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It’s Actually Pretty Easy to Make VR Worlds

I’ve always been excited about the idea of virtual reality. I didn’t hesitate for a second to buy both versions of the Oculus Rift development kit. I never really planned to develop anything really, I just went crazy reading articles and watching interviews with people repeatedly saying “you just have to try it, words can’t describe how awesome this is”. I have a little bit of development knowledge, if you even want to call it that. Many years ago when the original Half-Life was popular, I dabbled with making deathmatch maps, and I made a few fun ones that a few people in the community enjoyed. I was also a little popular in the LittleBigPlanet community when I mastered the level design tools, but I never did learn any programming and I was always intimidated by how complicated many modeling and game design tools were.

Several years ago though, I fell in love with a free modeling and drafting program called SketchUp. I love everything about that program. It has an incredibly smart interface that predicts what you are trying to do. Sometimes it can predict wrong, but most of the time it gets things right, which makes creating models a breeze. Once you get the hang of it, you can make creations faster than using “create mode” in Minecraft, and your finished results will be much better looking as well. SketchUp allows you to apply custom textures to your walls and it has many other features that I barely scratched the surface of.

I took a break from using SketchUp for a long time because I felt that it was limited to just making models for doing a fun side project here and there, like building a model of a house. I recently purchased my first home, and that’s exactly what I did. I found a few survey drawings of my house and I thought it would be cool to plan out renovation ideas. After a while though, I started to wonder if anyone else had the idea to try to make their SketchUp models work with the Oculus Rift or other virtual reality headsets. After doing some research, I felt like an idiot for not looking into this sooner.

I made this model of my house very easily using the free 3d modeling tool “SketchUp”

The Oculus Rift works with Unreal and Unity, and I found out there were ways to export SketchUp models into working with those tools. I first tried out the Unreal Engine, but I was having issues with exporting my SketchUp maps to it. I got the map to load into it, but textures were missing, the scale was initially wrong, and I felt like I was fighting the interface a bit. I’m sure the Unreal Engine is awesome to work with when you know what you are doing, but I couldn’t get it to “click” with me. I decided to try out something else, and that’s when I fired up Unity.

I was amazed with how well Unity works with SketchUp. At first, I tested Unity with one of the exported .dae files of my house model. Everything was the wrong size and the textures didn’t transition over. After doing some more tinkering though, I slapped my forehead when I found out that Unity will load SketchUp “.skp” save files directly without the need for exporting the file first! I loaded up my house model into Unity and my jaw dropped when I saw how awesome everything looked. Every texture carried over, the scale was spot on, and my goal for viewing my creation in virtual reality was almost there. I just had to figure out how to add VR support to my model.

The game design tool “Unity” can directly load your SketchUp save files with no converting required.

I did a Google search for “Oculus VR” and went to their development section, and that’s where I found all of the necessary Unity plugins. Once I imported all of the Oculus assets into my Unity project, I nearly fell out of my chair with how amazing everything looked. I was finally taking a tour through my model house in virtual reality! I immediately could appreciate the sense of scale to everything. I don’t really own a pool table, so I added one in my virtual house to see how it would look. When I was walking around my virtual pool table in my rec room, I got a true sense of how much space it would take up.

It’s a weird feeling when you are walking around a virtual environment that you are familiar with in real life. It’s an even more awesome feeling when you tour a virtual space that you built yourself. It made me realize that I can make practically anything I want. I used to be at the mercy of other content creators to make a cool VR experience, but now that I learned how to make my very own, I don’t just feel like a kid in a candy store, I feel like I’m Willy Wonka. If you bought an Oculus Rift dev kit and thought you weren’t skilled enough to create anything for it, SketchUp and Unity makes the process insanely easy.



Here is a download link to the current build of my house model:


Edward Hyman

Besides gaming, I'm really into technology in general.