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Oculus Rift HD drops you into a world so real it hurts

The high-definition version of the virtual reality Oculus Rift hardware, running at a crisp 1080p, sets users into a world so realistic that it's somewhat unsettling.

During a demo held at E3 earlier this week, I had the chance to test both the standard 720p and 1080p versions of the hardware running an Unreal Engine 4 demo. Nate Mitchell, vice president of product at Oculus, told Polygon the company is currently working on the consumer version of the HD model, and are currently working to integrate more features — like sensor technologies and face mask changes — that will be more casual use-friendly.

Using the Oculus Rift HD was like being in a lucid dream. Everything looked real, but the rocks and snowflakes surrounding me were just virtual-looking enough to remind me that the demo I walked through was an explorable version of the Unreal Engine 4 tech demo (posted below), and began in a snowy courtyard outside the crumbling ruins of a castle. Snowflakes fell all around me, and as I twisted to look in every direction I subconsciously reached my hands out to grab them.

Developing for the Oculus Rift has been likened to "having a new color to paint with as an artist."

The demo shifted to the inside of the structure, where I came face-to-face with a room full of lava and the strange armored figure from the demo. The scene again changed to a mechanical solar system with planets made of different materials, and the whole system was spinning in a circle, shafts of dazzling light shining through into the room.

Mitchell then switched to a debug demo, which allowed me to move freely around the environment using a controller. At this point, things felt a little unsettling. The environment was crafted in a way that brought it the edge of realism — so when I smoothy passed through walls and on-screen assets without obstruction my heart seized up. The sensation of running into a wall or solid object was so real that I felt it, sort of like the way your stomach drops when riding a rollercoaster. It was slightly unnerving — and maybe too real.

Mitchell said he has heard developers working to integrate the Oculus Rift into their game controls liken the device to "having a new color to paint with as an artist."

"Virtual reality takes everything we love about gaming and enhances it," Mitchell said. "It makes it better and then adds these new experiences. VR is that next step. You can play as, say, Nathan Drake and be falling out of a plane and that's a really cool experience. But in VR you can actually have the experience of falling out of the plane and really feel like you're there."

Check out our preview of CCP Games' Eve Online dogfighting game running on Oculus Rift here.