Virtual Reality (VR) is exploding rapidly as a technology; it takes users into exciting new worlds with just a VR headset and there is almost no limit to the experiences available to the user. VR is extremely computationally intensive and requires a high-end computer to appreciate its incredible potential (though not all VR headsets need expensive computers ).
As the technology continues to expand and as businesses capitalize on the monetary angle of VR, one aspect continues to be overlooked. Who’s going to develop these incredible simulations? And even more importantly, what skill set must these developers have to make them attractive in the workforce?
As with anything, it depends on what you want to accomplish. Gaming is still the top application for VR devices. Several surveys have confirmed that if you want to work in the gaming industry, then the two top programming languages for VR applications are C# and C/C++.
While both platforms involve a pretty steep learning curve, the nice thing is that the two more popular game engines utilized (Unity and Unreal Engine, using C# and C/C++, respectively) are supported by most VR devices. Furthermore, these devices also have very well-developed software developer’s kits (SDKs). That means you only need to learn one platform.
Let’s take a look at both.
If you’re just getting started, learning the Unity game engine is a good choice for a number of reasons. It is, by far and away, the more popular game engine. For this engine, C# is the more popular programming language for the creation of Unity applications. It works across both platforms (PC and Mac) and most of the VR applications are coded in Unity. Using the most popular language for the most popular engine is a ‘virtual’ no-brainer. It also has an extensive network of enlisted designers—should you need development help.
But the Unreal Engine is slightly more powerful and is kind of viewed as the ‘adult’ version—most likely due to the fact it’s a little more challenging to learn. The language of choice for this engine is C++. If you’re going to develop something on a smaller scale, you may go with C#, but if you’re going big-time and need more…you’ll need Unreal and C++.
Like almost anything else, there are pros and cons to each platform. Both engines have free versions for use; Unreal is free up to a certain amount, after which royalties apply and Unity has a free version as well as several subscription (pay) services. Again, it pays to vet them thoroughly and decide which one works best for you.
Java—not a coffee or a Star Wars character, this versatile programming language (developed ages ago by Sun) works well for VR applications that aren’t necessarily gaming. Like C#, this object-oriented language is also useful for cross platform applications (PC and Mac). In fact, Java is often the first course that engineers and computer science majors encounter in college because it has the necessary applications and features needed for effective VR development.
Just because it’s long in the tooth doesn’t mean it isn’t versatile. Java utilizes older code and assists software updates. The new 3D API lets VR applications generate the needed 3D images in VR and helps track body movements well.
Bottom line, Java is an older…but perhaps wiser, programming language for VR development.
It’s hard to go wrong with cutting your teeth on an easy to learn system that is also the language of the internet. In essence, this might be your best bet if you’re just beginning in the world of programming for VR. If not, this language should be the foundation of your skill set.
While the four languages above are the consensus picks for the top four programming languages for VR applications, there are several others utilized in VR. Of the ‘other’ languages used in VR development, Python offers a lot of benefits—particularly to novice developers.
Perhaps the easiest of the programming languages to learn, Python is a good language to learn for someone just beginning the field of VR development. The language itself is pretty straightforward to understand; it also allows a user to develop their ideas with fewer code lines. This means that it’s also faster as well as easier. Developers can create VR projects quickly due to several interesting packages associated with Python (it has a unique way of downloading and resolving issues).
Furthermore, if a user has a good foundation in Python, the transition to C# (with Unity) is pretty simple, so a developer can graduate to one of the four main VR languages without too many hurdles or a steep learning curve.
Despite the seemingly endless variety of languages and opportunities to develop the ‘next big thing’ in VR, the best advice is to just get out there and do some coding. Cast aside the inhibitions and the analysis paralysis and just jump in. The support communities for all of these languages are full of knowledgeable and friendly members to help you smooth out the inevitable bumps in the road.
Dävor Gäsparevic, Author
Dävor Gäsparevic is a writing virtuoso with an extensive and colorful skill-set. With years of experience across a wide range of online industries, he’s established himself as a crucial contributor and a consultant for dozens of online businesses, ventures and startups.