Dear Esther: Landmark Edition was released last week on PlayStation 4 & Xbox One, and it was the result of a couple of years of work by Robert Briscoe (who ported the game from the Source engine to Unity 4 in his own free time) and a collaboration between publisher Curve Digital and The Chinese Room (to bring the game over the finish line and onto Unity 5).
We asked Jonny Merritt, Producer at Curve Digital, to write about his experience working on the console port. Here are his thoughts!
When I found out Curve would be publishing the Dear Esther remake for console, I immediately knew I had to put myself forward first to be Producer on the project.
As a huge fan of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, I had actually never played the PC version of Esther until I began working on the project. I was always waiting for it to come to console, as a non-PC gamer and I never imagined that I would be actually be one of the producers helping make this so.
Playing the game for the first time, it was everything I expected it would be and more. I was totally wrapped up in it and excited to be working on the port. I even let out some very audible screams in the office with some of the more unexpected (spoiler redacted) encounters through the game.
The first thing I understood immediately was helping to keep the version that we were creating as close as possible to the original, while also giving the existing fans something to get their teeth stuck into. This was going to be a project where we would be helping this ground-breaking game reach a new audience, while also allowing the existing fans to re-live the experience and discover more.
When porting a game to console, especially on a game like Esther, you can’t (and wouldn’t!) just say ‘let’s add zombies’, ‘let’s add guns’, ‘let’s add more chapters’ etc.). Dear Esther is the exact package it should be, and messing with that was a no-go. However, including a Directors’ Commentary keeps the game intact, yet brings a new in-depth torch light (!) onto proceedings.
For the existing fans and newbies alike, the Directors’ Commentary addition is an important aspect to give a deeper understanding of how the design/writing, music and art all came together; this tri-force behind the original coming in the shape of Dan (Pinchbeck), Jess (Curry) and Rob (Briscoe).
Popping down to Brighton and meeting Dan, Jess, Rob and Foucauld (Producer at TCR) for the recording of the Directors’ Commentary was fantastic. It was interesting getting a deep and full insight into the game and the rationale behind each detail: why a certain visual cue was used, how a piece of music had developed, interaction with the modding community and the history of the game from a development point of view and all the way through to creative design decisions.
Coming up with the subtitle for Dear Esther, and achievement names/content was another of the ways in which we wanted to stay true to the game and its ‘feel’. A number of changes to the ported game title were considered, but ‘Landmark Edition’ really fit: the landmarks of the island, as well as the game itself being a landmark in terms of starting a new genre.
Of course, any development will come with its challenges, and the jump from Source engine to Unity 4 initially, then upgrading to Unity 5 certainly put the game through its paces. However, we worked closely with The Chinese Room to ensure we matched the original PC version as closely as possible for console, with lots of back and forth and tweaking to ensure parity.
Another exciting challenge for the project came in helping to get together the build that will be used in the upcoming Barbican event on 14th October. The spec here was to create a build using the Unity ported version that also allowed cues for a live orchestra and narrator. That in itself should be a really exciting live event for any fan.
So whether you are new to the game like I was at the start of this project, or you are an admiring fan of the original; go play the Landmark Edition on PS4/XB1 right now. Experience it, re-visit it, play it again afterwards with the Directors’ Commentary and get lost in a piece of gaming history.
(Newcomers; play it in a room with the lights off and see if you scream as much as I did...)
Producer on Dear Esther: Landmark Edition for PS4, XB1 (PC/Mac to follow)