tsupertsundere

Update Forty-Five: 12 September 2017

Dear Esther: Landmark Edition

5.9 hours, 10 of 10 achievements
tsuper review: 8/10


☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Hi. My name is tsupertsundere, and I love walking simulators.

Dear Esther is the grandmother of them all. It started as a humble Half-Life 2 mod, but after becoming a darling of the Source modding community the three devs got together and spruced it up for commercial release. After many years and some final polishing, the Landmark edition was released with achievements and director’s commentary.

I played this game already, a handful of years ago, and was more than happy to revisit this sad, lonely island in the Hebrides. I appreciate Dear Esther for what it had done to spark a genre and influence design in many more, and I love me some director’s commentary. Getting insight into what the devs were thinking and what they were aiming for and what design principles they followed is really fun and interesting to me, and getting another 100% cleared game on my list didn’t hurt.

This game is unapologetically itself, and while that may not be for everyone, I absolutely appreciate that. The way the visuals, writing, and audio combine made scenes that I absolutely remembered from years past - a rare feat for me. The sparseness of the music gave me room to think, and the dreamlike quality and uncertainty of the voice overs gave me the kind of experience I find games so wonderful at portraying - letting me decide what things must mean, and why, and feeling like I’m truly in the center of the story.

Walking simulators aren’t for everyone, but not because they’re not games. They’re not for everyone the same way RTSes aren’t for everyone - it’s just a genre difference. I’m going to take the time and space now to get on a little soapbox and say just as much intention and thought goes into the design of these games, particularly great ones like this, as any other genre. They’re just different. They ask of you different things than your racing game or roguelike might.

I realized something as I was playing through this once again, and getting used to the slow walking speed once more. A common complaint is how slow the movement speed is, and asking for a sprint button to be added in, to… get through the game faster? Finish it more quickly? But that’s not the point. It’s the same as someone saying, ‘Hey, I die a lot in Demon’s Blood Souls r Borne, there shouldn’t be this many enemies with such different movements and timing and studying the environment shouldn’t be so important, I’d get through the game faster and finish it more quickly.’ That’s not the point of the Soulsborne games - how you navigate and fight in the world is absolutely tied to what kind of feelings the developers want you to feel. Change that, you change the game.

The same goes for Dear Esther. This is a two-hour contemplative walk through a desolate maybe-mindscape - change that, you change the game. It’s asking something different of you. Not better, not worse, just different.

Yeah, the writing can get kind of hokey and it’s a weensy bit pretentious but by god, it made a genre that gives me exactly what I want in games. It gets to be.

Next up: Last challenge me monthly!
A man? Starring in a hidden object game? What’ll they think of next?

See you soon!

Trent

Thanks for the review and update, tsuper. Man, this game sure took a lot of abuse when it came out in 2012 (as you know)…people just hadn’t seen games like this. I bought it once it got to 75% off and just loved the scenery and exploration, and the narration too. One of my favorite embarrassing moments in gaming was how I got stuck in this game and didn’t finish it– I just couldn’t seem to find the end. Finally somebody pointed me in the right direction and I finished it– lol. I look forward to playing the Landmark Edition and experiencing it all over again. Hopefully I don’t get lost!

Adam Wolfe was one of my favorite HOGs because it’s different. I love Artifex Mundi games as much as the next person, but Adam Wolfe changes it up a bit in some good ways (and I don’t so much mean the protagonist’s gender, as I do the gameplay and “feel”), while still retaining its HOG roots. I think you’ll like it!

Also: typo? “It gets to be.” Me?

tsupertsundere

Yeah, and that really is a shame that happened. The reaction shows a lot of…. small-mindedness? Fear of just having a different option? The way a lot of people carry on about walking simulators is like walking simulators personally came in and strangled their hopes and dreams to death in front of them, shattered all of their favorite video game, and replaced them with 300 copies of Gone Home and Sunset. Like…. it’s different! It’s a new option! You don’t HAVE to play it, just let it exist in a corner you don’t look in! (It’s not hard! I dislike probably half of game genres, but I don’t go into, say, XCOM forums and tell superfans how much I don’t like their favorite game)

I got a little turned around, too, sometimes, it’s a pitfall of the genre. I’m glad you liked it, and are willing to give it another spin!

Yeah, I’ve heard good things about Adam Wolfe, and I’m glad that different developers are coming to break the monopoly on hidden object games that Artifex has. I started it up just to prep it for offline play if necessary and I think the protag’s little goatee is hilarious.

Oh! I should’ve been clearer - ‘It gets to be’ refers to ‘it gets to be a little bit pretentious’. Like, it’s accomplished so much and is a cultural touchstone, it gets to be!

