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Interview with Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture developer

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.

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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 incredible synergy?

“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 anticipate this?

“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.”

Closing thoughts

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.

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Website| Pinchbeck's  Twitter | Dear Esther | Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs | Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

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