Wot I Think: Dear Esther

By John Walker on February 13th, 2012 at 11:44 am.

You can't climb the lighthouse : (

I come to Dear Esther completely blind. For some reason I’ve chosen to read nothing about it at any point, perhaps instinctively opting to preserve myself against knowing everything about at least one game before I get to play it. I’ve heard the overwhelmingly positive, and grumbles of hype and overrated content, and I have an idea that it’s a game about exploring over anything else. But that’s all I know. So from this position, having never played the 2008 mod, here’s Wot I Think.

An island, a brief, esoteric introduction narrated by a man writing to an Esther, explaining that the island is uninhabited, and the ability to move. That’s where I begin. There’s two things that catch my eye. A radio tower in the distance, with a blinking red light, and a lighthouse right next to me. As everyone with their brain in place knows, lighthouses are magic, so I wander over.

At which point I learn that I am apparently not in the possession of any arms. Esther’s barren themes extend to its controls, and the lack of even an ‘interact’ button is striking. Interesting, certainly, but also a peculiarity when the very first building presents you with a closed door, a door handle, and no way to even rattle it. Then you quickly learn that this game’s restrictive grammar is even more draconian, when a small rock on the ground anyone could step over is impassable, as you apparently move by gliding across flat surfaces, and there’s no jump. Find a game’s control mechanisms in this way is always frustrating, of course. It’s not, “Oh, I can do this!” It’s, “Oh, I can’t do that.”

It quickly becomes apparent that this isn’t an open island to explore, but rather some very well disguised tight corridors. That’s fine, but you do quickly start to feel funnelled, especially when the blockades are quite so slight. And while the details are amazing, the island gorgeous, a dated aspect of the Source engine becomes naggingly consistent – all the foliage, which exists in abundance, is 2D, turning to face you as you move. Which means, as you walk down the overgrown paths, there’s the deeply uncanny experience of all the plants turning their gaze to follow you as you walk past.

Of course, not having any arms makes swimming pretty tricky, and despite there being a binding for “swim up”, it doesn’t do anything. If you’re exploring in the sea, you’ll just drown. (Other areas it works fine.)

But slowly, the further I got, the more it made sense. It’s pretty much the moment you enter the caves that what Dear Esther wants to be comes to the foreground, and you accept it for what it is. There’s no use button because you’re meant to be on this inexorable path, and the game simply wants to tell you its story.

The caves are stunning. Just utterly stunning. While the whole island is meticulously detailed and extremely pretty, the caves are something else, masterfully lit and so intricately crafted, that I found myself taking screenshots not to illustrate the review, but to set as my desktop background. Photographs for a frame, rather than images for a website. And here the corridor is justified, the story becomes more intensely told, and the mysteries finally present themselves. This central act sets you up for the final third, asks you all the questions you’ll then want to be answered.

Which does rather leave the first act as somewhat problematic. By not establishing its own nature early on, Dear Esther becomes about accepting limitations, rather than enjoying its structure. It never gets any less frustrating that you can’t walk up a gentle slope, or step past a pebble, because – well – games have taught us for too long that we can, and if that rule gets broken, the fourth wall is broken, and the fifth, sixth and seventh walls start boxing us in.

The writing is genuinely good. While it may sometimes slip close to the hackneyed, for the most part its telling is extremely strong, cleverly blurring the line between metaphoric poetry and simple conflation. The weakness, perhaps, is once you’ve had the, “Oh, I see!” moment, you’ve nothing further to gain, the point just becoming belaboured rather than further established. But Dear Esther exists only to tell that story, and in this it succeeds, accompanied by the gorgeously painted background of its island. It’s also accompanied by some absolutely beautiful music, sparingly used and perfectly haunting, strings and piano doubling the atmosphere.

At an hour and a half long, the $10 tag seems pretty high to me, especially for a game that has no reason to be played twice. It’s certainly a novel experience, but it’s one I think artificially limits itself, perhaps even with a hint of hubris. At my most cynical I’d suggest it’s maybe a touch infatuated with itself, to the point of forgetting how it might be approached by the new player. Your arms are tied behind your back from the start, because dammit, listen to the story you. Is that story good enough to justify this? That’s up to you. For me, no, not quite.

Disclaimer: Dear Esther’s PR has been provided by occasional RPS contributor, Lewis Denby. This has, of course, had no conscious influence on my article.

