Dear Succesther: Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture

By Nathan Grayson on July 31st, 2012 at 10:00 am.

I'm hoping the world ends with that sunrise being obliterated by the moon from Zelda: Majora's Mask.

Dear Esther‘s brilliantly amorphous plot made me feel like I’d hit my head and – for the same reason that television’s left me deathly afraid of light flicks on the forehead or especially hard rainfall – acquired horribly debilitating amnesia. That, however, is probably where the similarities between Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs and Dear Esther end, so thechineseroom’s also giving its more experimental spirit room to breathe with Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. It is, of course, about the end of the world – as these things so often are. But this is far from typical videogame pre/post/postmodern apocalypse fare.

Speaking with Beefjack, thechineseroom’s mightiest creative lord, Daniel Pinchbeck, explained the general concept behind his company’s CryEngine-3-powered opus, describing it as – in some ways – Dear Esther’s polar opposite. While you can certainly stand around and simply experience the six main characters’ final hour, the idea is to interact in different ways each playthrough and watch the dominoes fall. Pinchbeck explained:

“Do you become like a voyeur, just watching them live out the last day of their life, effectively? They’ll get on with that anyway, and what they do will make changes in the world. And if you’re there when that change happens, that’s kind of realised and presented in a different way than if you’re not there.”

“We’re looking at making it much more physially interactive [than Dear Esther], so you can manipulate objects, you can open and close doors. [And] without it being too much like easter egg rewards, the game will reward you for exploring and interacting. So there are places which are not obvious to get to, and you have to do things in order to get to them.”

The crux, then, is that one hour time limit. Once the clock strikes armageddon, the bell tolls for, well, existence, and that’s the end of your playthrough. Then you play again and again and again – discovering entirely new things each time. This is aided by the fact that the environment’s enormous (it’d take 20 minutes to just walk from one end to the other, Pinchbeck says), so doing everything in one go is beyond impossible.

It all sounds very interesting, and if anyone can realize such an ambitiously experimental vision, it’s thechineseroom. Currently, Pinchbeck and co are aiming for a summer 2013 release date – though many key aspects of the game are still in flux right now. So who knows? Honestly, though, Dear Esther’s probably one of my favorite anythings of the year thus far, so I’m more than willing to wait if it means getting a second helping of food for thought that’s also able to play a mean number on my heartstrings. Without spoiling too much for those who haven’t played it, the ghosts, guys. Brilliant. I want the brains that thought of that to be thinking of all of the things.

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64 Comments »

  1. Humppakummitus says:

    I look forward to both opening and closing doors.

  2. kataras says:

    I really liked Dear Esther. I can’t wait to see how this plays out. I m sure it will look even more atmospheric with the Cryengine.

  3. SanguineAngel says:

    Sounds a little like Source Code: the game. Which is an idea I can get behind

    • RagingLion says:

      Source Code: the game needs to happen. I would love that kind of game.

      • CitizenDickbag says:

        Seconded. Doubly so if they manage a game’s worth of content out of a similarly relatively short repeated timeframe. The movie centered around a sequence of only seven minutes, didn’t it?

        • Dances to Podcasts says:

          There are quite a few games out there that stretch their content by making players play through it several times with some random changes or just changing difficulty, so if someone can manage to make that more interesting that would be progress. :)

      • ttcfcl says:

        Honestly the closest thing I can think of is “A Mind Forever Voyaging”. There are probably other “groundhog day-esque” IF games that do this too.

        If you aren’t familiar with AMFV, you play a computer that is simulating a Colorado city, and your job is to discover the long lasting effects of various bills and laws that are being proposed, by seeing what the city will be like in 10/20/30 years via simulation. I have not got very far but I believe there are some “holy crap” moments later on. It sounds boring but it’s not. You get to wander around at your leisure, go to dinner, see a movie. But then you do it again but in the future and see all the subtle or notsosutble changes to everyday life. Damn I want to play it again now.

      • Baf says:

        There is a 2001 text adventure titled Vicious Cycles with a premise and structure very similar to Source Code. Suspiciously similar, in fact. You can play a hypertextified version at http://www.bloomengine.com/cycles/ and see for yourself what I mean.

  4. Anthile says:

    My first thought was “…but what has this to do with Bioshock?”. I need more coffee.

  5. woodsey says:

    That sounds like an infinitely more interesting concept than Dear Esther’s guided tour.

