“We all have extensive first-person shooter backgrounds, and taking the gun and the enemies away forced us into doing things differently than we ever had before,” says Adam Orth, creative director of Three One Zero, developers of ADR1FT.
Orth’s journey into the video game industry was largely accidental. He had been in the music industry with a record and publishing deal, and then the record deal went south. “I didn’t know what to do, but my publisher got me a job writing music for video games,” Orth recalls, “I was hired to write some music for a James Bond game on the PS1, but the company also hired a very well known composer to work on the game. They told me they were going to go with the music from the well known composer rather than my music, even though mine was better!”
However, though Orth had lost his interest in the business of the music industry, all was not lost. “I had been hanging around the development studio with the testers, and noticed it was quite a positive work environment. Testing is very analytical and requires problem solving skills, and I happen to excel at those,” he says. The studio threw him a bone and brought him on as a tester, but soon he discovered he wanted to be a developer. “I knew someone at Sony Santa Monica, not far from where I was working at the time, and was able to get an interview there. They hired me as a tester on Twisted Metal: Black, before David Jaffe, the creative director, brought me on as a junior designer,” Orth explains.
Orth’s experiences in the music industry have affected his game development “in ways [he] does not know and in ways [he] does know. It’s been a good tool.” The music industry prepared Orth for the corporate world of AAA game development, and those experiences have been valuable.
The world premier of ADR1FT’s gameplay was unveiled at The Game Awards in December of 2014. The event was organized and run by Geoff Keighly, who reached out to Orth and his team asking them to be a part of the event. “There weren’t a ton of leaps and hurdles to go through,” Orth explains, “He told us we could do whatever we wanted, for however long we wanted, in whatever format we wanted. He told us he believed in us and to kick ass!” The team worked on the trailer for close to a month, but it was 100% gameplay, so work the team was going to do regardless. As Orth says, “What you saw in the first trailer was the actual game; it was me flying through in one take.” Admittedly, the team made some mistakes, but like all mistakes, they were learning experiences. “I spent an entire twelve hour day doing the recording, but I did it all wrong. I had to do it all over again at the very last minute,” Orth recalls. He continues, “It was a total worthwhile experience! Seeing people who were seeing our game for the first time that were intrigued by what we were doing was an amazing feeling.” He adds, “Of course, the game has advanced so much since then that I look at that trailer now and can’t believe we even let people see it!”
Both ADR1FT’s title and gameplay are quite solitary and emotional; the game clearly has personal inspirations. “The whole thing is a metaphor and commentary for what happened to me with the whole Twitter incident as well as a reaction to working at bigger places and never being able to insert myself in a more personal way into the end product,” Orth says. “It was difficult to do something more personal working on projects with bigger teams, bigger aspirations, bigger budgets, and more to lose,” he continues. The working environments of AAA studios often don’t allow room for personal touches, which frustrated Orth. So, when it came time to make a game on his own terms, his natural instinct was to make a more personal game. “My vision of a more personal project came from being a songwriter,” Orth explains, “The best songs come from the most personal place – that’s how I wrote songs, and that’s how I approached game development.” Another motivation for Orth to pursue a more personal project was the Twitter incident. After what happened, he had to completely reinvent himself, and was thus inspired to do something deeply personal. “Whether it’s a mechanic or a menu or the story, you always want to put as much of yourself into it as you can,” he says.
In 2013, when Orth was working for Microsoft, he took to social media to express his frustrations about people’s complaints of an always online console. Since then, he’s moved forward in a positive manner, rather than dragging himself down on the negatives. “They want you to focus on the negatives and get mired down. You can’t let them win. It was never an option not to move forward. We’re not robots, we make decisions and we make mistakes. When that happens, you’ve got to turn it around in the best way you can,” Orth notes. For those reasons, Orth ensured that his next project was made with a team he trusted and admired; a team of people who were friends first. “Making games is not easy; they’re never finished and they’re never 100% what you wanted them to be. They turn into things that you didn’t know they could be, but those things are maybe better,” he says, “When you have an idea and you hand it over to your team, it becomes everyone’s idea, and it evolves.” There are parts of ADR1FT which Orth would never have thought of, they’re there because of the incredible Three One Zero development team consisting of Omar Aziz (technology), Matteo Marsala (production, Jason Barajas (art), Sam Bass (design) and Tom Gerber (design).