Trent

That’s funny…I don’t think I even noticed his goatee.
Oh, now I understand the non-typo. :)

ninglor03

First about our not continued journey with Clem (sob). I’m still a bit sad about knowing how they changed the whole thing SO much. I’m feeling uneasy about it. But want to play it and will. The good thing probably is, that I have by now read so many not so positive things about it, that my expectations are not that high anymore :D It can only get better from there ^^

Next on to Dear Esther. Yes, you are absolutely right, there kind of games are supposed to be enjoyed in slow time and a move-faster-button is…. ridiculous! I mean, I suffered a lot through it, but still it would be a total waste to rush through it and notice nothing! I remember how I tried to read the whole text on the wall the first time I played the game. Totally ignoring me feeling sick while doing it, because I wanted to know. And that’s what this game is supposed to be about: see things, experience them, notice them. In my opinion they did a great job with that :)

I know, right? A MAN IN A HOG??? It’s like we’re flying with a submarine! O.O
But it works, believe me :D
Have fun with it!

tsupertsundere

Yeah, absolutely, that’s how I’d recommend it. Go in with no expectations and try to just enjoy what you can. My girlfriend was getting perklempt about it and I had to comfort her like ‘just stop expecting anything of this’ and it helped her through it. We’re just so invested in Clementine that seeing what part of her story we could was enough.

That’s a lovely point about Dear Esther, though I’m sorry it made you feel sick. I think you’d get a lot out of the developer’s commentary, to see where they were coming from. You can listen to the commentary with your eyes closed!

also PFFTPFPTPFT you can’t make me laugh this hard out loud at work! Right??? It’s crazy!!!

ninglor03

Oh ups, didn’t mean too :D

Nooooo, it shouldn’t pull her down that much! That’s too bad! Gotta write a complaint to TT about it! They can’t make a game, that makes ppl feel bad about playing it -.-

Yep, did exactly that :D Although when standing still it wasn’t too bad, it’s mostly the walking and turning around part :)

devonrv

Personally, the reason I don’t consider walking simulators to be games is the same reason I don’t consider visual novels to be games: there’s barely anything you can do, if anything at all. Just because software is interactive doesn’t mean it’s a game; games are supposed give you an end goal, obstacles to overcome, etc. On the other hand, WSs and VNs only exist to tell a story, and all you can really “do” is progress to the next story segment. To be fair, walking sims are better at justifying themselves as interactive computer applications than visual novels are since you can explore an environment at your own pace, but for the most part, you could “port” them to “actual book” form and keep the same experience as their software counterparts, especially VNs (and if you’re wondering how the visual novel choice system would work in book form, check out the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books).

I get that WSs and VNs aren’t for me, but at the same time, just because I don’t consider them to be games doesn’t mean I’m discrediting the entire genres; it just means they’re different, like you said.

P.S. I think the slow walking speed is better equated to text display speed in JRPGs or VNs: it doesn’t mean I’m not appreciating the game if I get through it faster, it just means I can read and comprehend the text faster than other people, so a faster walking speed wouldn’t miss the point. If you need more time to read the text, you could always lower the text display speed in the options or simply finish reading after all the text is displayed, then advance the text at your own pace.

tsupertsundere

This isn’t a discussion I super want to get into^ because there’s just nothing nobody hasn’t said before, and I do appreciate your posting of your opinion. I get absolutely what you said, but there has been numerous times where somebody has taken a medium and done something different or uncommon with it and then been said to not really be of that medium anymore. (see, for one quick example, the kerfluffle surrounding Impressionist painting when the movement was just getting started - that’s not real painting) Like, it absolutely still is - it’s just different.

Like, in your example, the game DOES give you a goal: make it to the radio tower. There ARE obstacles to overcome: navigate the island to get there, piece together a coherent story from fleeting, dreamlike, and randomized dialogues and props. Just because they’re not the goals and obstacles you’re accustomed to, or not accustomed to being the only thing you do, doesn’t mean they’re not goals or obstacles.

I mean, besides the moderately condescending ‘this is what an analogue VN port might be’ comment (I know what a choose yr own adventure book is, my guy, don’t worry), VNs-as-games is not a hill I’m willing to die on - I like them bc a bitch likes to read, and beyond the more stat-raisey ones a lot of them is just reading. But, then again, so was old-ass ZORK but I digress.

I will die on the walking simulators as games, though, because just because you’re not jumping or bopping duders doesn’t mean you’re not doing anything. I’m certainly immersed and thinking and doing way more in walking sims than, say, I am while playing a clicking game or the worst, most grindy parts of an RPG.

