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.

Report article RSS Feed Dear Esther - comments and new version

Posted by chineseroom on Jul 19th, 2008

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...

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