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87 Comments »

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  1. huw says:

    Thanks for this, John. You told me exactly enough about the game not to ruin it but to let me know pretty much what to expect. Thus, although I’m intrigued, I don’t think I will stretch to the full $10 while my gaming budget’s been shot to hell. Instant buy in a sale though.

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      jezcentral says:

      Same here. It sounds like the sort of curio that I enjoy spending an evening with, which I can complete and move on from. (A bit like Trauma, which has similar roots). I’ll wait for a sale.

    • MondSemmel says:

      @jezcentral
      But Trauma did have real gameplay! It told a story in a unique fashion, yes, and it was also what I would consider an art game, but the way exploration worked in that game was appropriately game-y. (I loved that game.)
      I haven’t played Dear Esther, but that seems to be a pretty big difference.

    • DK says:

      Keep in mind that there is reason to play it twice – some of the audio cues are randomized (unless they changed that from the original). You don’t hear all the lines on a single playthrough.

    • Syra says:

      That actually makes me like it less DK, if it’s just a laboured excusrion through storytelling why not provide the full story? Who wants to hear randomised segments of story? You could play through it loads of times before you got everything and I’m sure very very few people would be bothered to hear the same narration over and over.

  2. CMaster says:

    Sounds rather similar to my experience with the original mod, save that in said mod you could jump and use that to hurry yourself along or take shortcuts.

    • CaspianRoach says:

      Yeah, the only bit of fun I had with the original mod was trying to bunny hop the fastest. Unfortunately that broke the voice lines timing.

    • ch4os1337 says:

      I personally love’d The Stanley Parable way more then Dear Esther, I don’t understand all this hype. It’s not like it’s Garry’s Mod or anything.

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    Lars Westergren says:

    The controls do sound a bit frustrating, but not so much that I won’t buy it. Come on Steam, put a price tag on it already.

  4. Khemm says:

    That’s somewhat disappointing – I knew what to expect (to an extent) from fellow RPSers here, but omnipresent walls might make it hard for me to accept this game as something else than a pretty tech demo.
    To buy or not to buy… I honestly don’t know. I love 3D adventures like Penumbra or Darkness Within 2, I’m afraid I’ll only end up being frustrated, constantly muttering to myself “wow, this would be an amazing game if it let you explore more, if it had puzzles, inventory and so on”.

    • Unaco says:

      “this would be an amazing game if it let you explore more, if it had puzzles, inventory and so on”

      Have you looked into Skyrim? It allows all of these things, although it’s also an RPG. But it’s big on exploration, huge open-world, puzzles, inventory etc.

  5. povu says:

    The voice overs you get during your travels are randomized, so there’s a lot you don’t hear in one playthrough. So that’s some incentive to replay the game, to get the full story.

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      But you can’t “game” the voice clips, right?
      The clips that play are chosen randomly, not because of some decision the player made.
      It seems there is no game here.

  6. MuscleHorse says:

    It may be worth playing again John as the Steam description states that different things happen each time you play…

    I’ll certainly be picking this up in a sale as I’m a huge fan of the mod. $10 is a bit much however.

  7. Unaco says:

    Chekov’s Lighthouse?

    I, too, have never played the original, and have barely read anything about it. I’m assuming the original is free, so what is the difference between that version and this? Is it just a case of extra-shiny graphics? Or is there actual gameplay changes/improvements, more gameplay, extra levels, something like that? What would there be in this version, to make me want to hand over some shekels, as opposed to the free version? Free version is still available, right?

    Also, something I’m perhaps missing from this WiT, but… What is the gameplay like? Puzzles? Dialogue? It sounds like it’s a fancy rolling demo, with nothing to do but follow a path. Does it have Amnesia/Penumbra style monsters that have to be run away from? Is movement itself a game, like QWOP? What is it you actually do here? Is there more gameplay in this than, say, CODMW3?

    • CaspianRoach says:

      There’s no gameplay as it is not a game but a movie. The kind of a movie people call art-house. You can do nothing but walk around.

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      Keirley says:

      @CaspianRoach

      This may sound inane, but how many movies can you walk around in? As soon as you include interaction it ceases to be a movie. And what actually is ‘gameplay’? It’s kind of a useless term. I think that if it’s on a screen, it contains interaction, and it’s made for the purpose of entertainment then it’s a videogame. I don’t see why it’s any less a game than Skyrim or Deus Ex, even if it lacks many aspects that videogames often include.

