Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture devs hang up their walking boots

The Chinese Room, the studio behind Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Dear Esther as well as Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, have laid off their development team and are “going dark” for a bit while they figure out “what happens next”. Financial and personal pressures were too much, see, so they’re taking a break. When they come back, they say, it won’t be to make walking sims. I don’t know why they mention walk ’em ups after Pip and I settled once and for all that Dear Esther and Rapture are not walking simulators, but there you go.

The Chinese Room is now down to just Dan Pinchbeck and Jessica Curry. The development team, which was eight strong at the time, was laid off in July. Pinchbeck explained in a blog post yesterday:

“In fact, this has been on the cards since earlier this year. Back in June, I had a health scare – nothing life-threatening, but enough to pull me up short and make us have a serious think about things. This was right at the tail end of development on So Let Us Melt, following a long period of ongoing pitches and negotiations to secure the follow-up project for the studio. To cut a long story short, the situation – between financial pressures, trying to keep the lights on for the employed team, the stress of end-of-development, health issues – just wasn’t a tenable thing anymore. It was time to take a break, recharge, recover and have a good think about the future.”

To draw a short story long, Pinchbeck talked to Eurogamer about the trials and tribulations of working with Sony on Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. It sounds a trying experience.

While they’re best known for their virtual radio plays — Pinchbeck told EG “The smartest thing for us to do would to have made variations on Esther for the next 20 years because we’d have sold them” — The Chinese Room had been poking at new things in the lead up to the shutdown.

“We’re done with doing walking sims and story stuff,” Pinchbeck told Eurogamer. “We wanted to do something more complex, more involved and bigger scale. And that takes a long time to negotiate, which makes it difficult if you are coming to the end of a project, you’re burning £35-40,000 a month, and you know you’re probably looking at another five or six months worth of negotiations going ahead, where you’ve got no income coming in.”

They have put work into a survival horror RPG named 13th Interior and received funding for a mysterious game named Little Orpheus. Pinchbeck also throws around the idea of a first-person shooter. I think it’ll be a long time before we see anything of any of those, assuming they even stick with those ideas.

“Is it the end of The Chinese Room? No, I don’t think so,” Pinchbeck said. “But it’s the end of a chapter, and we hope you can all be patient with us whilst we figure out what happens next.”

You know what I find always helps with these thoughts? A nice walk.

Eurogamer’s interview goes into so much more detail, if you’re curious.

21 Comments

  1. RimeOfTheMentalTraveller says:

    Damn. I know a lot of WALKING SIMULATORS HURR DURR people will gloat over this, whether here on the myriad of other comment sections, but even having not yet played anything by them, I feel bummed as I do feel they were doing their own things and could have done even better things in the future. At least judging from what I’ve watched and been told by friends. I hope this isn’t the end.

    • Stropp says:

      Gloating over a situation like this, where people are losing their jobs and where a lot of hard work is going down the drain, is simply poor form. I see gloating like this far too much in the games world, and I hate it.

      I really hope Chinese Room come back from this and are able to bring us more unique games.

      • causticnl says:

        the people laid off all worked on let us melt, so no work down the drain.

    • Archonsod says:

      Not sure what there’d be to gloat over – as he says they could sell another 20 derivatives of Dear Esther. From the sound of it the issue is precisely because they want to do their own thing and not be pigeonholed into one genre or the other. Unfortunately the industry these days is a lot like the music industry – a smaller artist isn’t going to get much interest in their classical album if they’re mainly known for their acid house tracks.

      • RichUncleSkeleton says:

        Not sure what there’d be to gloat over – as he says they could sell another 20 derivatives of Dear Esther.

        They could try to, anyway. But it seems to me like that fad has passed. Tacoma fizzled out pretty quickly, and that was made by a much bigger name in ‘walking simulators’ than The Chinese Room (and got plenty of glowing press and solid reviews). Steam is full of this stuff now because it’s relatively easy and cheap to make and so you have an already small pie being divided up that many more ways.

    • Relnor says:

      Well.. I don’t know about gloating, but the problem is even as far as “walking simulators” go, Dear Esther wasn’t very good.

      Compare it to Gone Home, Tacoma, The Stanley Parable and it just looks really poor then. I’m sure it resonated with some people but for many others it just came across as a pretentious virtual art gallery that someone talks over.

      Meanwhile Gone Home and Tacoma are excellent at actually bringing the player into their worlds and making them care, the level of detail in them is remarkable too, they really do feel like places people live in.

