Microsoft just grabbed support from a big game engine for its augmented reality headset, and now Valve and HTC are getting support from an even bigger one for their VR headset. That support comes from Epic Games, which is today adding tools for SteamVR in Unreal Engine 4 — the latest in a line of engines that have powered major 3D games like Unreal Tournament and Gears of War.
SteamVR is Valve's virtual reality platform, which is initially being made available through HTC's Vive headset this spring. As a platform focused on gaming, SteamVR very much needs to get major game engines on board. Unreal is one of the more powerful options around — it's also free, albeit with a 5 percent royalty for games that make over $3,000 — which should open up possibilities for interested developers in a meaningful way. Epic won't talk about who we might see announcing games in the coming months, but lead engineer Nick Whiting notes that Dovetail Games Fishing, a fishing simulator that was picked up as a SteamVR demo earlier this year, was made in Unreal Engine 4.
Unreal Engine 4 already supports Oculus Rift, Gear VR, and Project Morpheus
The partnership is good news for the future of Valve's platform, but it's by no means unique. Epic is embracing VR all around, having already added support for the Oculus Rift, Samsung's Gear VR, and Sony's Project Morpheus. The company has contributed to the demo reels for Oculus' Crystal Cove and Crescent Bay prototypes, and it partnered with Weta Digital earlier this year for a Hobbit-themed virtual reality experience.
"We had the basic head tracking stuff in there, and the basic stereoscopic 3D rendering," Whiting tells The Verge. The biggest changes involved adding support for the Vive's motion controllers and its larger range of motion — where the Rift and Morpheus let users walk a few steps at most, the Vive tracks a space about the size of a small room. Whiting also says that Epic worked with Valve to reduce latency on the headset.
Most of the latency tweaks were Steam-specific, but "there's a lot of knowledge-sharing in VR going on right now," says Whiting, and improvements to one platform could trickle over to another. Outside SteamVR, Epic has been working on updating its engine for the latest Project Morpheus prototype, which was announced last month. "We're going to concentrate on making optimizations to make it much much easier to take existing content and adapt it for VR," says Whiting. Overall, this could potentially be better news for gamers and developers than any specific platform.
Given yesterday's announcement, the obvious question is whether Unreal will be adding HoloLens support. Whiting confirmed that Epic has spoken to Microsoft about HoloLens, but for now, there's nothing to report on that count. And for all the work Epic has put into VR, don't expect to see a virtual version of its signature game, Unreal Tournament. "There's nothing preventing us from doing it," says Whiting. "But it's such a fast-paced game with so much moving around and twirling and acrobatics that it makes you sick, kind of." Figuring out how to make traditional games like that more VR-friendly is beyond the scope of this update, but creating more tools can only expedite the process.
Correction April 30th 10:00am ET: Epic's collaboration was with Weta Digital, not Weta Workshop.