Touched By The Hand Of Mod: Dear Esther

By RPS on May 15th, 2009 at 2:45 pm.


[Friend of RPS and General Editor of Resolution Magazine, Lewis Denby, had a revelation about games through Half-life 2 mod Dear Esther. We thought it’d be an idea if he told you all about it.]

Gaming revelations arrive in the unlikeliest forms. Through the thick, sodden haze of British autumn, peeking out past the thrill of zombie infestations and post-apocalyptic wastelands, I discovered a tiny little gem that totally defied my expectations. I’ve sat on this for too long. I want to tell you about it. I need to tell you about it.

Truth be told, though, I’ve no idea where to start. It’s difficult to know how to begin a piece like this, a piece in which you know you’re going to effuse wildly about something few will have heard of and less will have tried out. I’ve written and re-written this opening countless times, discarding each and every one. Too gushing. Not gushing enough. Too vague. Too pretentious. Nothing works, and everything descends into incomprehensible nonsense or obscure cultural reference. None of us want that. So let’s keep it simple:

Last year, a Half-Life 2 mod changed my outlook on games forever.

In a way, that it would be this sort of amateur creation to have such an effect makes sense. The mod scene has the potential to be a land of limitless creative opportunity. You’re not restricted by publishers’ requests, or the demands of your perceived audience, or your own barely competent technology. You’ve an enormous blank canvas to paint on, and all that holds you back is your imagination. But that’s the thing. Most of the stuff out there is bland. A quick trawl through ModDB.com is likely to throw up an endless stream of level packs without context, stories without character. The terrorists are invading. Or is that the aliens? Often, it’s hard to tell and even more difficult to care, which is why Dear Esther is one of the most poignant and important freebies out there. If you’ve a copy of Half-Life 2 on your Steam account – and, let’s face it, you really should have – you owe it to yourself, and to the exciting future of gaming, to download it.

Dear Esther turned me into something of a fanatical child. I was so taken by it that I drafted a thousand-word interpretation of the story and emailed it to the creator. Every time it crosses my mind, I scour the internet for people’s responses to this glorious masterpiece, reading through forum threads and blog posts and whatever else I can feasibly locate. Sometimes, I’ve been delighted that others share my views. Other times, I’ve been horrified by people’s remarks. One player, on a forum I can’t remember, gave tips for speeding the game up. “Bunny-hop around the island,” he said. “It totally destroys the atmosphere, but it’s more fun.”

If you’re looking for fun, I’ve no idea why you’re playing Dear Esther in the first place. This is fearless, classical tragedy. It ends with the sound of a heart monitor flatlining, for goodness’ sake. Lead designer Dan Pinchbeck describes it as “an interactive ghost story,” but the inevitable connotations of that are misleading. This isn’t about bumps in the night or any other hackneyed horror archetypes. It’s deep, heart-tugging, emotional trauma. Dear Esther is indeed ghostly and ethereal, but it’s all thematic notation. Really, the only horror is in realising how truly heartbreaking this tale is.

Some people will tell you it’s not a game. Depending on your definitions, maybe it isn’t. You play as… well, that’s never revealed, and since it’s all in uninterrupted first-person, you’ve no way of finding out. During your time on what initially appears to be a remote Hebridean island, a disembodied voice will read fragments of a series of letters, written to a woman named Esther who we’re never introduced to. And you’ll explore, climbing higher and higher up the mountain in the centre, piecing together the proverbial puzzle and trying to establish, often in vain, just what this place is.

And that’s it.

I’m doing the fanboy internet-browsing thing again. Here’s a comment I like: “it’s an unremarkable island full of something strange.” It goes some way to hitting the mark of describing what Dear Esther is all about. At first, it’s just an island, seemingly uninhabited except for a few specks of wildlife. But as you progress, and as you become filled with the melancholy of this nameless man’s memoirs, you begin to notice things. Obscure patterns carved into the cliff face. Paper boats dumped on a beach. A tiny figure up ahead, peeking through the mist for a split second before darting out of sight once more. You never fully learn what the island is, but there’s more to it than first meets the eye – and, by the finale, you’ll have cooked up a tantalising set of theories, each barmier than the last.

