How to Develop VR for 770 million Users
Inspiration from the VP of Unity Labs, Sylvio Drouin
Imet Sylvio at Columbia University after he partook in a panel on Virtual Reality. Upon hearing Sylvio speak, one gets the impression that this man is passionate about what he does. Sylvio understands Virtual Reality on a level that surpasses almost anyone that I have met.
We discuss his mission at Unity, lessons in their development of VR, and some cool strategies they’ve come up with to cope with the lack of computing power.
This man is part of the reason that I have begun the Beyond the Headset interview series and I hope I do him justice.
Special thanks to Kyla — you made this happen!
Beyond the Headset: What is your mission at Unity either on a personal or a company level?
Sylvio Drouin (SD): My main mission is to democratize game and experience development, meaning I am driven to make game development possible for the highest number of people we can find. We want to enable storytelling for everybody. The fundamental principle that drives the entire company is that every time we make this easier, we get new users; every time we make this easier, our new users stay with us and create content.
We are pushing the boundaries of this in Labs, both for VR and throughout the company. If we come up with a rendering system that makes things beautiful without us having to edit a thousand parameters, we make it easier, if we come up with a series of smart assets that know how to assemble and connect with each other. We also make things easier because the user interface for education is simpler if your assets are smarter, so everything that we do from rendering to VR, to the Editor user interface to the services that actually surround the Unity ecosystem to the discovery of the best game, we all strive to make this easier for developers and content creators because now it’s no longer just developers that write code — it’s people that don’t write code that want to create content. The easier we make this, the more users we get, the more applications and experiences there are created. That’s the mission.
What are some of the lessons you guys have learned in development and optimization of your system for VR?
SD: We are learning new things every day. Every day there’s something new. Every day we discover new rendering methods. But we strive to get to the highest possible frame-rate because that’s when people stop getting sick. This effort is in collaboration with hardware manufacturers like Nvidia and AMD implementing new hardware features in the GPU and also on our side. That’s why we’ve been talking about cinematic VR where we actually pre-render a frame offline at the highest possible quality, which removes some of the constraints that real time rendering has. A simple hack we discovered was basically rendering at lower quality level in one eye, and the brain basically reacts to this by coping. So if you have one eye where you render at a lesser quality and at the lower frame rate the other eye is basically compensating so you don’t perceive the lower frame rate in the left eye or the right eye, you can then alternate this so you can reach 90 frames per second without actually having to display 90 frames per second.
There’s also active research for when you are in VR. When you are in VR, about 80% of your neurons in certain regions of your brain, that’s 80% of neurons that affect other senses, are shut down. They’ve discovered that the brain is reacting very differently in VR, so for us this means that if that’s the case, we need to ask ourselves what we can tweak on the rendering side to make the brain perceive certain things.
We are working to increase the frame rate without increasing the computing power while giving the participant the impression that everything is great.
The expansion of Labs is definitely going toward this — towards having neuroscientists looking at humans to figure out how we can we tweak things and how we can create magic in the rendering process.
“Towards having neuroscientists looking at humans to figure out how we can we tweak things and how we can create magic in the rendering process”
What are some of the most surprising uses people have being finding for Unity in VR?
SD: 360 video content. Interactive or not, if you look at the application universe and who is within it, you will see amazing beautiful interactive experiences with 360 VR video content.
Also, the games are obviously the big thing you know about. Everybody is trying to make a game and understand how to make games because nobody really knows yet. The thing with VR is that everybody has ordered a Vive and Oculus they are not using; they are showing it to their friends.
Nobody is actually driven after their day at work to go put themselves in VR. They watch Game of Thrones instead, so we are not there yet. This means that the compelling content has not being discovered, so it really is going to take us two to three years to figure out what the most compelling content is.
The form factor of the headset will have to be lighter. There’s a lot of things that need to happen for people to start actually using this on a daily basis, and then the fourth one in parallel is all those amazing medical apps to correct children’s eyes, to treat soldiers’ PTSD, to treat phobias like the fear of spiders and also the medical apps that actually work. It is amazing to see that there’s a lot of effort going into it. This is really something we are going to look at.
“Nobody is actually driven after their day at work to go put themselves in VR … there’s a lot of things that need to happen for people to start actually using this on a daily basis”
What about China? I know you’re very interested in what is going to develop in the Chinese market.
SD: We are and I’m even more excited after living in Southeast Asia for a long time. We’re very interested and we are working on it. We have big projects there that I cannot talk about yet, but we have an office which I think has about 80 people. Small developers, salespeople and business development — and we are very proud of our China office. We are working on massive projects that will be announced in the future.
Has Unity found a following within AAA game studios?
SD: Yes, many like EA, Square Enix, Ubisoft have all used us, including for mobile and VR projects. But we are starting to be used by them after the Adam demo was released. We’ve made great advancements in graphics performance and we evolve the workflow and the services which enable more people to work on same project, you’ll see Unity being used in more and more flagship AAA projects. And that’s going to happen pretty fast. We’ve being working very hard at making this happen.
What advice do you have for new developer’s and people who want to start creating content for VR?
SD: Download the Unity engine. The community is super strong and we soon are going to introduce something that will make it easier for everybody to connect together, ask questions, and make requests for development or art. So we are going to enable this soon and that will transform Unity into an even bigger ecosystem than it already is.