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Going to church in outer space with Adrift and Adam Orth

This is what it's like to play a VR game with a true believer

Developer Adam Orth sounds like he's in church when he describes virtual reality. His business card for Three One Zero, the studio he founded, lists him as "creative," and the company's first game is Adrift, a game he describes as being designed for both normal screens and virtual reality.

But if you want to really experience it...

"It doesn’t really compare to having that helmet on, when you’re in there," Orth says, talking about the more traditional version of the game. "I hope people find some way to try it in VR, even if they’re not sold on VR, I hope they find some way to see it. I hate using this word, but it is transformative. The first time you have a good VR experience, you’re sold forever."

He's quick to repeat that the game is unique enough as a survival title set in space to be enjoyable on a console or as a "standard" PC game, but he's also fairly upfront about virtual reality being the best way to play. He discusses the simple act of reaching for an oxygen canister, which is just another interaction on the screen, but in virtual reality it's something very different.

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"Reaching for an oxygen canister and seeing the earth and looking at your oxygen meter and hearing the audio, it’s real. You’re absolutely transported to that place," he said.

I had just left an extended demo of the game using the latest non-retail version of the Oculus Rift, and I can vouch for the intensity of the game. A short tutorial taught me how to use my space suit to maneuver in 3D space, and the game cleverly puts the interface on the inside of your suit's helmet. All the information is brought to you in a way that makes sense for that reality, there is nothing "game-y" to remove yourself from the experience.

"Find the broken window, it should be on your right," Orth tells me at one point. "I want you to go out into space at least once."

I see the broken window, and leave the confines of the space station. I fly away for a bit and turn around, and suddenly lose my breath. The space station is floating in a field of debris, far over the Earth. I turn around and see the space station, and make a few mental notes about how it's laid out so I know where to go when I head back in. For a moment I felt like I was looking at the world's most impressive minimap.

Orth described the 90 frames-per-second goal of the Oculus Rift as "the floor," and they sometimes go above it on spec hardware. You may feel dizzy from time to time, but that's due to the fact you're floating in frickin' space, not so much the technology. "When you make bad VR it’s bad for everyone," Orth tells me. "We see ourselves just as much as evangelists as developers. We’re going to make VR games from here on out."

You may feel dizzy from time to time, but that's due to the fact you're floating in frickin' space

Playing the game with Orth in the room, and discussing virtual reality afterward, felt like a more sedate version of an old-school revival. He's here to sell you on his game, sure, but he's just as passionate about virtual reality as whole. He described what it was like using the earlier versions of the hardware, and he became visibly annoyed as he tried to avoid the word "transformative."

"What I didn’t count on was that it tapped into here," he points to his chest, describing his early reactions to VR. "It’s super primal. I wasn’t prepared for a piece of hardware to take control of my emotions."

Adrift will be available for the launch of the Oculus Rift, although Orth himself said he doesn't know specifically when that will be.