In all my years of playing video games there are only two
that stand out as something more than just hours spend on my favourite pastime
hobby; To the Moon and Dear Esther. Through these two games I was introduced to games as a medium that
has more to offer than spectacular graphics and mindless action. They were catalysts for personal
growth and both had a profound effect on me.
I caught up with Dan Pinchbeck, the creative director of thechineseroom. Join us
for a talk about the creations of this fascinating Indie studio: Dear Ester, Amnesia: A machine for Pigs
and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
With Dear Esther, the player was a silent witness who
shared in another’s journey. Will Amnesia: A machine for Pigs and Everybody’s
Gone to the Rapture follow the same type of player perspective and interaction?
“No, not at all. In Pigs we have a classic game protagonist,
so you are playing as a character in the world, Oswald Mandus. It's very much
your journey and what you do has a real impact on how events unfold. In Rapture
it's a little more complex, but the key thing for us is how we really create
this sense of being in the world, and being really physically present. So it's
very different to Esther in both games.
Dear Esther was
essentially a delicate celebration of sorrow and love and Amnesia hints at a
celebration of madness and terror. Will Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture also
focus on the experience of specific emotions?
“I don't know that we're targeting specific emotions as
trying to create deep, rounded
experiences. One of the central initial ideas behind Rapture was to try and
create a game that really got into your heart, really broke your heart in a
real and significant way. But that’s not about single emotion, or even a
specific range, it's about trying to make something that you can connect with on a really deep, human level.
It's a massive challenge, but we're doing our best.”
With Dear Esther, the
artwork, voice acting, music and storytelling seamlessly flow into each other,
each being an extension of the central theme. How did you manage such an
“It’s a tough thing to answer and I don't think we had this
magic bullet solution. Partially it's just graft and iterations, and partially
it is just about trusting the specialists on the team. We all really believed
in what each person was doing and gave them the space to do what they did
really well. We trusted the player and we trusted each other. There's no better
solution than that, really.”
The concepts of your
games are extremely unconventional. It taps into elements of the human psyche
that are unexplored in gaming. Why did you venture down this path?
“Well, on the one hand it was pretty prosaic and practical:
we had limited resources and experience when we made the mod, and we were also
working to this remit of testing out new ideas bout storytelling in games, so
it was a bit led by that really. But lots and lots of games have actually
explored these areas, going back quite a way - you've got all the Infocom
games, early shooters like Marathon or System
Shock... We pushed things a bit further and in a few new directions, but I
think one of the reasons Esther resonates with so many people is we were just
exploring things that were already explored by a lot of FPS games before us.”
Dear Esther is one of
a few games who “changed the conversation/palette” of gamers. Did you
“I can honestly say I've got no interest in the whole 'is it
a game' debate. I just don't care. Is it good? Is it engaging? These are good
questions. Does it fit some academic, theoretical definition of what a game
is... That's just not something I really care about. I want to make things people have an emotional reaction to, not
something people intellectually deconstruct, and I think that's because I want
to make things I want to play. My markers are things like Metro 2033 or
Uncharted. I'm a triple AAA junkie.”
It’s been such an honour to interview Mr Pinchbeck. The
creations of their studio have enriched countless gamers’ lives and for this we
owe them much respect and gratitude. Dear Esther will linger in my heart for a
long time still, I’m awaiting Amnesia with tremendous anticipation and the
promise of Rapture has my curiosity at its limits.
Website| Pinchbeck's Twitter | Dear Esther | Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
| Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture
Han’s Twitter | Blog