This unrelenting ambiguity arises from a particularly clever mechanism within Dear Esther, one that randomises which parts of the script you hear at a given point. “The gulls do not land here any more,” the opening gambit might inform you. Or the narrator might say, “I sometimes feel as if I’ve given birth to this island.” None of it links together in any coherent way, and as the author succumbs to dilerium, so does his writing. His notes become hazy half-memories, contradicting one another and escaping reality. We hear of a tragic accident on the motorway near Wolverhampton, but it blurs and intertwines with a broken leg on the island. We’re told of a driver, accused of being drunk but, in spite of his wrecking guilt, still feverishly protesting his innocence. He becomes a syphallitic shepherd who died decades ago. We’re told tales from the Bible. We see them scrawled on the rock, painted over with complex, obsessive chemical equations. It’s the story of a terribly disturbed mind, and the horrendous inevitability of his demise – and it’s horrible.

I love my Marios and what-have-you as much as the next person, but I still feel games have an incredible untapped potential for negative emotions. Some have tried – Braid stands out for having a bloody good go – but we’re still a little too comfortable with enjoying everything we play. Any stretches of sadness in this medium tend to be restricted to self-indulgence or vapid tearjerker fare, and even they invariably make way for happy endings and bunny fluff.

Dear Esther rejects pretty much every notion of what videogames should do, and instead presents a profound look at what they /could/ be doing. They could be telling stories that, while unforgiving and upsetting, exist within a format that no novel or film could ever reproduce. Stories that take clever audiovisual amalgamation for granted and go the extra mile, allowing the player to explore a tangible world that they would never otherwise be able to visit. In a sense, Dear Esther is pretty much non-interactive: nothing you do changes the course of the fiction, and there’s no element of challenge to speak of. But in another, far more accurate sense, the interaction is totally key. It’s your journey – whoever “you” are – and the intimacy heightens every emotion censor in your poor, overloaded brain. After watching me finish Dear Esther, my girlfriend asked me what it was I’d been playing. I turned to answer her, only to find I couldn’t speak. No words arrived. None mattered.

This is a mod.

And that’s kind of relevant, for two reasons. Firstly, we don’t want to pay for this kind of thing. Hell, look at The Path: people are upset that even exists, let alone that its developers had the guts to charge seven quid for their remarkable efforts. But this is the sort of thing I’d love to pay for. It seems illogical that we’ll all happily splash out fifty pounds for the same old story of science-fiction revenge, yet aggressively avoid anything that encourages us to engage our brains and challenge ourselves a little. Dear Esther was created on a shoestring budget for a research project. It’s painful to think such a thing needs that sort of academic justification just to get made, but I’m gleefully pleased that it did, whatever the reason behind it.

But more importantly, Dan Pinchbeck isn’t a game designer, or a professional writer. He’s a talented researcher and lecturer, but game design isn’t his job. For all intents and purposes, this is an amateur creation – an amateur creation that genuinely left me entirely speechless.

Oh, it’s terribly broken. You’ll get stuck on scenery, and might even fall out of the game world once or twice. Voice clips will trigger over one another, even if you do resist the urge to bounce moronically around the world to kick the pace up. And it is really, agonisingly slow. Too slow. It might all put you off.

But a little birdie tells me Dear Esther could be receiving a complete overhaul later this year; might be rebuilt from the ground-up, removing its fundamental flaws and technical inconsistencies. This is a truly exciting prospect, and leaves me more watery-mouthed than any other upcoming release you might care to mention. As it stands, Dear Esther is a remarkable piece of blemished beauty. To experience something so stunning, but something more complete… I’m not sure I can effectively convey my joy in mere words.

There’s a section towards the end of Dear Esther where the narrator repeatedly refers to the conversion of Paul on the road to Damascus. As you climb the mountain, the spellbinding music driving you upwards, you read Biblical verses scrawled on the walls. You reach the top, and turn a corner. The word ‘DAMASCUS’ is carved in enormous, chunky lettering ahead of you. Your destination.

I’m converted. I’m not sure how, why or what to, but it’s there.

Give it a go. It might convert you too.

