Posted by Video_Game_King (36007 posts) -

Dear Esther

(Hey, any of you remember my last blog?) Remember how in the second part, I tried something artsy and experimental with my narrative, and nobody knew what the hell I was talking about? (I hope you remember; it was only last week.) Well, that's Dear Esther for you, only with prose about 67% less purple. Now do not mistake this for me calling the game bad. In fact, don't mistake this for me calling the game good, either, because I have no goddamn clue what the hell to think about the game.

How about I move from the certain to the uncertain so I can ease you in? That sound good? OK. First up: the presentation is amazing. This much is evident from the title screen, which....OK, I can't really find any decent words to describe this, mainly because they've all been used before, so how about I just use those words? It's soft, it's somber, it's evocative, haunting, emotional, beautiful, some other nice words, and a slightly mean phrase: not as good as the graphics. That's not so much an insult to the music (obviously) as it is to the graphics, which tend to be the strongest parts of the game. They can also fumble a bit in a few areas (the dirt ground looks less like dirt ground and more like painted concrete with bits of paper sticking up out of it), but for the most part, Dr. Dan (I'm not giving up that moniker) did a fantastic job of stuffing detail into everything. There's a reason I gave this the caption I gave it. And it's not even just a technical thing, because every little nook and cranny has something, anything to contribute to the story.

Not above phallic imagery, I see.

I just can't figure out what the fuck that might be. Maybe I should start by describing the general story. You're a guy who's wandering around an island, and...there are car accidents and sheep syphilis? I don't know. That's really the only thing I can talk about with any authority. Everything else is just an unclear blur. Does the narration describe the past or the present? (I'm leaning more toward past, because the present is just "walking around and stuff".) Is the protagonist supposed to be going slowly insane? Is he suicidal, or is the water really that fucking crazy? (I don't get either vibe, because of the game's "tell, don't show" policy on these sorts of things.) And more importantly, what's the point? Is it supposed to be something about reductionist mindsets and how dumb they are? Clever, but there's only so much evidence for that in the game, and so many other directions it could be going in.

But I can't insult it too much, because I don't think things are just thrown around the island for no reason. The story at least seems like it follows a three-act structure, since there's an obvious climax (and what a climax it is), and the narration makes stuff like a stray Bible relevant. There's clearly a reason why there are all those chemical equations strewn about; I just don't know what that reason may be. Besides, most of the stuff I can figure out is pulled off really well. (Some of it is stupidly obvious, but let us not speak of such things.) There's probably an undercurrent about how living alone is no way to live, and, well, the game reflects that. Characters tend to lead shitty lives when they separate from others, and you get a good sense that the protagonist (he doesn't have a name, so let's call him "Dear Esther", since that's something the game would readily embrace) is getting more frustrated and unhinged as his adventure stretches on.

The atmosphere's also pulled off pretty damn well, if I'm to leave anything to this game. I'm aware that I mentioned how great the game looks, but what use is that if you can't build a world with it? Fortunately, that's exactly what Dear Esther does. Death simply permeates the island. Oh, yes, there was life there at one point; that much is made clear. But now? The only remnants are the scattered lives of those before you and the premonitions of things to come. You know, sort of like Fragile Dreams, because I'm the type of simplistic asshole this game might be calling out, possibly. I don't know. Perhaps this is the type of game that's supposed to resonate with you emotionally, as I have heard from time to time. Being that I have all the emotion of a late model PS3, I may have to settle for "I don't get it", as much as I don't wish to use that to describe this game. It feels like I'm fulfilling some type of hipster prophecy.

Review Synopsis

  • Man, this game looks amazing.
  • And the story's pretty good....maybe....
  • It's a short hour of utter confusion.

This video should be easier to get.

M.C. Kids

(As always, I prefer to work with opposites.) Just look at these two games. Dear Esther is an artistic look at...something (I still have yet to figure out what), largely grounded in reality. M.C. Kids, meanwhile, is an advergame dipped in a bucket of acid. (Your choice on what type of acid, of course.) What's more, while I'm not very confident on what I think of Dear Esther, I have a pretty good idea of what I think about M.C. Kids: it's a freaky-ass game.

