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Thread: So I played Dear Esther...
17-03-2012, 07:32 PM #1
So I played Dear Esther...
... and I'm aware there's a thread about it already, but my focus is on the "should it be a game" subject and not about "what the hell is it about, I didn't get it" like that thread. For this reason, I decided to open another one instead (besides I'm too lazy to look for the other one, and have no time to do it right now since this is a rushed post).
I wrote a "review" about it a couple of weeks ago on my blog. You can go read the post here: http://nemirc.wordpress.com/2012/03/...wot-me-thinkz/
And you can share your thoughts about that. Just remember that just because you don't agree with what I say doesn't mean I'm wrong, and just because you agree with what I say doesn't mean I'm right. That's just my point of view on the game."So dark le con of man"
17-03-2012, 07:49 PM #2
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17-03-2012, 08:08 PM #3
17-03-2012, 09:35 PM #4
18-03-2012, 01:23 AM #5
Alternatively you could post your opinion here... and then we might discuss it?
18-03-2012, 03:37 AM #6
"For a game, the level of interaction is almost zero. Gameplaywise, the game doesn’t require more from you than pressing the W key while moving the mouse around."
So walking around and taking in the visual and aural stimulus (stimuli?) doesn't count as interaction? Games like Stalker are praised for the exploration element. Here you have a 60 minutes game that features only that.
I honestly don't care about this "what is a game?" argument. I think it's restricted by vocabulary anyway. The overall experience is what matters to me, not how much I click or whatever. I'm open to everything. If I like the experience - good. If I am annoyed by, say, the game constantly taking away control I won't declare it an "un-game" or demand games to stop doing this. Later I might enjoy one that does the same thing. For example, I hated Dead Space 2's constantly interrupting cutscenes but loved MW3.
Mediocre analogy time. What is a movie? A vessel for a story? Or is it all about the image and sound and the emotional impact they have? Yesterday my mind was blown by Enter The Void, which can't be discussed on an intelectual level. It's a pure visceral experience. Other films have shit visuals and audio but great stories. That doesn't mean they're not films. They are just two facets of a very broad art form. Same goes for games. There's a place for everything and arguing if X game really is a game is futile.
18-03-2012, 04:04 AM #7
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There wasn't much reason for Dear Esther being a "game" when it could've been wrapped up as a 20 minute short film with the SAME setting and the SAME story, whilst still championing atmosphere without it becoming boring.
What do films have to fall back on when their stories are awful? The visuals, the direction. Films are a visual medium.
What do games have to fall back on when their stories are awful? Hmmm, surely it's the interactivity people keep banging on about, that 'all important' feature that makes games 'different' from other mediums. A tacked on story doesn't hold much sway for a medium, because there are films, and poems, and paintings, and music, that don't even touch narrative. By and large, people only acknowledge games with stories as art, and are unable to acknowledge games without stories as art, or when they do fail to explain why.
I'm not even sure where I'm going with this because I don't see games as art. But if you're going to use interactivity as the crux of the argument for artsy games, then surely using a game that is basically barren of interactivity would prove counter to it. A little consistency, please.
For all the talk people give about the arty side of things, they don't really do a good job of explaining how actual GAMEPLAY contributes to it.
Last edited by Abacus Finch; 18-03-2012 at 04:22 AM.
18-03-2012, 04:37 AM #8
Games generally imply that there's interactivity, a goal, a challenge, and rules. The majority of things we'd consider "games" do fall into that category, even something open-ended like Minecraft. The player directs the goals, but there is a challenge (the hostile environment) and rules (player health, death, crafting, etc).
My problem with things like this and Tale of Tales is that they're not games just because there's an interactive aspect. I can interact with a PowerPoint display but it's not a game. I can click through a piece of hypertext fiction but it's not a game. These kinds of things are a sequence of events which really does not require player interaction at all. As Abacus Finch says, most of them would do the exact same job as a short film. The player interaction is largely irrelevant, there is no real challenge, and there is no real goal ("Experience my work" is not a player goal).
In my opinion I think that most of these kinds of "games" are only ever being conceived as games because their creators are interested in more attention, and they know that they wouldn't get the same attention as they would in other mediums. Tale of Tales are especially guilty of this: there's no way their art would generate any attention if it was a short film, but they know they can put it into a "game", sell it, and have a bunch of blogs rave about how it's "intelligent, artistic gaming". It's purely a marketing strategy.
Some of them are entertaining (though in general I think some of them get way too much praise for what they are), and as examples of "interactive art" they're fine. But they're not games. The simple fact that a person interacts with the display does not make it a game. For it to be a game, there has to be a ruleset and a challenge, and the player's interaction has to be more meaningful than "Move to next scene".