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133 Comments »

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  1. amoe says:

    this is just amazing and worth playing it

  2. alpha45 says:

    I just downloaded it yesterday and I have to say… wow. While you can’t really the consider it an interactive game, the pure experience just blows your mind. It’s like a sort of novel/game combo, that lets you fully experience the story and atmosphere. Apparently the problems with the map have been fixed in version 1.1 , and now there appears to be a system in place to prevent you from going off-track. If you go into an area you’re not supposed to go to, you hear a whispering voice calling you, telling you to come back. If you don’t you start to take damage and eventually die. One bug though, the figure you occasionally notice in the distance but disappears when you get close; it didn’t disappear when I was just at the end of the mountain path, so I could get close up. This looks like a bug, but turning a corner and suddenly seeing it within arms reach scared the crap out of me. It’s a HL2 model, one of the females, and it’s been colored black to give it a shadowy look, and it doesn’t move at all.

  3. Solar says:

    Thank you for this recommendation. Touching and very well done, especially the music, narration and ambient sound effects. ‘come back, come back…’

    Agree with Sunjammer about the difficulty screen, threw me a bit, but soon ignored it. Great to see the game inspiring more art, nice one Slippery Jim.

    Looking forward to Briscoe’s rework.

    The narration was superb and put me in the feel of a similar ‘game’ I played long ago Ceremony of Innocence, based on the art of Nick Bantock, with narration by Paul McGann, Isabella Rossellini, and Ben Kingsley. It’s not a plug, just the quality of script and acting are very similar. The title itself is more an interactive picture book so don’t expect the free-roaming, exploratory feel of Dear Esther. I’d say Dear Esther is a more immersive and a faster paced (if that’s possible) experience overall but the relationships of Ceremony are more detailed.

    Have fun out there

  4. chris says:

    now… whats so interactive about this storytelling ? u just walk a path with no alternative choices, listening to a triggered soundsource. i stumbled across this article and was curious about this mod, since all of you guys find it so fascinating, so moody and inspiring. i think the music and voice is nice but thats about it. i found myself constantly jumping to speed up the long walks, curious about the ending and got dissapointed. there are people voting this for mod of the year, but why ? im not a mindless fps player, but i found this very, very boring.

    cucu

  5. ACS says:

    Frustrating. I was just listening to the last piece of music from Dear Esther, and there’s more than just the beep-beep-beeeeeeeep of the heart monitor at the end. At the beginning, you can hear (very faintly) the breath-click-breath of mechanical ventilation, and as you approach the aerial, you can hear the (quite loud) sound of surgical suction.

    Plus, there’s all that whatnot about restarting Paul’s heart 21 times, and the waiting room with all the chemical drawings (which you’re now seeing on the north side of the island) in the hospital where Esther died. Presuming you’re either Paul or the narrator, who is in the hospital here, and what are they dying of?

  6. vanarbulax says:

    Hmm don’t share quite the enthusiasm. While it does make great use of sound (and by that I mean excellent) it is very linear and very slow. Oddly enough while it is linear it’s also very easy to get lost sometimes. At the beginning it thought “go back” was just haunting atmosphere considering that visually I was following what seemed to be the right path. I hated how it killed me if I went to far, it killed the sense of exploration, even punished you for it. While I wouldn’t really “recommend” it due to the lack of choice and large amounts of unneeded slowness (yes walking along one long path is not atmosphere or exploration) it did bring up some interesting ideas (why don’t more games use haunting voice-overs in game?). Personally for this type of somewhat bizarre, tragic, story driven game I preferred Photopia for many reasons I’m not going to go into on a comment.

    Also a pet peeve of mine is when your never sure if something has actually ended or not. I know it’s not a big deal and I get why you want to fade out subtly but at least shove me back to a menu after 15 seconds.

  7. Lewis says:

    Photopia has some of the best writing I’ve seen in, well, anything.

  8. undead dolphin hacker says:

    As much as I end up enjoying “negative” stuff like this, it stopped impressing me a long time ago. These are the Haunted Houses of gaming — you walk in the entrance and proceed to parade through disturbing images, scares, and/or gloom. You can’t touch or alter anything. Maybe you navigate a mirror maze or some other kind of rudimentary challenge. And then walk out the back.

