Three Zero One founder Adam Orth didn’t even know about the 3D movie Gravity when he had started developing his own space station disaster story. But the fact that everyone knows about the Oscar-winning movie today is actually a good thing, since it makes summarizing the new virtual reality game a bit easier: “It’s like Gravity in VR.”
Once Orth did see Gravity, he was relieved because the movie’s story is nothing like his game.
“Adr1ft is a story of an astronaut who wakes up floating in space amongst the debris of his destroyed space station with no idea how she got there, no idea what happened and she has a badly damaged EVA suit that’s leaking oxygen,” said Orth. “Your goals are simple: to stay alive and get home. You accomplish that by floating though this destroyed space station atmosphere in zero gravity and repair your suit and the mainframe computers on the station in order to turn on the emergency escape vehicles.”
As the player achieves these goals, the story of former crew members who did not survive are told and what happened on the space station is revealed. The game is set in 2037, when private space company Hardiman Aerospace has figured out a way to extract oxygen from terrestrial plant life in space. They’ve taken plants up into space to kind of extract oxygen as a sustainable resource so they can colonize the moon and have a renewable resource of oxygen for interiors. Orth said the message and the fiction of the game is all about hope and progress, but it’s delivered in this weird juxtaposition of a destroyed broken environment. Rather than telling a doomsday story of the Earth dying, it’s a story about progress and exploring space and trying to go further as humans.
It’s also a game set in Zero G, which means you’re not limited to standing on a floor and being confined by walls. Orth said when you’re out floating through this beautiful destroyed wreckage and you see this beautiful Earth there creates these serene moments in the midst of all this stress.
“It’s opened up so many things for us in terms of level design and the way you move through the game,” said Orth. “It’s also been challenging because as an FPX – first-person experience — we don’t make violent games at all at our studio and taking the gun and the enemies away is very hard to make something compelling and still do stuff with your hands and touch the world and affect the way the world moves around you.”
While the game is longer than most early VR demos, Orth said gamers should think of Adr1ft like a director’s cut of Interstellar at an IMAX theater – “You’re going to pay a little bit more than you would to go see the movie, but you’re going to get an experience that is bigger and better than you normally would.” The game was designed to be played in a single sitting. It’s not a 60 hour or $60 experience.
“We really believe that telling a story and having an amazing setting and great game mechanics in a shorter setting for less money is what people want,” said Orth. “I love enormous games, but I just don’t have the time to play them. And the game, Journey, really inspired me to go down this path because I’d never had an experience like that with a game before where it was a total beginning, middle and end that was beautiful and amazing and it just worked. I’ve been making “AAA” video games for a long time and there’s really not ten hours of game play in those games. It’s like five hours recycled, recycled, recycled, and I don’t want to get to the recycle point.”
Although publisher 505 Games will release Adr1ft on Windows, Xbox One and PlayStation 4, Orth said the game has been designed from the ground up for virtual reality and will be playable on Oculus Rift, Sony Morpheus and the HTC Vive.
“We know we have something pretty special with this VR game,” Orth said. “It touches people in ways that the traditional game version doesn’t, and that was really unexpected for us. But we don’t know what the best Adr1ft virtual reality experience is yet. We’re still building that. There are some things in the traditional game that can’t be a straight one-to-one conversion because they just don’t work. We’re trying to figure out the best way to make those things work in new and unique ways.”
Orth said virtual reality mostly is like the Wild West because there are no rules, and what you think might work in virtual reality rarely does. As a result, it’s very important to build a game experience for virtual reality. Orth said taking a game that already exists and just flipping the switch doesn’t work.
What does work, even at this early stage, is the feeling of “being there” amidst the rubble of a space station, completely alone, lost in space. The 3D movie and visual effects only went so far in Gravity. Virtual reality pushes the experience to a new level of immersion.