GDC 2018 AR/VR News & New Developments

The tech industry in general and the Augmented & Virtual Reality branches in particular are very fast-moving industries, with lots of new developments and knowledge being created every day. As a company, it is important to stay on top of our game, keep up with new announcements and releases and quickly evaluate and adapt to new and emerging technologies.

What is GDC?

The acronym GDC is short for Game Developer Conference, which is the largest professional game-development-focused conference in the world, with nearly 30 thousand people visiting each year. It took place a few weeks ago in San Francisco, CA. In contrast to other big events like E3 or Gamescom, the GDC is strictly focused on developers and not consumers of games and related technologies (hint: AR and VR).

Why is it important for AR/VR?

By now you might be thinking: “That’s nice and all, but how is this event important for us? We’re not interested in games, but highly specialized Augmented- and Virtual Reality applications!”. But the truth is that AR & VR technology mostly originated in the games industry and that’s still where most new technologies and developments in these areas come from. The most powerful and most used middlewares for creating AR & VR experiences (the Unity and Unreal engine respectively) are actually game engines. And all the big manufacturers of VR headsets, AR glasses and similar technologies were also part of the conference and presenting their newest improvements or announcements. So, it definitely pays off to take a closer look at what happened in these areas at GDC this year.

Unity: New Features

Unity is a very powerful middleware for creating games as well as AR, VR or web apps with 3D content. We already dedicated a few blogposts to working with it. The Unity guys were a very prominent part of the GDC line-up with lots of sessions, talks, keynotes, workshop etc. throughout the conference. Most noteworthy is probably that they revealed their roadmap for the coming year, which means they revealed all the important and big new features they’re currently developing and which will be made available to the public within the year.

One of the most visible changes next to other new features (like a machine learning feature) is the introduction of the “Scriptable Render Pipeline”, which is going to feature a “Lightweight Render Pipeline” option. This means the rendering is specifically optimized to look good and has better performance on “weaker” targets, like mobile devices (smartphones/tablets/etc.). This is going to enable us to use fancier visuals for AR apps while probably also resulting in a performance boost!

A whole 1-hour long keynote was dedicated to a new Augmented Reality framework, which Unity is currently developing and which will enable developers to make use of Apple’s ARKit or Android’s ARCore (or other AR plugins) while using a common interface (API). This gives us as developers an additional and potentially pretty useful possibility to make use of these technologies alongside the famous Vuforia framework.

Unreal: New Features

Unity’s biggest competition and powerhorse Unreal Engine by Epic was also very visible at GDC this year. Next to various improvements to their already very feature-rich VR capabilities, they introduced the “Unified Unreal AR Framework”, their official solution for creating AR apps using a single code path. Alongside important features like alignment and tracking, it also provides access to more exotic but useful functinalities like Environment Light Estimation to enable a more realistic display of AR content.

Unreal AR demo GDC

Unreal AR Demo, Courtesy of Theia

As providers of one of the first Augmented Reality plugins for Unreal, we’re very happy to see Epic officially recognize the importance of this area and integrate an official solution into Unreal engine!

Magic Leap

Among the currently most anticipated new hardware developments are, without a doubt, the Magic Leap AR glasses by Magic Leap Inc. These AR glasses are said to be very powerful and put the Microsoft Hololens to shame, but nobody can say for sure since they’re not available to the public yet…

This didn’t stop Magic Leap from releasing their SDK via their Creators Portal recently! Additionally, Unity as well as Unreal already confirmed support for Magic Leap as a build target. We’re excited to see what the future brings!

HTC Vive

At this year’s GDC, the creators of the famous HTC Vive announced that they’re bringing the new Vive Focus to global markets later this year! Vive Focus is the first 6DOF stand-alone VR headset to be commercially available. This means it’s not necessary to connect it to a PC or external sensor for it to work, which is a huge improvement over the “current” HTC Vive HMD (Head-Mounted-Display).

Oculus Go

Oculus also used the GDC to present their new product Oculus Go to the public and let people try their hands on it. The Oculus Go is also a “mobile” HMD as it doesn’t need to be connected to a desktop PC. It’s the direct competition to the Vive Focus and will be arriving in early 2018.

Conclusion

Lots of announcements, new technologies and developments in soft- and hardware and more at this year’s GDC. It’s definitely worth paying close attention to conferences and events like that, especially as a company offering AR & VR development and being closely invested in these areas. And the next GDC will come for sure!