Alex Ros is not a nickname, but a real one. I have a higher education diploma as a film director. And I've been practically working as a film editor for nearly 8 years. At the right moment since the summer of 2009 I'm working at the viral advertising agency ECHOVIRUSES mostly as a scriptwriter and copywriter, but sometimes I am also editing and making some special effects. As for game development since 2008 I am investing some time in modding and learning the details of the process of professional game development. I am one of the authors of the OLD GOOD STALKER MOD: CLEAR SKY and the only author of atmospheric addon DEPRESSIVE ZONE also for STALKER: CLEAR SKY. Generally I am interested in expansion of the gaming industry in the direction of the so called art-games and indie experimental games.
The most priceless moment with any kind of art is when you already got your ticket to the imagery world and stopped for a second at the gates. That moment is unrepeatable, when you're already observing a game launcher icon and just imagining, where this journey would take you. There are uncountable billions of possibilities what to imagine, while in fact you're observing your own personal expectations and dreams. And even if you're staring at the facade of the abandoned asylum, which you have visited for hundreds of times in all those mental hospital theme stories with uncontrollable doctors, experimenting with unfortunate patients, there are still thousands of possibilities what to expect.
Outlast would not present you with anything, but absolutely standard abandoned asylum far-long burned-out campfire horror story. There's no gold in the depleted mine of brutal medical experiments, which turned the place of the highest benefaction of healing people into the church of pain and tears. Are those persistently hunting you mumbling crazies, no way distinguishable from the skinny zombies, everything you've been afraid to face? Haven't you already met those fanatically suicidal pseudo new religion sectarians somewhere else? Are those desolated interiors richly decorated with blood splashes of past murders, blood painted pseudo intriguing phrases and shimmering lights of electric lamps and candles is anything, but an annoying cliche? Endless rain and thunder... Ubiquitous shadows of never-escape barred windows... Infinite night darkness... Perpetual empty cabinets of personnel with never-stop-working monitors... Is this really everything you could imagine, while you were staying at the gates and staring at the ancient abandoned asylum somewhere in the remote mountainous terrain at the gorgeous dusk?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the usage of any specific genre cliches, such as a haunted castle or mansion, an abandoned asylum, holy grounds of a gothic cathedral, cemeteries, etc. That is the indescribable magic of art, that allows you to approach the Last Supper scene for thousand and first time and fantastically it would not ever become truly the last one supper. Outlast impertinently offers you to enjoy the same old carte with a set of predictable mental hospital dishes all along the playthrough. And some people, quite a crowdy audience of pretty thankful consumers, do like to visit the same restaurant and munch good old predictable bloody steak.
Cinematography, theatrical performances, literature and comic magazines allow to control our attention all along the storypath with an intrigue at the beginning, with a set of unexpected plot twists and finally with a disclosure of secrets at the very end. Everything is under control, where to look and what should we memorize unconsciously, when should we rise our attention or vice versa make a pleasant sigh of relief, eventually even the rhythm of our heart beating is under control. With the games everything is contrary nearly uncontrollable as long as the whole magnetism of computer games is based on interactivity and freedom of choice. And as a result for a game developer the most effective way to share his story or vision with the people and make it memorable are game quests. The rule is truly that simple, that a game quest is the only way, most effective way to momentary rise our "freedom-of-choice-attention" and push our thoughts and presumptions in some certain direction. And therefore the game story should be told at most through the quests sequence in order to create a truly interactive and highly immersive story.
Outlast developers didn't bother to chain together plot twists and game quests. To find a key in order to... To find the rusty valves in order to... To find a pack of electro fuses in order to... in order to proceed to a new area. Search for something and that's all about quests. And while your protagonist is always searching for something in order to... there is always an enemy searching for your protagonist. You search, they search, you search, they search, you search, they search... Somehow that gameplay circle does build the atmosphere of the real mental hospital with daily, weekly, yearly, forever and ever repeating hypnotizing procedure of healing and being a patient. It would not be surprising to face McMurphy somewhere in those corridors of that abandoned asylum or simply discover his name in the patients list.
Outlast storyline is not just overused and thus predictable, but also boring and primitive as long as there are no significant plot twists. Outlast is just about entering an asylum, collecting documents about experiments and finally stopping that out of control experiment. That’s all about the storyline, there’s nothing more in the basement. As a result there were simply nothing in the storyline to chain with quests and they’re predictably just as boring and primitive as the storyline itself.
