What's next for Oculus Avatars?
Oculus Developer Blog
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Posted by Mike Howard
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October 13, 2017
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We announced a host of improvements and new features for Oculus Avatars during the Oculus Connect keynote earlier this week including a new look, developer created content, more expressive avatars, and cross platform support.

Cross Platform Support

Over the past year, we’ve been working on the major changes necessary to support avatars across platforms. Now, applications that want to allow non-Oculus users to also make use of our Avatar system, can.

We’ve reworked the service to remove dependencies against Oculus runtime. This means that, for the first time, it will be possible to render Oculus Avatars to any platform that can make use of the Oculus Avatar SDK .dll and .so files.

While non-Oculus users won’t initially have the ability to personalize their Avatar, we’re making it easy for developers to define a set of ‘house Avatar’ options, giving people on any VR hardware a selection of Avatars to choose from.

A New Look

After conducting lots of usability studies, we have enhanced our visual style to allow for greater personalization while not straying too close to the uncanny valley.

This new style uses the same backend for Avatar meshes and supports an improved shader, to better place Avatars in the app environment.

From early 2018, people will be able to set their hair, beard and skin color, as well as choose from a huge selection of textured clothing and eyewear assets, offering a much broader range of customization options for their Oculus identity.

Developer-Created Content

In addition to providing people with many more ways to personalize their appearance in VR, this transition to a textured render style, as well as the work we’ve done to support streaming of Avatar assets, opens the doors to developer-created content.

We’re updating Avatar Editor to support browsing clothing and eyewear assets created by our community of developers and brands, with some powerful implications.

    First, having ingested a custom asset, you’ll be able to provide users with a set of unique costumes to choose from, specific to your app. For example, people can choose your cowboy outfit to wear in your western-themed VR experience.

    Perhaps more importantly, it will be possible to grant users an entitlement for specific assets, so that as someone levels up, gets an achievement, or even just purchases your app, they’ll be rewarded with custom Avatar content which they can apply in the Avatar Editor to wear across VR.

We’ve already begun to trial this custom content with a set of custom meshes that we created with Rez Infinite to celebrate its launch on the Oculus Store. We’ll open the ability to upload custom assets to beta developers in early 2018. Stay tuned!

Social Starter - an ‘app in a Box’ framework

We spent a lot of time fielding questions from developers who are building Oculus Avatars into their apps and something we hear a lot is that wiring up Avatars, P2P networking, VoIP and our Rooms APIs involves a fair amount of work. To make it as easy as possible for you to create a high quality social experience, we created Social Starter.

Social Starter is a sample which unifies all of the pieces you’ll need to get started with a social VR app. With support for up to 4 avatars, this app-in-a-box package should make it easier to focus on the unique and delightful social experience that you are trying to create.

Social Starter is available now for Unity and will be coming soon to Unreal.

More Expressive Avatars

Also shared at Oculus Connect, Will Steptoe, one of our engineers in London, showcased the innovations we’re working through to make our avatar system more expressive. He shared our current iteration of expressions that includes support for both mouth and eye movement, driven by behavioral models and our OVRLipSync plugin. You can expect more updates as we overhaul the SDK to support these features next year.

What About Backward Compatibility?

We're keen to ensure that we’re not breaking the experience for any existing apps which make use of the previous Avatars SDK. While the new visual style will require an upgraded shader implementation, our V1 apps will still render a monochrome variant of a user’s Avatar.

These innovations are inspired in part to your feedback. Keep sending your thoughts through. We're listening!