It's not 100% relevant to the game development, but it's very close. Virtual tours are basically applications that allow to spend time in a digital environment, explore it and interact with it - almost like games, right? By reading the article, you will get not only introduction into development of VR games and applications, but also finding that game-based development skills can be used also in different areas than a game development - e.g. for creation of virtual tours for clients. Well, what is the virtual tour and what is its added value? Let's dive into it!
Virtual tours allow visit any existing or future property with a feel very close to the reality. The added value is the inclusion of "abstract" emotional information that most people are unable to read from a dimensioned drawing of a floor plan. In addition to a clearly spatially imaginable presentation of an area of x meters², virtual tour also brings some information about the property brightness, its division and physical condition. Except that, existing 3D model of a real estate provides a room for a number of other use-cases - some of them are explained in this article explaining the development of an interactive virtual reality application build on the top of a real estate model.
Precise presentation of a real estate in the form of a 3D virtual tour distinguishes sellers and real estate agents from their less innovative competitors. This can be considered a competitive advantage that helps real estate agents to gain more real estates under their management and achieve higher conversion rate while offering them on the market. At the end, everyone wins - customer gains better service, the seller faster sale, and the real estate agent higher total earning (despite the costs of the creation of the virtual tours) thanks to more completed orders in the time.
Methods of getting a real estate model for virtual tour in VR
Due to the nature of the higher number of physical properties on the market than development projects, simplicity of use and economic availability, you can most often encounter a virtual tour processed by SAAS such as 3DVista, Matterport, Cupix or similar service. Most these solutions work similarly - they help the user to make a photography of every part of the property and post these photographs to the cloud (remote server) where they are automatically converted by using photogrammetry into a photorealistic 3D model. This model can be downloaded and used independently, or more often - it can be supplemented with information directly in the given service for creating virtual tours. The absolute standard is the possibility of viewing the model in a 360° field of view from preset places and support of additional functions such as assigning information labels to individual objects in digital space, generation of floor plans, taking 4k photographs or dimensional measurement. There is also a web interface allowing to run the virtual tour directly in the browser, through the classic screen or VR headset. Although the whole process is simple and intuitive, real estate agents and entrepreneurs often demand creation from proven providers.
In addition to photogrammetry, a 3D real estate model can also be obtained by modeling in a specialized 3D modeling software. If the creator is lucky, the real estate model already exists from the architect / designer. If not, there's a need to create one - e.g. with in Blender like in the article Modeling a 3D apartment in the free Blender software. The interactivity and VR functions are then supplied to the model by the developer in a suitable program, such as a game engine (Unity, Unreal).
VR options based on the existence of a 3D model of real estate
The 3D model of real estate, whether obtained by a "3D scan" of space or by modeling, brings in addition of simple visualizations and possibility of connection with smart home and IOT (Internet of Things) applications also various interactive possibilities associated with the use of the model space as is the case in the example video below.
Mark Zuckenberg mentioned options showed in the video already in 2015 (after his acquisition of Oculus company in 2014), when he declared:
Our vision is that VR / AR will be the next major computing platform after mobile in about 10 years. It can be even more ubiquitous than mobile - especially once we reach AR - since you can have it always on… Once you have a good VR / AR system, you no longer need to buy phones or TVs or many other physical objects - they can just become apps in a digital store..
Example of real estate presentation in VR - real estate configurator
Imagine that you are a seller of a real-estate development project and you are selling unique luxury apartments. You try to bring their presentation and quality as close to potential buyers as possible. Using virtual reality, you would need one thing - VR headset, 3D real estate models and ideally a computer application for remote assistance. You would simply display in VR the specific apartment(s) the customer is interested in, and if you had a large enough physical area, the customer could move around the presented property on a real scale in a natural human way - by walking. Except for the space itself, the application would allow to present also various variations of individual components and equipment of the apartment - floors, windows, bathroom, or the offer of pre-visualized kitchens, built-in cabinets and other furniture from partner suppliers - this would create a real estate configurator in virtual reality. If the customer was satisfied with the generic proposals, it would be enough for him to sign a contract for a complete apartment and he would not have to deal with anything further.
Creating interactive real estate in virtual reality
I will show an example of the process of creating an interactive real estate model on the example of an apartment development project that is currently under construction. The goal is a simple interactive visualization enabling basic specifications - the choice of floors / equipment, which will also include the approved visualization of the kitchen unit supplied by the kitchen studio and the bathroom from the bathroom studio. Over time, the 3D model will be supplemented by a media components (television and so on) and other types of interactions in an unspecified extent. A model property is a 2-bedroom apartment with an area of approximately 70 m2 located in the Olomouc, Czech republic.
3D model of the apartment
3D models of housing units for the development project do not exist - the given 3D model must be modeled manually from the dimensioned building floor plan and available visualizations of the project on the web. The entire creation process, including the export to the Unity game engine, which is further used to create the application, is described in detail in the article How to model a 3D model real estate in the free Blender software?.
Basic display in Unity
When developing applications, it is absolutely essential to define right at the beginning how and on which device the application will work. In this case, we want the ability to use the VR application anywhere - the application must be able to run in an All-in-one headset such as Oculus Quest, which does not require connection to a computer. At the same time, however, we do not want to omit potential customers who would like to run the application at home, on their HTC Vive glasses. This defines another requirement - support across devices.
The first step is to take a quick test on the weakest supported device - on Oculus Quest 2. We are interested in how high quality of texture we can use while keeping smooth running of the application. Based on this test, we will decide whether we will use textures of the same or different quality for different devices according to their performance. We are already building the rapid prototype itself on the basis of the XR Interaction Toolkit, which provides support across most VR headsets on the market. For faster work, I'll also use our own XR framework for Unity.
The prototype above will serve as a benchmark for measuring the dependence of texture quality on the smoothness of running in the Oculus Quest 2 headset. Regardless textures and their size, we always try use them in the high-optimized state. While rendering them in the application, we will measure the frame rate that the Quest device reaches. In order to achieve a natural pleasure from the tour without motion sickness, it's necessary to keep the FPS level above 50 in all circumstances. If FPS fall significantly lower, it is necessary to use textures of lower resolution for running in Quest device.