And psychotic, at that. Let's examine this from the beginning. Ronald McDonald is exposing his genitals in public when the Hamburglar steals his magic bag. Now Ronald knows (or at least has a vague clue) where his bag went, so obviously he enlists the help of children in retrieving this eldritch artifact. But before he'll tell them where it is, he makes them collect cards with his face on them out of a vague sense of vanity. Do you have any other explanation? Stranger still, every other character in the game does the exact same thing. They all recruit children into this cruel goose chase, and it...changes them. These are not the same children they once were. Twisted by a world that wants them dead, these children now murder the creatures of the forest so that they might drink their blood for sustenance. That is an actual gameplay mechanic; it is now the only world they know. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO THESE CHILDREN, YOU SICK BASTARDS!?

McShining.

Why have you involved them in your sick card quest? What's the point? I mean, I can respect a game trying to get me to explore levels and requiring more than simply going through them, but this is just mean. Your game's already short, so it comes off as needless padding, a point that's only hammered home with all the backtracking at that end. And that's not even getting into how you're actually supposed to get the cards. Some of them can just be deviously cruel. For example, look at this. Try to imagine how you get that without dying a pointless death. Now keep in mind that's a 1-up; the cards you need for progression are often harder to get than that, because that red stuff around Ronald McDonald's mouth isn't make-up.

Wait, are there any parts of this game that I actually enjoyed? Hmmm.....well, the game looks like vomit (although it might be an American thing), and the music is...actually pretty good. Full of energy and everything. That's more like it. Now we're getting into things. How about the pla-OH FUCKING HELL! This game is all kinds of crazy. No matter what level you go to, you're gonna find something balls-out crazy, like walking upside down or jumping on floating bones in a level that is clearly not Hell. (But that's only because every other part of the game is already Hell.) I know it sounds confusing, but like Dear Esther before it, there's clearly purpose to be found here. Once you understand that, the levels become kinda fun. You're just wondering what the hell's gonna come next. Even if you're not into vague insanity, you can always just blast through the levels in under a minute Sonic style. Sure, it's not as refined as Sonic (I'd prefer my momentum without a sense of inertia, if that makes any sense), but if you're willing to abandon the core feel of this game, you're gonna take what you can get.

Review Synopsis

  • I honestly didn't think I'd ever get another use out of this, but M.C. Kids can only be explained with 109 clown faces.
  • Why do you have to collect cards for Ronald McDonald to tell you where the person who stole his bag went? Because Ronald McDonald is a masochist, you see.
  • My whole world is upside down. I will never see things the same way ever again.
  • Which was more terrifying: this or that McMiku video I posted last year? This atrocity. It wasn't even close.
#1 Posted by Video_Game_King (36007 posts) -

Dear Esther

(Hey, any of you remember my last blog?) Remember how in the second part, I tried something artsy and experimental with my narrative, and nobody knew what the hell I was talking about? (I hope you remember; it was only last week.) Well, that's Dear Esther for you, only with prose about 67% less purple. Now do not mistake this for me calling the game bad. In fact, don't mistake this for me calling the game good, either, because I have no goddamn clue what the hell to think about the game.

How about I move from the certain to the uncertain so I can ease you in? That sound good? OK. First up: the presentation is amazing. This much is evident from the title screen, which....OK, I can't really find any decent words to describe this, mainly because they've all been used before, so how about I just use those words? It's soft, it's somber, it's evocative, haunting, emotional, beautiful, some other nice words, and a slightly mean phrase: not as good as the graphics. That's not so much an insult to the music (obviously) as it is to the graphics, which tend to be the strongest parts of the game. They can also fumble a bit in a few areas (the dirt ground looks less like dirt ground and more like painted concrete with bits of paper sticking up out of it), but for the most part, Dr. Dan (I'm not giving up that moniker) did a fantastic job of stuffing detail into everything. There's a reason I gave this the caption I gave it. And it's not even just a technical thing, because every little nook and cranny has something, anything to contribute to the story.

Not above phallic imagery, I see.

