Handbuilt: Unreal Engine Editor Going VR

Making games is easy, everyone knows. Developers write a letter to their computer saying what they want and draw it a few pictures, then the computer does all the hard work. But soon, all people will have to do is wave their arms about!

Virtual reality is coming to the Unreal Engine 4 editor, letting folks step inside their worlds as they build them with motion controllers. It all looks very The Future (or The Future as seen in ’90s sci-fi movies). Observe:

Obviously that’d be a pain in the bum to use all day (not to mention the arms and eyes) and, even if VR does take off this time, I’d be astonished if any devs will work that way full-time. But when it comes to laying out broad sketches or fiddling with fine details, being able to step inside the world and shunt stuff around with your hands until it looks right could be useful? If you have the money and space and inclination and don’t mind your co-workers making crude gestures at you while you’re goggled up in cyberspace.

VR editor support will come to Unreal Engine 4 later this year, with a launch date to be announced at the Game Developers Conference in March. Epic’s Tim Sweeney said in a blog post last night:

“Using the Oculus Touch and HTC Vive motion controllers, your movement in the real world is mapped one-to-one in VR; you can reach out, grab, and manipulate objects just as you would in real life. You already know how to use this tool, because it works like the world works.

“These are the early days of the revolution in immersive VR content creation, but we’re so excited about what’s up and running that we couldn’t keep it a secret anymore!”

These are early days indeed.


  1. metric day says:

    Enough with the 90s sneering. It’s beyond tedious by 2016.

  2. flibbidy says:

    I’m pretty sure that professional environment developers find manipulating scenes with mouse and keyboard completely natural, but one of the advantages of this would be when building a world for virtual reality – you can move through the environment and adjust on the fly, avoiding going back and forth or having a second person changing things.

    • Beanbee says:

      Likely so, but there’s something innately human about sensing space around you, which I just don’t experience while looking at a monitor.

    • unacom says:

      It will be totally useful in engineering, architecture, bioengineering and all sorts of ffields where modeling occurs.
      I often struggle to make a contractor or clients understand that a solution to a problem they came up with on site will have serious ramifications above or below the plane in which they operate.
      Using building-information-modeling together with VR-techniques I might be able to visualize conflicting structures and model -by hand- a new solution. Or by remodeling a problematic building decision, show everyone involved where issues will occur.
      So, for me that is a pretty exciting and interesting development.

      • Simbosan says:

        Imagine if your client could join you in the VR environment. “Could you put it over there a bit more, yeah, no, yeah THERE, perfect!”

      • TechnicalBen says:

        So now when the building disappears because they decided to take out the central column to extend the minibar, they can ask why the VR bugged out and would not let them proceed? ;)

    • DailyFrankPeter says:

      As an architecture visualiser who builds a lot of stuff in 3D, I assure you mouse and keyboard is completely unnatural compared to what your body has as tools. For starters, imagine having only 1 arm with 1 finger.

      VR is somewhat moving towards natural, but not sure about those motion controllers – whatever happened to those VR-Mocap gloves from science labs?

        • DailyFrankPeter says:

          Cool thing! Is it actually supported by any modelling software?

        • DailyFrankPeter says:

          Haha, just rummaged through some Youtube movies on Autodesk Leapmotion plugin and comments range from: ‘Oh my god, it’s so innovative’ to ‘I’ve tried it, it’s so inaccurate; what a load of marketing…’.

  3. MrLoque says:

    One thing to say is that you can’t judge these kind of tools without actually experiencing them. VR can’t be reproduced in a flat Youtube video inside a browser. I guess 90% of the coolness/experience is being inside the scene, moving your arms and interacting with things.

    Watching it from outside just gives me nightmares.

  4. Boozebeard says:

    I could see this being MAYBE useful during very early stages of greyboxing when you’re just trying to get a sense of scale/composition/flow for the level but not much else. I guess really though it’s just a foundation, maybe in 10 years VR and it’s peripherals will have evolved to a point where working in it is the norm and I guess for that to happen you gotta start somewhere right; even if you know it’s gonna kinda suck at first.

    • TimorousBeastie says:

      I’d think the opposite actually. Do almost everything in the usual way, then once everything’s placed drop into VR and do the incidental tweaking to make things look lived in. It should also be pretty handy for terrain and foliage painting (‘just a little bit more grass here…’). For actual major development though? You need a ton of viewports to be somewhat efficient.

  5. Spacewalk says:

    I don’t wanna have to reach down to scratch myself and somehow trigger the hand gesture that deletes my project.

    • unacom says:

      But wouldn´t it be glorious to build a sratchy-thingy, that you could finger-switch?
      It would be totally creepy though.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Would be worse if it was the other way around and deleted your… er, “project”.

  6. king0zymandias says:

    This doesn’t even have the potential to be useful in the future, nothing that is done in the engine editor will be benefited by VR. What will be really great though is if this was implemented in sculpting apps like Zbrush/Mudbox. The thought being able to sculpt with your hands in a 3d environment is making me unreasonably excited. VR and digital sculpting, it’s a match made in heaven.

    • unacom says:

      You do know that robotics engineers already use sculpting glove-prototypes? As such the gestures are linked to commands. So what those guys do is comparable to the sign-language of traders. Professional engineering software, like CATIA, is often fully compatible to those.
      The guys at Gloveone are working on compatibility.

      • king0zymandias says:

        Interesting. However, coming from the perspective of artistic 3d work, I don’t think hard surfaces modeling will be better with VR. For artists in the VFX world it’s the possibility of sculpting organic material that’s so promising.

        • unacom says:

          I think, I´ll partially agree.
          It will be different than it is now. The thoughts accompanying the modeling process would have to change partially. If we treat this as an additional tool, with excitement as well as skepticism, we might be able to put it to good use and avoid the pitfalls that come with new technologies.

  7. Simbosan says:

    This would bloody rock, anyone who thinks 3D modelling with mouse/keyboard/2D is easy is either a genius or has never tried it. To sculpt in 3D would be incredible. Want want want

    • unacom says:

      I imagine it would be as easy as playing the theremin.

    • GWOP says:

      Sculpting organic models? Possibly. But manipulating individual vertices and edges with the mouse plus a multitude of keyboard shortcuts… that’s going to be difficult to displace.

      Even with sophisticated gesture controls, you are making very minimal movements with the humble mouse compared to the arm flailing on display here.

  8. Cinek says:

    It’s useful because you don’t need to jump in/out of VR to move few elements around and make some corrections.

    I doubt anyone will be creating an entire levels in VR.

  9. unacom says:

    By the way Alice. Those first two sentences. Spot on.
    If I had a penny for every instance a client said something along these lines to me, I´d be filthy rich.

  10. Xenotone says:

    Making a game is far more complicated than that. You also have to tweet about it.

  11. haldolium says:

    Re: Modeling/Sculpting in VR

    Has been tried out as well a while back:

    link to youtube.com
    link to vrclay.com

  12. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    I want this to do virtual stop-motion animation, kinda like how Tippet and his team did the animation for CG dinosaurs on tiny mocap dino puppets for Jurassic Park (link to blep.com), only 100% virtual… all the advantages of stop-motion (tactile intuitive posing) AND all the advantages of CG animation (precision, non-linearity).

  13. Sunjammer says:

    The only real benefit here is viewing scale/space in the same way the player will. At best this will be a good way to adjust for perspective, but not to actually do bulk work in. Epic have been very direct about their investment in VR.

  14. Strech says:

    As a control engineer I can only think about how they can filter out the user’s hand vibrations without delaying too much the output.

    It looks like it’s impossible to precisely place down an item….