    • CaspianRoach says:

      Well it doesn’t have challenge, it barely has any rules (movement prohibitors are a rule by a stretch) and it provides no visible goals. There’s no system to play around with, you don’t call the 3D modelling program-rendered scene a game now do you?
      Dear Esther is a sandbox without toys, you can still crawl around but it’s as fun as it sounds.
      I guess movement in a video game has become so transparent to me that I ceased to count it as an interaction.

      For me the definition of gameplay is applying your mental and physical (reaction) skills to perform an action the result of which will vary depending on how well you did.
      Here there’s no different outcomes and the only gamey attribute is not linked to your skills (randomisation of voicelines). It is more of a museum trip than a game.

    • JackShandy says:

      You navigate terrain until you get to the end. It’s a game. You don’t have to call it a good game or anything.

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      Keirley says:

      @JackShandy

      Yeah, I think the requirements for something to be called a game are quite minimal.

    • Zwebbie says:

      As far as I’ve gathered, the commercial release isn’t that much different from the mod version. It has extra areas and more lines of voice, but the main difference is that the mod is cobbled together, and sloppy even for a Source mod, whereas this release is super duper fancy. They’ve even mentioned that the mod is a good demo for the commercial version.

      As for the “gameplay”: it is, indeed, just walking through a landscape while listening to voice-overs. But they’re narrated by a terribly unreliable narrator, and the island itself doesn’t always look quite real either. So you’ll be kept busy enough by interpreting (not solving!) all that Dear Esther presents you. It gets overlooked by John’s review a bit, but I would call “interpreting” the core of the game.

      As for whether it’s a game, I like to call it digital installation art, which, according to Wikipedia, “describes an artistic genre of three-dimensional works that are often site-specific and designed to transform the perception of a space.” Fits perfectly, and even if it’s a bit of an obscure term, it’s better than raising false expectations by calling it a game.

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      VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      @Keirley: “And what actually is ‘gameplay’?” Gameplay is the loop: player input → game world change → feedback → player input again.

      Dear Esther happens to limit your input to choosing when and where to walk, within fairly narrow bounds. And the feedback is only what you see and what you hear. And nothing in the game world actually changes in response to your input.

      Which—except that the voiceover is somewhat randomly varied each playthrough, which few players will discover anyway—means that the gameplay in Dear Esther is at the same level as you get watching a DVD: you can fast forward, or rewind, or watch chapters in the order you choose.

      So I wouldn’t call it a game myself. It’s in the same medium, but uses the medium differently.

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      Keirley says:

      @VelvetFistIronGlove

      What do you mean by ‘game world’?

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      Skipping to different scenes using a DVD remote gives you as much interactivity as this “game.”

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      VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      @Zwebbie: “digital installation art” is a good term for it.

      @Keirley: By “game world” I mean all the state and systems in the game. Technically the game world in DE does change—VOs are triggered that will never be triggered again. But since each VO is independent, the VO could just as well not have been triggered as far as the rest of the game world is concerned.

    • Archonsod says:

      “This may sound inane, but how many movies can you walk around in?”

      Call of Duty, Battlefield, Medal of Honour …

  8. Meat Circus says:

    I am inclined to play Dear Esther, but the sense that it’s a little too in love with itself seems to be obvious without even playing it.

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      Keirley says:

      I don’t understand why people say things like this whenever a game tries to do something different or weird. Just because a game is trying something new doesn’t mean that it’s in love with itself, or that it’s pretentious, or whatever.

      If the developer start saying how their game is amazing and revolutionary then fair enough, get annoyed at them. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    • John Walker says:

      The thing is, I *don’t* say any such thing about games that aim to be different. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever said that about *any* game in 4.5 years of writing on RPS.

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      Keirley says:

      @John Walker

      Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that that was your view. I was talking about Meat Circus and other commenters on RPS.

      I realise that your comment about it being perhaps a little infatuated with itself came from the fact that it’s quite needlessly obtuse for a good while at the beginning. Which is obviously fair enough.

      But I did feel that Meat Circus, and other commenters in the past, have quickly leapt to criticise a game as pretentious or self-loving in a way that makes me think they’re just annoyed that it’s doing something different.

    • grundus says:

      @Keirley

      When I was an animation student I made a short pixilation about something… I can’t really remember what it was (this was years ago), but I do remember the tutors said it was too much about how I was telling the story and not enough about the actual story itself. I can imagine this game treads that line quite finely, I imagine that’s what people mean. You have to remember that because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s not pretentious, in love with itself or whatever else… I don’t think this WIT demonstrated it to be either or, so without playing I couldn’t possibly say.

