Turning negatives into positives
Adam Orth is a recognizable figure in the videogame industry, but not necessarily for the reasons he should be. He played a creative role in several renowned triple-A titles — God of War, Medal of Honor, and Twisted Metal are some examples of franchises he worked on — and that’s what he should be known for. Instead, in 2013, Orth found himself the videogame industry’s Villain of the Week after his now infamous “deal with it” tweet regarding Xbox One’s always online requirement.
It was a tough time for Orth. “I couldn’t really talk to anyone. I felt like I let my friends and family down,” he said. But, his creative spirit endured. After a week’s time went by, Orth got back to doing what he knew best: making videogames. Holed up in his office, he started designing a game about space — or, more fittingly, a game about an unbelievably desperate situation and being completely alone.
Feeling like you’ve already lost everything is a powerful enabler. Orth learned this first-hand. “After my experience, I definitely had a ‘fuck it’ attitude, because how bad can it get at this point? I was no longer afraid of failure. I was just afraid of not doing things,” he said. With his attention focused solely on his new project, Orth worked to make something that told his story, but also brings something unique to videogames.
Adr1ft is that game. It’s a tale of an astronaut floating in space with no idea how she got there. She’s lost, confused (adrift, if you will). Her only goal is to get back home safely, a feat that will require plenty of exploration and puzzle-solving as she repairs mainframe computers around the space station in an effort to get the escape pod back online.
While it’s been designed from the ground-up as a traditional videogame (for PC, PS4, and Xbox One), Orth and his modest-sized team of developers know that Adr1ft lends itself best to a virtual-reality experience. “We knew what we had here is perfectly suited for VR,” Orth exclaimed. “It’s not fast, it’s not twitchy, and it’s not too complex, but it has that ‘holy shit’ element about it. Step out of the interior into the outside, and it affects you.”
He’s right. In a brief, Oculus-driven demo of Adr1ft, we slowly transitioned from a small room inside the station to the vast nothingness. It’s striking. Sure, the environment’s littered with chaotically torn apart space debris, and the earth below is a terrifyingly large presence. But it’s still impossible to not feel like a tiny ant marching onward against sheer hopelessness. If that realization was somehow lost on someone, the floating dead astronaut should have driven the point home.
Our demo was devoid of the many puzzles that Orth promised would make up the majority of the gameplay. Instead, it was about exploration — another core tenet of Adr1ft. There were oxygen capsules to bat around, but not to collect. That dead astronaut? Nothing to do but study his space-suited corpse from every angle. Even the barrel rolls I could perform needed to be done in considerable moderation, as they were surprisingly disorienting.
Like No Man’s Sky of last year, when Adr1ft‘s introduced to a wide-scale audience with a trailer during The Game Awards 2014, it’ll likely spark significant interest. Games with such a strong exploration component and limitless potential tend to do that. No mistake about it — it’s a signal that players crave something new from their videogame experiences. Some might find it ironic that Orth’s creating one of the more promising titles on the horizon for those that are weary of the triple-A franchises he spent most of his career designing.
Still, is something as experimental as Adr1ft a business-savvy project? After all, it’s best with the use of hardware that the public can’t yet buy, and when it is released, no one knows how quickly it’ll be adopted. Orth realizes the concerns, but doesn’t care. “Business-wise, it’s definitely a risk,” he commented. But, Orth added, “If you make something so unique, your parameters for success have to change. Selling one million copies of a game isn’t necessarily successful to me. Successful to me is touching people with the experience and making them think about stuff. If our game fails, what is failure? I’ve already not failed because I’ve gotten the opportunity to make the game.”