thechineseroom is the name of a development research project I run at the University of Portsmouth, UK. We're interested in first person gaming - particularly, using mods to explore questions about gaming that you can't answer by just analysing commercial releases or theorising about them.
So as you all know by now, Dear Esther is going indie for the remake. What we're doing is now splitting the two sites off from one another. The ModDB site will remain up but focused on the original mod version, so we won't be posting to it apart from to point out new updates are available. We'll now be shifting all news about the remake over to the IndieDB site, and all media and updates will happen over there.
You'll still be able to get the original version over on ModDB, it just saves us having to update two sites at the same time.
Everything will also be posted up on the project website - www.dear-esther.com
Finally, just a reminder that we're on Podcast17 this week:
So it's been a really busy year, even if there's no so much to show at the moment.
Right now, I'm working hard on trying to get a new project off the ground. I spent the early part of the year talking to studios about a game, which was looking good until someone decided to flush the economy down the toilet, which meant studio closures, and end of conversations. So, we're back to being a small dev team with big ideas, and hoping to start building the new project in October or November this year. It's called "Everybody's Gone to the Rapture" and it is the spiritual successor to Dear Esther. And that's all you get at the moment. Once we get the budget in the bank, expect some early concept art as soon as we can get it done. I will start up a new project page here once there's enough to justify it.
What else? Oh yeah, so I put together a panel for SXSW interactive on art/indie/experimental/not games, featuring yours truly, Tale of Tales, Lewis Denby (postscript) and Tracy Fullerton (google The Night Journey - it's a beautiful piece of work). Jessica Curry, our superstar audio designer will chair. It needs your support, so head over to Panelpicker.sxsw.com and vote for us.
Also, I'm going back to Indiecade in LA this year - www.indiecade.com. If you are in that neck of the woods, it's well worth checking out.
Quite a few people have asked about other bits of writing and stuff... so because it's xmas - I've uploaded this novel I wrote - Eugene's Box... you can get it here: www.thechineseroom.co.uk/EugenesBox.pdf
Enjoy it, and feel free to distribute, send me thoughts and feedback, etc, etc. It's a bit rough in places, but better it gets read than sits waiting to be ignored by publishers....
Also... quiet at the moment, but two major projects potentially on the table for 2010. Can't say more now, and neither are guaranteed, but if all goes well, we should see the Dear Esther remake at the end of the year, and potentially one or two standalone games around the same time. Scary and exciting in equal measure and as always, dear readers, you will be the very first to know...
have a great one
So we launch Korsakovia in 4 days and I'm already getting cold sweats about the reaction to it. So close to it now, have played through it that many times that I just have no idea if it's any good or not, and all I can see are the things we've have done differently if we were starting it all over again right now. What I can report back from the crazy world of Korsakovia is that a) I think I may be done with Source for the time being... time to move to a more contemporary engine. Just too many things we wanted to do we couldn't without ripping the codebase apart and frankly, we don't have the time or experience for that (or the money). So CryEngine is looking pretty likely for whatever we do next...
And b) whatever its faults, Korsakovia has proved (to me, at least), that you can 'do' an abstract, more experimental story like Dear Esther in a more 'traditional' game setting. Even more than Korsakovia. Don't get me wrong, I've got a massive amount of respect for game writing - frankly, those people giving it a bad press don't, I think, really grasp just how bloody difficult it is to get right - but this has to be our next step: a proper, full game. I'm not talking about 20+ hours of gameplay and a full dev budget, but at least scaling up to a self-contained indie release, on the scale of something like Zeno Clash or The Path - both of which I have a lot of time for, but also think we've got something really different to offer.
So that's the next step. Get this evil little bastard that's taken over my life out into the world and watch it stumble around blindly (it cannot find its eyes, y'see), then crack on with some serious fundraising. It'll probably be a bit quiet in thechineseroom for a bit, whilst I do the rounds, and Adam, Jess and I get our heads together and see what we can come up with - early conversations have included an FPS opera; medical nanotechnology variations on Descent, my old fave rip on Day of the Triffids - the blind squad based shooter, and a little number about a Victorian psychiatrist who suddenly realises he is actually God. So the usual, boring stuff really.
All and any comments and feedback on Korsakovia would be absolutely brilliant. Will also be uploading the VMF and codebase a while after the mod itself as a seperate download. We're looking into making Jessica's music (including a re-mastered version of the Dear Esther soundtrack) available through iTunes, so watch this space for that too. I might *even just maybe* stick the script for Korsakovia up too, if you lot ask nicely...
Korsakovia is developing well, although a little behind schedule. The first three levels are in debugging, thanks to a brilliant team of playtesters and map fixers (more are always welcome, especially playtesters with an eye for detail). We're attacking the final three over the next month, along with the coding (and bringing in voice actors) so are projecting an August release date.
The rebuild of Dear Esther by Robert Briscoe is coming along well (I'm as in the dark as anyone else, which is really exciting). Check www.littlelostpoly.co.uk/devblog for updates.