      It sounds somewhat like an interactive cutscene, though I do love weird shit like that. I probably wouldn’t spend more than £2.50 on this but I blame Steam and their ludicrous sales for that. Well, that and an anorexic bank account with my name emblazoned across it, of course.

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      Keirley says:

      @grundus

      Sure, something that’s trying something new can be pretentious – I’m not going to deny that. I just start to feel tired when people say things like: ‘I am inclined to play Dear Esther, but the sense that it’s a little too in love with itself seems to be obvious without even playing it.’

    • noodlecake says:

      @grundus So you think that an artist that makes art that is about his own process or technique could be perceived as self indulgent or pretentious? That’s given me something to think about. Most of my work at the moment is like that and I find it quite hard to find other notable painters… etc that work like that. That could be why. Although I think Minimalist painters and abstract expressionist painters probably fit into the sot of area of thinking.

    • Sweetz says:

      Assuming the writing is in the same vein as the mod, it is not “genuinely good.” It’s overwrought and awkwardly constructed by an author trying much too hard to prove to himself how smart he is and impress everyone with the size of his…vocabulary.

      The concept of a visual, passively interactive short story is not pretentious; the writing is. Since the writing is *the* key component of such a work, that’s a pretty big flaw.

      John understands this on some level and rightly identifies the “game” as being overly infatuated with itself, but then says the writing is “genuinely good”, which is a mistake. It is not a negative reflection of your own intelligence to call something that’s trying too hard to sound intelligent out for the pretentious crap it is – don’t be afraid to do so.

    • DK says:

      “It is not a negative reflection of your own intelligence to call something that’s trying too hard to sound intelligent out for the pretentious crap it is – don’t be afraid to do so. ”
      Okay, consider me doing so now then. You’re trying to hard, etc.

    • MadMatty says:

      When starting something truly great artwise, you always go by the pretense of it getting there. Afterall, there would be no greatness without pretense- that it might fail and end up pretentious, instead of grand, is a risk taken when aspiring for greater things.

    • Acorino says:

      Yep, Coppola’s biggest fear while making Apocalypse Now was that he was just pretentious. But most people wouldn’t agree with that, I suppose.

  9. MadTinkerer says:

    “At an hour and a half long, the $10 tag seems pretty high to me, especially for a game that has no reason to be played twice.”

    Actually, if it’s like the original, the narration does change when you play it again. Some of the bits are the same each time (in the original), but there are other parts that will be different when you play it again. The layout of the island won’t be different (AFAIK), but you will get different bits of monologue.

  10. Zwebbie says:

    For what it’s worth, I personally liked the mod version much better when I played it the second time, and knew what to expect of it. Its lack of gameplay and interaction can be jarring at first, but as John mentions, you get over that. And you realise that a story about loss and indentity wouldn’t be terribly improved by jumping puzzles. So, if it’s anything like the mod version, I agree with John’s view that it isn’t easy to transition into, but I think it gets better on a second playthrough when you know how to “accept it for what it is.”

  11. Timmeister says:

    I was under the impression that some of the game is randomised. A quote from Lewis

    “Remember, to get the most out of Dear Esther you should play through
    at least a couple of times – certain elements are randomised.”

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    PoulWrist says:

    Hrm. 10 euro buys me a book or two that’ll take me a week or two of on/off reading. It however also buys you a seat at the cinema for a movie of normal length. But you only go to the cinema to see movies you reckon are worth your while. Some might pay 20 euro to have them on a DVD after. I don’t. One viewing is enough in general.

    So, this is more like a cross between a moving picture and an audio book. Audio books being something I haven’t experienced in more than 20 years outside foreign language classes at school, what, 10-15 years ago?

    Randomised elements to a story that wants to be the strong focalpoint? Doesn’t sit that well with me. So, i should go through something I already know, to maybe hopefully hear some new words? That may or may not come around? Maybe if it’s something I will feel like replaying in a year that will make sense, because that’s a generous enough amount of time that I’ll have forgotten finer details and can take them in again, though most things don’t generally go too well with a second read. Song of Ice and Fire comes to mind…

    In conclusion, I might pick this up when it hits 5 euro.

  13. Aldehyde says:

    So the game seems to fit the description of “un-game” pretty well, no? That’s what I get out of the review at least.