18-03-2012, 05:14 AM #9
18-03-2012, 05:52 AM #10
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People babbling about the definition of "game" is even worse than people babbling about what is "art". If you just focus on the word then you're missing the entire point.
I feel like people have a far too constricted view of "game". The medium which is labelled as such can and should be far more expansive than the silly Law of Interaction-Goal-Rules-Challenge. Obviously things like Dear Esther don't fulfill the mold, because they're not meant to. Dear Esther is trying to do something entirely different. We should be looking at what it actually does, not merely how well it fits into our preconceived mindset.
It's like dismissing Tarkovsky's The Mirror as an un-movie because it doesn't feature a specific plot with specific characters and nicely drawn story arc. Not comparing it Dear Esther in this sense, but I think The Mirror is far more true to the essence of the medium than movies that feature the common theatre-styled storytelling. Point being that I think we need things like Dear Esther to really challenge our notions of the medium of "game".
So I guess Dear Esther may not be what people call a "game", but I couldn't care less. I care about the experience, and the experience of watching it as a short film would be completely different and have far less impact.
Last edited by Pants; 18-03-2012 at 05:55 AM.
18-03-2012, 06:27 AM #11
To a simple mind as mine, Dear Esther can be defined as a video game for the reasons expressed on my post, which should be familiar to those who took the time to read it and not posting weird messages about "pimp my blog."
The interaction is basically pressing the W key (or if you're me, pressing the RMB). In Cannabalt the interaction is about pressing the jump key. They both use only one key, the difference is the "needed skill."
I don't really care about the argument of "games being art" because this whole thing began when Roger Ebert said games could not be considered art (and I don't know if he just decided to say that out of the blue, or as a response to someone, and I really don't care). All I know is that Kellee Santiago (and others) came forth stating that games are art, and makes me wonder if the kind of games they (and others, like Tale of Tales) make are more about "proving Roger Ebert wrong" than anything else.
Having said this, to me Dear Esther is the kind of game that suffers from identity crisis because, "it wants to be considered an art-game," and wanting to start this senseless argument about "what else games can be." Even the developers pitched it as an exploration game, but considering there's this invisible hand guiding you everywhere really kills the "exploration" aspect. You're constantly reminded you can't visit 90% of the environment because the system doesn't want you to go to those places by using big holes, oceans, steep slopes or rock walls.
To me, Dear Esther is not a bad game. I liked the (rather simple) story, although some things about the presentation (of the story itself, something completely unrelated to "it being a game") are very poor IMO, but games are not the right medium to tell it. You don't need 10 minutes of silent walking to "interpret the story." This is the equivalent to watching a DVD with your thumb ready to press the pause button every few seconds so you "interpret" what you just saw. Movies/books with good stories make you spend hours, days, weeks and months thinking about it. A movie doesn't pause itself after a dialogue or scene so that the audience gets to "interpret" the story, and a book doesn't leave blank pages between chapters so readers "interpret" what they read."So dark le con of man"
18-03-2012, 06:32 AM #12
If you don’t know what Dear Esther is, then you’re not into gaming, into non-gaming, or maybe you are one of the readers who’s more interested about 3D and CG than gaming. Either way, it’s ok
Dear Esther is a game about a dude walking to a mountain, and if you’re like me, you just remembered this:
Now, on to a more serious tone for my post…
There was a lot of discussion related to whether Dear Esther is a game, an interactive movie, an interactive novel, interactive audio book, or (people seem to love this word), interactive “experience.” I’ll take the simplistic approach and say Dear Esther is a video game, based on what the almighty Wikipedia has to say about it simply because the game requires human interaction to function:
A video game is an electronic game that involves human interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device. The word video in video game traditionally referred to a raster display device, but following popularization of the term "video game", it now implies any type of display device.
The thing is people wonder if it’s a game because all you do is walk. So maybe you can’t simply think of it as a game, and you have to think of it as an “interactive novel” like some say. However, if you do this, you also have to consider how it is an interactive novel if the sole interaction is hitting the W key whenever you want to read the next page. As a storyteller, to me this is about using a medium to tell a story, and I’ll simply look at it using different perspectives and try to figure out what works and what doesn’t.
Just a note to Dear Esther die-hard fans out there: if you don’t agree with whatever I say, that doesn’t mean I’m wrong; if, on the other hand, I say something that fits the way you see this game, doesn’t mean I’m right. Like it or not, I’m entitled to opinion and just because it bears a 78 on Metacritic will not change it in any way.