    • EPICTHEFAIL says:

      Yes, it`s an actual game this time around, shockingly enough. I was hoping that you cpuld do something more impressive, but opening doors and throwing things at other things is good enough I suppose. After all, Half Life 2`s most interesting parts *cough* Ravenholm *cough* consisted of nothing but that. I am hoping it will have an effect in the long-term, but, if not, at least Mass Effect 3`s ending will be vindicated at last.

  6. markside says:

    The time limit thing sounds cool. Groundhog Day the game?

  7. Syra says:

    WARFACE

    …oh wait.

  8. CitizenDickbag says:

    I guess that’s why machine for pigs got delayed; They couldn’t bear to expend so much effort on an actual fun/interesting franchise so they had to get their pretentious on.

    RPS slobbering over Dear Esther after (rightly) calling Call of Duty a non-game is frustrating. At least in CoD you can shoot some mans. It may not change/affect anything except accelerating you further along in a story that seemed like it was written by Tom Clancy after a debilitating head injury, but by god those mans fell over dead and you were the one who did it. You did something, which is more than you can do in Dear Esther.

    I wouldn’t be so mad about Esther if they’d done it in a suitable medium like film, prose, or hell even as a radio play, but forcing you to hold down W in the Half-Life 2 engine and periodically turn your mouse to walk around a rock is not a good use of the videogame medium.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Slobbering over? John’s take was lukewarm at best.

      I found it deeply boring.

      • CitizenDickbag says:

        Wow, seen by The Jim. Uhhhh, well I’m gonna eat my words here and admit that my anger is spurred maybe possibly partially by fanboy-rage at Alec comparing Dear Esther favorably to Alan Wake, which I love immensely and consider to be the best game ever made (though not perfect).

        Sorry to spew bile at the site overall, which is literally the only gaming news site I read. My xbox is in a bag on the porch since they ported Alan Wake and I finished Deadly Premonition, so the PC slant is the slant for me. Rah rah rah, good luck at the olympics I guess? There’s olympic blogging, right?

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      I wish people would stop saying “pretentious” so much. It’s so…. what’s the word?

      Anyway, John’s word for CoD was “un-game”, and while I think it’s a terrible word, it does mean something quite specific, not just “not very interactive”.

      Oh yes, and the whole “why didn’t they just make it a book?” argument is so insulting to artists it makes me want to puke.

      But you know, your opinion is your own, so right on.

      • EPICTHEFAIL says:

        The problem is not in the format. It`s in the fact that a guided virtual tour is being marketed as a game (why the hell is it on Steam?). There is nothing inherently wrong with it, the graphics look pretty, and, while I haven`t played it, the story may well be quite good. I just don`t understand why someone thought it belongs on a gaming site as opposed to an art exhibition, or perhaps an auction. They would certainly get more money there, considering that it is quite well made, and one can fetch a cool few mill for a random ink blot on a post-it sticker these days.

        • Wut The Melon says:

          It couldn’t have been a book or a film, because the fact that YOU are walking around on the island is important in Dear Esther (immersion). That is the ONLY video game element that Dear Esther has, and I find it enough to see it as a videogame (or interactive experience, if you’re feeling formal).

          I think it does what it wants to do well enough; the problem is that it doesn’t do what some people expected/wanted it to do. I can see why you wouldn’t like it, but I don’t think that makes it a failed game. Though I can agree with the view that it is not as ambitious as it could have been, and I personally definitely prefer the Stanley Parable (which is interactive).

        • The Random One says:

          If I may be incredibly pedantic, Indie Game: The Movie is definitively not a game and is also on Steam.

          • Dances to Podcasts says:

            Not to mention guides, soundtracks and even that Portal bookish thing.

    • The First Door says:

      There is something to be said for people trying new things, even if the result isn’t very good. We are never going to advance story telling in games unless people try things like Dear Esther or Heavy Rain or The Stanley Parable. They might not be your cup of tea, but trying new things is how a medium develops.

      As it happens I’ve been rather loving Dear Esther, but that is because part of my brain is wired to love a good voice over.

      • Cinnamon says:

        We are going to advance story telling in games by pretending that failed experiments were roaring successes?

        • Keirley says:

          I missed the part where anyone said something even close to that.