    • NathanH says:

      It doesn’t really claim to be a game, though. I think their website called it a story built on elements from video games or something like that, which seems to me to be a good attempt to describe what this looks like. I wouldn’t use a label as obviously demeaning as “un-game” for something that doesn’t claim to be a game. This seems to me to be very honest about what it is trying to do. Either you are interested in it or you are not (I am not), but there’s no need to call it an un-game.

    • John Walker says:

      No, it’s not an un-game. It doesn’t want you to not play it.

    • Jojolion says:

      So it wasn’t made by Taro Yoko then?

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Dear John: do you ever regret coining a term that so far only applies to one game, and no-one understands what it means anyway?

    • Jimbo says:

      You’re saying it’s an un-term?

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Naw, just that it’s a silly term, in my opinion. But anyway, good WIT. Sorry if I was snarky about your word-baby, John.

    • Aldehyde says:

      I feel bad for not fully understanding the term “un-game” since I found it funny when I read it in the MW3 review.

      I might have a tiny bit more of a hunch of what it means now but I will never again have the courage to use it : )

  14. terry says:

    Yup, that sounds like Dear Esther alright. I’ve no problem lobbing some bucks at the creator – I enjoyed the mod version enough that an HD update is a thing to support. For those that are dubious about it, there’s always the free version.

  15. DickSocrates says:

    I’m intrigued by this, but would it have worked just as well as a short story? For all the impressive graphics, a well written piece of fiction would have better ‘pictures’.

    And the price… it’s too short even for a novella, or even a short play. No one would consider selling a short story for £7, whether that’s right or not (believe me, I wish the going rate for a short story was £7!). I won’t judge the price in relation to other games, as that is a totally spurious line of reasoning used mainly by big publishers to justify why games cost more than movies, when the truth is there is they do it because they can get away with it, teenagers having no concept of value (I paid £80 for SFII Turbo on the SNES in the olden days), but just as a statement of fact, £7 for less than an hour of fiction is just way out there compared to any other artform.

    I will buy it at some point, but I can’t justify £7. I have too many books to read and real games to play. I completely support the notion that the creator(s) *deserve* to be compensated for their work, but the price is misjudged. Maybe the US price *feels* more like £4 to them than £7 does to us.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      While I agree with you about the slightly-too-high price, I’m not sure about the idea of this working better as a short story. From what I’ve read it seems like much of the appeal of this is the identitycrisisy/kind-of-a-game-but-not/ohnowhatisthis? element. It might be more comfortable for its audience if it were a short story, but is that better?

      More personally I resent the idea that a storyteller can just switch medium like that. Short stories are hard to write in a very different way than games (or interactive digital art) are/is hard to make.

      But yeah, more than a fiver still seems a bit excessive.

    • Stupoider says:

      It’d be cheaper.

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    Fede says:

    If only you could climb the lighthouse…!

  17. NathanH says:

    I have no interest whatsoever in this sort of product but it’s good to see unusual and interesting things being done using video game elements, so I approve of its existence.

  18. quincunx says:

    I understand that the bottom line is how much we have to front for the game, but steam is getting what, 30% of that $10? Just something to keep in mind when considering the pricing choices the developer has to make. We are a generation of gamers (especially regarding indie games), in some part thanks to digital distribution sales, who has decided that anything more than $5 for a game is ‘a bit much’. Same thing happened when Amazon started setting a nasty $10 standard for best selling books. Public opinion regarding value changes. Bottom line for me? I’ve paid up to $12 for a 3D movie, $10 is more than reasonable to me for the same amount of entertainment. (Quality is another question, Transformers 3D is entertaining, but story? Yeah..) In part this is because of what I’ll say next.

    I’ve played through the original mod a couple of times, the first time it had me in tears. This game is going to effect everyone differently. It depends on your mood at the time you’re playing, it depends on how the story in any way might relate to something floating around in your head and it depends as mentioned, how quickly you are able to conform to the restrictions in place. Read any thoughts you can find on the original mod, you’ll find a common conclusion: You’re either going to love or hate this game. Surely there will be some folks in between as well, but if you’re looking for World War Simulator X, don’t bother. I’d suggest playing it during a time when you would normally be reading or in a calm state. If you’re rushed at all you’re going to miss things and it’ll be harder to carefully listen to and examine the story being told.

