AltspaceVR Releases Virtual Reality SDK, Spurs Indie Devs With Grant Program

AltspaceVR has announced that it now has a software development kit (SDK) available to developers who want to create their own experiences within the company's VR communication platform. AltspaceVR was seeking a way to ease the barrier of entry for developers jumping into virtual reality, and by leveraging the use of JavaScript and three.js, the company is able to make the transition to making VR content as seamless as possible.

AltspaceVR is a platform to share a virtual environment with multiple people, where everyone sees the same thing in real time. The environment is 3D, but within that space, traditional web applications can be run. A presentation displayed on a virtual wall, or a movie displayed on a virtual projector screen using Netflix, are two very basic examples. 

These applications are created using JavaScript or three.js. AltspaceVR said the code is written as if it were a webpage, making it simple for web developers to transition to developing VR content. Additionally, because there's no difference between the code running in VR or on a webpage, they can be shared across platforms easily.

One example AltSpace offered is a game played in VR by one person, while the opponent is playing from a cell phone without a VR headset. The company said communication in this scenario has not yet been ironed out, but it is working on ways for that to work. Within the VR environment, users are able to communicate with each other using a built-in VoIP system with HD quality audio.   

AltspaceVR's CEO, Eric Romo, said the company isn't worried about figuring out what people will build, but rather making sure the platform consists of flexible frameworks that are easy to learn and used to create unique experiences. The SDK includes a set of APIs that are designed to allow for JavaScript or three.js code to interact within a 3D environment. There's an API for head movement, another one detects players in the vicinity, a third API handles rendering in VR, and so on. The SDK also includes the tools needed to sync the app between multiple users. 

To demonstrate some of the things that can be done in AltspaceVR, the company will be hosting a live interactive coding session in virtual reality. This may be one of the more interesting ideas to arise from AltspaceVR. Within a virtual 3D space, multiple people can work on the same code at the same time. If one line of code is altered by one person, everyone else sees this happen in real time. Not only that, but 3D representations of said code would be rendered in the 3D environment, and the changes made would be reflected as they happen.

AltspaceVR has been working with a handful of third-party developers who have mostly been making games thus far. The feedback that the company has received is that the SDK is easy to use. Thomas Kadlec is one of the engineers working with the early SDK, and he stated that he was able to churn out a Flappy Bird clone called Flappy Dragon in under two weeks.

Beyond releasing the SDK, AltspaceVR has also announced the Developer Assistance program. The company is putting aside $150,000, which will be used to help generate incentive for developers to create experiences for AltspaceVR. The company acknowledges that there is far less financial opportunity for developers in the early stages of VR, as compared to the established mobile app market, and wanted to help drive interest and lower the risk of entering the VR market.

The program is open for app makers with a working prototype and defined plan for the project. Those selected for the program will receive financial support to see that the application is completed. 

When asked about monetization, Eric Romo stated that because the company is using a web-based platform, it is not possible to prevent ads from being embedded into AltspaceVR experiences, though the official stance is that there are better ways to monetize that are less disruptive to the user experience. AltspaceVR experiences can be set up to require a paid entry fee, as an example.

Currently, AltspaceVR is supported by the Oculus Rift DK2 and the HTC Vive developer kit, and it was revealed earlier this week that GearVR is supported by a closed alpha that is currently underway. The company said that the retail Rift and Vive will be supported when they are released, and it believes that AltspaceVR will work well with Microsoft HoloLens, though it has not yet had an opportunity to test this theory.

To download the AltspaceVR SDK, or apply for the Developer Initiative Program, visit AltspaceVR's Developer Portal. For those interested, the live coding event takes place at 7pm PT on Thursday, September 17.

Follow Kevin Carbotte @pumcypuhoy. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

 Kevin Carbotte is a contributing writer for Tom's Hardware who primarily covers VR and AR hardware. He has been writing for us for more than four years. 

  • DrSparko
    Back in my day we had VRML, it was limited and we liked it!
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