    Assuming it’s effective, the feeling of emptiness (because that’s what we’re all talking about when we say “negative”) lasts as long as it takes to find someone that will listen to you share that feeling of emptiness. And then it’s gone. And, coincidentally, not that impressive anymore.

    It’s cathartic in a masturbatory sense. And that’s what makes me find “games” like Dear Esther, The Path, All Our Friends Are Dead, and Don’t Look Back to be so… unworthy of respect.

    “Games” like this essentially abuse the medium to get in a couple emotional sucker punches. I find them only a step above those cheesy Shockwave Flash things where you’re supposed to be finding the secret image or something when suddenly a decaying head flashes in front of you accompanied by an earsplitting scream.

    Taking interactivity with all its potential and reducing it to a diversion to leave its audience emotionally vulnerable is kind of tacky. Dear Esther and its ilk are gaming’s penny dreadfuls. Guilty pleasures, sure, but holding them up as something that can “change our outlook on games forever” is ludicrous.

    You “played” the “game.” You felt empty because, essentially, the “game” was empty. You said it yourself — you needed to tell us about it. You were compelled to scour the internet, to write a thousand words to the author in hopes you could get an answer and make the empty go away.

    But is there anything to Dear Esther besides emptiness?

    Here’s the thing. Emptiness is cheap. Real cheap. Go Google up that picture of the barrel of dead, euthanized cats and kittens. Go watch some of PETA’s shock videos. Go to 4chan’s /b/.

    The mark of a good “negative” game is whether there’s something left after the emptiness is gone. After you’ve analyzed and shared and explained and understood and professed and gotten every drip of catharsis you can out of it, are there any other emotions left? Any themes or conflicts? Is there even a game left? Is it a good one?

    Ico is still discussed and routinely cited more than seven years after its release. Shadow of the Colossus is over three years old and gets the same treatment. Hell, Silent Hill is over a decade old and is still presented as one of the crowning achievements of “negative” emotional impact in interactive medium.

    And of course there’s Braid and Pathologic and arguably Dwarf Fortress and really we could get into interactive fiction namedropping if you wanted to look at the heavy theme/light gameplay side of “negativity.”

    I’ve said enough.

  9. MD says:

    That was really well said, undead dolphin hacker. (And I’m not just saying that because any sentence featuring your username is inherently hilarious.) I have often thought along roughly those lines, though I suppose my thoughts tend to be rather more simplistic.

    To me, the ultimate test of an emotionally upsetting work of art is not how sucessfully it provokes sadness or fear or loneliness, but what it does with that power. Upsetting the viewer is not a worthwhile or ‘impressive’ end in itself. Feeling sad or lonely or horrified or crushingly afraid of death is easily achieved, (I manage quite fine on my own in that regard, without even trying), and more importantly those feelings are not intrinsically worthwhile — in fact, they’re rubbish. What matters is where that depth of emotion takes you, and in the case of art, the insight that it offers. Making me think about, say, the nature of existence, is no great feat. Adding a spark to those thoughts, be it a flash of insight or simply a fruitful new angle of approach, is the crucial next step that often seems to be missing.

    Personally I prefer to be uplifted, but if an artist wants to take the sad route I’m up for that too, provided they are leading me to a meaningful destination.

  10. Lewis says:

    @undead dolphin hacker

    I don’t think I said it changed your outlook on games forever.

    If we’re going for Pathologic as a negativity-in-gaming example, I rambled for a coupla-thousand words about that over at Eurogamer the other week, so I’m on your side with regards to that.