P.S. I don’t think it’s an accurate equation - you’re processing one thing (text and or speech) in text speed and multiple (aural, spacial, visual) w/walk speed. There’s a node that talks abt this in the developer’s commentary - they fought w/themselves about adding in a sprint button and decided against it because they had a reason for you to experience the game at a realistic walking pace.

^I say as I proceed to type four paragraphs

devonrv

I understand what you’re saying, but let me try one more thing to explain my point of view (as I’ve never been good at explaining myself): in order for something to be a game, there has to be something in it to enjoy other than the story, audio, and visuals; in other words, the game-play itself should be enjoyable stand-alone. I mean, the very definition of “game” is “a form of play or sport,” not “anything with any form of interactivity ever.” For example, if you take away the story, audio, and visuals from an RPG, you still have the combat mechanics and the strategy involved therein (whether or not the game is any good at making the combat fun is another matter); for a puzzle game, you still have the puzzles to solve; even ZORK has you collecting items and fighting monsters to progress further in the dungeon; however, if you take away the story, audio, and visuals from something like Dear Esther, what experience are you left with?

So yeah, it’s less “Impressionist vs other paintings” and more “toys vs video games.” When video games were first introduced, the masses treated them the same way as toys because they shared many superficial similarities, even assuming they were a fad that would pass (hence the video game crash of 1983; people thought the fad of video games was over and were looking for the next popular toy to stock in their place), but today, we know that video games are not toys; they’re video games. It isn’t doing something different with one medium, it’s using elements of one medium to make its own medium, and it should be treated as such. I’m not trying to be condescending; that’s just what the words mean.

Over time, humanity might collectively change the definition of the word “game” to include walking simulators, but even though I’m not a fan of the genre, I personally believe that calling them games is actually a disservice to the medium since they’re not games, nor are they trying to be games; they’re trying to do their own thing. It would be like saying podcasts and audio dramas are a genre of music; sure, they have many superficial similarities and you play both in similar circumstances, but they’re fundamentally different, and just because people say that podcasts aren’t music because they don’t have the melody or structure of music doesn’t necessarily mean those people are being condescending.

EDIT: I guess what I’m trying to say is this: if this new medium decides that it wants to be its own thing, like it should, it could branch out from being the niche you said it is and become more popular, maybe even reaching audiences who aren’t interested in actual games. However, if it wants to continue to be known as a type of game, where the genre is defined by game-play, they’ll always be known by the somewhat inherently condescending term “Walking Simulator.” Games are played and judged predominantly for their game-play, while walking simulators aren’t; that’s what makes them different.

P.S. Clickers and their ilk shouldn’t be considered games, either, and for similar reasons. Take away the pretty pictures you get from clicking/waiting enough, and what experience are you left with? The equivalent of absentmindedly tapping your fingers on the armrest while waiting at the doctor’s office. Calling them games is a disservice to games.

stef

I love the way you write! I could honestly read your reviews all day.

Dear Esther is next on my list in the ABC Challenge. I tried it a year or so ago, but I got lost and a little bored and didn’t continue. I have much more appreciation for Walking Simulators now (I actually love them too) so I’m glad I’m going to try it again with the Landmark Edition.

Maybe some day you can make a Walking Simulator reference list (similiar to your VN one) for people who don’t quite understand the genre :)

tsupertsundere

Stef………. stef, don’t you do this to me. Don’t you give me any more ideas….. (also thank you so much for your lovely comment)

I might wait a while for that, simply bc walking simulator genre is much smaller than the VN one, and is more confined to smaller sub-genres (emotional stories/mysteries/light horror) rather than VNs which run the gamut? Would I count Journey as a walking sim (or ABZU when I finally friggin get around to playing it as a swimming sim?) Would Copoka count? I’ll definitely ruminate on this though.

You’re not alone in getting lost, and I appreciate you willing to try things again! I hope you enjoy it. What other walking sims did you play since then that made you like the genre more?

stef

I tried to name walking sims I liked, and realized that you are 100% right. It’s hard to pin down what exactly a walking simulator is. I’ve heard a lot of people call Life Is Strange a walking sim, but others say it’s an interactive movie. I find both kind of the same thing in a lot of ways. So it’s hard for me to really say which ones are my favorites :)
I love any type of game that puts story and atmosphere before gameplay. Such as walking sims and interactive movies.

My favorite (that may or may not be walking sims) are: Beyond Two Souls, Life is Strange, The Walking Dead: Season One, The Wolf Among Us, Tales From The Borderlands, The Stanley Parable, Abzu, The Beginner’s Guide and some other ones I can’t think of right now :P. I hoping to add Firewatch, Ethan Carter, and Ether One to my fav list as soon as I play them!

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