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.

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chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther

So should it be another medium. No, because the fundamental issue with Esther is your relationship as a player to the avatar. Even if this is deliberately undermined by the randomisation of the narrative, central to most people's experience of this has been their sense of immersion in the world, their presence and underpinning this is the fact that they are controlling, in real time, the moving through the environment. This relationship, with the story, the avatar and the environment would change fundamentally in an audiobook, a print book or a film, because you use a whole bunch of different cognitive functions to engage with the experience. And much of this is very implicit and subtle. So an audiobook of Esther would be a quite fundamentally different thing.

Finally, entertainment. Yeah, a game should entertain. But what do you mean by entertainment? Is Hamlet entertaining? Or The Road? They are definitely engaging - hardly fun. Games should connect to the player and make the player want to play them. That's about as broad as it comes. Esther didn't connect with you. That's absolutely fine. It did connect with other people, that's fine too. I doubt anyone played it for laughs, thrills or those kind of classic game emotional reactions. But then it's equally valid as an experiment whether games can hit other emotional reactions not traditionally associated with games, that plenty of people have come out and said games CANNOT create. Well, that's a massive challenge for me, it's crying out to immediately try and achieve that.

Good karma+2 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther

OK, well, let's take that a point at a time. First up, you're assuming a direct, explicit connection between action and reaction, which is, you're right, absolutely the traditional form of interaction in a game. But that raises a question that is worth exploring - how non-explicit, non-immediate can that relationship be? Can you take away that call-and-response model of gameplay and retain something engaging. Whether you ultimately like Esther or not, the question has value, as it offers an investigation into whether you can push gameplay in a different direction from normal.

Second, the idea of giving the player something to do along the way. So let's take a classic FPS like Half Life. You're doing a lot more than fighting and puzzle solving and platforming along the way, you're also soaking up huge chunks of passive, background ambience and environment alongside the more explicit story. And that's not often focused on, but it's fundamentally important to the gameplay experience. Games that don't fulfill this less visible swamp of engagement are usually strangely flat experiences, even though it's hard to pinpoint exactly what is missing. So again, this is really important to explore, and see whether stripping back away explicit story and ongoing activities leaves an experience that can still work. And again, that's not going to be to everyone's tastes, but enough people do like Esther to suggest it's really worth exploring further and has something important to say about this kind of passive, environmental story - or the constant activity of thinking about the world, looking at the world, listening to the world, that goes on.

Good karma+1 vote
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther

Hey no worries - it was just the length of the exchange was spiralling and taking up the first couple of pages on the comments section, so wanted to cap it. I'm never going to complain about anyone defending Esther, and glad you think it's worth defending, so thanks!

Good karma+1 vote
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther

Soundtrack - the loss of audio in the VO so it's hard to make out over the music was a completely deliberate decision, and happens mainly in the final level, and it's there to push further the idea of the narrator increasingly losing the plot and the sense and reality breaking down. And I can completely justify it on a creative level, but lots of people hated it and we're changing it for the remake.

So - hope that goes some way to answering some of your points. Some are fair, some come from, I think, missing the point of what we were trying to do a little, and some are (if we're honest) your personal dislike of the game dressed up as more objective criticism. Which is OK, but it does come down to taste. Like I said in the other post, I personally find Myst about as engaging as watching grass grow and would rather eat someone else's toenail clippings than have to wade through the whole thing, but that's my taste, and it's a long way from that to saying that Myst is a ****, boring game. I mean, it is a ****, boring game, but that's primarily due to the lack of space marines, I reckon... :)

Good karma+2 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther

See my response above re: gameplay. That depends on what you expect from gameplay and challenging that, or seeing if you can cut that right back and still have a game-type experience that holds people, is a really important and interesting question. And the fact that although you hated it, thousands of gamers really love it makes the question even more worth asking. The other thing that's interesting about it is that kind of fundamental to that is the question about the avatar/narrator and the player's relationship to them and that draws on stuff which is unique to games. Esther as a book or a film just wouldn't be the same because even if all you do is move the narrator around, the fact you HAVE to move the narrator to push the story forwards and you get to control what you are looking at, how long you spend in a location, etc - this is all fundamentally different from a book or a film. Now if all you did was hit one button to automatically shift to another location, then the 'it's just like turning pages in a book' argument would hold up. But the relationship is subtler than that.

There are some issues with level design, yes. There are a couple of places - particularly in the first level - where you are not rewarded for exploration enough and there are long walks back to the main path. I'll take that, we're fixing those for the remake and that's where the difference between Rob (as a pro designer) and me (no experience prior to Esther and basically a writer) really comes out. But to be fair, it's not as prevalent as you make out... it's only really level 1 where there's any amount of that...

Good karma+1 vote
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther

_sml, ltfuller, I've deleted these as I don't want this comments bar turning into a flaming session. Constructive debate fine, but this is spiralling out of hand.

In terms of the original criticism. Games are big enough to deal with a wide variety of ideas and forms, and complaining there's no gameplay in Esther is like complaining there's no story in Tetris - it's not the point. The idea behind Esther was to explore an area in gaming that's not usually served by mainstream development. Interestingly, two years after the original release, I'm not sure that's as true. And you need to come back and question what you mean by gameplay too. If you think of it as short cycles of goal-action-reward, with explicitly obvious feedback loops between what you do and what is represented by the game, yeah, Esther has no gameplay.

