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Adrift, and why VR games need a 'tourism' mode

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Behind the decision to add unlimited air to a game about survival

Adrift is a survival game set it space that can be played on both a standard monitor and the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, and your limited amount of oxygen is one of the most stressful aspects of the game. You have to be constantly aware of how much air you have left while making sure you know where to find the next canister. It creates a tense, mindful sort of play that emphasizes the desperate situation of the player. You can read our review to learn more about the game as well.

And now it's optional, at least partially. You can go back and play any cleared level again using a menu option marked "EVA Free," which removes the constant fight for oxygen. The means you can explore, float around and enjoy the act of being in space.

It was a compromise between what players were asking for and their vision for what Adrift should be, developer Adam Orth told Polygon.

"I don't want to give up our vision, but there's nothing wrong with expanding it."

"We really believe in feedback and we also really believe in our game," he explained. "We wanted to make a game in this genre, and we wanted to have game mechanics and systems and stuff, and we didn't want to make a float around and look kind of thing." But here's the thing, it turned out people want to float around and look.

You can't get achievements in the EVA Free mode but you can hang out and enjoy the environments, which is a huge plus when you play the game in virtual reality. If you just want to hang out and enjoy the world of Adrift?

"We definitely toyed with having that mode all the time, we went back and forth and back and forth with it. We decided in the end to wait and see if people want that," Orth says. "It turns out they do. I think what we've given now is a good version of that. You have the intended game experience and then if you want to go off and do your own stuff you can."

"I don't want to give up our vision, but there's nothing wrong with expanding it," he said.

The virtual reality portion of the game is also a big reason many fans want to play in this manner. It's fun to show other people what it's like to play the game in VR, but that can be challenging when you're in near constant danger of suffocation. This lets you give a friend or family member a way to experience the VR version of the game without asphyxiation inside their virtual helmet after the first minute so.

It's a trend that's likely to continue. "I think VR games are going to have to start including basically a tourist mode," Orth told Polygon.

These options will be a way to explore the environment of the game without worry about the mechanics stressing the player or ending the game, which makes them a good way to show off the technology to other people.

The unlimited oxygen mode isn't just a good way to make sure you find all the collectibles, but it can now be a way to enjoy the vastness of the game's world ... without the worry of virtually choking to death.

Adrift is available now on PC and Oculus Rift, and is coming to the HTC Vive in May.