As a game.
I’d have to say the most compelling parts of the game are the environments and sound. A combination of the two make you feel like you’re in that island, and it’s so alive it makes you want to explore the whole place, which is extremely cool, but it’s also one of the biggest flaws I find.
The story, while interesting, is very straightforward, and is presented via vague voiceovers to make players draw their own conclusions based on what they hear, and see. Depending on the kind of player you are, this will be a good or bad thing for you. If you’re the kind of player who cares about your character, want to connect with it and what happens to it, then this is not a game for you because you don’t even know who you are.
For a game, the level of interaction is almost zero. Gameplaywise, the game doesn’t require more from you than pressing the W key while moving the mouse around. It didn’t take me long to realize having to use both hands for this game was just overkill, and I found myself remapping the controls to fit a realMyst style control scheme (RMB to walk forward, MMB to swim up). You can’t even know more about the story by interacting with objects, and the story is simply presented to you by touching triggers found on the levels. This lack of interaction also relates to the biggest flaw I mentioned earlier.
As I said, Dear Esther is considered an exploration game, and the beautiful island would make this work perfectly… if you were actually able to explore the place. The game is full of places you can’t reach, and the levels themselves end up being completely linear. On the other hand, while there are places where you can stray a little and explore, there is not a sense of reward since the level of interaction is so low. I am not talking about getting an achievement for exploring certain cave, or something like that. Other games about exploration yield a better sense of understanding what’s going on just by visiting places and interacting with things you find. For example, in Fatal Frame, half of the time you’re reading books and diaries to help you understand what’s going on. If Fatal Frame were Dear Esther, you’d get the full story just by walking around and hitting the next invisible trigger.
This is what was the point of making Dear Esther a game, if the entire story will be presented to you by just holding the W key (or in my case, by holding the RMB). You reach a point where the system is this big invisible hand, telling you where to go and automatically feeding all the needed information into your brain with no effort. Some can even argue this works because “then you control the pace of the story” but that’s only true if you decide to stop for a while and look around, and then continue walking.
Dear Esther is an experiment, and you have to keep that in mind when playing it. I have to say the game got me thinking about many things even after I finished the first play-through. However, the magic was gone from me by the time I played the second time, because, while I wanted to know more, I knew I’d end up visiting the same places again, waiting for the next trigger to activate so the dude delivered the next part of the dialogue. The game would have been a lot better if you’d had the chance to interact more with things, so you can find more of the story ‘by yourself’ and not by just walking. If the chinese room decided to make this a game, they could have totally profited from the levels of interactivity the medium offers, and not making a game that feels completely constrained by some poor choices in design.
After all, there are more ways of interactivity in games besides killing monsters, jumping platforms or solving puzzles. For a game like Dear Esther, a simple “I’ll let you swim to that wrecked ship over there so you explore it and press E to read the logs in that ship” would’ve been welcome.
But Dear Esther made me drown half way to the ship because the system knows I’m not supposed to go there.
As a cinematic story.
The story, while interesting is pretty straightforward. You’re an unnamed character in an island, thinking about his past and “recent events” (I’ll try not to post any spoilers. While you don’t know the exact goal, right off the bat you know there’s a very important radio tower with a red glowing light, simply because that’s the first thing you see, and certain framings throughout the game only reinforce this (the one I liked the most is where you walk in a path between two cliffs that frame the tower perfectly).
There are many interesting details in Dear Esther, such as paintings on walls, sunken ships, and, on the last chapter, lit candles, some of them with pictures near them. Most of the time, these little details provide a richer experience because they relate, in one way or another, with what the protagonist is talking about. However, there’s the unfortunate small detail that, since you don’t know who the protagonist is, you don’t know how many of these details may relate to you.
The thing that mostly drew my attention was the paintings on the walls. There are different symbols on the walls that make reference to parts of the protagonist’s lines. Some of them are diagrams that describe the chemical compound of alcohol (according to what some say, since I don’t know anything about that subject), others are supposedly brain cells, and others are (incomplete?) electric circuits. Since the story is very open to interpretation (even if it doesn’t take you much to know there’s a car crash involved), you can try to figure out what those diagrams mean.
I do think authors could have used a stronger symbol, since there’s a part where you’re, literally, surrounded by these symbols and writings. For example, maybe the protagonist is an electrician, but maybe he’s dealing with the guilt of causing a car crash, so in that scenario having countless electric circuits is not exactly the strongest symbol to have at that very moment.
