Dear Esther

Dear Esther isn't a game. I'm not even really sure what it is - it's fairly hard to describe. There's no real gameplay or rules. You can't interact with the world at all. The only thing I can say for certain is that it's an engaging experience.

Dear Esther is a mod for Half Life 2 which puts the player in the shoes of a man who is currently stranded on an island. The nature of the incident which left him stranded is vague. Strange markings line the walls. A narrator starts describing your journey as you walk along, but it quickly becomes about more than your travels. A sense of regret and loneliness fills the level. Moving forward brings a sense of psychological dread I had rarely experienced in a game.

The game layers a mysterious narrative and level design into a different type of experience. The level weaves in and out of the story in exciting ways. They meld into this experience full of psychological terror and palpable dread. The narration is the level is the story.

Why You Should Check This Out: A sense of encroaching dread stalks you while you slowly uncover the secrets behind the story. If you're into the more cerebral brand of horror, Dear Esther won't disappoint. It's level design informs the narrative, which intertwine in interesting ways.

[size=20]Download Now - (Alternate)[/size]

[size=12](Requires Steam, Install Instructions in Zip)[/size]

Comments

Certainly an interesting way to spend 30 minutes. I feel we'll never be able to figure out the artists true intention or meaning, which is somewhat frustrating to me. At least we can discuss it, but I will always feel the experience is somewhat incomplete if I can't figure out the story.

I felt that the main character was in the hospital the whole time, due to the broken leg, and that the island is just something he has made up in his own mind.

Even the word "Esther" has several possible meanings. As people mentioned, there is the story of Esther from the bible. But because of all the chemistry symbols and pictures of neurons around, I immediately thought of esters (no h, but pronounced similarly), which are a fundamental type of molecule that forms the basis of DNA and many other chemicals.

Apparently, I'm either blind, incompetent, or both. Having downloaded the zip file, I find no instructions on installation anywhere. The only exe file is the uninstall. What am I missing?

Jakobedlam wrote:

Apparently, I'm either blind, incompetent, or both. Having downloaded the zip file, I find no instructions on installation anywhere. The only exe file is the uninstall. What am I missing?

You're going to want to go to your Steam folder under Program Files and drop the 'Dear Esther' file into your 'sourceSDK' folder. Restart Steam and it should show up in your games list.

Something I noticed on my second playthrough
*Spoiler Warning"
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
Below the cliff Esther's ghost is looking down, the rocks on the beach form the alcohol formula.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
End Spoiler

So, yeah, I have no idea how to make those fancy spoiler blocks...

I just played the mod and clearly I am not clever enough to appreciate it.

Dysplastic wrote:

You don't need HL2 to play it, just the Source SDK. That pretty much means any source game, if i'm not mistaken - a bunch of which can be played for 10$.

Besides - the Orange box can be had for $30 at this point - an absolute steal. Just do it.

http://store.steampowered.com/search...
That should be a list of all the games that let you get the sdk base, the bit you need for mods

camnipotent wrote:
Jakobedlam wrote:

Apparently, I'm either blind, incompetent, or both. Having downloaded the zip file, I find no instructions on installation anywhere. The only exe file is the uninstall. What am I missing?

You're going to want to go to your Steam folder under Program Files and drop the 'Dear Esther' file into your 'sourceSDK' folder. Restart Steam and it should show up in your games list.

SourceMods folder, in case anyone else wants to benefit from my ignorance and your help. Thank you sir.

If you have an Nvidia card, then you can get Half life 2 deathmatch for free, whilst it's a mediocre game, if you own it, then you can install the SDK and can play mods. http://www.steampowered.com/nvidia/#

Played it at 4am when very tired, which might actually enhance the surreality of the experience. For a while I didn't "get" it, merely appreciating the setting and the bit about the Scandinavian shepherd. Once I began passing through the cave, it all started coming together though, and by the end, despite being very unsure of what happened (yet having created my own theories which match bits and pieces of others posted here), I was quite absorbed into it.

The primary downside was that I clearly went off the intended path a few times, which took a while to realize (sometimes when I ran into an invisible wall).

The circuits and chemical formulas - although I recognized them as such, I didn't know what they represented, so this thread cleared some things up for sure.

A question - I saw the "ghost" twice - once up by the stones near the shipwreck, and once at the antenna. Did I miss any instances?

I noticed the LED circuit symbol was used a few times (the large arrow with 2 small ones "leaving" it. http://www.kpsec.freeuk.com/components/led.htm
It's defined as "A transducer which converts electrical energy to light." A metaphor for the moment of death perhaps?