I just can't figure out what the fuck that might be. Maybe I should start by describing the general story. You're a guy who's wandering around an island, and...there are car accidents and sheep syphilis? I don't know. That's really the only thing I can talk about with any authority. Everything else is just an unclear blur. Does the narration describe the past or the present? (I'm leaning more toward past, because the present is just "walking around and stuff".) Is the protagonist supposed to be going slowly insane? Is he suicidal, or is the water really that fucking crazy? (I don't get either vibe, because of the game's "tell, don't show" policy on these sorts of things.) And more importantly, what's the point? Is it supposed to be something about reductionist mindsets and how dumb they are? Clever, but there's only so much evidence for that in the game, and so many other directions it could be going in.

But I can't insult it too much, because I don't think things are just thrown around the island for no reason. The story at least seems like it follows a three-act structure, since there's an obvious climax (and what a climax it is), and the narration makes stuff like a stray Bible relevant. There's clearly a reason why there are all those chemical equations strewn about; I just don't know what that reason may be. Besides, most of the stuff I can figure out is pulled off really well. (Some of it is stupidly obvious, but let us not speak of such things.) There's probably an undercurrent about how living alone is no way to live, and, well, the game reflects that. Characters tend to lead shitty lives when they separate from others, and you get a good sense that the protagonist (he doesn't have a name, so let's call him "Dear Esther", since that's something the game would readily embrace) is getting more frustrated and unhinged as his adventure stretches on.

The atmosphere's also pulled off pretty damn well, if I'm to leave anything to this game. I'm aware that I mentioned how great the game looks, but what use is that if you can't build a world with it? Fortunately, that's exactly what Dear Esther does. Death simply permeates the island. Oh, yes, there was life there at one point; that much is made clear. But now? The only remnants are the scattered lives of those before you and the premonitions of things to come. You know, sort of like Fragile Dreams, because I'm the type of simplistic asshole this game might be calling out, possibly. I don't know. Perhaps this is the type of game that's supposed to resonate with you emotionally, as I have heard from time to time. Being that I have all the emotion of a late model PS3, I may have to settle for "I don't get it", as much as I don't wish to use that to describe this game. It feels like I'm fulfilling some type of hipster prophecy.

Review Synopsis

  • Man, this game looks amazing.
  • And the story's pretty good....maybe....
  • It's a short hour of utter confusion.

This video should be easier to get.

M.C. Kids

(As always, I prefer to work with opposites.) Just look at these two games. Dear Esther is an artistic look at...something (I still have yet to figure out what), largely grounded in reality. M.C. Kids, meanwhile, is an advergame dipped in a bucket of acid. (Your choice on what type of acid, of course.) What's more, while I'm not very confident on what I think of Dear Esther, I have a pretty good idea of what I think about M.C. Kids: it's a freaky-ass game.

And psychotic, at that. Let's examine this from the beginning. Ronald McDonald is exposing his genitals in public when the Hamburglar steals his magic bag. Now Ronald knows (or at least has a vague clue) where his bag went, so obviously he enlists the help of children in retrieving this eldritch artifact. But before he'll tell them where it is, he makes them collect cards with his face on them out of a vague sense of vanity. Do you have any other explanation? Stranger still, every other character in the game does the exact same thing. They all recruit children into this cruel goose chase, and it...changes them. These are not the same children they once were. Twisted by a world that wants them dead, these children now murder the creatures of the forest so that they might drink their blood for sustenance. That is an actual gameplay mechanic; it is now the only world they know. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO THESE CHILDREN, YOU SICK BASTARDS!?

McShining.

Why have you involved them in your sick card quest? What's the point? I mean, I can respect a game trying to get me to explore levels and requiring more than simply going through them, but this is just mean. Your game's already short, so it comes off as needless padding, a point that's only hammered home with all the backtracking at that end. And that's not even getting into how you're actually supposed to get the cards. Some of them can just be deviously cruel. For example, look at this. Try to imagine how you get that without dying a pointless death. Now keep in mind that's a 1-up; the cards you need for progression are often harder to get than that, because that red stuff around Ronald McDonald's mouth isn't make-up.

