SOURCE: This introduction to GrayBox was written by creator Amir Khella

Creating successful apps and experiences relies on our ability to quickly prototype and validate concepts and features early on in the process. Rapid prototyping ensures that we’re building the right products before we invest the time and money to actually build them, which reduces the risk of making things that no one wants.

Right now, there are dozens of prototyping tools for mature platforms, like web and mobile, and anyone with little or no technical expertise can use them to visualize ideas, and even make a fake version of a future product to get feedback from potential users.

Virtual Reality, being the new kid on the block, lacks such prototyping tools. If you’ve never done any 3D animations or game design before, you’ll probably find it challenging to prototype a new VR game or app.

Unity is one of the best available options for prototyping VR ideas. You can place a few shapes in the scene, press play, put your Oculus Rift on, and step into the scene in a matter of minutes. You can then make tweaks to the scene on your PC, put the Rift back on, and see the changes you’ve just made.

Unreal Engine is another great tool, and it follows a similar workflow.

So what’s wrong with that workflow?

First, you’re designing the scene on your PC, then putting the HMD on to see what the scene looks like in 3D/VR. Any changes that you need to make require you to take the HMD off, go back to your PC, make those changes, then put the HMD back on to see how they look in VR.

Your design space is different than your preview space.

Second, you’re designing a 3D scene on a 2D screen (your PC).

Your design mode (2D) is different than preview mode (3D).

Third, you’re prototyping the scene in a tool that require you to have a fair knowledge of 3D, animation and code. For beginners, you need to learn those skills, which means that you will need more time first learn how to prototype. You can also hire someone to prototype it for you, in which case the person prototyping the idea isn’t the same person who has the idea, and many things often get lost in translation.

And finally, you’re using tools that have been used for decades to make games, not to create VR experiences. They are well integrated with VR, but they are not designed for VR.

The best way to prototype VR is is with a tool that is designed for VR, and that works inside VR.

That tool should enable anyone, not just game designers and 3D artists, to quickly visualize ideas in VR space, walk around them, interact with them, without spending much time struggling to learn to create 3D models and animations, or write code.

And it goes without saying that this tool should also be fun to use!

That was my motivation for creating GrayBox: A tool for prototyping VR in VR.

GrayBox provides you with a grid-mapped design platform , which is a scaled down representation of the scene around you, and onto which you can place and modify 3D objects. As you place and modify objects on the design surface, you see them appearing and changing in the scene in real time.

If you scale, rotate or move a shape, you do so without leaving the scene. And all changes you make on the design platform are reflected in the scene.

You can also zoom into a specific part of the scene to refine it, and you can push the design platform to a completely different part of the world you’re building, and continue building there.

Your scene is infinite, and so is your design surface.

Here’s a short video that demonstrates how to prototype in VR with GrayBox.

A 5-minute video that shows how GrayBox works

GrayBox is not a 3D modeling tool, but rather a tool for quickly constructing and visualizing VR scenes using basic shapes and advanced 3D models.

Early in the design process, we tried several sketches and prototypes, ranging from walking around and placing objects directly into the scene in 1:1 scale, to switching between God-mode and dollhouse-mode to design and then preview the scene. We ended up with a design that inspired by Stacks, and which provided the ability to preview the entire scene while designing it.

GrayBox currently works with Oculus Rift DK2 with Xbox controller, and on Samsung GearVR with a bluetooth gamepad. Razer Hydra integration is currently in the works,and future integration Oculus touch and Vive Pre is planned for once they become available.

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