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Losing My VRginity to: The HD Oculus Rift

If Oculus Rift’s first developer kit, DK1, can turn virtual reality (VR) sceptics into believers, then the HD kits are capable of a full on conversion. Yes, I’ve written about my first experiences in VR before – my VRginity piece on Half-Life 2 was the first in VRFocus’ long line of weekend features. And since that time I’ve had plenty more experiences with the Oculus Rift, but they were all limited to that first kit which, for all its technical wonder, loses some of its lustre thanks to a pixelated screen. I recently got the chance to try out CCP Games’ space simulation, EVE Valkyrie, on an Oculus Rift fitted with a gorgeous 1080p screen. Needless to say, the experience blew me away much like the first time I stepped into Gordon Freeman’s shoes.

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For the uninitiated, EVE Valkyrie is one of the most high-profile titles in development exclusively for VR. It takes a singular aspect of sprawling MMO EVE Online, the combat, and condenses and refines it into short, sharp multiplayer matches. I managed to get some hands-on time with the title before the announcement of the Oculus Rift DK2 or the PlayStation 4 version for Project Morpheus, back when the HD kit was a rarity. Come July that will – thankfully – no longer be the case.

When waiting for a round of EVE Valkyrie to start, players sit in the cockpit of their ships, waiting for take-off. It’s an experience akin to sitting in the seat of a rollercoaster seconds before it takes off – a sense of anticipation mixed with a blockbuster atmosphere. These few moments are a crucial introduction to the benefits of the HD rift. Gone are the black lines that zigzag across the screen, jarring whatever sense of presence the developers have worked so hard to achieve. In its place is a crystal clear view of your surroundings. The tiniest details come to life here, with your ship’s domed visor turning the Oculus Rift into a sort of cramped cell.

Look down, and you’ll see ‘your’ body in such sparkling resolution that you’ll momentarily wonder what’s happened to you. You inspect the buttons littered around the cockpit as if they were really there and, before you know it, you’ve forgotten that you’re sitting in a pub in London and that cockpit, the hollow hum of anticipation and the glowing corridor that stretches out in front of you are all you have in the world.

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It’s not long before you’re amongst the stars, and the HD screen sings. In the case of EVE Valkyrie, it’s easy to get lost in the vast, rich blackness of space, as clear as any fine summer’s night. Stars gleam far off in the distance and you can’t help but gasp as you look out across the battlefield to the approaching enemy. No doubt these scenes would amaze with DK1, but the HD kit emphasises the effect tenfold.

It’s not long now until developers have the power to play with this tool by themselves. Oculus VR has said that DK2 isn’t the final piece of the puzzle, but the full picture is nearing completion. Waiting for DK2 is going to be tough, but when developers are able to take the already-amazing projects that have been shown off so far and combine them with the image quality that, frankly, we’ve come to expect in this day and age, VR is going to hit new heights.