There are a lot of things to say about indie game Dear Esther. Game studio thechineseroom, based in Brighton, UK, imagined an experience where traditional gaming elements are removed.
Dear Esther is a ghost story, located on an island in the Scottish Hebrides. By simply exploring the island, the player hears fragments of letters written to ‘Esther’ narrated by an unknown man. There is no other task for the player to do but to explore.
Jessica Curry’s chamber music score to the game carries the player gently through the experience, and I found it to be a superb union of music and visuals. She uses piano, string quartet and voice with a blend of synthetic sounds to capture a sound of isolation on the uninhabited island.
Jessica is passionate about combining music and media. Prior to Dear Esther, the majority of her music was for film, television and stage. In June 2011, her piece Perpetual Light: Requiem for an Unscorched Earth, premiered by the choir Londinium in London’s Old Vic Tunnels. The trains of the London Underground pass over those tunnels, and in the audio Jessica provided us for this episode, the rumbling of those trains is a brilliant addition to her passionate music.
The pacing and flow of Dear Esther are individualized experiences, depending on how much exploration the player wants to do. Herein lies the controversy of Dear Esther - what makes a game a game?
I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience, from the visuals to the music to the rhythmic tones of the narrator’s voice. Quite a few others agree with me; when Dear Esther went on sale in February, it took less than six hours to become profitable.
If you’re interested in seeing how indie game studios are stretching the boundaries of the gaming experience, check out Dear Esther (you can play it on Windows or Mac). It’s $9.99, and you can get the game and a download for Jessica’s soundtrack for $14.99.
And be sure to listen to my conversation with Jessica Curry on the latest episode of Top Score from Classical MPR. Also on iTunes.