Post Script

In­ter­view: Adam Orth, cre­ative di­rec­tor, Three One Zero


“This is the ul­ti­mate en­vi­ron­ment. I knew look­ing down at all of hu­man­ity would touch peo­ple”

Three One Zero cre­ative di­rec­tor and game de­signer Adam Orth has a strik­ing CV, hav­ing held po­si­tions at Lu­cas Arts, Elec­tronic Arts, Sony Com­puter En­ter­tain­ment, Pop Cap and, most re­cently, Mi­crosoft. Here, the Adrift cre­ator dis­cusses the process of bring­ing a very per­sonal project to life, and why he doesn’t mind com­par­isons to Grav­ity. Adrift was de­signed for mon­i­tors and VR – was it a chal­lenge to cre­ate both ver­sions si­mul­ta­ne­ously? We’re a team who’ve ba­si­cally made con­sole games our whole ca­reers, so we ap­proached Adrift like we would a con­sole game. There are a lot of an­i­ma­tions in the non-VR ver­sion where you get up close to a door and you open it with your hands, or you go into a re­pair sta­tion and it turns you around. We ex­per­i­mented with how those things work in VR and changed some an­i­ma­tions [to make it more com­fort­able]. How did the SAS Re­lief me­chanic come about? There’s this ef­fect in VR called tun­nelling, which shrinks the screen you’re look­ing at into a small win­dow and then blacks out the rest of it so that your pe­riph­eral vi­sion set­tles in and you’re look­ing at a con­cen­trated ver­sion of the full screen. We tried that, and it just didn’t re­ally have the im­pact that we wanted. But we thought, ‘Let’s just make this part of the fic­tion and have it be a func­tion of your hel­met where an over­lay comes down al­most like a sun vi­sor’. It was in­spired by some of the things in Metal Gear games where they break that wall, y’know? The idea was to ‘pull a Kojima’ there. Was there de­bate re­gard­ing Alex’s move­ment speed? The first 40 min­utes is sup­posed to feel like you’re frag­ile and bro­ken, and right on the edge of every­thing fall­ing apart. So be­ing at a par­tic­u­lar speed, and how that in­creases through­out the game, was in­ten­tional. Did you have any con­cerns about the ten­sion be­tween the game’s con­tem­pla­tive pac­ing and me­chan­i­cal ur­gency? Yeah, we did, but the idea was to play with those things. And we’re see­ing that it was a di­vi­sive move from some of the com­ments and re­views of the game. But I look at it this way: if I found my­self in a de­stroyed space sta­tion and need­ing to get home, I don’t know if that’s a smell-the-roses kind of mo­ment, right? Your oxy­gen ca­pac­ity, and the way that you use it and it de­pletes, is a lot slower than I think peo­ple per­ceive it to be – I think the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fect of suf­fo­ca­tion has an ef­fect. I think the ten­sion be­tween those two things is very in­ter­est­ing. We made a re­ally per­sonal art game – it’s not meant to be Call Of Duty. We re­ally wanted to do some­thing fresh and unique, and I feel like we did that. How did you go about de­sign­ing the game struc­ture? We’re a su­per-small team, and we only had X amount of time and Y amount of money to make the game. We wanted to make the best ex­pe­ri­ence pos­si­ble. I didn’t ap­proach it like a game, but al­most like a big level in a game. While you have to do those same four things, we felt like each of those ob­jec­tives ex­ist in four or five very dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments. And that’s how we chose to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the task of build­ing this sys­tem back up so that you can safely get home again. I feel pretty strongly that the ex­pe­ri­ence of get­ting there and do­ing those things is much dif­fer­ent to just do­ing it. Float­ing out of the sta­tion above Earth is cer­tainly a mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Yeah, we wanted to be able to tell a story with­out hav­ing any story. This is the ul­ti­mate en­vi­ron­ment. I knew just be­ing in space and look­ing down at all of hu­man­ity would touch peo­ple. The nar­ra­tive in Adrift is bro­ken, just like the sta­tion, the suit and the main char­ac­ter. It’s sup­posed to be messy and out of or­der and dis­cov­ered in the way you dis­cover it. I ap­proached the nar­ra­tive like seeds: I want you to hear a bit, get a lit­tle chunk and then hope­fully when you’re go­ing across those great di­vides and no one’s talk­ing to you, you start think­ing about what you just heard a cou­ple of min­utes ago. Grav­ity came out just a few months af­ter you founded the stu­dio – how did you feel about that? What hap­pened was, af­ter the Twit­ter in­ci­dent where I made some ill-ad­vised re­marks while work­ing at Mi­crosoft, I just kind of dis­con­nected my­self from the world and started work­ing on this game. Grav­ity had been an­nounced, it was in pro­duc­tion and due out at the end of the year, and I just wasn’t aware of it at all. When I plugged my­self back into the in­ter­net, I very quickly dis­cov­ered Grav­ity while re­search­ing, and so I was like, “OK, I can’t make this game now…” But some de­vel­oper friends of mine who’d read my el­e­va­tor pitch for it con­vinced me to keep go­ing. Then Grav­ity came out and I went to see it. I was re­lieved be­cause our game is very dif­fer­ent to what the film turned out to be. And I re­alised how help­ful it was go­ing to be – peo­ple come to the game with an idea of what the setup is so I don’t have to ex­plain it. Plus, peo­ple are com­par­ing the game to an Os­car-win­ning film, so it’s a com­pli­ment! All in all, it added up to an hour of bad feel­ings over time, and I ac­cepted it early on, so if peo­ple need to bring up Grav­ity as a de­scrip­tor for our game, I’m to­tally fine with that.

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