Partner Stories

Master the Universe, with Universe Sandbox and Magic Leap 1

Today, we’re proud to announce the launch of Universe Sandbox for Magic Leap 1. Created by the people at Giant Army, Universe Sandbox is a physics-based space simulator that brings the universe to life in your living room

Originally created for PC, Universe Sandbox simulates realistic gravity, climate, collision, and material interactions, allowing you to explore how the laws of physics shape solar systems and galaxies. But while other astronomy apps only provide a look-but-don't-touch view of the sky, Universe Sandbox gives you control over every part of the simulation, from the smallest asteroid to the largest black hole. Balancing realism with powerful interaction, players can create and destroy on an unimaginable scale, all while exploring the beauty of our universe and the fragility of our planet.

We spent some time chatting with Giant Army about how they adapted Universe Sandbox for spatial computing and Magic Leap 1. Here’s their story of building with Magic Leap.

Bringing the universe to Magic Leap 1

In April 2019, we were honored to be one of thirty teams chosen for Magic Leap's Independent Creator Program. Some of our developers headed to California for a bootcamp to learn about the technology and design best practices. We knew we had an amazing experience to share and that spatial computing was well suited to the style of play we had to offer.

If you’re a developer looking to get started with Magic Leap, consider applying to our Access Hardware program here.

Since the beginning, interactivity and a playful sense of curiosity have been core to Universe Sandbox. We believe that learning through experience can be both powerful and memorable, so when we saw a chance to take outer space, normally so distant and inaccessible, and bring it to life in people’s rooms, we jumped at the opportunity. The possibilities afforded by Magic Leap 1’s spatial computing technology allowed us to touch the stars without leaving home.

While we were excited, we knew that there were challenges ahead of us. We’d built a powerful interface for PC to provide the user with access to a vast array of editable properties, tools, and settings that players can use to tinker with the virtual universes they create. For example, with the click of a mouse, the user can easily edit the mass of Jupiter or change the temperature of the Sun. We knew it would be a challenge to move those tools from a mouse and keyboard to a spatial computer, but we wouldn’t accept diluting the experience. Months later, we’re proud to release Universe Sandbox on Magic Leap, complete and unadulterated.

How it all began...

Universe Sandbox began as a personal side project for creator Dan Dixon - a physics simulator that would make a unique addition to his game development portfolio. After a very positive online reception, he began working on it full time. As the interest continued to grow, Dan was able to assemble a team to help make Universe Sandbox more amazing than he ever imagined.

Besides illustrating the fascinating motions produced by the force of gravity, Universe Sandbox helps open a door to understanding our complex universe. Since its creation, the game has grown in both accessibility and depth. Players can both experiment with scientifically accurate models and explore fantastical what-if scenarios with realistic results. The scale available for imagination and creativity stretches from watching hand-placed galaxies merge and collide to fine-tuning the mass, rotation, and composition of the smallest moons.

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From the beginning, interactivity and a playful sense of curiosity have been core to the Universe Sandbox experience. We believe that learning through experimentation drives understanding in real and memorable ways, which is part of what drew us to Magic Leap’s Independent Creator Program. The new spatial computing technology allows games to take advantage of a player’s native environment, which helps us bring the universe a little closer.

Design and technical challenges

We had some issues, of course, but we were determined to overcome them. Universe Sandbox is a deep, granular experience and most of what you see can be changed on the fly, in the middle of whatever simulation a player is running. The creative (and destructive) options are immense and incredibly detailed and we didn’t want to disappoint Magic Leap 1 players.

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The experience is a vast physical simulation that pushes the performance boundaries of what the Magic Leap platform can do. It leverages various key Unity features (such as Burst) to achieve this, which means the player can create whatever interstellar scenario they choose. Some eight months later, we’re proud to release Universe Sandbox on this new platform, undiluted. Players have all the physics-based fun and understanding of the original experience, but now you can do things like bounce small moons from your couch – without breaking any windows!

Working with Magic Leap

The team at Magic Leap have clearly put a lot of thought into how developers will interact with Magic Leap 1, which made any design hurdles a lot easier to overcome. Magic Leap Remote was incredibly helpful in development, as it allowed us to experiment without having to push a build to Magic Leap 1 itself. Documentation was thorough and deliberate. If, on occasion, we couldn’t find an answer to our problems in official guides, the developer forums were available to us. What’s more, the team at Magic Leap were really responsive and just plain helpful.

Once we had a working build, it was easy to see the impact of a spatial computing experience. Seeing stars and planets responding to your will and swinging overhead in your living room creates a feeling of awe and deeper understanding of the cosmos. Giant Army is incredibly proud to have delivered this experience without watering down any of the control or finesse players find in our desktop version.

Now people can experience the wonder and awe of an observatory and learn about the majesty of our solar system, before ultimately destroying it with a supermassive black hole – all while wearing their coziest pajamas.

Universe Sandbox launches today on Magic Leap World. And for another peek at the experience, the PC version of the game is featured in the new Nicholas Cage film, Color out of Space.

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