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