Interactive story telling is not just about quests sequence. Not to mention that reading documents surely isn't the best way to disclosure plot secrets and mysteries. As long as games decorations are open for free exploration by the player, unlike cinematographic decors which are under control of the director of photography, the game environment alone is a really amusing way to share your story without any quests or characters and dialogs or notes collecting. Explorations of the detailed interiors and interactions with dynamic objects could tell a lot more of what happened and in a lot more effective way, immersing a player into the imagery game universe, ready to whisper its chilling story.
Outlast abandoned asylum meets you with a couple of derelict formidable military cars and that's a very simple, but still effective way to warn me, that the situation here is truly out of control, so much out of control, that personnel of the hospital had to invite soldiers to take situation back under control. But while I am standing near the main entrance, there are no voices, no shots, nothing but silence. And thus I may realize, that the situation is still out of control and worst of all seems like weapons have not helped at all. Frightened quite a bit with trying to imagine the fears I would face by entering that forsaken place I am bravely continuing to search for a way to sneak inside of the abandoned asylum. It does not take a minute to discover the scaffoldings outside a hospital wing. Silent observation of those scaffoldings gives me the clear understanding that somebody decided to reopen far long abandoned asylum and began to restore the ancient building. What is the reason for reopening far long abandoned asylum? As long as I have already seen military tanks and heard no sounds of life I am free to presume, that someone and probably a greedy corporation was interested not in healing, but in continuing some yet mysterious for me experiments. And... And that's just the very beginning of the game without any quests, notes or dialogs. That's how Outlast could tell me the whole thrilling story, at least some parts of the mysterious story of the abandoned asylum. And that's something that haven't happened. There are some places, that did whisper some details of the story, no matter of how simple and predictable those details of the story were, but in fact there are only a few, woefully few of such silently-speaking parts of the environment.
Outlast level design is just professional, which is surely admirable. There is nothing really interesting to highlight and celebrate with a special attention. Everything is polished like a diamond, a real visual pleasure. Meaningless and pointless, but nevertheless a real visual pleasure. Outlast level design is absolutely linear, all areas or locations are isolated one from another completely. Therefore it's impossible to arrange a free-roaming-exploration tour throughout the ancient abandoned asylum in order to admire the detailed models and photorealistic textures, eye-catching well-thought-out combinations of colors throughout all of the interiors, lights and shadows efficiently working on each other, etc.
There is a widespread belief that the first person view is rising the immersion, the effect of the presence in the imagery world. And that is where Outlast does shine upon the entire game developers and game players undividable worlds. That is where Outlast is presenting an unprecedentedly impressive first person view experience, rising the immersion to the tops of the mountains, surrounding that cursed abandoned asylum. Outlast offers not just a clumsy model of your protagonist body, it offers the widescale set of lively animations for just about everything you could do within the walls of the mental hospital. And your protagonist could do a lots of things, it would not be a surprise to notice that he can walk, run, crawl, crouch and jump, but also and that's a bit more surprising he can pull on his hands for example to get into the ventilation, he can hang on the hands and move on the parapet just outside the windows, he can squeeze through narrow passages, he can slowly move along the wall on residues of the collapsed floor, etc. Most memorable Outlast developers touch is that lively animation of leaning and looking into the dangerously silent hall through the door, while one of your hands gently rests on the doorframe. With no doubts the first person view offered by the Outlast developers is just outstanding. And in general in conclusion that is the only one absolute victory of the Outlast. Everything else and truly everything could be praised or criticized.
Art is always a description of our world. And a good piece of art is always a new description of our world. Thousands years ago we lived on a dish plane, floating over infinite universal ocean. We were the center and we were heroes. And there were Achilles and Odyssey. Time had passed and we found out there's a righteous God abides somewhere at the heavenly clouds and simultaneously there's a malicious Devil at the underground roots of volcanoes in the ocean of fire. Heroes transformed into faithful honorable knights, slaughtering hundreds of damned unbelievers in the name of the true God. Not so long time ago we assumed that we might be all alone in the endless space of uncountable galaxies, there's no God, no Devil, no afterword. Heroes have become a forever suffering philosophers, steppenwolves. There's no good or bad, there's no reward in afterlife, but is there anything hiding on the other side of our dreams? Is there anything awaiting us when our heart finally stops? And fears came out with Edgar Poe and Howard Lovecraft stories. And even unexplored cosmos is greeting us with hostile predators and xenomorphs. Thankfully all those creatures and living nightmares are just a few of answers among thousands of different possibilities what is out there, what is beyond...
