Adrift: as it’s supposed to be pronounced, Adroneft. - Games Weekly

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Adrift: as it’s supposed to be pronounced, Adroneft.

There’s Adr1ft, and then there’s the story behind Adr1ft. If you don’t already know it, the game’s outspoken creator, Adam Orth, a self-described ‘upbeat curmudgeon’, used to work for Microsoft but had a very public Twitter spat about DRM last year. ‘#dealwithit’ has been described as ‘the tweet heard around the internet’, and it changed Orth’s life. He got death threats. He lost his job. He also stepped back to reflect, and out of this reflection (and well over a year of hard graft) comes  Adr1ft , a pure metaphor for his journey.

Adr1ft  tells the story of an astronaut waking up in space after a catastrophe. Her station floats in ruins above Earth, her friends are dead and, as she has no memory of events, it’s about her struggling to determine the cause to find meaning in the madness and make it home.

It’s not hard to draw parallels. “You go through this wreckage trying to piece yourself back together and get home safely,” says Orth, “and through that, you discover all these characters you were on the ship with, and they’re all dead. You’re learning about who you are through your relationship with them.” It’s about surviving in a poisonous atmosphere. It’s about isolation. It’s about starting again. Take your pick.
It mixes the spectacle of Gravity with the sombreness of Interstellar
Adr1ft is a deeply personal game, the product of less than 15 people, tops. “All these guys were really supportive of me when I was going through all that stuff, and I think part of our relationship is that they kinda went through it, too, and the game idea really resonated with them,” says Orth. “They liked the idea that we were not going to shy away from really personal things.” The core tenants of Orth’s new studio, Three One Zero, are AAA-quality, non-violent games stretched over a shorter time span. The term he coins is FPX: first-person experience (sigh).

The game seems tailor-made for the Oculus Rift, which is what I’ve opted to play it on. The demo begins and I’m in a zero-g chamber. I push forward, using LB and RB to roll left and right, and the triggers to increase and decrease elevation. It’s tricky at first, especially in the Oculus, where a side effect of omni-movement is that I can see my body rising up at odd angles like it’s filled with helium. Over the course of this three-hour game, you’ll have ample opportunity for practice, because at no point do your feet touch the ground. Everything, you might say, is up in the air.

Using my boosters to thrust forward, I enter some stark white research lab, where green leaves hang silently in amid bubbles of various shapes and sizes. I read the logo printed onto what look like incubation chambers: ‘Sniikids’. Oh, wait, I’m upside down: ‘Spiritus’. Yeah, that sounds a bit loftier. As I approach a circular hatch,  the ship’s AI repeats the words, “Survivor detected.” I’m all alone. The airlock wheezes open and I emerge into the money shot: a wrecked chunk of the station, set before an imposing Earth, with thousands of blackened pieces, purple petals and glittering shards of glass slowly rotating like a gigantic dreamcatcher. It mixes the spectacle of Gravity with the sombreness of Interstellar.

So where does the game part come in? “It’s very physical,” says Orth. “It’s not just floating around and pushing an action button... one of the fantasies about being in space and zero-g is being able to move giant things with your finger. You can move something as big as a tractor trailer with ease, so delivering the fantasy of being able to move stuff and having to avoid stuff is a big part of the game.”

The demo is little more than a playable version of the reveal footage. Still, it’s clear that Three One Zero aims to challenge the term ‘blockbuster’, stretching it to fit something shorter, braver and completely non-violent, but bearing all the hallmarks of a big-budget experience tight pacing, jaw-dropping set-pieces, boundary-pushing visuals. For Orth, though, there’s one key reason why Adr1ft exists: “I wouldn’t be here without it.”

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