Dear Esther also got exhibited as part of the IndieCade showcase at E3 this month, which is just brilliant for us, and as far as I can add up, between Moddb and other download sites, and the two versions, we've popped over the 20,000 download mark, which is just jaw-dropping.
More on Korsakovia soon, along with some straight out gameplay footage... although I don't want to give too much of that away...
We're now working hard on a new mod that we hope will sit halfway between Dear Esther and a traditional SP FPS. It's called Korsakovia and the premise is an amnesiac with severe neurological damage waking from a coma in a hospital room to find out the world has ended...
Like Dear Esther, what we're interested in is how abstract and just plain far-out we can go with the storyline whilst keeping a really intense and engaging experience. It will be a lot faster than Dear Esther, this time featuring hostile agents - composer Jessica Curry is currently designing the sound for these - whose motives are unknown and who don't use traditional graphic representation. In other words, you never find out what they are or want, and there are no clues in the game. Adding to this, what start off as traditional environments start to meld and fragment, fusing together in odd ways and ceasing to make proper sense. Adam from Dark Rock Games, who re-built Doom 3 for Conscientious Objector and took both Dear Esther and Antlion Soccer from first tests up to release is building these. It has shades of F.E.A.R. and Silent Hill, but hopefully we'll step a bit further out into the dark and keep you all wondering what the hell is going on, whilst deliberately going for as frightening, eerie and panic-inducing an experience as we can.
Right now, one level is reaching playtesting stage, two more are in early mapping and the fourth is paper-designed. We need playtesters - please msg me if you are interested. We are aiming for a March release.
PS - thanks to everyone who voted for Dear Esther in the 2008 awards. If we make the Top 100, please keep the votes coming!
Finally - blood, sweat and tears, but Antlion Soccer went live today -thanks to everyone on the build team and our playtesters, who were really patient through a string of server problems. The state of play is this:
The game runs fine and is stable on LAN. We're working on DS code right now. You can PF it using your machine as a base and it's fairly stable, but runs into the normal occasional HL2DM mod error - anyone comes up with a solution to that, please let us know. From playtesting, it's as mental as I'd hoped and loads of fun. Be great to see if anyone starts mapping out new arenas - which is so simple to do, I'll probably keep adding the odd one or two over the next few weeks anyway.
Dear Esther is compiling as we speak - new versions of all four levels, taking care of displacement problems, double-triggers, adding a few new triggers, extending the caves, optimising the music/voice volumes and making a few more changes to environments here and there. Should go live this week. A promo film we made for it also got accepted as a machinima peice for the 2008 Ars Electronica exhibition, which is pretty amazing, so we are officially well-chuffed...
Finally, looks like we're going to start work on a new mod over the next couple of months. Provisionally titled BlackOut, it's aimed at being about half-way between Dear Esther and standard gameplay. In other words, it'll be faster and feel more like a game, but keep the same high weirdness and narrative drive. Anyone who wants to help out in anyway, please drop me a line.
You never really know if anyone is going to read this, but here goes anyway...
First up, we're currently overhauling Dear Esther for a new version, ironing out some of the problems in the environment, which a lot of people have criticised it for (quite rightly, bits of it make me cringe going back after a while). I think this is to be expected - harsh timescale and first major project, plus working outside the normal City17etc format, so I'm not too bothered. We'll get there. We're also adding in a couple more triggers in harder to reach places and sorting out a problem on the west side of the island where you can trigger a file while one is already playing. Hope to have that up and running beginning of August.
Tracking the response on the forums and blogs, it seems to split people down the middle. Quite a few "what the hell is this?" criticisms, mostly aimed at the build, which comes under the note above. A few more just frustrated as anything by it - lack of things to shoot, no clear path, didn't understand the story, etc. This is more interesting to me - to be honest, I expected more of this kind of thing. Yeah, the story doesn't make sense in a conventional way, but that's kind of the point - in a way, one of the things I wanted to see was players' tolerance for a story that was more open, abstract, less immediate and not obvious. In some cases, that's really upset people.
More interestingly, a few problems with the length - which is the opposite to what I was expecting. I thought we were probably pushing it in terms of being too long, rather than too short, so this has taken me a bit by surprise. I don't know how much more we could have put in. With a more linear environment, this would be easier - maybe next time (if there is a next time) we'd go for that, although I think a story as open as this needs an open environment to support it.
So. More thoughts as they come in, but it's certainly been worth doing so far, and the response has generally been way more positive than I thought it would be. Getting the displacements, etc sorted out is a priority. What I'm less sure about is the need for realism - whether the fact that the caves sequences just doesn't really look like caves is a problem...
One last thought. A forum post dropped the 'maybe I'm just not well read enough" line, which basically translates as "pretentious intellectual bullshit". That's a curious one to me, as I wasn't intending anything particularly highbrow, just not obvious. Does it really have to make perfect obvious sense to be an interesting experience? There are enough games out there with plot holes you could drive a truck through and loose ends that make very little sense...