Virtual Reality Design For All: How Playbook Is Simplifying VR Creation

Logo for Playbook XR, made in a computer-generated 3D space surrounded by UI creation tools

May 3, 2022

Building a virtual reality application seems like an immensely daunting task – but it doesn't have to be. Is there a way to design virtual spaces as a non-coder, without using multiple apps? Iovine and Young Academy seniors, Skylar Thomas and JD LeRoy, are making that dream a (virtual) reality. VR creation contends with technical hurdles, specified expertise, and unnecessary time, but Thomas and LeRoy conceptualized an encouraging new platform that opens up the doors for a wider breadth of creatives to make their mark on the virtual reality space. Enter Playbook, a “drag and drop design tool for building immersive interfaces.”

“What that means is that we’re building beyond 2D screens, what we think of as user interfaces (UI), into a completely immersive reality,” Thomas, lead designer and developer, explains of the project.

Thomas and LeRoy envision a "one-stop shop" for building a virtual reality application, a program that's more efficient and intuitive than the current practice of often using four to five different apps just to code a single UI. With excessive programming and thousands of lines of code, Thomas posits that it typically takes four to five hours for each user interface, and that there are usually at least 10 to 12 interfaces in a single app. He hopes that "Playbook can be something that allows a wide range of people to create those kinds of stories in a way that isn’t a huge process or years, just to create a tiny moment.”

Outline of VR controllers in a 3D space with drag-and-drop UI elements. At the center is "Playbook"

Playbook’s interface. Photo courtesy of Skylar Thomas.

The next horizon of the virtual reality space doesn’t have to be an exclusive one. Providing a user-friendly tool that simplifies the worldbuilding process and levels the playing field for creators has the potential to change the face – and the variety of voices – contributing to the metaverse. 

“Content offerings in the metaverse through VR and AR are very hard to come by just because they are very technical challenges to create, so we want to enable more people to build through that space and be that kind of accessible point where people can jump in, learn from the space, go from zero to one quickly and have that implementation,” asserts LeRoy, head of growth and operations.. 

Playbook has been in a closed beta, receiving feedback from a small group of testers ranging from people in virtual reality studios in Los Angeles, students in USC’s gaming program, and other immersive-media creators. In comments, Playbook has been praised for its ease of use as opposed to other, more intimidating game engines. The team is fundraising to make their project available for public use while they refine the program and they intend to bring it to the public as an open beta through the late summer and early fall, submitting it on the App Lab for publishing on VR platforms like the Oculus Quest Store.

Diversifying the tech space beyond the confines of seasoned programmers and coding pros invites more artists, innovators, and storytellers to forge the future of augmented reality. In an increasingly virtual society that’s constantly evolving, digital democratization is essential. 

“It’s very important that the world is not only created by those who can write code and those niche developers,” Thomas advocates. “It’s important that designers are able to build for that world, and define what that means.”

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