Dear Esther Arrives February 14th, At $10

By Jim Rossignol on December 8th, 2011 at 3:11 pm.


I’ve been reading some interesting discussions about Dear Esther of late, with some folks maintaining that it’s “not even a game”. With just wandering about and some artful narration going for it, you can see why some people are sceptical about it being in the same category as all those other things, with their hi-score tables and their comprehensible rule sets, that currently sit in the big box of games. Whether or not it’s a game, you’re going to be able to pay $10 on Valentine’s Day next year, and wander lonesomely through its breath-takingly remade landscape. It really is quite an extraordinary thing to see, outdoing most mainstream games’ environment work with its lavish Source-powered rocks and weeds. The Chinese Room also announce that: “In other news, we can also confirm we will be speaking at GDC2012′s Game Design track about Dear Esther, the approach to environmental build, audio, voice-overs and storytelling.”

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63 Comments »

  1. Bodminzer says:

    How romantic!

  2. Senethro says:

    Yeah, I’ll pledge my $10 as a show of faith that more things like this should be made.

    • c-Row says:

      Good point!

      I don’t remember what picture the original painted after presenting you all pieces of the puzzle, but I never felt like I wasted my time on an un-game.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      @c-Row Dear Esther is certainly not an un-game, but I would consider it a notgame, rather than a game.

  3. Scandalon says:

    Normally I’d wait for a price reduction, but as I quite enjoyed the original, and my first child should be arriving within a few days of this, I think I shall budget/schedule this to celebrate.

  4. Jorum says:

    I’ve avoiding playing the original for so long now, waiting for this to come out.

  5. Hoaxfish says:

    So, she’s dead on arrival

  6. Blackcompany says:

    Buying this as soon as it comes out. Been tracking it for a time now. Something RPS has helped with. Can’t wait to finally experience Dear Esther. Thanks for letting us know about the release next year on Overpriced Flowers day.

  7. AbsoluteDestiny says:

    Cheap at twice the price, imo

  8. Commander Gun says:

    “with some folks maintaining that it’s “not even a game”. ”

    So, quite similair to CoD: MW3 then?

  9. Bluerps says:

    Why does it even matter if it can be called a game?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Well, could it win an award, for example, for best art in a game, if it is not really a game?

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Perhaps Bluerps means “Why does it matter to the average consumer if it can be called a game?”

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Perhaps! But that wasn’t the context he was referring to, hence my answer.

    • NathanH says:

      I think it would matter to an average consumer if it was being marketed as a game, but the people making it don’t seem to be claiming it’s a game, so it probably doesn’t matter so much. The question of whether or not it is a game is therefore probably of academic interest only (as well as award-determining).

      I have never heard of this and don’t know anything about it apart from looking of a minute at the website. Does the player have to work out where to go in order to make the story progress? If they do then it’s probably a game. If they don’t then it’s probably not a game.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      They seem to be saying that you can experience the story in different ways depending of how you uncover it and how deep you uncover.

      For me, if there is some element of skill involved, it’s a game – whether that be the possibility of failure or a test of the mind – if you can just drift round the map to every story element with no challenge, it’s not. And of course, what is enough of a challenge for some is not for others, so there might very well be a case that what is a game for one person may not be for another!

      I agree that if you are a consumer, it doesn’t matter as long as you are informed – you know exactly what you are buying, however, I think in the case of this game, I am not yet sure – though I am very interested!

    • BAshment says:

      We better categorise it fast wouldn’t want confusion at a possible future award ceremony.

    • Mctittles says:

      I suppose we have to make labels at some point to make our life more convenient. Would you want RPS to write an article on MS Paint and call it a 2d minecraft?

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      And while we’re at it, why can’t this be classed as an RPG?

      Ooh, perhaps Wizardry should chime in on this!

    • Bluerps says:

      Ok, yeah. I didn’t think of a competition. There are probably some other scenarios, in which that question is actually important.

      This kind of discussion tends to be long and fruitless (because there is no clear definition of what a game actually is), and in most cases, the disctinction is not important, hence my question.

    • pipman3000 says:

      The average gamer is an uneducated man-ape who lives in his own filth and can only appreciate a game if it gives him gamerpoints.

      I like to imagine RPS readers are a step above the inbred riff-raff and I will be purchasing this on day one.

    • MD says:

      Would you want RPS to write an article on MS Paint and call it a 2d minecraft?

      Yes! Very much so. Especially if they can get Quinns back on board to write it.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      It’s a Dear Esther.

  10. Sheng-ji says:

    Are games valued solely on how long you play them for?