        • The First Door says:

          I never said it was a roaring success and the critical reaction to it seems to have been pretty mixed. I like it, but I know plenty of people who hate it too.

          Beyond that though, even if it could be shown that it was a ‘failed experiment’ rather than you just not liking it, then it would still be important. ‘Failed’ experiments still teach you things, in fact they often teach you much more about what works and what doesn’t.

          P.s. I hate the term ‘failed experiment’. You do an experiment to try and prove something, just because you don’t prove your hypothesis doesn’t mean the experiment necessarily failed.

          • Cinnamon says:

            I find the vague concepts like “advancing storytelling” more annoying than “failed experiment.” It should be more annoying that things that are not scientific experiments are called experiments or experimental in the first place if that sort of thing bothers you. What exactly is advancing about story telling anyway? Are stories now being told more efficiently or something?

            I don’t like the idea that not “knocking people for trying something different” is never saying that something that you find dull or unremarkable is what you think it is.

          • The First Door says:

            Not really, as I have no problem with calling non-scientific things experiments. What I object to is the fact that when people call things ‘failed experiments’ what they actually mean is they, personally, disliked it.

            Also, I don’t think anyone here (least of all me) has said that you can’t have an opinion on the game. If you find it dull, fine, but I’m excited that something a little bit different can be popular enough for the developers to go on and do something else. I’m not trying to claim it is a roaring success as I think there are plenty of things wrong with it, but I like it.

          • Cinnamon says:

            People say all sorts of things to jazz up their language and make it sound not like a legal document because why they hell not. But we have come to an understanding that you don’t have a problem with people thinking that things like this are not exactly great. Although it confuses me why you want to still carry on trying to convince us to give it a chance because it’s something different. Something different that missed the target more than hit. No thanks!

        • Faxmachinen says:

          Failed experiments can indeed be roaring successes. Example: Sailing out to find the edge of the world.

        • Phasma Felis says:

          No, we’re going to advance storytelling in games by trying experiments and seeing if they succeed or fail. Do try and keep up.

      • CitizenDickbag says:

        This I will grant. It was a crash-and-burn failure but I guess it is in a way noble that they tried something weird and different.

        • kataras says:

          Who said it was a failure? I thought it sold really well. I paid full price for it and was not disappointing at all. Maybe some people expected something different? I m fed up of the arguments whether it was a game or not. Whatever it was, I enjoyed and that’s all that matters. The rest is academic crap.

          • CitizenDickbag says:

            It was a financial success, yes. Good for them, and I’m glad they have the resources to experiment further. In my personal subjective opinion, the experiment was a failure artistically.

          • SelfEsteemFund says:

            I also paid full price for it & it was totally worth it even despite having played the original mod several times the game itself still felt completely refreshing & original. Oh how I’m unbelievably bored of all this generic scripted manshoot bollocks.

      • Igor Hardy says:

        If they are truly meant as experiments, I wish they were far more experimental.

        However, I always thought of such games as the revival of the “interactive movie” concept in 3D. Neither new, nor bad – just catering to an audience that was largely disregarded for more than a decade.

    • Josh W says:

      Games have the potential to form backwards sculpture; a three dimensional artistic environment, whether as a kind of architects playground, a frozen situation to explore and understand, or whatever else.

      This element of games is interesting in it’s own right, and cannot be reduced to the rules of film or radio:
      Sculpture isn’t really interactive, although you do get to move round it and see if from different angles. The designer doesn’t get to control pacing or view framing, but they do get to explore the way different spaces feel. It’s a different sort of passive entertainment.

      Dear Esther pushes along that line, but not very far, and there’s loads further it can go.

      But as people have said, these kinds of games can create wonderful things that can fold back into games you prefer, just as sound design developed on it’s own track and then came in to improve games.

      Edit – And because I didn’t mention it, one of the strengths of games that wear their non-interactiveness with pride, is that they don’t become farcical in their dishonesty: Games like COD shout urgency and importance at you, despite the vacuousness and inconsequentiality of what they actually expect you to do.

      In games like dear ester, you are never asked to do something that the game will do perfectly happily without you, you have a distinct role in the game. It’s also that people have been making on-rails in-engine animated sequences since half-life first started that tram, and COD’s variety of them is starting to wear a little thin.