Wait, are there any parts of this game that I actually enjoyed? Hmmm.....well, the game looks like vomit (although it might be an American thing), and the music is...actually pretty good. Full of energy and everything. That's more like it. Now we're getting into things. How about the pla-OH FUCKING HELL! This game is all kinds of crazy. No matter what level you go to, you're gonna find something balls-out crazy, like walking upside down or jumping on floating bones in a level that is clearly not Hell. (But that's only because every other part of the game is already Hell.) I know it sounds confusing, but like Dear Esther before it, there's clearly purpose to be found here. Once you understand that, the levels become kinda fun. You're just wondering what the hell's gonna come next. Even if you're not into vague insanity, you can always just blast through the levels in under a minute Sonic style. Sure, it's not as refined as Sonic (I'd prefer my momentum without a sense of inertia, if that makes any sense), but if you're willing to abandon the core feel of this game, you're gonna take what you can get.

Review Synopsis

  • I honestly didn't think I'd ever get another use out of this, but M.C. Kids can only be explained with 109 clown faces.
  • Why do you have to collect cards for Ronald McDonald to tell you where the person who stole his bag went? Because Ronald McDonald is a masochist, you see.
  • My whole world is upside down. I will never see things the same way ever again.
  • Which was more terrifying: this or that McMiku video I posted last year? This atrocity. It wasn't even close.
#2 Posted by SharkEthic (1004 posts) -

Dear Esther was by far the best "game" I played last year. As interpretations go, I think there's a lot of valid ones out there. I personally believe the island to be a limbo of sorts. The narrator speaks of a car crash of which, I believe, he was responsible. A car crash that killed him, as well as the woman he loved - Esther. There's a lot of guilt surrounding the whole thing, and multiple references to drunk driving. I feel as though the trek across the island symbolizes the narrator struggling to come to terms with this guilt, and ultimately letting go of everything.

The developers of Dear Esther are currently making Everybody's Gone To The Rapture, and I'm excited as fuck.

#3 Posted by Video_Game_King (36007 posts) -

@SharkEthic:

What about the other guys on the island, though? It sounds like it's less Limbo and more, well, an actual place. Then again, it's been a while since I've played the game and I obviously didn't understand it then.

#4 Posted by Vman (19 posts) -

I always thought that she was the drunk driver and he was forgiving her for getting them both killed.... Man i dont remember i should play it again.

#5 Posted by SharkEthic (1004 posts) -

@Video_Game_King:

I think, the other guys are sides of himself. The dunk one, the sober one, the all knowing (hindsight) etc., all gets their own personality and character in the narrators final story.

I found this analysis which I pretty much agree with except for a few points.

#6 Posted by Ravenlight (8040 posts) -

Pro tip: If Hatsune Miku shows up, it's probably scary. Imagine if Dear Esther ended with a CGI music video.

#7 Posted by Video_Game_King (36007 posts) -

@Ravenlight:

I am currently playing through Amnesia. You do realize that I'm going to learn how to mod game specifically so I can replace the Shadow with Hatsune Miku, right? There is precedent for this.

#8 Posted by Ravenlight (8040 posts) -

@Video_Game_King:

I eagerly await new nightmares.

#9 Posted by Video_Game_King (36007 posts) -
#10 Posted by Ravenlight (8040 posts) -

@Video_Game_King:

It doesn't work the other way around. That video just made me itchy.

#11 Posted by StarFoxA (5138 posts) -

Dear Esther was ridiculously pretentious. It was pretty though. I think your final bullet point sums it up. Pure confusion.

#12 Posted by Video_Game_King (36007 posts) -

@StarFoxA:

More abstract with some ephemeral grounding in reality. If you want pretentious, look at that sentence. Or Final Fantasy XII, I guess.

#13 Posted by StarFoxA (5138 posts) -

@Video_Game_King: I have a hard time believing that people have paid TEN DOLLARS for it. I paid $2.50 and that was STILL too much money. They could have called it "listen to a British dude talk for an hour while you walk in a straight line" because that's literally all that happened.

#14 Posted by Video_Game_King (36007 posts) -

@StarFoxA:

To be fair, there is a market for walking in a straight line while a game shouts narration at you. It's called "the Japanese game market" :P. Also, Amnesia.

#15 Posted by Ubersmake (754 posts) -

How do you write so much? What is your secret?!

#16 Posted by Video_Game_King (36007 posts) -

@Ubersmake:

My secrets shall be revealed in time.

#17 Posted by StarFoxA (5138 posts) -

@Video_Game_King: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back off Amnesia. That's more of a first-person adventure game. You actually, y'know, do things in Amnesia.