  11. Inigo says:

    Or you could just rip the dialogue from the mod, put it on an mp3 player and wander around Cornwall on an overcast day. At least then you’d get some fresh air and a little bit of sunlight on your pallid fish belly-white skin.

    • Sheng-ji says:

      Because all gamers have an aversion to sunlight and never go out, say, for a hike along Cornwalls wonderful coast path.

      I would suggest Polperro to really get the atmosphere this game seems to have myself.

    • Inigo says:

      Because all gamers have an aversion to sunlight

      Only most of them.

    • McCool says:

      Coming from Cornwall, I can attest that there aren’t as many pagan hauntings and randomly crashed cars on the Cornish coastline as in this game.

      Or was I supposed to say there were more? I’m not very good at this whole “satire” thing.

    • Inigo says:

      Then take some acid and drive something off a cliff.
      God, use some initiative.
      I’m not your bloody wetnurse, man.

  12. AlwaysRight says:

    *REPLY DELETED*

    I put a sarky comment here, but frightlevers comment is so obviously stupid I am redacting it.

    (or am I?)

    edit: anyone interested in the debate of ‘Size doesn’t matter’ in games read these:

    http://nygamedev.blogspot.com/2010/08/coming-up-short.html

  13. Stupoider says:

    Considering games are a fun timesink, surely getting the most for your money is ideal.

  14. Fearzone says:

    Can’t wait to see the mods.

  15. Sheng-ji says:

    But games are not just a timesink. I don’t play games because I just want to waste time – I play games for fun.

    So surely how fun I find a game should factor into the price I would pay?

    Infact, sometimes knowing I would have to sink hours and hours into a game before I can have fun with it will stop me buying it altogether, you might say, if I can have the same amount of fun with two different games, but in one game the fun is spread of 200 hours the other it’s compacted into 10, surely I should buy the one with 10?

  16. Pathetic Phallacy says:

    I’m going to provide you a 50 hour video of Nyan Cat. All I ask is that you give me a dollar via paypal for providing you with the video.

    Act now! This is a great deal! Think about it, this video lasts as long as Skyrim but Skyrim costs 50 times as much!!

  17. Stupoider says:

    Fun’s more of an analogue thing when I’m playing games, either it’s fun or not. I don’t act like it’s anything other than passing the time though.

  18. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    I’m curious – to all those people ripping on Dear Esther, what’s your definition of a ‘game’?

  19. Sheng-ji says:

    I think you mean’t digital not analogue – if I read your comment correctly!

    Also, I won’t be so crass as to say “You’re playing games wrong” but I will say that we will have to agree to disagree – to me angry birds is fun, but Skyrim is definitely more fun. It’s very much a sliding scale of how fun something is for me and I wouldn’t play angry birds if my laptop is availiable because it would, even though I find it fun, be about the least amount of fun I could have in my free hour.

  20. Urthman says:

    I really wish I hadn’t played the original. I love wandering around in games, but I thought the story and writing were really weak (the voice acting was fine). And it did almost nothing to reward exploration. In the true spirit of Half-Life, there was always only one way to go.

    I wish I’d had this beautiful scenery to temper my disappointment.

    • phuzz says:

      Did you know the dialogue was randomised?
      (as in, the order is random, and you might well not hear everything)

      I think the idea is that making sense of the story is down to the player(? viewer?, experiencer?)

  21. DocSeuss says:

    Even if it doesn’t abide by the normal rules of what people expect video games to be (and there are two distinct schools of game design–one of playing video games like one would any kind of game and one of wanting to be in the world of the game, and Dear Esther is undeniably the latter), it’s still a game.

    After all, games are just “structured playings,” and that is a thing which Dear Esther certainly is.

    Also, is there somewhere to get a bunch of GDC papers? I’ve been reading some AI stuff recently, and it’s been fascinating.

    • Keirley says:

      It kind of annoys me when people say ‘that’s not a game!’ without defining ‘game’. Sure, you don’t have to give me a rigid definition every time you say something like that, but most of the time ‘x is not a game’ turns out to mean ‘x is doing something new or uncommon and I don’t like what this is’. It’s the same thing with art: ‘x is not art’ often means ‘I’m not familiar or comfortable with what x is doing’.

      Personally, I like Grant Tavinor’s definition of videogame, because it’s broad enough to allow that something can be a videogame either by having goal-oriented mechanical interactions or by being an interactive fiction (in the broad sense of an interactive fiction, not in the sense of the specific ‘genre’ of interactive fiction). I’d say that Dear Esther is very much a game, since it fits squarely into the ‘interactive fiction’ camp.

