Dear Esther

FeatureThe doors close on The Chinese Room - for now

"We're done with walking simulators."

Just under a year after the launch of Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, a "walking simulator" about dealing with loss in Shropshire in 1984, it won three BAFTAs. For its developer The Chinese Room, it seemed things couldn't get any better. Fans anxiously awaited the studio's next big project. They're still waiting.

The Chinese Room teases isometric RPG Total Dark

Tabletop inspired RPG coming to PC.

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, Dear Esther and Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs developer The Chinese Room has revealed that its next game will be an isometric RPG called Total Dark. That's a far cry from its previous work that's all more or less fallen under the dreadful "walking simulator" moniker.

FeatureThe Chinese Room: A look behind Britain's boldest studio

"Never so sure our rapture to create..."

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture's co-director Jessica Curry is not your typical video game developer. Having a background as a film composer is one detail that sets her apart from the pack, but what's probably more important is that she's co-directed three successful commercial games without being a gamer herself. How did this happen?

Feature"The next generation is going to be, possibly for the very first time, the next generation of game design"

Meet Adrian Chmielarz, the Bulletstorm guy whose world was turned upside down by Dear Esther.

"Why is Nathan Drake a mass murderer?" Oh I don't know, but it's the question not the answer that's important. It symbolises a seismic shift in attitudes towards games that may mean, "possibly even for the very first time", that the next generation of consoles also becomes "the next generation of game design".

Four free indie games this weekend on OnLive

Dear Esther! Lume! PoP! Defense Grid!

Cloud gaming company OnLive has certainly had its troubles this week with a near bankruptcy/buyout/regeneration, but the service remains uninterrupted and this weekend concludes its Indie Weekend Giveaway promo.

FeatureWhen Is a Game Not a Game?

Why imposing a definition can prove problematic.

The release of two very different games in the last month, Asura's Wrath and Dear Esther, has sparked up one of gaming's evergreen topics: what is and what isn't a game? More than just a question of semantics, it's a pernicious and pervasive poser that can lead to all kinds of nastiness.

Proteus Preview: A Musical Odyssey

FeatureProteus Preview: A Musical Odyssey

In a beautiful place out in the country.

I had a friend who had synaesthesia. Sounds would form a iridescent fog over her vision, with different sounds creating different colours, and multiple sounds layering over one another; blue could be shot through with silver, or pockets of red would flare in a brown malaise. Most of the time, she said it was actually quite pleasant, as though she was seeing an extra layer to sound that was unique to her. Most of the time, it made her feel special.

Sometimes, when there was too much sound, or too many that conflicted, it would overwhelm. It would make it difficult to see, and difficult to think, with this violent storm of colour covering everything. It was only at those times that she ever claimed to 'suffer' from synaesthesia.

Proteus, a procedural exploration game by Ed Key, doesn't let you see what you hear. It lets you hear what you see.

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If there's a semantic argument even more aimless than "are games art?", it's "…but is it a game in the first place?" The question has swirled around a couple of our reviews this week, and will no doubt rear its head again next week on the release of CyberConnect2's gloriously unhinged Asura's Wrath - a madcap interactive anime whose superficial resemblance to a technical action game has wrong-footed a lot of people.

Dear Esther Review

Dear Esther Review

Read letter day.

An argument has been raging among the judging panel of the Independent Games Festival. The flashpoint: whether the moody mystery narrative of Dear Esther constitutes a game at all.

What, no high-score table? Where are the guns? Dialogue trees? How do I level up? Surely there's some sort of keycard puzzle? In fact, no. There isn't even a button for interaction. You can't run or jump. You move through the environment - a wind-blasted Hebridean island - simply observing and absorbing. The only puzzle is the obscure, lyrical narrative itself.

Formerly a Half-Life 2 mod by university lecturer Dr Dan Pinchbeck, and now given an extremely fancy refab at the hands of Mirror's Edge artist Rob Briscoe, Dear Esther is a first-person experience and uses many of the narrative tricks familiar to Valve's games, silently building a story through the careful drawing of the world around you.

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Dear Esther

Uncharted terrain.

Plenty of revered games started their lives as mods for existing titles. Counter-Strike began as an inordinately successful Half-Life mod, while Killing Floor and The Ball both tagged onto the back of Unreal Tournament installments.