can immerse yourself. But it has its place and is a great starting point for many, we all have to flap our wings in the nest before we get pushed out into a metaverse.

Samsung Gear VR

After Cardboard this was my second headset, we used it at work for testing designs and getting buy in from clients. It is a easy setup and has the backing of Oculus.

Google Daydream

A really nice piece hardware right from the beginning when you open the box and begin the experience. Comfortable to wear with a textile body that imbues a lighthearted and playfulness to it. And the controller helps make this a big step up from Googles Cardboard by allowing for the use of better interaction patterns between users and the environment.

Occipital Bridge

If you are an iPhone owner and are sick of a Cardboard or some other basic headset Occipital has a really great product in the Bridge. It uses their Structure sensor, headset, and controller to make your iPhone into a room scale mixed reality headset!

VR Headsets

For the most immersive experience a HMD is the best bet, they require either a console (PS4) or a fairly powerful PC.


We will use a mobile phone slotted into a headset as the entry level of quality for VR devices. With that you have the PSVR as the next tier, and possibly all alone.

Super comfortable, 6 DOF, hand controllers, and relatively affordable (if you already have a PS4). That has made the PSVR headset the best selling of the high-end headsets. While it doesn’t have the same pixel density or FOV (field of view) of the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, it is much lighter and accessible to most people which get it on more heads, which in turn will hopefully help spread a true VR experience to the masses faster. One problem they have (which is not limited to them) is content, and Sony themselves seem to be wavering a bit in there support of the platform at times. But if you want a great experience and also like to be scared then check out Resident Evil 7…holy s**t I am squirming just mentioning it.

A game play reaction from Kub Scouts

Splashing the Cash

The two standards right now for high end VR for the consumer market, and a clear step up in price, quality and immersion over the PSVR.

Oculus Rift

The Rift is the product of Oculus, the year company owned by Facebook and really set the stage for VRs emergence when it was acquired for $3 billion.

HTC Vive

I really love the Vive as a headset and as a brand. I respect the work they are doing to push VR forward and creating a higher end headset with a open ecosystem. A major highlight for me is it has room scale out of the box and a wide range of accessories that make its future very exciting. The tracker will make incorporating physical objects into experiences much easier, there is a wireless setup that will untether you from the computer making for a freer experience without a wire pulling you out of immersion. From what I hear there are also new controllers on the horizon, if they are better than the Rift Touch controllers it makes the Vive an amazing setup.

AR Headsets

Microsoft Hololens

Hololens is an untethered AR headset that is out of reach for most of us as it is a $3000 developer kit currently focused on enterprise. I believe Microsoft will come out with new devices for the consumer market soon but if you get a chance to use a Hololens go for it! While the FOV is small, experiencing mixed reality at any level gives you a taste of what is to come.

Meta 2

I am a big fan of their CEO & founder Meron Gribetz, definitely worth seeing him speak if possible or checking out his TED talk.

The headset has been in development for a while now, so hopefully it will make its way in to consumers hands soon as everything I’ve seen from their platform suggests it will be an amazing experience grounded in how we interact with the world. There introduction of Meta Workspace at AWE was an amazing teaser worth checking out.


The R-9 will be there flagship and is expected to ship shortly (2Q2017).

Magic Leap

Lots of money, lots of hype, a few marketing videos, no headset yet. Plenty of rumors around Magic Leap and I’m excited (as are many others) to see what they can deliver.

The secretive giant: Apple

There are a lot of rumors floating around, a lot of people very hyped about what they have supposedly seen, and Apple is arguably the biggest hardware player in tech. This could be a similar strategy to what they did with the iPhone, wait to see how the industry unfolds and then come in with a product that can far exceed all the competition with a whole new product.

With the recent introduction of Macs that can support VR headsets and ARKit, Apple has officially entered the market. ARKit is amazing and you should definitely go check out what people are building and maybe build something yourself. ARKit is so good compared to the hardware Apple currently has that it may be a sign of exciting new developments coming up soon that can take full advantage.

The Toolset

This is another area that can be tough to navigate because of the vast variety of tools and workflows that you can use to design and build in VR/AR. Take your time, give a few a try and just find what works best for you and your skillset.


There are lots of pre-made free and paid models online that you can use. These can be found at places like TurboSquid and Sketchfab. But sometimes you’ll need more specific models for your environment or modify a prebuilt asset, thats when you’ll want to know a bit about 3D modelling. A few of the more popular programs are Maya and Blender(free!).

Game Engines

This is the major tool that helps you manipulate assets in a spatial environment and add interactions that a user can use while in the environment you create. These game engines help you manage assets and create interactions by providing SDKs that build in head tracking, physics and controls so that you have to do less coding. The two engines I would suggest are either Unity or Unreal, with Unity being the most familiar to me. If you’re interesting in getting started with Unity I’d suggest these two resources:

Roll-a-ball Tutorial: Probably the most common first dip into Unity. It was by far the tutorial I found suggested most.

Udacity VR Developer Nanodegree: The Nanodegree is not free ($200 a month) but free content has been released and you can work through the same learning modules minus the feedback and a few other benefits given to paying students.

A good article that breaks down these tools mentioned along with a few others can be found in the link below:


Another avenue for building VR/AR experiences using WebVR that will run in the browser. I am a big fan of the A-Fram framework, largely maintained by Mozilla, as it builds on familiar web development combined with some patterns from gaming. If you are familiar with HTML you can jump right in, I think it is that easy.

Wrap Up

Hopefully you found this to be another helpful introduction to a section of the VR/AR industry and enjoyed some of the perspective I tried to add. As always feel free to reach out to chat or make suggestions.

Check out some of my other VR primers:

Tom has a home on the web at tommccormack.design and will occasionally retweet things related to VR/AR, design and architecture.