Microsoft Reveals ‘Maquette’, a VR Tool for Spatial Ideation and Design


Microsoft Maquette is a brand new VR tool from Microsoft which is all about prototyping spatial designs.

Maquette appeared quite suddenly this week, apparently without any official announcement from Microsoft; it seems to have been picked up by MSPoweruser after being spotted by twitter user WalkingCat.

Despite popping up out of nowhere, the tool looks like a quite polished first attempt even though it’s initially launching as a closed beta. On the surface it looks a bit like a mashup of Google Blocks and Oculus Quill, but Microsoft seems to be primarily interested in making it less of an art or modeling tool and more of a design and mockup tool, hence the tool’s name, which means “a usually small preliminary model (as of a sculpture or a building),” according to Merriam Webster.

Promotional footage shows an emphasis on prototyping layouts for spatial interfaces, including text layout, which is not seen in similar tools. But it looks like Maquette can be used for plenty more too, thanks to the ability to work with both geometry and more free-form lines for things like annotations or virtual sketching.

Image courtesy Microsoft

Illustrated use-cases also show the tool’s potential for prototyping interactive game spaces and spatial concept art for setpieces, and it looks like Microsoft isn’t shying away from using the tool for outright artwork.

Image courtesy Microsoft

To make Maquette more useful in a production pipeline, Microsoft is launching it alongside a Unity plugin which will allow users to export scenes or parts of scenes into Unity in .FBX or .GLTF formats.

According to the Maquette website, the tool will support Windows VR headsets, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive, though it isn’t clear on which platforms it will be hosted (some evidence suggests that it might launch initially on SteamVR and reach other platforms later). Interested users can sign up for the Maquette closed beta here, but will have to wait for approval before getting access to the tool.

Image courtesy Microsoft

Information on the official site indicates that Maquette started as an internal tool “aimed at empowering Microsoft designers exploring mixed reality in the medium itself.” It appears that it entered into closed alpha back in May, though it isn’t clear when Microsoft made the decision to turn the project to be public facing.

Microsoft makes clear that Maquette is in beta, and they expect to rapidly iterate the product.

“There’s a ton of useful features and improvements we want to ship, so we’re constantly at work updating Maquette and reacting to feedback,” the official site reads. “Our priorities are guided by users’ needs. We want to empower you to explore your ideas, so we want your feedback!”

We haven’t seen any mention of multi-user collaboration, but undoubtedly it’ll be a top feature request through beta feedback.

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