Dear Esther – indie mod headed full Steam ahead

Dear Esther is an award-winning, story-driven mod for Half-Life 2… at least, it was. Developers thechineseroom have just confirmed that by “Summer 2011”, their project remake will be getting a full commercial release, via Steam.

Dear Esther

What is the significance of the aerial?

The game takes the typical, traditional FPS gameplay we’re so familiar with, and replaces it with a deep, emotional story, a stunningly desolate island setting, and a gorgeous soundtrack.

A deserted island… a lost man… memories of a fatal crash… a book written by a dying explorer. Dear Esther is a ghost story told using first-person gaming technologies. Rather than traditional gameplay, the focus here is on exploration, uncovering the mystery of the island, of who you are and why you are here. Fragments of story are randomly triggered by moving around the environments, making every telling unique. Features a stunning, specially commissioned soundtrack. Forget the normal rules of play; if nothing seems real here, it’s because it may just be all a delusion. What is the significance of the aerial – What happened on the motorway – is the island real or imagined – who is Esther and why has she chosen to summon you here? The answers are out there, on the lost beach and the tunnels under the island. Or then again, they may just not be, after all…

Originally developed by Dan Pinchbeck, a games/interactive media instructor at the University of Portsmouth (as well as a team of students), the 2007 version of the game was pretty amazing, winning awards and even seeing Pinchbeck granted a Source license for a full independent release. Since then, the game has been fully re-developed with some help from Robert Briscoe, environment artist for Mirror’s Edge, and now edges ever-closer to the grand reveal.

Dear Esther

...well, it certainly looks deserted...

Dan Pinchbeck explains:

“We’re hugely excited about the license. The new version of Dear Esther will take the game to a completely new level and we’re confident it will be one of the stand-out indie titles of 2011. Once again, this shows that games are probably the most exciting and innovative medium on the planet right now, and we’re really happy to be right at the cutting edge of that.

“For everyone who played the original mod, we can promise a totally new experience that will keep the soul of the original whilst pushing the game to a completely different level. For people who have never experienced Dear Esther, get ready for a game unlike anything you’ve ever played. In 2011, we’re going to answer once and for all the question of whether games can be art.”

Jessica Curry has crafted a fully re-orchestrated soundtrack as a perfect audio backdrop for Dear Esther, which also boasts an expanded setting and story, and promises to push the Source engine “into uncharted territory” (and we’re not just talking about the deserted island).

Dear Esther

(I particularly like the moon and the water)

A quick look at the game’s new website suggests we’re looking at something very different from the typical Source engine fare – and I for one am quite intrigued. Stay tuned.

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