Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Horror Tip: Dear Esther

Name: Dear Esther
Type: Game (Half Life 2 Mod)
Link: Mod DB page (info + download)
This horror tip is quite fitting with last post's discussion on what makes a game. Dear Esther is pretty much a first person game without any gameplay and only based an a fragmented narrative. While not really scary it has got a very dark and gloomy atmosphere. The game is highly experimental and might feel a bit pretentious at first, but still very well worth playing. It takes a little over 30 min to complete and offers a very unique experience.

To play it Half Life 2 or any of the episodes is needed. Download the zip and extract to "steamapps\SourceMods". Then start the game through steam.

What did you like this narrative-only kind of gameplay? And would you consider it a game*?

*Yes, trying to categorize stuff will always fail at some point, but I still think it can create an interesting discussion. For the same reason that for example not calling pluto a planet is important.


  1. I remember trying this out a couple of months ago. It was okay, I'm not really sure I understood what the point of it was...but then again, it was a couple of months ago. I don't know if I would call it a game per se, since it's really all just "Move to point A to point B to point C while listening to some dialog". More so, it's a graphical short story.

  2. I played this a few months ago and liked it a lot, intriguing narrative (with a great voice actor) and a strangely creepy atmosphere. For me it was something nice and different, maybe not a game in the traditional sense but certainly a thought-provoking experience.
    From what I understand they're remaking it, whether to make it longer and flesh it out or simply to add more detail and polish it up, I don't know, but I'm looking forward to it.

  3. I had no idea what to do there so I explored the enviroment and got killed few times without any logical reason. I hame made it to the cave which was very scary. Overal this wasn't a "game" in my opinion because there was no chalenge and problem solving (except of solving where to go). That voice reminded me Philip's voice in the intro of Black Plague. The atmosphere was great at the begining but at the midle of the game it was too quiet so I had to liesten to the noice of my PC.

  4. Klayman:
    No idea one could get killed. How did that happen? Fell from a high place?

  5. Quite interesting game. In terms of level design it was horrible, I got lost all the time and went to the wrong places, especially in open terrain. Very few visual directions and ways to mark and limit the path.

    Story-wise it was much better. Not really sure I got what was happening or had happened but the narrative worked well.

    As mentioned the atmosphere is where the game really shines. The silence in contrast with the spooky sounds in the caves, the feeling of being alone and abandoned and the foreboding writing on the walls all contribute to an uneasy feeling all the way through.

  6. Thomas:
    I think you get killed when you walk out of bounds. It happened to me at first, even though the narrator does say "Come back" when you get too far away as a sort of warning. I suppose it's better than putting immersion breaking invisible walls everywhere.

    That said, I think the level design was the only bad thing about this. I got lost often and even got stuck in between rocks forcing me to use noclip to get out.

    Other than that, I thought it was brilliant. The atmosphere was completley chilling and the story was intruiging, if a bit vauge.

  7. I think adding invisible walls is better then get killed. Maybe visible obstacles could be even better. I also got stuck between rocks.

  8. Just wanted to say that a remake of Dear Esther is in the works. Some early koncept and stuff can be found here:

    It looks quite nice and the goal is apparently to make graphics nicer and the level design better, which sounds good to me. However these kinds of a projects tend to end up as vaporware so I am not gonna keep my hopes up too much.

  9. I played this a while ago, and I loved it but i would not consider it a game, but very worth "playing". If it was sold, i would not buy it. If it were a bit longer? i might consider it, but not for very much. But don't get me wrong, I had enjoyed it. The story was the best thing about it though, although some things weren't cleared up, who's Esther? And who is the narrator? an old friend talking to you through a note? or the player writing to someone? And the problems with dying when you go far enough away sort of confuses me because yes, he will say "Come back!" but, he'll say that anyway due to some sort of timed event, so am i supposed to listen to it? or just to give more of a lonely feeling to it?

  10. biomechanical923@gmail.com19 August 2009 at 19:59


    From the pieces of story that I had put together, about the Hermit guy with syphilis, it seems that "The Island" has some sort of "Silent Hill"-esque dream world properties, the environment is a reflection of the person's subconscious.

    I think that Esther is the narrator's wife (they have the same last name). She died in a car accident on the way to Damascus. The electrical symbols and diagrams are a schematic of the car's brake system. You see many cars underwater in the cave. The chemical symbols and the amoeba-like drawings (brain cells?) may imply that it's some sort of drug induced hallucination.
    The biblical references on the walls, and the fact that he's still walking with massive kidney stones and a leg that's broken or rotting off could imply that he's dead/dying from a drug overdose.

    I believe that Thomas chose this because it fits the Lovecraft Circle's "fear of the unknown" theme, in that it doesn't spell everything out for you.