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This hardware is the Oculus Rift, and yesterday I went hands on with this marvelous piece of technology at the Eurogamer Expo in London.

The hype for Oculus Rift is phenomenal, as evidenced by the queue outside the Oculus booth. It would have taken almost two hours to get to the front but, luckily for me, a single man had brought his own Oculus development kit and had set up a subordinate stall so the people could test out this marvel of a machine.

A bit of backing detail, before I get into the main body of this feature, the Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset that senses your head movement and then projects that movement into the game world. For example, if I move my head to the left, my character in-game will also move their head to the left. If I move my head up, my character will also look up. The technology is truly amazing, and honestly something never seen, to this extent, ever before.

Multiple titles have already been ported over to the Oculus, games like Half Life 2,Team Fortress 2 and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, leading the charge.The original funding for Oculus Rift came from an unexpectedly successful Kickstarter campaign, which raised almost $2.4 million.

So, back to my hands on impressions.

The demo I played was set in a haunted mansion that I was trying desperately to escape from. I started in an empty hallway and  I was immediately shocked by the clarity of the image in front of me. Everything in front of me was clear and sharp, everything from the rows of gargoyles that lined both sides of the hall, to the minuscule bricks that helped form the very castle I was in. For a first time user, the experience was surreal and I had a true sense of excitement as I realised the power that was attached to my head. It was an experience unlike any I have encountered before, and I loved it. As I slowly walked through the corridors I was encouraged to stop and take in my surroundings. I had some worries that the latency between my head movements and the character’s head movements would be extremely jarring, which would in turn break the immersion. However, this wasn’t a problem and I was able to remain fully immersed in the Oculus Rift’s experience. As I continued walking through the mansion I did notice a couple of quite glaring graphical hiccups, these would vary from missing walls to flashing black lines on the floor instead of cobbles. This could just be down to poor development and not the Oculus Rift itself.

For the final moments of my Oculus Rift demo, I found myself walking across a precarious wooden plank suspended over a lava pit. I made it to the end, and I was told that to officially complete the demo I must jump into the lava. Now, I thought that this wouldn’t be a challenge for me, all I need to do is walk off the edge of the wooden plank and let myself fall into the lava. How very wrong I was. The man leading the demo told me to look down into the lava before jumping, just as one final test, and I did as he asked. Almost immediately after looking down however my legs went weak and I almost fell backwards. From this moment on I was much less sure-footed whilst using the Oculus, I was much less confident in myself, surprisingly however even this didn’t break the immersion, quite the opposite in fact. It really made me feel as if I was standing on the edge of a plank of wood that really was dangling over lava.

I was extremely impressed by the Oculus Rift, and although not perfect, it was  incredibly immersive. One issue for me was that the lenses were optimized for people with short sight, rather than those with long sight. Mercifully there was no latency between head movement and character movement, and the image that was displayed in front of my eyes was remarkably clear.

With both Sony and Microsoft appearing to be interested in the Oculus, and in virtual reality gaming in general, it will be interesting to see if the Oculus has a major role in the next generation of gaming.

Another thing that the systems needs is a much wider range of developer support, without mass game development the Oculus will never truly take off, but it really is something that everyone should experience. The Oculus Rift blurs the lines between reality and virtual reality seamlessly, and it’s great.

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