I noticed the LED circuit symbol was used a few times (the large arrow with 2 small ones "leaving" it. http://www.kpsec.freeuk.com/componen...
It's defined as "A transducer which converts electrical energy to light." A metaphor for the moment of death perhaps?

That's a good catch. The chemical symbols and circuit diagrams were also a total mystery to me. Want to go check it out again after seeing the info in this thread.

the following is ethanol, the alcohol in drinks. the one in the mod has some lines as wedges or dashed to represent the shape of the molecule.

H\ /O-H H-C-C-H H/ \H

i remember a seeing a benzine based molecule, but didn't hang around long enough to work out exactly what it was

A question - I saw the "ghost" twice - once up by the stones near the shipwreck, and once at the antenna. Did I miss any instances?

yup, at least two.

I haven't played this, yet, but I have to say that I'm very impressed by how easy it is to install mods for Half-Life 2. I can remember some of the nightmare hoops that had to be jumped through for Doom, Quake, and Unreal mods back in the day. Thank you, Valve.

Also, thank you, Switchbreak. You're awesome.

Edit: And I'm back.

First of all, a caveat: I had a difficult time playing through this because of some serious performance issues on my PC. I played the game on a laptop which plays Half-Life 2 like a champ, but it choked on Dear Esther. The majority of the geometry in my game was flat white when viewed from a distance and had a white wash over the texture when viewed up close; this made navigation difficult at times, especially in the caves.

Also, I know that it's not very constructive to gripe about technical problems with a mod, but the music and voice work really needed to be tied to their correct settings in the Options menu. Adjusting the music slider had no effect, while the sound effects slider affected both the voice and the music. Because the music could easily overwhelm the voice, I found it occasionally difficult to follow what was being said.

I've mentioned before that video games can tell stories in two unique ways: experientially, that is, having the player advance the story by doing something; and environmentally, story-telling through the mise en scène of the virtual worlds. A lot of indie games, like Passage or The Majesty of Colors have explored the former, while Dear Esther explores the later overlain with traditional voice-over narration. To the extent that the environments in Dear Esther are evocative, they're a success; to the extent that they help elucidate the story being told, they're only marginally successful.

Rather, the environmental storytelling is well-done, but the voice-over narration degrades it by being less lucid than is necessary. If you look at the most successful surrealist works in film and literature, they generally have some sort of initial coherence that devolves as the story continues. The environment in Dear Esther has exactly that; the normal-seeming island gives way, gradually, to the drowned cars of the cave and the scrawl-covered cliffs of the final area. The final climb to the radio tower is tense because madness has manifested itself physically, and we don't know what lays in the final act (the answer: nothing; how disappointing).

Meanwhile, the voice-over narration begins cryptically and continues in that vein. The voice actor lends very little to the words, droning them monotonously like someone reading from a journal in a PBS adaptation of Moby Dick, and the plot, such as it is, isn't necessarily meaningfully expanded by the disorienting chatter. The game would have been better served if the voice-over had been removed entirely or at the least re-written so as to follow the narrative arc of the island itself.

I'd like to defend the voice-over. I think it serves several purposes in the design.

Firstly, it contextualizes the experience in subjective, human terms. The island itself is mysterious, but it is also alien and strange. There have been games that were all about confronting a mute and surrealistic environment without the benefit of a human connection - Silent Hill and Myst come to mind - and they have a very different (though similar) feeling. Those games play into the archetype of man against nature, of the wonder and horror of staring at an unfeeling universe alone. What this game delivers is smaller. The feeling of entering a human mind, of trying to decipher how he sees the island, provides a subtly different context for your journey.

Secondly, it provides a view of the history of the place that is as much a part of the character of the island as what you are able to see of it. The sight of a lonely house on an abandoned island carries with it a sense of vague tragedy, but the stories of a syphilitic cartographer left alone with his memories and his failing mind, or a hermetic shepherd who herded his flock into a cave and killed them provide you with points of connection when you see that image. They give you a view of the place stretching through time, mutely accumulating human sorrow and loss. When you see the cliff face covered in white lines, it resonates on a different level when you can connect it to the lines carved into the chalk by the plague-ridden inhabitants of the island, warning passing ships not to land and rescue them.

The acting is mostly a monotone, which I think works well with the conceit that this is all a series of letters he is dictating. It also pays off as he starts to speak with an increased rhythm in the cave and even moreso on the final ascent. At one point his voice rises to a shout ("He was not drunk, Esther!"), which was much more surprising given the understated and subtle performance up to that point. Of course, the randomization of the dialogue clips makes it difficult here, because I'm not sure at all what you heard on your play through.