But you can think of gameplay a different way and talk about an engaging experience that is fundamentally driven by you having to do things in the space. In which Esther does have gameplay, it's just less explicit. The representation, the interpretation of events and responses is not as explicit onscreen and is more about the kind of process you go through when you read a book. And that's interesting to explore in a game, whether you like it or not.

So... put another way. I find Myst boring. And I really didn't get on with Red Dead Redemption. I love Just Cause 2 and my favorite game is STALKER. Lots of people disagree with me and hate the games I love and love the games I hate. And that's OK, cos it's a big ol' medium and there's plenty of space in it. And the more diversity in games we get, the better for gaming in general, but there's more for every type of developer to draw from. Which is where the value in experimental game development comes from, as it expands the vocabulary of the medium.

Good karma+2 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther

Yep, you can pull it down elsewhere. It'll be back up here soon.

Good karma+1 vote
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther

I'm not being in the slightest bit sarcastic when I say, OK, go on then. I'd love to see another take on doing something like this hit the streets. Seriously.

Good karma+3 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther

Hi all,

The current downloads of Dear Esther have been temporarily removed - we will post them back-up at some point in the near future. Thanks, Dan

Good karma+5 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Korsakovia

Quite a few people have been mailing in with bugs and glitches still cropping up in Korsakovia even though the major update glitch is fixed. I think this is going to be a long haul, and may even need to wait until (if) we get a chance to do a full overhaul of the entire mod, which I'd love to do at some point (picking up a load of the design flaws as well). There's no provisional date for doing this at the moment, as we're in the thick of trying to get a new project off the ground, but apologies to everyone who is struggling with the build - I don't know realistically when we're going to have time to get through an fix it all - probably more realistic to recode the the thing, and there's no point in doing that without hitting the art, design, etc at the same time.

Good karma+2 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Korsakovia

OK - it's been running fine on a couple of machines here, so we'll look into it. Thanks for being patient, will get it sorted ASAP

Good karma+1 vote
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Korsakovia

It's really entity heavy which will cause big issues for some computers. Remember this is experimental, right? It's about pushing things and seeing how far they'll go before they break. Prototyping, not finished.

Good karma+3 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Korsakovia

They were temporarily offline whilst the second patch and new fully patched version were authorised - should be there now

Good karma+1 vote
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Korsakovia 2010 Patch

See the new patch - apologies for that (would be pretty evil, even for this beast of a mod)

Good karma+3 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Korsakovia

Yep, seems to be working for me. Have integrated it into a new version, plus will upload the patch separately tomorrow.

Good karma+1 vote
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Korsakovia

Not for me, though it's worth a try. We've got someone looking at it and hopefully in a few weeks will repost a fixed version.

Good karma+1 vote
chineseroom
chineseroom @ chineseroom

Happy to talk, but up to my neck in a new project at the moment. If anyone gives us the funding for it, we'll announce hopefully over the summer...

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chineseroom
chineseroom @ chineseroom

Well... I'm putting in for a promotion at the moment, so I'll let you know... :)

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chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther - Caves

Thanks, around 4 months :) -Rob

Good karma+1 vote
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther - Caves

Just following what nature tells me :) Zhangjiajie.com.cn

-Rob

Good karma+2 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther - Caves

Your old one will work just fine :) - Rob

Good karma+4 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ A Light at the end of the Tunnel

Yeah. It's just Rob - all credit goes to him. I'm still scraping my jaw off the floor as we speak... (dan)

Good karma+5 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther

Believe me... I've tried with Valve, I really did. Once it's near completion, we'll try again...

Good karma0 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Dear Esther

Hey - I'm not one to censor stuff, but I don't want this to fill up with flaming... So easy on that and keep it to the mod, yeah?

Good karma0 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Korsakovia

Struggling with this - redid the gameinfo file so it loads Ok, but now it's not loading in the HL2OB props (my ******* nemeses, those props) - something going on there but currently unable to figure it out - anyone has any ideas, HELP!

Good karma+2 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Has your mod broken?

Stupid question... what goes here?

// add your AdditionalContentID SearchPath(s) here

I'm self-certified as useless with this kind of stuff... any pointer for the extremely dull-minded would be grand...

Good karma+1 vote
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Yes, it's broken

Hey, thanks for all of that- will follow that up and see if even a cretin like me can fix it...

Good karma+3 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Korsakovia

This may be down to the Source update too. I am going to try and get some help to fix this - please be patient

Good karma+1 vote
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Korsakovia

I really thought we'd got over this. Come on: 10K is NOTHING - it is absolutely peanuts. It wouldn't even buy you a single room at normal game dev rates. If you want to put this in context, minimum UK wage is £5.93 per hour from October 2010. This budget is the equivalent of 210 days. For one person. Now knock of studio hire costs, voice actors (at appx £300 per day), split it down to a coder and an environment builder, writer, composer... Enough with the naive comments about budget. If you've got a problem with modders being paid for their work, that's your call... but this is just stupid.

Good karma+5 votes
chineseroom
chineseroom @ Korsakovia

Hi everyone,

Yep, the update has caused a huge bunch of problems right across the board, which really stinks (thanks a bunch, Valve)... It's going to take a while to get it all fixed, so please be patient and don't expect an overnight sort out (unless anyone out there feels generous and wants to offer to sort it out).

Also, the whole mod really needs an overhaul in general, but I don't know right now when I'm going to be able to do this. Bear with me...

Good karma+2 votes
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