Here we are at the island. So solitary and desolated that our only friend and companion is our mind. It takes a few minutes to realize that we are finally free of thoughts about our colleges, our subordinates and superiors, our friends and girlfriends, our parents. It's surely not a vacation at the tropical beach we were planning for the next summer. There's no bikini girls to stare at. But we are staring at the dusk and what should be the most everyday-common thing now perceived like a never-seen-before miracle. We are slowly climbing the stairs, overgrown with weeds and flowers. And rhythmically swaying grass in the wind do catches our attention. Stop! It can't be happening!?! Is not the grass in the wind anything that could not ever catch out attention? It's not an important thing like a traffic light or a sealed envelope with a monthly salary!!! These stones and sand and waves and flowers and stairs and meaningless lighthouse are just nothing! They are of no importance!!! But they are kinda peaceful nothing, soothing nothing, restful nothing... what is that out there I see? Someone painted something on the beach sand. I do not understand... what is that formula on the stone I found? Damn chemistry! And by the way what these standing stones themselves are? Seems like it's something ritual, something like a burial grounds. Is anything horrible awaits for me somewhere out there? But strangely it doesn't feels creepy. This crystal clear tiny brook, streaming in between the cold stones, babbles very nicely and makes this deserted place a welcome one... yeah, but... where the hell am I? Seems like nobody is going to answer as long as I am all alone here. Donnely? Sounds very familiar. Esther? What a lovely romantic name. Should I know it? Dear Esther. What can I tell you? My own thoughts and memories are messed like a... wait... what's that out there? The remains of the crashed boat on the rocks! That's how I got here!!! That's why I don't remember anything! We crashed and I might hit my head and... just a moment... is not that fishing boat crashed here a million years ago? It looks so aged and rusted. So that's not an answer. Should I be surprised? Somehow I knew there would be no easy answers. But do I have any questions? I am sure there's a question, flickering inside my head like a red light dot of a far-away radio-tower. But I can't clearly formulate and pronounce-aloud that question... not yet... if this whole voyage could be a game I presume that the goal would be to always keep on trying to clearly formulate and pronounce-aloud that question. But this is not a game. I am all alone and here's nobody to play with.
Do you mind walking around with me? Whom am I talking to? Am I inviting my own self for a walk? A yellow light beacon is floating not so far from the shore. Whom does it call or warn? Huge cargo ship, heavily distorted by a crash. Rusted and aged and overgrown with grass and flowers as everything else out here. There's nothing interesting there... and... the more I walk around here the island the more I realize that I am myself is the most interesting attraction and puzzle here. I do not even remember when I was completely alone. One on one with myself. Isn't it a type of a dialogue I was missing for years? What do you want? What do you think should you do tomorrow? Tomorrow and after tomorrow. How do you want to live and... wait... no... that question... later... I'd better go to investigate that house on the hill, impressively glowing red in the lights of the sunset. Nothing there, as always. Just a pack of the musical notes, unfinished melodies. Isn't it a grave behind the house? When I was young I also saw my future as a musician. But it didn't happen. A lot of what I was dreaming of when I was young didn't happen. This house and the grave are like my own forgotten unrealized dreams. Metaphorically this whole island is like a... once again... that question... do I really need to answer it? Surely I can do that later. What's that down there? Looks like a whale skeleton. But it's just another one crashed ship on the beach. This island is full of crashes... crash... hm... later. There's a cave entrance, calling me with it's songs...
Wait a second!?! I am sitting in front of a computer. Right? And I have wasted my money on buying a new game. So what am I doing? Am I sitting in front of a computer at home and playing a game? Everything is vice versa!?! I am not playing the game and contrary the game forced me to play with myself. I am playing with my own dreams and thoughts and subconsciousness. That's ridiculous!!! There's nothing happening, there're no cutscenes, there're no enemies, there're no riddles, there's nothing at all except the landscape. Also there's a question. Not even so intriguing, not so mysterious, just a question that screaming aloud for an answer... but... oh... and I know the answer.