  11. BlazerKnight says:

    Although I downloaded this when I first read the article, I didn’t try it until today. I think it’s better to experience it as an explorable story than a video game. And ignoring its technical flaws, it tells a disjointed, haunting, intriguing tale. Nobody said that all games should move in this direction. It’s a unique experiment of game engine as storytelling medium. You either have a beef with its execution, in which case wait for the remake (looks like it has high potential), or with the story itself, which is your personal taste in genre.
    Now that’s aside, my thoughts on the plot itself (SPOILERS): The island is not real. There are several hints to this, the most glaring one being the cars in the cave (took me completely by surprise yet fits in perfectly), which ties in with the references to a car accident. A lot of this repeated mental imagery (parallel white lines in the cliff, parallel vapour trails of planes) makes me think that the whole island is a manifestation of a dreamer’s subconscious. The characters are intentionally ill-defined, but I’m guessing that the 17th century cartographer Donnelly is a projection of the narrator, while the goatsherd Jacobson is a projection of Paul, who killed his wife Esther Donnelly in a car accident. The fact that Donnelly is trying to research Jacobson is a metaphor for the narrator meeting up with Paul to understand his wife’s death. Granted, it’s not a coherent, easily understandable story, and not everyone will enjoy it. But open your mind, have some patience, and you might get something out of it.

  12. undead dolphin hacker says:

    Lewis, I originally had a paragraph in my post that made it clear I wasn’t out to offend or belittle you. I think your reaction to Esther is perfectly valid and really rather common for these kinds of… let’s call them “experiences.”

    I guess what I wanted to do in regards to your reaction is point out the hyperbole in it, and use that as an example as how these “penny dreadfuls” are actually rather vapid when the giddiness of finally feeling empty about something wears off.

    Like it or not, instant information has made us into very skeptical, cynical, and jaded people. A heart only has so much blood to bleed. When you hear about the upteenth family murder or kidnap/rape or African genocide, you just stop caring. You can’t care anymore. We’d all be barmy if we reacted appropriately to these atrocities.

    So when stuff like Dear Esther comes along, we love it because we can finally feel bad again. We’re giddy. We wallow in the misery; we savor every drop. And that’s great. It’s cathartic. Therapeutic. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, indeed it’s my opinion that it’s healthy behavior. Sooner or later you have to take the (emotional) garbage out.

    That all being said, taking one of these things and saying “look what games can do” is like taking a self-help tearjerker and saying “look what novels can do.” It’s like taking those aforementioned PETA snuff movies and saying “look what film can do.” Yeah, technically you’re right. But putting these one-trick ponies up on a pedestal implicitly devalues works that manage to do more than make you feel empty.

    There’s also the whole kid gloves/favortism for amateur work going on, but that’s been discussed to death on this site, and really it’s a secondary issue at best.

  13. Noise says:

    @undead dolphin hacker
    I agree with your overall view of this particular mod, I felt like what I just experienced was empty, and not in a good way. Were you saying Pathologic and the others where examples of good negativity or not?

    It does have great voice acting and pretty good music, and I do get the feeling that though the way the narrative is written and delivered is deliberately ambiguous and incoherent, the writer did actually have a specific intention in mind. I haven’t read the script pdf or whatever. In this way it’s simply an example of above-par storytelling for a game, which is not saying much at all.

    This mod is an alright bit of storytelling but barely interactive and not really a game. Where games do have untapped potential I think, is firstly that storytelling can be emphasized through immersion – games are arguably the most immersive storytelling medium; and secondly that interactivity itself can be used as a device for experiencing something. By that I mean non-linearity can add a lot to storytelling, if the story is tailored to it.
    Pathologic is a reasonable example of that I think.
    Braid melds game mechanics and narrative together, which is excellent. And Dwarf Fortress stories write themselves – also impressive.

    I got a bit rambly there.

  14. Lewis says:

    I find the assumption that something built in an explorable 3D engine has to be wildly interactive to be a little flawed, to be honest. A lack of interaction doesn’t equate to emptiness, and I don’t think comparing it to vapid tearjerker stuff is entirely fair. It’s much closer to an abstract art-house movie, and few people consider those to be manipulative fluff. Just my tuppence on it, anyway.

  15. Cirdain says:

    Anyone. And I mean everyone who likes this. Will probably like the series of unfortunate events books.

