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Space dogfights, movie theaters and walking tanks in virtual reality

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One day the Oculus Rift will show up in stores. But for now it's in the hands of people making wonderful things for it. Not necessarily games, but experiences.

There's the chance to skydive, to tour an active volcano, to stare into the whitewashed sky of a winter morning and trace the flakes of snow drifting toward your face, to stand in an elevator or sit in a movie theater and watch a movie.

We spent a chunk of a day at Gamescom sitting down with developers and the people behind the virtual reality headset to try and get a sense of where the gear is headed and what sort of impact it might have on gaming.

Playing Eve Valkyrie, a space dogfighting game designed for the high-definition version of the Rift, was the most polished, most fun experience. Despite being the least impressive, Hawken, which is in the midst of adding standard Rift support, still illustrated the benefits of having natural, in-game, reactive sight in a title.

But the most jarring, the one experience that made me forget for an instance where I was, was a simple movie theater simulation. In it, you are looking through the eyes of someone sitting in a movie theater. Look to your left, to your right, and you see rows of empty seats. You can stare at the speakers that dot the walls, see the floor lighting, the exit signs over the doors near the front of the theater. Behind you, you can see the light from the projector. The experience was so immersive that I nearly fell out of my chair when I attempted to lean, for a second, on an armrest that wasn't there.

The wonder of the Oculus Rift isn't just in the games it can empower, but in the places it can take you, the daily experiences it can seamlessly echo. Putting those two things together is the future.