Vir­tu­ally es­sen­tial

With OSVR, Razer is at­tempt­ing to democra­tise vir­tual re­al­ity in or­der to se­cure the tech­nol­ogy’s fu­ture in games


With OSVR, Razer is aim­ing to se­cure the fu­ture for VR games

“We need a fo­rum for de­vel­op­ers to fo­cus on the con­tent and not worry about the ac­tual ex­e­cu­tion”

OSVR, or Open Source Vir­tual Re­al­ity, is the only thing stand­ing be­tween the nascent VR mar­ket and a pre­ma­ture death, at least if Chris Mitchell, Razer’s prod­uct mar­ket­ing manager, is to be be­lieved. In his own words: “If we don’t build this, the vir­tual re­al­ity ecosys­tem will never sur­vive.” It’s big talk for a project that, even af­ter a press re­lease, me­dia brief­ing and one-on-one in­ter­view with Razer, still feels neb­u­lous.

Razer, of course, made its name with gam­ing pe­riph­er­als, er­gonomic gam­ing mice and key­boards, but OSVR is not so tan­gi­ble. The com­pany’s plans do in­clude hard­ware: a $200 head-mounted dis­play, which it calls the Hacker Dev Kit, is due in the sum­mer, and mea­sures up rea­son­ably with the Ocu­lus Rift DK2 unit. But the Dev Kit is not OSVR ex­actly – it’s a mal­leable head­set meant to spur devel­op­ment of VR games. OSVR is ac­tu­ally a soft­ware plat­form. Led by Razer and head­set maker Sen­sics, the aim is to make game devel­op­ment for VR de­vices more about the game, less about the hard­ware you have. Cre­ators will be able to hook into plu­g­ins for how a game should look on one head­mounted dis­play ver­sus an­other, or how it should pull in data from var­i­ous mo­tion­track­ing sys­tems. And with a li­brary of such plu­g­ins, de­vel­op­ers won’t have to be Car­mack-level en­gi­neers to get a game run­ning in VR ei­ther.

As Mitchell says, “The idea is to ab­stract the com­plex­i­ties of game devel­op­ment right now. We need a fo­rum for de­vel­op­ers to fo­cus on the con­tent and not worry about the ac­tual ex­e­cu­tion of how to do it.”

So how does OSVR ac­com­plish this? Sen­sics CEO Yu­val Boger of­fers the clear­est ex­pla­na­tion on his VR Guy blog: “OSVR pro­vides soft­ware plu­g­ins (think: de­vice driv­ers) for hard­ware that ab­stracts each type of hard­ware – such as head ori­en­ta­tion track­ers, po­si­tion track­ers, eye track­ers – and makes the in­ter­face the same for the higher-level ap­pli­ca­tion. While the per­for­mance of dif­fer­ent po­si­tion track­ers may be dif­fer­ent, the in­ter­face to the ap­pli­ca­tion is ba­si­cally the same. While some eye track­ers are bet­ter than oth­ers, the ap­pli­ca­tion usu­ally just needs to know gaze di­rec­tion, blink de­tec­tion and per­haps pupil size. By ab­stract­ing each type of hard­ware, the ap­pli­ca­tion does not need to change when new hard­ware be­comes avail­able. All it needs is a new plugin, the equiv­a­lent of a printer driver.” OSVR al­ready sup­ports Unity and Un­real En­gine 4, which will al­low de­vel­op­ers us­ing those en­gines to in­ter­face their games with var­i­ous forms of VR hard­ware. Razer claims some big names are al­ready be­hind OSVR, too – de­vel­op­ers such as Gear­box and Tech­land, plus hard­ware mak­ers Vir­tuix, Leap Mo­tion and Six­ense – though it’s un­clear what all th­ese com­pa­nies are do­ing to sup­port OSVR ex­actly.

Leap Mo­tion, which cre­ates PC mo­tion and ges­ture con­trol tech­nol­ogy, of­fers a de­gree of in­sight. “Ear­lier this month, we an­nounced a Leap Mo­tion plugin for OSVR,” says CEO Michael

Buck­wald. “In re­cent months, we’ve also demon­strated how our tech­nol­ogy pairs with Ocu­lus Rift and Sam­sung Gear VR, in ad­di­tion to OSVR… We launched our VR De­vel­oper Mount last Au­gust, [which] pro­vides a con­sis­tent way for de­vel­op­ers to guide in­ter­ac­tion, and it works with any VR head­set with a flat front sur­face and a setup sup­ported by our SDK.”

Vir­tuix, cre­ator of the Omni tread­mill, of­fers a sim­i­lar re­sponse. “We’re mainly fo­cused on the move­ment as­pect of VR – how can a user walk or run around in the vir­tual world,” says CEO Jan Goet­geluk. “In its ba­sic form, the Omni em­u­lates a typ­i­cal gamepad that steers the avatar in the game. How­ever, with the Omni, more ad­vanced move­ment func­tions can be pro­vided as well – one-to-one foot track­ing, fully de­cou­pled move­ments, ad­vanced ges­tures, and more. Our con­tri­bu­tion to OSVR is the devel­op­ment of a lo­co­mo­tion con­troller for VR that sup­ports this range of mo­tion func­tions.”

Both are do­ing what’s best for their VR prod­ucts, in other words. Which isn’t a bad thing – if it’s easy to get on board with OSVR, the plat­form is more likely to ben­e­fit de­vel­op­ers. But it’s also un­clear ex­actly how open and ac­ces­si­ble OSVR is. Its web­site fea­tures a big or­ange ‘Join us’ but­ton, and asks in­ter­ested par­ties to sign up to be in­volved in the project. But there’s no pub­licly vis­i­ble devel­op­ment com­mu­nity for OSVR. There are no fo­rums, of­fi­cial sub­red­dit, or github repos­i­to­ries, all stan­dard for ac­tive open source com­mu­ni­ties. Surely those will come, but an ap­pli­ca­tion process

OSVR’s li­brary of plu­g­ins is de­signed to make VR games sim­pler to cre­ate

Razer prod­uct mar­ket­ing manager Chris Mitchell

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