    As far as time? I know I put at least 2 hours into the original and supposedly the retail version has additional physical space to explore (at least a bit) so it seems like you could squeeze out more than an hour and a half…but I dunno. There were a few things in the mod (which basically included all of the standard Source interactions) that possibly extended the play time. I remember being a bit confused as to where I was supposed to go next so swam quite far out into the sea before realizing this was just not right. Seeing as how the new version is restrictive to a greater measure, I suppose it might make the difference.

    • quincunx says:

      Oh and the music! I’ll be promptly purchasing the soundtrack when it becomes available as well.

    • Outsider says:

      There is a good reason that these digitally distributed games have become cheaper, and that is that there is lower overhead. They do not have to have cds and rule books printed, box art painted and printed and they don’t have to pay a warehouse to hold the stock and don’t have to pay to have it shipped out.

      Does that necessarily mean that the developer/publisher should charge the same for the game as a physical game and just get more profit, or should that savings be passed on to the consumer? In this case, the savings are being passed on to the consumer and indie developers get the chance to send to market games that they would not have had the assets to before.

      The problem in this equation is AAA games, since their pricing structure (save for Steam sales) is the same for a boxed game as it is for a digital game. This is done presumably to not put brick and mortar stores out of business, but it still sucks to have to pay the same for something that has zero physical trappings. Same has occured with E-books, where publishers have been charging $24.95 to download a book onto a kindle, but the publisher didn’t have to pay to have this printed, stocked or shipped, so the price seems a bit high, hence people going to Amazon.

      Either way, it seems now that many games a digitally distributed, and for those of us that may have limited budgets for games, might judge a game on hours of entertainment vs price. I know I do that sometimes. So if I purchased Skyrim for $60 and got 300 hours of play out of it I’d consider that a good investment. If I was buying a hour and a half long game for $10, that doesn’t seem quite as good an investment of my entertainment funds. That of course doesn’t mean it’s not worth buying, but it could have to do with some saying $10 is too expensive. Oi, sorry for rambling.

    • Shuck says:

      @quincunx: Yeah, price expectations have become rather crazy and disheartening in the digital realm. These arbitrary, artificial “tiers” of game types (AAA, indie, etc.) have created different levels of price expectations, even though a non-AAA game will have a much, much, much smaller audience to support it and if anything should cost more. Plus, 20 years ago a game made with as many resources as an small “indie” game today would have sold for $50.

      @Outsider: True, the price of a digital version doesn’t include the same distribution costs and should, in some sense, be lower (and, over time, it actually is). There are several different issues here, though. First, the boxed game is underpriced – (AAA) games cost as much at retail as they did in the 1980s, even though, adjusted for inflation, they should be over $100 now. (And while the market as a whole may be larger now, it hasn’t grown nearly as much as development costs and without the barrier to needing a publisher, there’s more competition in the marketplace.) The difference in printing and distribution costs of physical media versus digital media isn’t as large as people think. With books, for example, they’re pretty much the same. About 90% of the cost of a book is unrelated to printing, and ebooks have their own separate costs, so the difference in cost between print and ebooks pretty much disappears. Amazon is infamous for undercutting on prices, with accusations that it sells many ebooks at a loss, both to increase Kindles sales and destroy competition.
      Also, the retail dynamics are quite different between online and physical distribution. Traditionally a game in stores would appear for a matter of weeks at full price and then was gone, and you’d be lucky to ever find it after that. Now thanks to online distribution (both digital and online orders), there’s a long tail, where prices can (and usually do) come down over time. Boxed sales don’t have the same pricing flexibility.
      The cost-per-hour argument only goes so far if we consider that we’re getting different experiences from games like Skyrim and Dear Esther. I don’t think most people compare the cost-per-hour of a DVD or movie ticket with a video game with a book, for example, because the experiences are so different.

  19. MythArcana says:

    A flash in the pan. Perfect for the KiddieNetwork.

    Meanwhile, a Steam-rejected project known as Conquest of Elysium 3 will get most of my attention on the 20th. I’ll also be playing my Steam-rejected Cryptic Comet games in between.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Have Cryptic tried to get their games on Steam now? I somehow remembered him not being interested in it.

      KG

    • Tyrone Slothrop. says:

      ಠ_ಠ

      I hope you’re just irritated those games are not on Steam, not that you’re masquerading as an adult.

    • Vinraith says:

      How is Desura (the only platform on which CoE3 appears to be available) meaningfully better than Steam? They’re both intrusive client-based systems, as far as I know.

    • InternetBatman says:

      He said in a blog post that he submitted Armageddon Empires in “a moment of weakness,” and they rejected him.

