Epic build with its Unreal Editor in virtual reality

As we teeter on the brink of modern virtual reality, developers are hard at work coding the imaginary worlds we’ll one day step foot in. Ironically enough, they’ve largely been building virtual experiences using traditional tools – you know, a mouse and keyboard.

For the past year, Epic Games has been working on bring its Unreal Editor inside the virtual world. Instead of developers building games the traditional way, Epic’s new approach allows them to strap on an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive and build the game fromwithin the game.

Epic founder Tim Sweeney told The Verge that things like a sense of scale don’t translate well between flat screens and VR. Props, for example, may feel normal in a traditional PC game but may look overly large or small in an immersive environment.

The VR Unreal Editor looks and acts much like its flatscreen counterpart but with the ability to roam free and edit on-the-fly using hand motions and gestures. For example, one can physically “grab” an object and move it around or use a two-handed pinch-and-zoom technique like on a mobile device to adjust its size. For more complicated tasks, developers can bring up a handheld version of the flatscreen interface which is kind of like having a tablet with you at all times.

Epic says it’ll showcase its VR Unreal Editor in greater detail at the Game Developers Conference on March 16. We’ll also learn more about Unreal’s release plans at that time.

Leap Motion finds a purpose in virtual reality

When Leap Motion first unveiled its gesture-based controller in May 2012, many were skeptical of its capabilities and questioned its need in the marketplace. Similarities were drawn to early smartwatches in that they didn’t really serve a purpose or fill a need.

By the time its motion controller was shipping a year later, it was clear that Leap Motion would ultimately become a virtual reality accessory rather than a standalone PC accessory. The company admitted as much in August 2014 and today, it unveiled a virtual reality-minded hardware and software solution called Orion.

Orion is designed specifically for virtual reality (its sensor can even be embedded directly into headsets). Leap Motion co-founder and CEO Michael Buckwald told Engadget that untethered mobile VR solutions are most likely to adopt Orion as hands are the primary input method for such devices.

The new hardware is only half of the equation. On the software side, co-founder and CTO David Holz said they’ve taken what they learned over the past few years and really built something from the ground up. The result of all that hard work is that hand tracking is now massively better, we’re told.

The publication vouched for Orion, noting that a new demo they tried was incredibly fast and smooth. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Orion can even track fingers it can’t actually see – wizardry made possible by using “hints” of pixels around the knuckles to determine where the hidden fingers are located.

Even with improved tracking, gesture-based controllers like this still lack the ability to provide tactile feedback. When the goal of virtual reality is a sense of total immersion, not having that physical feedback could be a deal breaker for some.

Buckwald said Leap Motion is currently in talks with several OEMs and that we can expect to see its technology show up in select headsets by the end of the year.