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A video game as metaphor: How a Twitter freakout inspired 'Adr1ft'

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It feels like a lifetime ago, but early 2013 was a really strange time for video games. In the lead-up to Microsoft debuting the Xbox One that May, the mood was incredibly tense. Rumors were flying that the then-unnanounced console would require a constant connection to the internet in an effort to thwart used-game sales. Redmond's refusal to comment wasn't helping the situation, either. Enter Adam Orth.

Back then, he was the creative director for Microsoft's gaming division. When he tweeted rather indignantly that he didn't "get the drama" of having an always-online console April of that year, saying the reaction didn't go over well would be a massive understatement. "Sometimes the electricity goes out. I will not buy a vacuum cleaner," he continued.

"The internet totally erupted," he says. "I got death threats." He resigned from his post shortly thereafter and set his Twitter account to private. Adr1ft is his way of coming to terms with that situation. In the game, you play as the lone survivor of a wrecked space station that's floating above Earth. Oxygen is constantly leaking out of your spacesuit and every pulse of your thrusters to move around consumes it.

"The destroyed space station is a metaphor for my life at the time," he says. "This isolation is that I felt entirely alone. Instead of talking about it, I just made a game about it."

Orth tells me that he's always been fascinated by space games. The seed for Adr1ft was in the back of his mind for a bit but it wasn't until his Twitter incident that he had a eureka moment. "It went from something that would be really cool to do, to something I had to do," Orth says. "It took over my life."

E3 2015: ADR1FT's Orbital Survival Experience

He quit Microsoft that April, and says that the entire game, universe and story were complete that July; his first prototype took a week to build. But making the game wasn't exactly therapeutic -- at least not at first -- because he says that developing games isn't an immediate act. Meaning, even after a day's work you won't necessarily have a video game to play.

"I don't really think of it as a cathartic experience, but as more of a creative experience simply because about a week after the thing with Twitter happened, I knew what was going on," he says.

"The destroyed space station is a metaphor for my life at the time," Orth says.

Surprisingly enough, Redmond has been very supportive of the game. "Microsoft was never bad to me. Ever. I was bad to them," he says. "[It was] my mistake."

Every piece of narrative in Adr1ft comes from Orth's life in some way, he says. And the game isn't just about him, he's brought in the experiences of others to build the story out as well. For example, the medical officer on the ill-fated space station? He's an addict whose old cravings aren't helped by the fact that he's having a hard time with sobriety. The mission's been going on for far too long and the bottle is looking more and more attractive as a way to cope. He also lied to get his job. His entire narrative arc is him telling an Alcoholics Anonymous group about how hard he's trying to stay on the wagon.

Given that a bad judgment call combined with a one-to-millions communication platform led to Orth leaving a job at one of the biggest tech companies on the planet, you'd think that he'd be bitter or angry. Or even that some of those emotions would've made their way into the game. That isn't the case as everything is pretty calm. Well, until you start running out of oxygen that is.

"There's no male power fantasy here," he says. "It's not a heroic save-the-world story, it's 'save yourself.'"
In this article: hdpostcross, microsoft
Before joining Engadget in 2013, Timothy spent half a decade freelancing for all manner of outlets writing about all sorts of (mostly video game-related) things. Timothy’s an A/V enthusiast who adores physical media, much to the chagrin of his available shelf space. He loves music by Amon Tobin, Run the Jewels and the Deftones most of all. Oh, and he has a hard time not buying all the overpriced Calvin and Hobbes stuff on Etsy.
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