      • CitizenDickbag says:

        SOUNDS LIKE SOMEONE’S NEVER BEEN TO AN ART INSTALLATION AT A MUSEUM. But games certainly can be a much less expensive way of making that happen.

        • LennyLeonardo says:

          He’s probably never been to an art installation that recreates an entire Hebridean island, is completely private and tells you a different version of the same story each time you walk through it, and you know, throws you down a big hole in the ground and whatnot.

          Ah, you know what I mean, you silly man/woman.

          • CitizenDickbag says:

            I don’t appreciate your transphobia. How did you even know that

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            Why else would you choose a gender-neutral title like “citizen”, and append a subconscious aknowledgement that you keep your dick in a bag?

            HAR HAR. Sorry.

          • CitizenDickbag says:

            I’m actually a cisgendered white male with privilege coming out of my ass but I saw the opportunity there and by god I took it.

        • SelfEsteemFund says:

          You’ve done a truly fantastic job of trolling the comments, I really must congratulate you.

          • CitizenDickbag says:

            I derive no joy from getting reactions, nor was I seeking them in particular. I really truly just passionately hate Dear Esther.

          • jrodman says:

            Sounds like a personal problem involving a failure to let things go.

      • CitizenDickbag says:

        “since half-life first started that tram”

        I see what you did there. (When I was in junior high the opening tram sequence floored me. Ah, those halcyon days.)

  9. Shazbut says:

    Sounds brilliant

  10. Mr. Mister says:

    Apocalipsis in one hour…

    I bet the moon is angry.

  11. Bhazor says:

    I hated Dear Esther and I mean I properly hated it. For it’s smugness, poorly hidden linearity but mostly for all the praise it got for what was essentially a long cutscene.

    This however looks great. The key difference being there’s actually a game here.

    • Zanchito says:

      I loved Dear Esther, and I mean properly loved it. Even paid for the rehashed version. I thought it was clever, original and a really compelling interactive toy. Different tastes, go figure!

  12. Petethegoat says:

    Sounds like it could be similar to On The Beach. Which is a very very good thing.

  13. Kefren says:

    I’d rather have a short but replayable game than a long-winded and linear one anyday.

  14. The Random One says:

    Obviously they have lost all artistic integrity and are now sellouts.

    But seriously folks, it seems to be an interesting idea. I once thought the best way to create a fully realized story on a computer game would be to have it happen in a self-contained world in which the player exists as a ghost-like entity. That was years ago when I was young and dumb, but it’ll be interesting to see that idea working.

  15. njolnin says:

    I struggle to appreciate (or “get”) a lot of ‘art games’ or ‘nongames’ or whatever they’re called, though I have no problem giving them a try. I liked Dear Esther a lot. I think I appreciated it more as some time passed and I reflected upon it.

    With gameplay stripped away, these types of games will be subject to very differing opinions. I have no problem with people disliking the game, so long as they judge it on its own merits. Saying that it’s pretentious, or that all videogames must must have ‘gameplay’ seems rather limited and dogmatic to me. Compared to the original mod, the paid version of Dear Esther had even less “gameplay” (no jumping) and I think that it made the newer experience better for it. Pretentious is one of those words (along with entitled) that I hate reading.

    In response to a previous post, I think RPS should clarify something. They frequently feature games with very little interactivity, but also criticize games for exactly the same thing. Why is it that we feel different ways about it? An article on the nature of interactivity in games might be interesting (or has it been written?).

  16. Hodge says:

    I’m showing my age here, but I’m finding it really reminiscent of It Came From The Desert, which was also an open-worlder that was time-limited, so you had to take several passes at it and piece the story together from multiple playthroughs (ignoring, of course, the half of that game which involved arcadey biffo against giant radioactive ants).

    If he nails this it could be something really special.

  17. Urthman says:

    I wouldn’t want an entire gaming diet of Dear Esther, but I really enjoyed looking around that beautiful island, and it was the same sort of enjoyment I get from looking around in other video games, so I’m comfortable calling Dear Esther a game.

    It’s certainly an experience more like a video game than it is like anything else I can think of. It’s more like a game than it is like a movie or an art museum or actually hiking around on an island.

  18. SelfEsteemFund says:

    Haven’t seen this elsewhere & anything by thechineseroom is of huge interest to me, so cheers & please keep us informed (=

  19. reghz says:

    this reminds me the of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask gameplay with his three-day cycle before the falling of the moon