Dear Esther Landmark Edition Brings PC Improvements

It’s been a good four years since the remake of Dear Esther [official site] took us to a spooky-ooky Hebridean island but we’re going a-wandering again soon. Remastered audio, an audio commentary from its makers, and more are coming our way thanks to a new version created for Dear Esther’s console release as a ‘Landmark Edition’ – which will be a free update on PC.

The new version of Dear Esther is mostly the same but rebuilt in the Unity 5 engine, ported over from Valve’s Source engine. According to developers The Chinese Room today’s announcement, this version will boast a commentary from Jessica Curry, Robert Briscoe, and Dan Pinchbeck, new translations of the menu and subtitles, and a few extra accessibility options like larger subtitles and a crosshair. They’ve said before that it’d have “a few tweaks and bug fixes” too.

They’re not super-massive changes but hey, we’re getting them free as a fringe benefit of new console ports. The Chinese Room say the update will come to Windows and Mac “in a few months”.

It strikes me as a bit of a shame to leave Source, as part of Dear Esther’s appeal to me is its roots as a free mod. That’s Old Alice and her niche historical interests for you.

Dear Esther’s console publishers, Curve Digital, have announced a few events in that there London as a “celebration of its legacy”. That Guardian rabble will chat with Dan Pinchbeck and The Barbican’s hosting a live playthrough with live music and narration.

Ah, this is a funny situation to me. In retrospect, Dear Esther is pleasant enough, if a bit wanky and not enough of a walking simulator for my tastes. It absolutely helped open up space for – or raise awareness of, same-ish thing – more fringe video games. But I’m frustrated that the arm of Big Culture which still considers “Are games art?” an interesting question is mostly interested in games resembling more traditional mediums. Dear Esther is set in a picturesque landscape, it’s pricked with Biblical references, splashed with poetry, it has a (really nice!) orchestral soundtrack, and… it’s very Traditional Art.

I’m not saying Dear Esther is bad. I’m just frustrated that our medium is so insecure and tries to find mainstream legitimacy mostly either by boasting we’re bigger than Star Wars or highlighting things which kinda look like Proper Art if you squint. I’m not saying that’s Dear Esther’s fault either.

Dear Esther’s legacy is that it led to better, weirder, more interesting games that I’d rather have as our ambassadors. Until those can get a Guardian discussion and a live playthrough at the Barbican, talking about Dear Esther’s legacy seems short-sighted.

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  1. Zanchito says:

    I don’t care about Esther’s categorization. It was a new thing when it came out, truly ground breaking (or it was for me, anyway). Of course it’s not for everybody, but I’m very glad it (and other things like it) exist. Variety is the spice of life and all that.

    • Feedim says:

      Regardless of the trail it might have blazed for others, “a bit wanky” is a pretty spot on way to describe it.

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        Thirith says:

        A lot of art is a bit wanky, if that is a category you consider meaningful. I don’t think it’s worse for it.

      • Jeroen D Stout says:

        I really don’t agree. I don’t see what is “wanky” about Dear Esther. Just seems like a strangely vindictive thing to say.

        • rasko1nikov says:

          there are better ways to phrase it, certainly, but to those people who found the writing hammy and just, I dunno, bad, “wanky” is a decent catch-all term, I guess.

          personally, i really enjoyed the island, and a few of the soundbites, but also found too many of them schlocky and distracting. like, the writing sounded too much like *writing*, if that makes sense. freshly laundered Creative Writing 101. I thought it got noticeably worse in that respect in the move from mod to stand-alone.

          but yeah, still enoyed DE and still recommend it to people from time to time! it has a great sense of Place.

        • Eight Rooks says:

          Really? As far as I’m concerned the writing is the epitome of self-indulgence. The prose is utterly purple in a way that adds absolutely nothing to the story it’s telling. It doesn’t communicate any further grief or despair or anger or any of the emotions you might attribute to the subject matter, it doesn’t suggest any further avenues of thought on the same, and it doesn’t convey any particularly exceptional facility with the English language. It’s just words of four, five syllables or more where one or two would be far more eloquent and appropriate, seemingly just to show off how “poetic” the narrative is. Seems fairly, well, wanky to me.

          (Seriously not trolling or any such thing; I honestly believe it’s one of the worst attempts at being literary in a game I’ve seen. Again, Eidolon has multiple different narrative voices, some wordy, some crisp and concise, and almost any one of them does a far better job of both telling a story than Dear Esther – conveying the facts and coaxing you to fill in the blanks as you see fit – plus they’re all far more elegantly written. I like that Dear Esther exists, and I don’t begrudge it its success too much. But, yeah, it’s wanky as hell, basically, and I can readily believe people applaud it in large part because it’s so easy to look at it and go “Oh, how artistic!” on impulse.)

