How it feels to go 'Into the Storm' in the Oculus Rift

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Comic-Con trend pieces often skew toward the macro, focusing on how the various entertainment megacorporations use the annual San Diego event to carve out valuable real estate in the cultural calendar for the next two or three years. But a quick walk around the main floor inside of the Convention Center revealed a more immediate new development: Virtual Reality has arrived. Fresh off its purchase by Facebook and a buzzy line-around-the-block presence at E3, the Oculus Rift appeared in a few different places on the Comic-Con floor.

The most memorable–and windiest–was in a glass booth set up for Warner Bros.’ upcoming tornado thriller Into the Storm. I went to the Storm booth with fellow Comic-Con correspondent/Hobbit whisperer Keith Staskiewicz. Like the other Rift experiences at Comic-Con, the Storm sequence was entirely visual: You put on the visor/earphone ensemble and found yourself inside of a tunnel with a couple other storm dodgers. Initially, all was relatively peaceful.

Then the wind picked up. And thanks to fans inside of the glass booth—fans as in wind-blowing devices, not people who wait in line for seven hours to see a 90-second trailer—the wind really picked up. (Our Comic-Con badges blew up around our necks.)

The hardest thing to explain about the Oculus Rift is also what makes the experience so interesting. Even if the graphics of whatever you’re experiencing don’t look too impressive, the ability to turn your head and see more of the virtual world is incredible. Especially when, during the Into the Storm experience, both sides of the tunnel begin to a rather large tornado begins tossing several large bits of debris in your direction. The sequence lasted about 90 seconds, and ends with you being pulled outward into the tornado; then someone pulls off your visor, and you experience a couple seconds of real-world comedown.

The other Rift experiences at Comic-Con were decidedly less intensive. At Legendary, you could ride inside of a Jaeger from Pacific Rim, which basically meant turning right to look at your copilot and watching through a screen while your giant robot fought a giant monster. An X-Men-themed Rift put you inside the head of Charles Xavier.

It’s hard to tell how much of the Rift’s prevalence at Comic-Con 2014 is a vision of the future vs. a next-big-thing knick-knack, but the Into the Storm experience definitely adapted the film’s found-footage aesthetic in an interesting way. If only they could put wind machines into theaters! Wait, could they put wind machines into theaters?

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