24 Feb 2017
14 min read
But one of the main problems that VR technology is facing today is the lack of a dedicated group of VR coders who can create content for the newfound platform. As with all technology, VR requires a specific skill set to code for the platform, and since VR is so young today, there aren’t a lot of VR coders around the world. But even in this milieu, a local Nepali company, VisualiseVR (who are far ahead of the curve even internationally), are already creating VR content as well as supporting the Nepali coding community by providing VR training.
The better VR headsets are manufactured by Oculus, HTC and Samsung. Their headsets can project images, videos and games directly around a user’s retina, simulating a virtual space even within the confines of the user’s homes. Quite a few of these headsets, and the cheaper ones made in China, have already made their way into Nepal, but they still haven’t been adopted by the masses just yet because of the lack of apps for these devices. Because VR technology is still in its infancy, most companies are still working to develop better input methods than head-tracking for the device—they are still trying to unlock the technology’s potential. And for VR enthusiasts here, there isn’t much content from abroad to immerse themselves in.
But if they want to plunge into virtually rendered local locales, then they only need to turn to some of the images made by VisualiseVR, consisting of founders Kushal Vaidya, Saurav Bajracharya, Bobby Basnet and Sajesh Khadgi. (Visualise VR is a company within Semantic Creations.) Among tech enthusiasts, the company is well known for their NepalVR project, which aims to help the travel industry of Nepal by providing virtual reality renditions of Nepal’s heritage sites and other tourist destinations. For this project, VisualiseVR has created virtual renditions of more the 60 places around Kathmandu, Dhulikhel and Pokhara. The content can be accessed through the company’s website and app, which has already attracted more than 6,000 users—both in Nepal and abroad.
Inside one such virtual space, Pokhara’s Phewa Lake gleams in the sun with colourful boats languidly floating on the still water. Another scene depicts religious devotees circumambulating around a Newari goddess. NepalVR has created many such scenes. Chaukot in Panauti looks vivid with a sprawling green landscape that seems to stretch on almost forever, until it meets the sky on the horizon. Places like the Kal Bhairav Temple, Patan Durbar Square, Pashupatinath Temple and Taudaha Lake are rendered in a dream-like virtual space.
The way these creations have been so well received so early on says much about the company’s potential. The road to how they’ve got there has been anything but easy. One of the first local companies to experiment with VR technology, VisualiseVR had to come up with unique ways, in their initial days, to learn how to work with the technology. The company started working with VR technology back in 2014—the VR boom only happened in 2015—when getting a hold of VR headsets in Nepal was extremely difficult. They asked a friend to create a home-made VR headset, and using that set, the team started experimenting. They played with the set, all the while learning about what VR promised, and once they were sold on the concept, the team decided to import a headset from Australia. But once they’d got their hands on a professional VR headset, they learned that the primary problem with creating VR content was the coding side of it. They had taken 360-degree photos with a OnePlus One smartphone, and removing unwanted elements from the photos wasn’t much of a hassle. A quick Photoshop clean-up would clear the photos of all unwanted objects, but the real problem was getting the photos to work with a VR headset. During their first year, in 2014, the company didn’t have any access to information on VR coding. Google search gave them no information about sites they could refer to, and there weren’t any local VR coders they could seek help from. Thus the company moved into a bootstrap model of providing web and mobile development services to clients (both in Nepal and abroad) for six months in a year and re-investing the accumulated capital into VR-coding research and development for the rest of the six months.
Using this model, the team at VisualiseVR trained themselves in VR content creation. The team found out that the ideal platform for VR coding was the game-engine Unity and started learning coding for the platform. During the initial phase, the team worked in a trial-and-error basis, wherein they’d spend much time figuring out what worked and what didn’t for the VR system they were trying to implement. Every small failure or success became part of their institutional knowledge. Today, the VisualiseVR team have mastered coding for the Unity engine, and it’s owing to their expertise with coding for the platform that they have expanded their VR operation quite a lot. Recently, they invested in a few more VR headsets and have also invested on a professional 360-degree camera, the Ricoh Theta S.
All the experimenting the team have done have allowed them to keep improving the value of their company. So much so that when they entered their NepalVR app in the international start-up competition, Seedstars World, they made it all the way to the final stages. The finals, happening in April this year, is taking place in Switzerland, where they will be pitted against finalists from all across the globe. If they win, they’ll bag one million dollars for their venture.
But regardless if they win or not, the company knows they will remain in the VR game. Actually, they already have plans to keep producing more VR content. They plan to produce VR content of many more locations across Nepal as well as of other places around the world. But apart from focusing on creating their own VR content, because VisualiseVR has gotten so good at VR coding, they’ve routinely been snagging offshore VR projects from clients in countries like Turkey, Mauritius, South Korea and the US.It was after the company started receiving international projects that they realised that maybe VR coding could become a special niche for Nepali coders. Nepal already has thousands of coders doing offshore coding for anything from the banking to hospitality sectors, but expect for the VisualiseVR crew, there aren’t too many coders who have learned to code for platforms such as Unity. The VisualiseVR team believe that if Nepali coders can learn to code for VR, they could create a specialised industry in Nepal that excels at VR coding. In order to increase the pool of Nepali VR coders, the team at VisualiseVR is constantly providing training and workshop sessions on VR coding to interested local coders. Ultimately, the VisualiseVR team hope they can turn Nepal into VR coding hub that will cater to VR companies and users across the world. Encouraged by the success of VisualiseVR, a few other Nepali VR companies have also started working with VR coding. The VisualiseVR team view this increase in companies as a sign of progress, rather than competition—or rather, competition of the good kind. They believe that the more competition there is locally, the further it pushes people to improve. Such a competitive environment, they believe, will further help create high-calibre local coders with a specific set of skills that could be highly valuable in the days to come. We are right now at just the advent of the VR era. Once VR becomes ubiquitous, there will be the need for armies of coders for VR companies. The team at VisualiseVR are hoping that most of those armies will be Nepali coders.