      Here’s the definition, for anyone who’s interested:

      ‘X is a videogame if it is an artefact in a visual digital medium, is intended as an object of entertainment, and is intended to provide such entertainment through the employment of one or both of the following modes of engagement: rule an objective gameplay or interactive fiction’

      Oh, also Dear Esther is swell. I’ll definitely be snapping it up as soon as it’s released in its new form.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      But that definition would exclude newsgames, which are very obviously games.

  22. McCool says:

    I always forget that the company responsible for this are called The Chinese Room. It’s an interactive work of art that evokes JG Ballard and Virginia Wolf through the format of Half-Life, made by a company called The Chinese Room. The target audience for this thing appears to so accurately be me, that I’m under suspicion Dear Esther really was made with just me in mind, and for people a bit like me.

  23. Crusoe says:

    This is on Steam, is it not?

  24. Beelzebud says:

    Played the original until I found out this was being made. Really looking forward to this. I don’t give a shit what people call it, or think about it.

  25. JohnnyMaverik says:

    I’m so excite ^_^

  26. povu says:

    Half Life 2 lasted me like 10 hours, and I’ve put 60 hours in Skyrim so far. Half Life 2 sure is a crappy game that I should’ve picked up at $5 instead.

  27. bear912 says:

    For me, games are not simply about “fun”. Sometimes they are, but it’s hard to distill the value I get from them into a single word. Rather, I play to have fun, to think, to experience, to explore, to learn, to feel, and simply to be entertained. Often these happen independently, in different games. Sometimes they happen all at once. Perhaps the simplest explanation I can offer is to invoke Prospero, speaking, I think Shakespeare’s own feelings in the final monologue of The Tempest:

    Gentle breath of yours my sails
    Must fill, or else my project fails,
    Which was to please.

    If Shakespeare is content to humbly please, who am I to say that a game must do more?

  28. pipman3000 says:

    You don’t get it, it’s ART man, It’s video game art, the only art that’s worth anything to me.

    Get your moneys worth? Who cares it’s my parents money anyway.

  29. bear912 says:

    ART! ARTINESS!

  30. wengart says:

    I think Frightlever has a point, and supposing you had a limited amount of money to spend on games both fun and length become important factors.

    For example, I’ve been playing Battlefield 3 for upwards of 70 hours since it was released while I’ve played Limbo for 3. Obviously Limbo is less expensive (50$ less depending on where and when you bought it) and I could buy several other games at that price point, but it is doubtful that they would have the same entertainment length as BF3.Supposing that I will have equal or almost equal amounts of fun with either set (BF3 or the set of 5 indies) BF3 would be the better choice because it would entertain me for longer.

    I think this is where the are games art argument is really important. If games are art then surely length shouldn’t be an issue when judging it, but if they are not then length becomes an issue. Personally I prefer to judge games on their “artistic” value then afterwards mention their length because it is important to some people. Especially those on a budget.

  31. NothingFunny says:

    a) It looks great, too bad such visuals are not paired with gameplay.
    b) Ironcaly this DearEsther thing proves Ebert’s (and others) point about games not being art.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      I asked Duchamp what he thought of Dear Esther, and this is what he said: ceci n’est pas un jeu.

  32. MD says:

    Aside from the obvious (fun > length, although the balance between the two will vary depending on your own balance of spare time and spare money, as well as the other options you have for using that spare time), don’t forget that a game like Dear Esther, if successful, provides ‘value’ beyond the experience you have while playing it.

    I don’t know how well it works (haven’t played it), but presumably as a work of art the aim is to leave you with something that doesn’t evaporate when you press ‘quit’.

  33. Sheng-ji says:

    Wengart Said “I think Frightlever has a point, and supposing you had a limited amount of money to spend on games both fun and length become important factors.”

    I didn’t ever say length of game should never be taken into consideration – I think it’s very important – however what I did say is that it is not the only consideration.

    Frightlever doesn’t have a point here because his point was that the only factor to consider when buying a game is how much it costs per hour of gameplay and is prepared to write off a game because he *thinks* it will cost more per hour than other games or other forms of media entertainment. If he really believes that, then I assume he’s a few hours through that 50 hour Nyancat video right now.

    Also to the people saying that you view games as solely a way to waste time – if your not having fun, why not go do something constructive? I’ve no problem if you’re enjoying yourself, but if the sole purpose of gaming is to make time pass, I would suggest you should self refer yourself to IAPTS and get some CBT because I reckon you have a problem with depression!

  34. DrGonzo says:

    OP hit the nail on the head.

    Skyrim is a time sink. Quite numbing and boring. An hour of enjoyment from Dear Esther is an hours more enjoyment than Skyrim, in my opinion at least.

  35. terry says:

    If games are art, Dear Esther is a freakin gallery. It’s worth the bucks for me just to wander around admiring the texture work.