          • Jeroen D Stout says:

            I suppose what you call “self-indulgence” is just pleasure in the language to me. That is what Dear Esther to me has always been a large part of; listening to dulcet tones as you walk a landscape painting. Its taking pleasure in the language, which is a quality I like in a lot of work. Perhaps it could be called verbose, but that is exactly what it is. Its like Tennyson enumerating all the flowers endlessly; a pleasure in the names of flowers. I don’t really see any truth in the idea that shorter words would have been more appropriate when the words are part of the point for me.

            This seems to me where we disagree, in essence; You want a ‘story’ out of this that is told, I am more interested in vague language as I walk around Hebredian isles. Exactly because of the “poeticness” of it. The “story” of Dear Esther is not really important to me or (I would argue) to the game itself. Its more the meandering tones about being unable to cope with loss.

            It’s not written a particularly popular style for the 21st century but that just makes it different, methinks, not “wanky”. Perhaps what people see in it as “oh how artistic” is that out-of-time element.

          • manny says:

            They should have a less wanky version of the writing, similar to how games have different difficulty settings. Cause this is a total turnoff, not really walking simulator is one thing, but I didn’t ask for a wanky simulator.

  2. iainl says:

    It may be a bit of a cliché Art Game these days, but it affected me hugely. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve spent a fair bit of time being miserable on Hebridean islands, but it’s a rare game where my memories of it are as a place, rather than some game I beat using a mouse and keyboard. The radio mast still disturbs me a bit when it turns up in screenshots.

  3. Danda says:

    It’s great to have a new, improved version of the game. But honestly, if video games are really art and this games is “proof” of that, the old Source version should be kept available, in the same way that most artists don’t burn their early sketches and we have several versions of paintings, like Munch’s The Scream or many others.

    Even if it’s not art, hey, maybe the Source version will run better in my old computer than the new one. Give me options and don’t make the choice for me, please :)

  4. Eight Rooks says:

    I’ll happily say it was bad. Nice idea, and the makeover was lovely (if rather more limited than people seemed to want to admit), but the writing was awful and yes, it was more of a “trudge very slowly along a linear path through pretty scenery you can’t really do anything meaningful with, with the occasional bit of half-assed poetry” simulator. Eidolon blows it away in every respect bar graphical fidelity.

    Still, I share your frustration to an extent, Alice, in that whatever you reckon to the thing itself, it’s… kind of an annoyingly obvious pick for Games As Art.

  5. DanMan says:

    Good thing that I haven’t played it yet, now that the polished it.

  6. Danda says:

    I loved this game. It was magical for me. That’s also why I would like to keep the original version, if possible.

  7. Nacery says:

    Yeah, hope they keep the source version as an option when launching it or in Steam Beta section.

  8. Jeroen D Stout says:

    I’m a little bit at a loss to what “better, weirder, more interesting games” Dear Esther lead. To me its legacy is a very rare game that did something great that nobody else then did again. It was like the shape of things to come to things that never did come… a bit like 30 Flights of Loving, or even Riven.

    Perhaps this is me being so inundated in ‘traditional art’, to me Dear Esther was finally the medium of games doing something to do with the rest of my love of art.

  9. rasko1nikov says:

    can’t really see the point of this. will the remake stick with the writing that was in the original mod? that mod was so perfect in its execution. the stand-alone just felt more bloaty to me.

  10. Jokerme says:

    I hope they don’t suddenly make it a paid update…

  11. zsd says:

    What are the games that you think make better ambassadors, Alice, if you don’t mind me asking?

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    Andy_Panthro says:

    I really like it, especially the soundtrack.

  13. santouryuu says:

    have been thinking about replaying this,becasue frankly i didn’t get most of the update would be a bigger incentive to do so

  14. Rogerio Martins says:

    I hope they add a run and jump button. Some weapons would be that terrible either.

  15. Jalan says:

    All those “But what about the Unity version????” questions finally have an answer. Seemingly all those “What’s Robert Briscoe been doing all this time?” questions do as well.

    I assume this will nail down the whole issue of the less-than-pleasing Linux option the game currently has as well, which will also close the door on yet another standing question.

  16. bill says:

    Given that Source games run great on my aging PC, but Unity games run like molases, I hope they keep an option to have the old version available to download.

    It’s an interesting issue… what happens if you buy a game that you meet the requirements for, but a later update increases those requirements so that you can no longer play it?
    It’s nice to get free updates, but not if it effectively makes the game that you bought unplayable.

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