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.