    • MythArcana says:

      I’m really not too sure as to why Illwinter chose Desura for CoE3, and I can say with complete honesty that I’m not thrilled about that decision…but, apparently their old distributor (Shrapnel Games) has exclusivity and price locks games (being one reason Dominions 3 costs so much) and they are moving on. Steam rejected CoE3 and Illwinter inherently chose Desura this time around. The forums also mentioned that GamersGate is interested (which I’m interested in), but nothing is final with that yet. Regardless, I will simply install the game and some updates, then uninstall the Desura client when things settle down.

    • Vinraith says:

      Ah, I very much hope it comes to Gamersgate. I’ll certainly buy it if it does, and it would definitely fit in there.

    • Premium User Badge

      Fede says:

      @KG: this is the post InternetBatman was referring to.

    • MythArcana says:

      Yes, that sale was Vic Davis’ acknowledgment that his games would never be on…well, we know where. This pretty much denotes an automatic seal of high quality when I see it.

      It all comes down to the dreaded “Money Hat” which holds the industry developers hostage and usually denotes financial success on a grand scale. All these kids want their $3 games, then complain that there’s only 2 hours of gameplay to be had. Meanwhile, I’ll fork out $30-$50 elsewhere for one game and enjoy that badboy for 6 years down the line. The choice is obvious for me, but I’m slowly watching the PC game industry being flushed down the toilet with quality much resembling that of a dime store sale. Sad indeed.

    • terry says:

      You could have just typed “get off my lawn” and be done with it, y’know.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Thanks for the information, folks!

      KG

  20. DrGonzo says:

    John. The audio is random, there are lots of different samples that can play in each area, so every time you play through the game the ‘story’ is different in a sense. You get a slightly different idea of what happened each time.

    That is true of the mod, I’ve not played the game yet but assume it’s left that way. It’s not a huge replay bonus. But it does mean there is at least *some* reason to replay it. Thought that was worth mentioning.

  21. jamesom says:

    I’ve played the original 8 or so times, I can see myself playing this even more than that.
    looking in ever corner, taking in the views, looking back to see the world from behind.
    Just stopping an standing for a while to see if anything happens.
    Playing it over and over to hear audio that I did not get the first time.
    I just love it.
    For the music alone I’d pay $15.

  22. pants says:

    It seems that one of the biggest complaints people in the comments have is that it doesn’t fit within their definition of game (have any of you even played this new one?).
    So what if it’s not a “game”? So what if it doesn’t have an interaction/feedback loop? People arguing about the definition of a game is just as futile than people flopping around arguing about what the definition of art is.
    Shouldn’t it be about the experience? Judging by the WIT, it sounds like in this case it might not be the best experience, but just for the fact that it flies so much in face of the apparently shrinking box of “game” I plan on buying this as soon it’s available tomorrow. I think the concepts are brilliant, and give a much needed breath of fresh air. But again, judging by the WIT, it sounds like those concepts may have flawed execution, but the fact that this exists makes me incredibly happy. I think the “game industry” really needs more stuff like this to push boundaries.

  23. NothingFunny says:

    This ‘game’ can be ‘played’ on youtube.
    It’s a really pretty case of environment design and I hope some one (same guys may be) can make an adventure game with such quality visuals.

    • jaypettitt says:

      That’s like saying you can go to a restuarant and eat a meal on you tube. Or climb a mountain on youtube. Or get diagnoesed for schizophrenia on youtube.

      It’s true that you don’t ‘play’ Dear Esther. At least, not like a shoot ‘em up. But don’t think for a second that she doesn’t play games with you. You do need to be there.

    • Gira says:

      No, that’s a stupid analogy. You don’t engage in the process of eating while watching a meal be eaten on YouTube. You don’t engage in the various physical and mental pressures required to climb a mountain while watching someone do the same on YouTube. However, you can consume the entirety of Dear Esther’s content by watching it on YouTube. Unless, of course, you count holding W down an essential “experience”. It is not a game and does not deserve to be recognised as such. It isn’t even particularly good art, either. It’s a wonderful representation of just how wrong so many people are about videogames, whose “art”, if you will, is in their interactivity.

      It’s hard to describe this as anything other than a complete failure of the potential of the medium.

    • jaypettitt says:

      “that’s a stupid analogy”

      Not at all.

      Dear Esther has no set content. It has narrative hooks hidden in the landscape, which you explore and investigate depending on where your curiosity takes you – something denied to you on youtube. Sometimes those hooks may be echoed in the narration, which is randomised.