A big misconception regarding ADR1FT is that it’s VR (Virtual Reality) exclusive. It’s not. However, VR is an ideal platform for the game, one in which the team had in mind from day one. Due to the game’s setting and movement type, the team didn’t have to do much to stand the game up in VR. Playing the game traditionally, and playing the game in VR will not necessarily, however, be different experiences. “Although I could see us making different ADR1FT experiences for different VR platforms in the future, playing traditionally and playing in VR will not have any major differences,” Orth says. One of the only differences between the two experiences are a number of short, scripted moments. As Orth puts it, “We have these cool animations in the traditional game whereby you float up to a door, grab it, and try to pry it open using a lever. These are scripted moments where the player doesn’t have control. We do this to give the player the feeling of touching the world and being immersed.” According to Orth, those moments might not work well in VR, as with VR, players have the ability to look everywhere, and if, all of a sudden, they’re forced to look where they’re being told to look, that could become awkward.
ADR1FT is not a long experience, intentionally so. Three One Zero is aiming for the game to be a two to three hour experience, not dissimilar from a film. “We want to make shorter games at the highest possible quality. I think today’s gamers have a lot less time to play games with a lot more games to choose from,” Orth explains. He compares ADR1FT to seeing Interstellar at the best possible IMAX theatre. “It will take two and a half hours, cost between 20 and 30 dollars, depending on parking and popcorn, and create a genuine, lasting impression,” he says. Although the game is replayable, Orth claims it’s meant more as a one time experience: “I’m not a big replayer of games; I’m more of the school of leaving a first and lasting impression and not going back. I look at games less about being games and more about being experiences.”
One of the gaming industries most unique elements is that it allows games as games and games as experiences to coexist. Orth refers to ADR1FT as an FPX, or first-person experience. That shouldn’t, however, discredit the fact that AFR1FT is certainly full of unique, interesting gameplay. Orth states, “We have a really unique gameplay and resource mechanic as well as a control scheme around oxygen. Your suit is damaged and leaking oxygen, but it’s an emergency scenario so your oxygen becomes a shared resource between survival and movement. You need oxygen to refill your meter, which is slowly leaking over time. Plus, if you use your propulsion it depletes your oxygen faster. This creates dynamic player choice: How will the player use their resources?”
While ripples of Orth’s social media incident still remain, the gaming community had a number of burning questions with regards to ADR1FT. One user was aggravated with the breathing of the protagonist, stating, “It’s kind of unrealistic for anyone trained in EVA’s (Extra Vehicular Activity) to be mouth breathing that many times per minute.” Orth says in his reply, “Breathing is a part of our game. But the gameplay video this person saw was a work in progress with improperly implemented audio. People look at what they see and assume the entire game is this two minutes of footage, which is totally false.” This is a game in which the protagonist interacts with her environment through a helmet, which amplifies the noise of her breathing. Needless to say, this is not an overly concerning issue for the team, who are confident it will fizzle down to a non-issue.
Another social media user wondered what platforms other than VR the game will release on, and inquired whether or not the game will have achievements and trophies. “The game is coming out on Steam, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One,” Orth answers, “We have some pretty awesome achievements and trophies; we put a lot of thought into that.” However, the PS4 will NOT have a platinum trophy due to it’s digital-only nature, although the team is considering a physical version of the game down the road.
The final social media question read, “What has been the biggest hurdle in the creation of the game?” The biggest hurdle, according to Orth, was doing something different than they’d ever done before. Making a first person game without guns or enemies forced the team into thinking outside the box; outside of the norms. “We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, and the dedication of the team has meant the world!”
With E3 just a few short days away, Three One Zero is proud to announce that they will have a dedicated booth at E3. “The fine folks at 505 Games have come up with something pretty crazy for us that has me more excited for E3 than I have been in a decade!”
For more on ADR1FT, stay tuned to TheWayfaringDreamer, where you can follow us on Twitter, @WFDreamer, and keep up to date with the developers on Twitter @adam_orth
In the meantime, here is the official ADR1FT E3 trailer: