Nick Whiting is a lead engineer at Epic Games and has been a VR evangelist there. Nick had worked with Brendan Iribe and Nate Mitchell at Scaleform, and so they sent him an Oculus developer’s kit to integrate into Unreal Engine 4. He ended up working on it in his spare time, and eventually got it working.

Nick-WhitingThen Oculus brought them the HD prototype and they collaborated on creating a UE4 demo for E3 in July 2013, which helped Oculus beat out Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in the Game Critics E3 award. This was a turning point that helped to legitimize VR at Epic Games.

Then founder Tim Sweeney & the directory of engineering Dan Vogel saw the Valve VR demo room, and this helped to seal the deal for VR at Epic. Some people could see the potential beyond DK1, but others needed to see something closer to something that’s ready for a consumer product. The Valve Room VR demo was a clear turning point for the leadership at Epic.

Over the past couple of years, Nick has started to get more resources to make VR demos, including the Showdown demo that was the final demo scene in the series of Crescent Bay demos.

VR started as a side project at Epic, and now Nick says that it’s pretty huge there. Most recently Tim Sweeney said that he believes that virtual reality “is going to change the world.”

In this interview Nick talks about:

  • How opening up UE4 to a subscription model at $19/month brought it to a wider variety of developers and VR experience creators.
  • The process of integrating open source contributions from the community back into UE4
  • The Public Trello board for the UE4 Roadmap, and how that plays into their release cadence
  • Help from Oculus in integrating UE4 originally came from Andrew Reisse, and now Artem Bolgar has been the dedicated resource doing a lot of engineering work to get the Oculus SDK integrations working
  • Epic’s approach to superior visual fidelity
  • The possibility of SLI GPUs and need for more GPU power for VR
  • How the Showdown demo was being run on the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 at 90Hz at the Crescent Bay demo resolution
  • Experimenting with integrating with different hardware for VR input controls. The more integrations, the better

Nick also talks about some of the lessons learned from doing VR demos. He says that VR makes developers more honest because the tricks that work in 2D don’t work as well in 3D. Couch Knights was about creating a shared social space and it was more impactful than they expected.

Epic’s visual style has also traditionally been more realistic and gritty, but they found that within VR that people tend to make more emotional connections to abstract characters with a more stylized art style. There are downfalls of the uncanny valley with a hyperreal rendering, while a low-poly scene tends to allow your mind to accept it more because there is room for more mental projections and less noticing for what’s not 100% correct.

Finally, one of the most powerful experiences in VR for Nick was a social VR experience where he felt presence with another person who had limb tracking enabled. He see that humans being presence with each other was really powerful and compelling, and that being present in a world that’s not our own has a lot of potential that he finds really exciting.

Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

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This video is what since has been referred to as the Showdown demo, and was the final demo scene of the Crescent Bay demo.

Here’s Nick Whiting and Nick Donaldson from Epic Games discuss Lessons from integrating the Oculus Rift into Unreal Engine 4 at Oculus Connect:

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