The moment of death is a miracle. The same unrepeatable miracle as the moment of getting born. And it becomes clear when you enter the caverns of shimmering lights and unearthly colors. I am dead and I was always dead. The very first step on the shore of this deserted island was a very first step to the other side. And simultaneously this other side is deep inside. This place is full of crashed dreams and finally I got crashed myself. That's the answer. Momentary death in a crash. What do you think my dear Esther? Is not that island what I was in life and that's my way to the afterlife? And right now I am here at the most indescribably beautiful part of myself, at the caverns of subconsciousness. The incredible maze of unpronounced thoughts and unrealized dreams. The source of all the tiny brooks, of all the rivers and lakes, of the endless ocean of the imagination. Esther, my dear, I wish I could show you this hidden part of myself. Isn't it too late? What I was thinking about when I was alive? Where's my time? How could I crash all those tiny boats and gigantic ships? It's a little bit frightening how easily we could get lost in the caves. But isn't it exactly what do I want to right now? To get lost and roam forever. The water is flowing and I am following it's breeding streams. The spiral of waterfalls. The downward spiral that leads upwards. Look up and stare at the lights, stop and stare at your final destination...
Could this all be just those infamous 3 minutes, when the human body is already dead and brains are still living? Or could this be a vision of the Limbo? And am I supposed to walk through that modern Limbo to get to Heaven? Could this be a... it could. There's a lot of possibilities what exactly this island is about. The only thing I am sure about is that it's not a game. And I believe that it's the most interesting game possible. That's not a game leading into an imaginary world of intriguing events and characters. And that's the game leading you to your own story. This is the virtual world that forces you to see your own world, the world of yourself. That's not what games are supposed to be. But that is what art is supposed to be. "Dear Esther" is a new description of our world. "Dear Esther" is a new metaphor of what is our universe and what is beyond and what is inside of us. "Dear Esther" forces, disturbs and leads you to become not a player, but an author. There's no other way to enjoy "Dear Esther", but to become a co-author of this virtual world. This is a dead piece of rock overgrown with crashed ships. There's nothing real interesting out there at the isolated and deserted island if your own mind is isolated and deserted. You won't be satisfied if you just sit down and listen to the voice mutterings and music scapes. It's not an audio book. It's not a pack of visuals and level design tutorials. You can't be entertained if there's nothing entertaining in your own imagination. "Dear Esther" is surely an experiment. But is not an experiment what art is supposed to be? "Dear Esther" is unfinished. But is there any piece of art that is truly finished? Jorge Luis Borges, the most famous Spanish author of short-stories, was asked once in a interview: "How do you finish your stories?" And Jorge answered: "There's no single story that I truly finished. There's always something to polish and as a result the process of writing is infinite. But then my editor just comes and picks up the manuscript."
The most scary monster is the one, which our imagination is giving birth to. There's no book, no movie, no game possible, that can scare us. Our subconciousness is the only source of fear. We rely on our five senses. And when one of them is amputated, we are creating a momentary crutch of our imagination. In most cases we truly manage to find the route to the toilet with an amputated vision in the dark house at the night time. While we're dealing with the horror genre and a horror games in particular, the most gifted with a talent are those developers, who would imperceptibly turn our imagery crutch into a treacherous serpent. The venom of fear would poison our subconciousness absolutely, while we would not even notice that. We begin to expect that something horrible awaits us. And most frightening moments are those, when we just expect something terrible to happen, but in truth nothing is really happening. Rustles and unexpected noises, shadows and dark corners are just rustles and unexpected noises, shadows and dark corners. But we hear something horrible is sneaking around, we see that something terrible is hiding right here. The more obscurity, hints and glimpses we would be facing on our investigational "route to the toilet", the more frightened we would become. On our knees, scared to death by ourselves, we are crawling around in search of some clues of what's happening, of what's happened right before our appearence here. Intriguing mystery of the story is whipping us shamelessly. Sealed at the bilge we continue to row, thirsty to know about our final destination point. And we are sincerely happy, when the bottom of the galley is starting to scrape the sand. But that's the moment, when the magic bursts like a bubble. We face our enemy. And there's nothing left to imagine. There is only a shimmering faceless lanky man in the black suit. Nothing's left to expect or investigate. Running around is all that remains. Environment does change, while we are running around like unstoppable rabbits and searching for notes instead of tasty carrots. And with no doubt environment is stunning, vast and placatory, open and gorgeous, enormously enhancing the sense of how defenceless, vulnerable, useless and lost we are here in the world of real wilderness. Environment is the only narrative of that story. Because there's no other worthy narrative. There's only a monotonous gameplay, not scary, not intriguing, just boring and simply annoying.
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