Taking an example from games. If you’ve played Fatal Frame II, then you know Chitose Tachibana. She was young, easily scared, and had poor vision. In the game, died trapped in a room. When you go into that room and look at the walls through the Camera Obscura, you see japanese writings that (according to what I’ve found), mean “help me,” which is very suitable for that specific moment. If it was Dear Esther maybe they would’ve placed a bunch of glasses and eye-diagrams instead…
I can’t help to notice how much Dear Esther reminded me of the movie Stay. Henry is a car crash survivor, and later in the film you know he’s dealing with guilt. There’s a scene where Ewan McGregor’s character gets really close to a wall that seems to have a bunch of lines. When you get the extreme close up, you realize those are actually tiny words saying “Forgive me” over and over. Those were written by Henry, who happened to be an artist of some sort, but his guilt has a more important role at that moment.
See what I’m getting at? In Dear Esther you may be dealing with a protagonist who’s trying to deal with some sort of guilt related to that car crash, and the strongest symbol you can come up with is a bunch of electric circuits? Visually, that makes you wonder if the feelings of guilt are real at all, because visually you get the impression that he’s a very rational and brain-oriented person.
The guy may be sorry for something… but what we get in the end is the diagram of a condensator…
The fourth chapter is a really welcome change, and visually the strongest chapter of them all. The story reaches its peak, and takes momentum. This is good, considering I was hoping the story to do this at some point, but I do think it was too late, since this peak would have fitted the third chapter better and use the fourth to give us the resolution (or whatever you want to call it).
The entire story seems to be more of a catharsis than anything else, which to me works pretty well. The protagonist is not dealing with any external antagonist, but rather with himself. For this reason, the ending also works pretty well, since it’s about letting go, and not about overcoming an obstacle.
I am not going to provide you with an “score” since this was not a review. This was just sharing my thoughts based on my experience with Dear Esther. For this reason, while I hope what I wrote is useful to those still not sure if they should get the game or not, I’m not going encourage anyone to get it. As a piece of cinematic history, Dear Esther, while simple, is something I recommend to those who liked the movie Stay. As a game, I can recommend it as part of “research” (and if you’re a game developer, more so), although the gaming medium proves to be overkill when it comes to a project like Dear Esther."So dark le con of man"
18-03-2012, 07:48 AM #13
Goal: "Interpret story" is not a goal. "Navigate to the end" is not a clear goal.
Challenge: Interpret the story is not a challenge, it does not oppose the player. Interpreting the story means nothing to the actual gameplay aspect. If you don't understand the story, the "game" still completes. "Navigate the environment" and "Find clues" is slightly more accurate but neither pose a particular "challenge" in these instances. Challenge implies opposition or resistance. Navigating the level in a platformer is a challenge. Walking until you find a trigger is not.
Rules: A control scheme is not a rule, it is an interface. Triggers are not really rules, they're a level design mechanic. A rule is "If the player loses all their health, they die and must restart the level" or to re-purpose your control-scheme thing "The player can move around on a platform and can jump x height"
If you're prepared to strip challenge, opposition, and meaningful interactivity from a game, then we might as well start deciding that PowerPoint presentations are games. A strong story that requires you to click on something or move forward without really throwing up any opposition does not suddenly make it a game. A game has to have gameplay. There isn't any gameplay in Dear Esther or the Tale of Tales games. Thus, they're not games. The distinction is fairly important if you're going to accurately assess the merits of the title. If you take it as a game it's hard to really praise it as a game because there's no real gameplay. As an interactive story though the merits are greater. Really when people talk about it they're assessing it as an interactive story, not as a game.
Some of you seem to think that I'm attacking them as being inferior or unworthy but I'm just pointing out a fair distinction. Okay, I am attacking Tale of Tales because they deserve it, but I'm not attacking Dear Esther or suggesting it's not worth anybody's time because it isn't a game. I'm just pointing out that it has nothing really in common with games, I'm not suggesting it's a bad piece of work.
18-03-2012, 08:46 AM #14
On interactivity: It has bearing on how you perceive the story; there are quite a few triggers you'll only activate if you explore around rather than taking the shortest path to the end and taking different routes or paying attention to different things will affect your experience.
Goal: Of course interpreting the story can be a goal, just as finding all the hidden stuff can be a goal. That it's a goal you set for yourself doesn't change that it exists and you made that point yourself above in regards to Minecraft. "See how it ends" is quite a common goal for anything with a story and in this case, to see how it ends you have to play the game.
