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Facebook turned a JavaScript framework into a VR creation tool

Facebook turned a JavaScript framework into a VR creation tool

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Facebook launched React VR today, an open source JavaScript framework for building VR experiences that was announced back in October. It's based on React, which is the user interface code that powers websites like Facebook and Instagram. React VR lets you import 360 panoramic images and 3D models into a scene, add text and images, and implement interactivity with the same style of code you'd normally use to make a website.

Under the hood is WebVR, a burgeoning standard that was originally spearheaded by Mozilla and now has some amount of support on almost every platform but the Mac. Scenes can also render in 2D on non-WebVR browsers.

React VR probably appeals to a very particular kind of developer: someone who's comfortable with JavaScript and web development, and wants to build something in VR, but isn't interested in learning the complexities of 3D game development.

A glut of tools are now available to developers to build VR. Unreal Engine and Unity are both "free" (at least, there's no up-front cost), relatively easy to learn, and incredibly powerful. You can also get a copy of CryEngine or Amazon's Lumberyard without paying a penny.

On the other end of the spectrum, companies like Mozilla and Facebook are working to serve people who prefer HTML and JavaScript to C++ and C#. Mozilla's A-Frame HTML-based framework has been kicking around for a while, and even supports motion controllers.

I have no idea how far the build-a-VR-experience-like-it's-a-website concept can scale — I'd assume that most games and high-end experiences will continue to be built in Unreal and Unity. But React VR and A-Frame lower the barrier to entry so far that it seems foolish to underestimate them.