      On top of that I don’t like it when devs pretend their financial woes are the fault of critics or when they take pot shots at bigger, more popular games just for media attention. Others did a better job than them within a genre they were arguably pioneers in.

      Their other game I didn’t play, but from what I understand it’s not vastly different.

      They can take note of their competitors, try again and do better, or try their hand at a different genre entirely.

      • KenTWOu says:

        Two can play this game: both Gone Home and Tacoma were not very good, as far as “walking simulators” go. Compare them to What Remains of Edith Finch and they just look really poor then…

        Speaking of financial woes and who did a better job, have you seen Tacoma’s steamspy page? It seems like it tanked as well.

        • April March says:

          That’s just, like, your opinion, man – but I’ll say that I didn’t think Dear Esther was very good compared even to the far earlier The Path. In fact, I think it’s kind of sad and unfair that Chinese Room are considered the daddies of the walking simulator when Tales of Tales had not only been doing them for longer but actually had a manifesto defending them. But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

          • KenTWOu says:

            >>>That’s just, like, your opinion, man.

            That was the point, man.

        • Relnor says:

          I forgot about Edith Finch. You’re right, that one is better than all 3 of them.

          My main point was that The Chinese Rooms games were weaker than all of their competitors, so I think it’s more than a little silly that they blame their problems on critics “ruining” video games. Others just did their thing better than them.

          • KenTWOu says:

            Meanwhile, my main point was that there are way too many indie games out there. So a stronger game doesn’t necessarily mean a better outcome, if you didn’t put a lot of efforts into your marketing.

      • Cederic says:

        I really enjoyed Dear Esther. It drew me in and made me yearn for Scotland.

        I bought it for friends.

    • and its man says:

      Gloating over this would definitely be mean, since health problems are involved, both for Jessica Curry and Dan Pinchbeck.
      Let’s just give them a wave, and wish them good luck.

      Anecdotally, seems like another reason to consider Alec wasn’t completely wrong when he wrote:
      “The idea of a highish-budget walking semi-simulator set in a small English village is effectively unthinkable now, as we seem to have left the age of more contemplative and experimental breakout hits.”
      David Szymanski is making Dusk, and The Chinese Room consider working on a first-person shooter.

  2. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    I suppose I should have bought Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture when it came out, rather than waiting for the inevitable sale.

    • caff says:

      I kind of feel like that. But I read enough reviews and thoughts about it to think before buying. It’s a tough world we live in…

  3. RuySan says:

    Dear Esther was kind of silly and these developers rubbed me off the wrong way when they accused The Witcher 3 of being sexist.

    Still, it’s always said to see people losing their jobs, specially when the games they made were competent, even if not for me, and had an audience. Where’s the justice in that?

  4. causticnl says:

    Rapture was for me the best Walking Sim (god I hate that word, personal journey sim is far better) I ever played. Much better then Gone Home (wich frankly left me cold) and a progression from Dear Esther. Each story left me moved, sometimes even in tears, with the town (and the skyline) telling their own stories. I still have to see that game topped, so yeah sad to see them go. Maybe its also best to switch gears when you’re at the top of your game.

  5. cpt_freakout says:

    They could make something very innovative with that talent they’ve got if they decide to do something in a more traditional genre. Their Amnesia spin-off was a pretty nice taste of that, IMO.

  6. Matt_W says:

    So Let Us Melt? What is that? Oh, it’s a Daydream VR game, and I just happen to have one of those gathering dust in a drawer. Score!

  7. GardenOfSun says:

    Sad news I’d say, even beyond the obvious economical side of the issue. I’ve only played Dear Esther by these lads, but I was so impressed by it that if and when I had the time I planned to get everything they make. In fact, in stark contrast to what seems the “internet consensus”, I think Dear Esther is not only one of the pinnacles of the genre, but it’s also one of the games with the best writing that I’ve ever played. We could argue until the sun fizzles out whether it had enough “game” in it to be called a “game”, but it certainly had more than enough “art” – and certainly way more than 99% of proper “games” ever even attempted to have. And for me that goes to show that their words about being uncompromising with their artistry in the face of publishers weren’t just talk, but one of the roots of their financial setbacks.

    Best of luck to these people, and may them in the future find suitable conditions to keep doing what they’re good at.

  8. mercyRPG says:

    What happens next? They go to prison for the indebted. That’s what happens.