On how cryptic the speech is, I somewhat agree with you. It is definitely intentionally both confusing and confused, the fact that the script is randomized every time you play proves that point if nothing else does. I can kind of see what he was trying to do, making the very linear experience more subjective - but I think that while good writing can be and often is ambiguous, being cryptic doesn't in itself make your writing good. I'd compare it to House of Leaves in that respect; sometimes the embedded codes and symbols of the text carry a lot of meaning that is delivered well, sometimes they feel like childish games. But the overall sensation that it delivers, the sense of the place, of the characters, and of the story, makes it worth playing the author's games to get at it.

I also don't agree that nothing happens in the final act - it is pretty clear to me due to some of the things he said (though it is never spelled out explicitly), that he jumped to his death after completing the ascent to the aerial.

A good response, Switchbreak.

I still feel that the voice-over detracts more than it adds, but I'm uncertain about whether or not I would have enjoyed the voice-over more had it been better executed technically. As I mentioned, I had a hard time hearing the voice-over on a number of occasions, and unfortunately, there were no captions available. Not being able to properly understand portions of each monologue certainly made the experience more frustrating. Also, I heard a few audio clips multiple times as I wandered the island, which also detracted from the experience; if each piece of narration is to be so important, they should be unique.

So I'm late to the discussion, as always Very interesting game, and I'm glad I spent the time it took to play through it (after a few abortive attempts where I missed where I was meant to be going).

I noticed a lot of references to double white lines: this motif featured at least three times in the bits of narration I heard (lines carved in to the cliff, the twin vapour trails of jets, something else I forget). Why would double white lines (the symbol for the capacitor) be referenced so often? Maybe the capacitor is a red herring, and it's really a reference to the double white lines down the middle of a road (you guys have those, don't you?).

muttonchop wrote:

One thing that cropped up twice in my playthrough was a reference to boats with holes in the bottom being the only way to reach the island. When I approached one of the sunken fishing boats he said something like "there must be a hole in the bottom. How else could the hermit have made his way here?" Later, the narrator said something about how he should have torn the bottom off his boat and sailed over the freeways to the island. No idea what it means.

Reading this reminded me of something from the narration in my playthrough -- a reference to Paul being unconscious for 20 minutes or so on the road to Damascus, and how the oxygen must surely have left his brain and caused him to hallucinate. Could this island be a hallucination brought on by being unconscious and close to death? Travelling in a boat with a hole in the bottom would surely be a way to get there in that case.

pneuman wrote:

Maybe the capacitor is a red herring, and it's really a reference to the double white lines down the middle of a road (you guys have those, don't you?).

The lines in the middle of the road in the U.S. are yellow. I hadn't thought about this as a possible symbol; it certainly relates to the idea of a car accident.

interview with the mod author:
http://www.gamesetwatch.com/2009/06/...

Scratched wrote:

interview with the mod author:
http://www.gamesetwatch.com/2009/06/...

Wow, very good read, thanks Scratched

It looks like a level designer from Mirror's Edge is working on updating Dear Esther. And man does it look amazing.

Check out Robert Briscoe's fine work here.

Thanks, RPS!

Whoa, that looks amazing. Thanks for linking, I look forward to replaying it.

Remake update, the third level with the caves.

click through for 720 resolution

Hi guys. Just got through Dear Esther, but wanted to establish what's going on and didn't want to crawl through all these places again for n+1 times.

So.

Just listen to the mp3 files in the sound folder! The subfolder is named "island".

It is all clear there.

1. Firstly, the events, people, places and most importantly images are all mixed up the in the mind of the author of the "letters". He is increasingly hallucinatory because of his injury and lot of diazepam and paracetamol which he eats to stay lucid. Even before, he was clearly schizophrenic, convincing himself of the endless "connections" in the world that point to the car crash and his death. So, when we hear strange things - he just veers into associations, and these always lead him back to his obsessions: the car crash, disease/injury, death and so on. Sometimes the events themselves get mixed up "artistically" in his semi-lucid state, and he even "jumps person" ("who scribbled all that lines, and made the museum?").

2. "Author" event line:
He lost his wife Esther to a car crash near a take-off between Wolverhampton and Sanford/Exeter. He was in the car ("head split open, hands shaking"). In the other car was "Paul", a pharma company exec. From reports, court papers and so on Author knows that "Paul" had just closed a good deal and stayed for a celebration, "trying to control his intake". Afterwards, it all went downhill for Author.

