I’ve been trying to find my way around Dear Esther today. It’s a narrative experience that first appeared as a mod for Half-Life (a First Person-Shooter), and which was then released as a stand-alone “game.” I’m told it takes two or three hours of play to complete, but I’ve been stymied today by the thing that gets me in FPS games – motion sickness. (Which is weird because I never suffer from it in the real world.)
So the game is taking me longer than two hours. That said, I’ve already begun to pick at the story structure, and I’m finding it more linear than I expected.
You start the game on the shore of a deserted (Scottish?) island, by an abandoned lighthouse. As you start, you hear (and read) a voice over (you?) with subtitles, introducing you to the Island and the mysterious Esther (maybe you are Esther?). I’ve restarted the game enough times to discover that there a number of different statements that you hear as you start. The atmosphere as you explore the island is very spooky, without (so far at least) any antagonists out to get you. If fact, it seems that you don’t interact in way way with the island except by walking around it, Occasionally when you reach certain points, you hear another voice over, so far I’ve heard about Ester’s birth, a car crash, Donnally – wrote a book that the narrator has stolen from the library and brought with him to the Island, and Paul, who may be the drunk driver that caused the crash. But I’ve noticed already that the environment isn’t quite the sandbox I’d hoped for – frustrating dead ends and impassible rocks or fences, guide you down a single path, being fed bits of narrative as you go.
What I’ve not yet worked out is are the narrative voice overs pinned to particular places? Or is there some algorithm that factors in time spent playing and what you’ve heard so far when it chooses what voiceover to feed you next?