Google Cardboard

Blog: The Power of Mobile VR

We love virtual reality however buying a pc powerful enough to handle high-end VR applications is expensive. However, most people already own a smartphone. With a simple cardboard you can turn that phone in a VR system that can handle amazing games and applications. We develop games for mobile ourselves. Android and IOS have hundreds of apps that support VR nowadays. To learn more about mobile VR we spoke to our CXO, Robbin Geerlings.

Examples of successful mobile VR serious games?

We are developing a mobile VR serious game at the moment. Together with our client Zestor we are developing a game to give an insight in the life of a teacher. There is a big shortage of teachers in the Netherlands. The game simulates the life of a newly hired teacher. You begin with your job interview. After that you speak to a recruiter and start your new job as a teacher. In the game you will teach, coach students and interact with colleagues. The game works in such a way that students react to the decisions you make.

Werken bij hogescholen game

WerkenbijHogescholen VR game

Mobile VR is great for exploring new places like Google earth VR app lets you do. Search for a place you wish to visit, put on a pair of cardboard glasses and explore. Google Cardboard is a low-cost VR headset, see picture below. Google introduced the product in 2014 at Google I/O. Cardboard is cheap to buy, so a lot of people can take advantage of VR.

With the acquisition of Oculus in 2014 Facebook is betting heavily on VR. Facebook’s own app supports 360 photos and videos for some time now. This platform really brings out the social aspect of VR by letting people share their images with friends.

What makes mobile VR so powerful?

What’s great about mobile VR is the portability and ease of use. Simply install and app on your phone, put on a cardboard and you can experience VR from home. No need for an expensive pc. Mobile VR games and apps are accessible for all. Most people own a smartphone these days. In fact, 70% of Europeans own a smartphone. That number is only growing. Most phones support VR, so many people can use VR.

Achtbaan in VR

Rollercoaster experience in VR

Mobile VR is easier to use than systems like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. These high-end glasses must be connected to a pc and use their own controllers. Mobile VR is limited, so interaction is much simpler.

Differences between mobile and pc VR development?

Whilst developing a mobile game there are some factors you must consider. First, mobile devices simple aren’t as powerful. So, you are limited in what you can do in terms of graphics and interaction.

We talked about 3D designing a VR game in our previous blog: 3D modeling explained. Having less powerful hardware means the polygon count is lower. So, we have to optimize all 3D object the game has. You optimize an object by removing parts you’ll never see. Like the backside of an object you only see from the front.

Materials and shaders are very different in mobile development. We develop our games in Unity. Techniques we use for PC games can’t be used in mobile games. Normal maps don’t work as well on smartphone because they need powerful hardware. Normal mapping is a technique used to fake the lightning of bumps and dents. They add detail to a model without using more polygons.

How does interaction work?

The best way to interact with your mobile VR games is gaze-input. Gaze is an input method that uses a cursor and head movement to navigate. In the middle of the screen a cursor is present. By moving your head, you can point the cursor at different objects. You select an object by holding the cursor on it for a couple of seconds. Most mobile VR games and applications use gaze input for interaction. It is possible to connect a Bluetooth controller to the phone and use that for input. However, not everybody owns a controller.

Streetview in VR

Streetview in VR

Some cardboards also have a physical button on the top of the headset. The button touches the phone screen to select objects in the game. It’s about the same as gaze input, only you have to press a button. Because most cardboards don’t have this button, we generally ignore this type of input.

What limitations do you have to deal with?

Mobile VR games are great but have some limitations. We briefly talked about low poly modeling before. Mobile VR games can’t contain as many polygons as a high-end game like Grand Theft Auto 5. Phones simply aren’t as powerful. Therefore, the game doesn’t look ultra-realistic.

The controls are different because you are limited to gaze-input. Gaze-input is really powerful but limited. For example, you can’t use your hands like you can with the Rift of Vive.

If you use your phone for VR it can’t be used for anything else at the same time. Also, some smartphones don’t support VR because they don’t have the necessary sensors. Oculus also saw this problem and released a mobile VR headset that doesn’t depend on a phone: The Oculus Go. Oculus Go is a stand-alone device that has its own chipset, so it can be used without a phone.

Oculus Go runs on Android and uses the same interface as the Gear VR, also made by Oculus. The headset uses its own controller. Any existing Gear VR app or game works on the Oculus Go. We use the Oculus Go for smaller projects and playing 360 video.

Is mobile VR replacing pc VR in the future?

I don’t believe that smartphones and cardboards are completely replacing VR systems like the Rift and Vive. A smartphone is powerful and they become more powerful each year. However, using phones for VR is not the best solution. I do believe that stand-alone systems like the upcoming Oculus Quest will become the norm. Stand-alone systems are more powerful whilst being portable.

I believe XR technology will replace our phones altogether. In 10 years from now we’ll all use XR to interact with our data. This way you don’t a phone at all.

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