He visited Paul aimlessly, lost interest in life, found Donnelly's book of travel logs in the library and stole it. Becoming obsessed with the lonely island, he made trips here at least 21 times (as). Then, he decided to end his life here, but lingers, slowly sinking into delusions and previous inhabitants' stories (island is his body, hermit's legendary boat, dead shepherd, syphilitic Donnelly and so on). The landmark, "mount" or "summit", captivates him - he dreams of jumping from it to his death, but it is hard to reach from his Southern side. The blinking buoy and aerial (antenna) at the top also haunt him, strenghtening his resolve. He raids the abandoned boats for medical supplies, and makes a "museum" of shore trash. He literally fades away, watching aerial or passing planes for hours on end. That's the source of the "two white lines" theme, BTW.

After he was long out of food, with his health failing, he had set out to jump. That's about the time he gathered all his Letters to Esther and makes paper boats out of them (also seen at the end). Further it's either his ramblings to himself, or feverish notes. On his final trip (although he knows every stone) he fell and broke his femur. With the wound infected, he began hallucinating both because of fever and the meds he took to stay awake and make it to the summit. That's why vapor lines from planes are also two souls flying together, and literally everything is car crash or his dying body. Then he either expired on his way up, or fell off. I prefer to think that the gamer is some king of "observer", tracing his steps.

3. Donnelly, Jacobson and the Hermit. Donnelly was evidently a man of culture (poet, scientist, or just a bon-vivant) who went to the island seeking Byronian isolation. By that time, he was suffering badly from late-stage lues (syphilis) and at the same time from kidney stones, the last making him addicted to the halluc. drug Laudanum. So, Author self-consciously and ironically marks out, he was an "unreliable narrator" himself. Donnelly was a disillusioned man and spoke sarcastically about local shepherds, but nevertheless stayed and died here. He only charted the North side, climbing the summit easily. He described the history of the place. Author: "(like Donnelly's syphilis,) my disease is internal combustion engine and a cheap fermentation of yeast".

Jacobson, according to Donnelly, was the first shepherd on the island in the early 1700s. He was shepherding in summer, and building a home, never completed. He caught some disease off his goats, and died. Reportedly, he went to the caves before his death, and was found frozen to death on his way back up. By the late 1776/4, all people had abandoned the island.

Hermit was a hermit, when there were people here. They left him gifts and told stories about him, but never saw him. In the tales, he performed miracles - arrived in a boat without a bottom and parted the rock to make a cave to live in.

4. The real island is given "as is", but it is easy to imagine Author to spend his time scribbling all these insane symbols while he was strong, with the glossy paint he says he scavenged off the ship derelict. According to Wiki (and references to British roads), it is in Europe, specifically off the coast of Scotland.

After all, when sanity begins to give away, perfectly ordinary things start to take ominous and fateful meanings. So I think there's no reason to consider the island "part hallucination/symbolic". There's a short story "Red Flower" by Garshin where an insane man knowing he's insane gives his life to destroy the flower in asylum garden that "contains all the world's evil". The man dies, happy, from the "emanations" of plucked flower several weeks later.

OK, that's my bag of cents. I just didn't list the Bible references here (Lot's Wife and St. Paul).

Oh, and Author makes two justifications for turning the island into a roadmap of his pain: first, it is a monument to him and Esther ('cause Jacobson and Donnelly are almost vanished from memory); second, it is an allusion to the Bible - he tells that the islanders took turns owning their only Bible, and muses if they (like, obvously, himself) assigned its parts to different parts of island, to literally "walk" and "live in" the holy scripture.

I just caught a glimpse of this today, I'd never even heard of it in the past.

I'll check out the new, updated version before delving too far into the thread. Looks neat

Schrensky wrote:

I just caught a glimpse of this today, I'd never even heard of it in the past.

I'll check out the new, updated version before delving too far into the thread. Looks neat

Still one of the most moving gaming experiences I've ever had. I even have the music on my iPod. The updated version looks phenomenal, but I wouldn't wait for its completion to experience this one.

Jakobedlam wrote:

The updated version looks phenomenal, but I wouldn't wait for its completion to experience this one.

Completed.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/20...

cyrax wrote:
Jakobedlam wrote:

The updated version looks phenomenal, but I wouldn't wait for its completion to experience this one.

Completed.

http://store.steampowered.com/app/20...

Exactly why I necro'd the thread

Just completed....

Not sure what to say other than it was an experience. Definitely not for the average kiddie gamer. Overall I would say it was fun and enjoyable. I think this game needs another element, not sure what that would be but ....

As for price get it on sale, its not worth 10 bucks in my mind. for 5 bucks and say 40 minutes of your time its just right.