      Some of those hooks you, as the player, will notice, perhaps forming connections and may become subliminally reinforced as you make your way across the island. Whatever ‘story’ Dear Esther tells ~ whether it’s about loss, guilt, madness, freedom or whatever is entirely in your head – a figment of Esther’s suggestion and your over active imagination.

      Esther is a psychology experiment. It’s interactive, you do need to participate.

    • Mman says:

      “This ‘game’ can be ‘played’ on youtube.”

      No it can’t. While I didn’t get the same profundity from it I think Alec’s “second opinion” captures the overall feel of it more; the narration itself isn’t necessarily important and (along with the music and the visuals themselves) is more a means of infusing the environment and progression with varying atmosphere and emotion. Which are the kind of things that can only be fully experienced by letting yourself be drawn into it, and not passively watching it with control stole from you.

  24. quincunx says:

    Just finished the retail version this evening. It was as rich and wonderful an experience as the original, except more so with the breathtaking visuals and wonderful sound work (not just the narration but in general you’ll notice the right environmental sounds for where you’re standing, listen for it)!

    Again, this is really going to be a ‘to each his/her own’ experience regardless of how you define it as a game. I’m not sure it’s something for which you should read one review and decide rather or not you’ll like it. It’s not easy to wrap your head around in some senses and there will be a variety of opinions on it’s execution.

    112 minutes and 167 screenshots later, I am very pleased. (And for those who’ve played the mod, I think you’ll enjoy the ending, although similar, it feels more complete instead of cut off.)

  25. BobbleHat says:

    Well, it’s exactly as I expected. The same hour long ‘game’, but made absolutely stunningly beautiful. Honestly there were a few instances where my jaw dropped at how pretty it was.

    Worth £7? I’m not sure. The only replay value is to experience the gorgeous atmosphere again, but with a few different voiceovers each time. Personally I really admire it, but it’s still not much more than an interesting experiment.

    Hopefully a game developer will be inspired to take a similar approach to storytelling and atmosphere that this does, and combine it with some proper game mechanics. It actually has some of the ingredients for a really effective horror game.

  26. Timtoid says:

    I bought it, and I’ve spent $10 on shittier films, so I’m happy. It’s genuinely haunting and wonderfully engrossing… except for the controls at times :/

  27. goliath1333 says:

    While I do agree that the movement scheme is not what we are used to in modern games, I don’t think that it detracts from the game at all. In my interpretation of the game, you are a badly injured man tanked up on drugs. A laconic walk along paths is about all you can manage. I think the first lighthouse is to teach you that you’ll only be here to watch and not to touch, there isn’t much you’d want to touch otherwise in the game.

    I don’t know how much real wilderness exploration any RPS readers have done before, but when you can’t bunny hop constantly, climbing up cliffs and walking through deep vegitation fucking sucks. I’ll keep to the path thank you very much. 15 minutes of Skyrim, Arctic hiking with full steel plate armor, and everyone here would be dead.

  28. wearedevo says:

    Unfortunately it’s just not all that good. There were a couple of lovely moments, and the environment was beautiful, but the atmosphere felt contrived and the dialogue.. yeesh. It sounded like it was written by a game developer (It was written by a game developer). If the writing was stronger, or the story was more compelling, or better told, or the player had more agency in piecing it together, it might have been great.

  29. wrath says:

    I seriously doubt this will be read by the author, or anyone seeing as this story is now fairly old, and the comment will be buried so far down the list, but here goes:

    I have one, glaring problem with this Wot I Think: Your definition of a corridor. Since when does linear = corridor? No gaming environment is truly outside, actually when you look up and see sky, you’re looking at the roof of the little box you’re in. Everything else is just window dressing. News flash: The sky is painted on. It is called a “sky box”.

    When there are corridors, its not hidden, there are a lot of fenced paths around, a lot of walkways with sheer drops on one side, and hand rails, and even a cave sequence. I fail to see how you could describe, and even dismiss the climb to the bothy, some of the more open areas of the cave, the wreckage site, and in particular the beach you arrive at upon exiting the cave as a “corridor”. They’re certainly not all that tight!

    • wearedevo says:

      Corridor simply implies linearity rather than a more free-roaming setting like a GTA or Elder Scrolls game. It’s a relative thing. You could make the argument that these games are “corridors” too because they have limits and a skybox, but if you made that argument you’d be a twat.