  16. what says:

    My favorite part was when I saw esther on the cliff, and I walked up to her slowly, making sure that I was facing her head on the entire time, but there was a small dip, I looked down to make sure I wouldn’t fall, and she was gone

  17. Naismith says:

    On the advice of the fine folks at RPS I gave this mod a spin. Unfortunately, I can’t say I enjoyed it nearly as much as many here did. It’s entirely possible that I just didn’t ‘get’ it, but it seemed a story written by someone who didn’t understand or even want to follow the typical stages of a story. There’s no strife, unless you count the histrionic writings of the narrator, a character who unfortunately I cared little about. I know that sometimes writers will shroud their characters or story in secrecy to entice others. In this case, it just didn’t work, I just couldn’t find myself caring about the characters, the story, or any of it. I bunny-hopped my way through, hoping for something to hook me. The diagrams in the carvings becoming more complex intrigued me at first, but even that faded away as I learned it was nothing more than set dressing and not important at all. The storyline as it was rambled far too much and simply did not even try to hook me. The ending, as it was, was so vague as to leave me disappointed.

    In the end, I would hardly suggest downloading and playing this. If you’re of a very open mind, and greatly enjoy ‘art films’, check on youtube for someone else playing through it. There’s little to no difference. This doesn’t need to be a mod, it might have met more success as a 15 minute flash video.

  18. Lewis says:

    Oh, my, this is still going.

    Naismith – sorry you didn’t enjoy it. The advice wasn’t really from RPS, so don’t let my guest-ramblings taint your opinion of the fab four!

    I talked for a while in the article about why I thought Esther wouldn’t have worked as a film, or as any medium in which the reader isn’t key. Even though the interaction is limited, it’s all about the sense of being there, something even the finest film struggles to achieve at times.

    Having played through this five or six times now, I’ve a pretty solid idea of the story, but even first time through I think the ending’s anything but vague. It’s pretty clear what happens to the narrator, I’d say. The rest is ambiguous on purpose: composer Jessica Curry revealed to me recently that Pinchbeck didn’t even tell his team what it was all about.

    And no, I don’t think he did want to follow the typical stages of narrative. The whole exercise was about throwing away that rulebook and seeing how people responded to it. Inevitibly, it’s not going to please everyone… but I think the people who do like it will be thoroughly blown away. It’d divisive. There aren’t enough divisive games around.

  19. EyeMessiah says:

    I just got around to playing this. Really great stuff. I was baffled for about 10 minutes then completely absorbed until the finale. Reminded me very, very much of some of JG Ballard’s short fiction. The narrator even mentions “terminal beaches” at one point. I was half expecting to come across a drained swimming pool. I’m glad a played this tonight instead of buying Prototype!

  20. Velvet Fist, Iron Glove says:

    I said it gave me a strong sense of déjà vu throughout–oddly enough what it somehow reminded me of was a black and white 8mm film I saw in an art gallery years ago. This is odd because that film consisted of nothing but footage and sound of a lighthouse lamp revolving for eight minutes.

  21. vanarbulax says:

    Gah there’s no edit button and it’s to late here. Anyway Reverie is the mod on that list I was talking about.

  22. Alex says:

    Finally played this. Very cool, atmospheric, and I wish I’d played it earlier!

  23. T. Slothrop says:

    @futage

    The Malevich of games is the original pong. Irreducible suprematism.

    Also, everyone on this thread is wrong. No, nope, no reprieve for you my chap, or you. Especially not you. I mean that kindly and respectfully as the terms ‘art’ and ‘game’ and ‘experience’ have incredibly nebulous and contested definitions that can be modulated to justify one’s argument.

    ART IS DEAD, LONG LIVE KING PENGUIN!

  24. T. Slothrop says:

    Also an addendum; the writing and acting in this mod is incredible.

  25. The Unbelievable Guy says:

    Honestly, I see why people would love this, and I admire the direction it’s trying to take. But unlike Lewis, I don’t want more games like this, or the Path, or that awful mawkfest Passage.

    I can’t really pinpoint my own reasons for feeling like this.
    Possibly the indie art game crowd is right, and I’m an emotionally dead shell of a man. Perhaps I’m not quite as deep as I thought. Perhaps I just prefer the gleeful heart of a mod like Research and Development to the impenetrable cloud of pretentiousness that hangs over things like these. But I think it’s because, as Noise states, there needs to be something more.