Challenge: The story is deliberately vague and contradictory and can be puzzled together in a multitude of ways. A puzzle to solve is a challenge to overcome. Regarding navigating the environment and finding the little clues scattered around the island.. well it's not much of a challenge, I agree, but if it needs to be hard to be a game there's quite a lot of them that don't count these days.
Rules: If something depends on something else it's governed by rules. To trigger a certain VO clip I have to find and enter the trigger volume in the cave near the start of the game - that's a rule. The limitations placed on movement and the ways and order in which I can navigate the environment are all rules which govern the experience (you said it yourself: "The player can move around on a platform and can jump x height"). If you fall off a cliff or walk off a pier into deep water you'll "die" and the game will pull you back ("A rule is "If the player loses all their health, they die and must restart the level").
I don't really agree with your criteria in the first place btw, though I do think Dear Esther lives up to them (I haven't played The Path or any other Tale of Tales games so can't say anything about those). As far as I'm concerned anything I can play with is a game, or tools to be used within a game.
18-03-2012, 08:59 AM #15
Regarding goals, "interpreting the story" is not a gameplay goal. The examples I give for Minecraft exist within the confines of gameplay: survive, build a castle, make a diamond sword, etc. They don't work in Creative mode though, because Creative mode has no real gameplay. The goal "interpret the story" has no relevance to the gameplay. It's something a player might be interested in but it by no means impacts upon gameplay... namely because in Dear Esther's case, there isn't any.
Regarding challenge: As you said, navigation isn't actually a challenge, it's just there to fence you in. And no, "interpreting the story" is not a gameplay challenge. As I said, if you take the story on its own, it doesn't change anything. The story is completely divorced from meaningful interactivity. That goes for pretty much every game; the story itself is NOT a gameplay device, it gives context to the game. Otherwise all stories are games, and they quite clearly aren't. A story that requires interpretation is just that, it has no gameplay aspect. A game can be story-driven in that the story is a compelling part of the game... but this isn't the case here, because there's no gameplay.
Regarding rules: If you want to make the more strict expression of a rule then a trigger can be a rule, I'll concede that, but something like triggering a voiceover clip is more of a level-design issue, not a gameplay rule. I will agree that the game does have rules governing movement and "death" but these alone do not actually create gameplay, because all the other elements are missing. They exist only to keep you on the path. They have no meaning for "gameplay".
As for disagreeing with the criteria: You can, but I'd like to see your suggestion, because most people would agree that a game has to actually have gameplay, and the vast majority of "games" you can name will fit a similar sort of criteria (although another one would be that it's usually something done as a recreational activity which may also be educational). One of the key things is challenge or opposition (i.e. something to overcome) along with rules about how to play. If you ignore some of these aspects then anything is a game.
18-03-2012, 10:07 AM #16
For me, forming an interpretation of the story is a goal (though my interpretation is by no means definite or conclusive). It exists within the confines of gameplay: navigate the environment to unlock voice-overs which form pieces of that puzzle, find the little vignettes scattered around the island, gain access to the rest of the story.
I don't see how navigating the environment in Dear Esther to progress to the next area and the next bit of story is (conceptually) any different from navigating through a dungeon in Dragon Age to reach the next part of a quest, for example. Or is an RPG only a game when you're engaged in combat or conversation? Does a shooter stop being a game when I let go of the trigger?
Challenge: I didn't say it wasn't a challenge, I said it wasn't much of a challenge. There are failure conditions: you can fall off a cliff, drown in the water or just get lost. If you just run through and don't poke around you'll miss a lot of the story and a lot of the sights along the way. Again, if something needs to be difficult to be a game there sure are a lot of games that don't meet that criteria these days (not to mention all the games that rely on chance). I never failed anything while playing Mass Effect 2 for example (no deaths, no lost squad members), nor did I ever die during the HL2 episodes, so would those meet your criteria for providing a challenge?
You say the story has no gameplay aspect, but when it's up to the player to unlock and explore the story (through exploring the environment) I would argue very much the opposite.
18-03-2012, 10:14 AM #17
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Why are some people so desperate for Dear Esther to be considered a game? I mean, it obviously isn't a game according to common usage. The first line in the "About" section of the product's website says "Dear Esther is a ghost story, told using first-person gaming technologies." This seems to be a very accurate description of what the product is. So why do people want to call it a video game? What is the benefit of extending the term to cover such very different things, that will cause confusions and mistakes?Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.
18-03-2012, 10:29 AM #18
18-03-2012, 10:34 AM #19
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It is my opinion that this runs deeper than a difference of opinion.Irrelevant on further examination of the rest of the thread.
18-03-2012, 11:56 AM #20