#18 Posted by JasonR86 (9608 posts) -

@Video_Game_King:

You should read up about Dear Esther. I won't say that any analysis is the be all end all for the meaning of the story. The meaning should be a combination of what you bring to the game's story mixed with the information that is provided by the game. I will tell you that the chemical formulas you mentioned has a purpose as does everything else. Here's a pretty good analysis but, again, try to match what you saw in the game with what this analysis points out.

http://digitalraconteurs.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/dear-esther-critical-analysis/

#19 Posted by Video_Game_King (36007 posts) -

@StarFoxA said:

That's more of a first-person adventure game.

That's Dear Esther, too: walk through environments, listen to the narrative, paint the man, cut the lines, mash the "take screenshot" button into a tiny nub, remind your audience that you actually like Amnesia.

Also, given that there are already two analyses for the game in the comments, is this my blog going to turn into a college English class? Because I'm ready to discuss some literature, I guess.

#20 Posted by GreggD (4477 posts) -

Video Games, King.

#21 Posted by StarFoxA (5138 posts) -

@Video_Game_King: Mmm, you could make that argument, but Dear Esther lacks a lot of elements that Amnesia has, e.g. interactivity beyond walking around, inventory system, actual goals, a storyline, potential for failure. Dear Esther does alright on the atmosphere front, but Amnesia knocks that one out of the park. I'd call Dear Esther more of (very limited) "interactive fiction" rather than a "first-person adventure."

#22 Posted by gla55jAw (2686 posts) -

I pretty much have the same feelings regarding Dear Esther. When I finished it, I think my reaction was "O...K?" I honestly had no idea what the fuck was going on. Not sure if the guy was crazy or he is telling a story of someone else. I knew it started off creepy, and looked amazing on my shitty PC, but that all kind of got ruined a few times when it took me about 15 minutes to figure out where to go. I had walked in most directions and kept hitting borders, and god do you walk slowly! It works fine when on the correct path, but when you're lost, it kind of sucks.

I never felt attached to the main dude enough to care about what was going on, so the "story" felt a little force fed. I wouldn't "play" it again. I'm not really glad I played it, but it was short enough (and cheap enough at the time) that I guess it doesn't really matter?

#23 Posted by Video_Game_King (36007 posts) -

@gla55jAw said:

it took me about 15 minutes to figure out where to go.

Huh? What? There isn't a lot to the environments, and a lot of the charm came in fucking about the world, discovering one more thing for What's-His-Face to narrate.

#24 Posted by gla55jAw (2686 posts) -

@Video_Game_King said:

@gla55jAw said:

it took me about 15 minutes to figure out where to go.

Huh? What? There isn't a lot to the environments, and a lot of the charm came in fucking about the world, discovering one more thing for What's-His-Face to narrate.

I know, there was one part specifically. Near the shore with a shipwreck and cliff to the left. It took so long because of the walking speed, but I walked around and backtracked for a while until I finally figured it out.

#25 Posted by Video_Game_King (36007 posts) -

@gla55jAw:

I think I remember that part screwing me up, too, but nothing as bad as 15 minutes.

#26 Posted by gla55jAw (2686 posts) -

@Video_Game_King said:

@gla55jAw:

I think I remember that part screwing me up, too, but nothing as bad as 15 minutes.

If I remember correctly it was because the path out was next to the path that took you in, so you had to turn around and go to the left instead of the right. I was used to I guess, just moving forward and either going left or right.

As for the exploring and the world in general, I'm guessing your favorite part was also the cave and end? It changed the whole theme from creepy to wonder and awe.

#27 Posted by Video_Game_King (36007 posts) -

@gla55jAw:

I'd say my favorite moment was the end, but damn, it's been a while. In fact....I haven't played it since late October.

#28 Posted by AssInAss (2543 posts) -
#29 Posted by SirOptimusPrime (1946 posts) -
#30 Posted by Video_Game_King (36007 posts) -

@SirOptimusPrime:

Dios mio!

#31 Posted by SirOptimusPrime (1946 posts) -

@Video_Game_King:

I AM SO JEALOUS OF THE CAT, HE GETS TO LIVE IN -A- BAR.