    I remember, after Dear Esther, I felt sort of melancholy. Then I played Radiator: Handle With Care. I was left feeling both sad and uplifted, knowing that I had destroyed a relationship, but also that I had set two men free from each other. And then I remember thinking; between this game and that one, the one which gets a glorifying essay, the one which changed Lewis’ views on gaming forever, is Dear fucking Esther? The harsh, beautiful gauntlet of emotional truth is inferior to the depressing Scottish island simulator? What the hell is up with that?

    And I got lost near the start, which pretty much killed the entire experience for me as I bunny-hopped about in a vain search for the right path. Very much a game design flaw. And that may be another problem. Like the Path, this game/experience/interactive film/hatstand has been poorly designed. It shouldn’t be glazed over, the design is awful. And don’t say it isn’t really a game, because it fucking is and even if it isn’t experiences and interactive films and hatstands all need proper design. Sacrificing game design for story as an example of what games ‘could be’ is like shooting yourself in the left foot instead of the right and calling it an improvement.

    Sorry for the nerd rage, but I needed to express how this game made me, personally, feel.

  26. Lewis says:

    Just spotted this comment. I think Handle With Care is absolutely brilliant, and have been considering scrawling a load of words on that for a while now. I wrote this long before the Radiator series was even announced, though, let alone long before I’d played those brilliant games.

  27. Anonymous Poster says:

    If you’re looking for fun, I’ve no idea why you’re playing Dear Esther in the first place.
    That is easily the quickest I’ve been turned off from a mod in the last year. Good job.

  28. Igor Hardy says:

    I found the experience atmospheric, but other than that there was almost nothing to it. The way the story was presented made me rather quickly lose hope that it can actually be put together into something coherent. It was clear that solving a riddle wasn’t the narration’s point, the point was creating a notion of an unsolvable mystery – the oldest and most annoying trick in the book.

    At least it all ended in a rather uplifting manner.

  29. Xander says:

    I think I might be an unusual case because I played The Path before this, and The Path fucking floored me. It got to me on a deep, emotional-gut-punch level. I engaged with the game, and I let it ask very uncomfortable questions about myself, and it stuck around in my head for weeks afterwards.

    I just played Dear Esther and I feel absolutely nothing.

    It felt like a Half-life 2 mod with some triggered narration. I felt as though I was reading somebody’s short story — and by ‘reading’ I’m referring not just to the narration but to the piecing together of clues from the environment. And it wasn’t a very good story, because I knew exactly where it was going. Sure, it tried to do the whole ‘unreliable narrator’ thing, but then it basically jumped up and down and shouted ‘I’m an unreliable narrator! Don’t trust me!’.

    Some of it is definitely comes down to The Path having an unfair advantage because it’s NOT a mod — it’s a fully grown, from-the-ground-up experience. From the menus to the graphical style to the controls, it’s all working towards the same design goal. Poor old Dear Esther had to make do with the Half-life 2 framework that was already in place, so we get chunky footsteps, a flashlight, bunny-hopping and horrible electronic noises when you press the ‘Use’ key. It was mood-breaking, but I could have ignored it for the sake of a brilliant story. This wasn’t a brilliant story.

    It comes down to this: I can’t remember a single line of carefully-scripted dialogue from Dear Esther 2 hours after playing, but the images from the inside of Grandma’s house are permanently burned into my mind. I think the two games are more different than people acknowledge, and they’re both trying to accomplish different things, but The Path is just a more powerful and significant work of art.

  30. Sam says:

    What about Thief 3? Shalebridge cradly was pretty messed up, I won’t deny being completely unnerved and terrified for the whole level. It was a masterpiece really.

  31. SteveZombie says:

    I’m sick of people new to good storytelling overreacting to this. “Oh this is the future of videogaming”, “This changed my outlook on what videogames are capable of forever”, shut the hell up. This is nothing more than a shallow, mediocre backstory restricted to the form of utter nonsense by the author’s inherent lack of literacy skills, wrought in the horrendous form of a half-baked HL2 modification, and prettier maps aren’t going to save the upcoming remake if this ‘unique new narrative’ remains as it is.