Dear Esther: “Over-stimuation kills atmosphere,” says Pinchbeck

Friday, 9th March 2012 13:43 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

Dan Pinchbeck, creative director at thechineseroom said during his lecture at GDC that when developing Dear Esther, the team found that when you over stimulate the player with a buoyant atmosphere, it can cause over stimulation and “kill” the atmosphere.

During the Gamasutra-attended lecture, Pinchbeck said that for “the longest time” he thought stark, empty spaces in a game were “a bad thing,” but found that as development progressed, “a lack of stimulation does not equate to a lack of experience.”

“In fact,” he said “a lack of stimulation allows for other experiences to grow. You can’t feel rage slowly and you can’t feel loss fast. In Dear Esther, we found that the less hand-holding we did the more the experience intensified.

“It didn’t matter to us that he player is following a logical chain through the story. Instead we wanted to infuse the player with ideas that we could then play off later in the game. Story became like an asset we could play with, particular symbols that we can use as mental and emotional assets that can be used to manipulate their experience.

“We wanted the player to feel more than understand.”

During the game’s launch week on Steam, the indie title moved 50,000 copies and earned back its financial backing within six hours of release.

Currently, Pinchbeck is collaborating with Frictional Games on Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.



  1. Hunam

    I found this with Arkham City, the game was throwing so much at me all the time I didn’t really have a chance to be Batman.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. DSB

    Actually I loved Arkham City for the same reason. It was all thriller and no filler. There really wasn’t any downtime between the nitty gritty. It wasn’t a long game, but I was completely hooked all the way through.

    Pinchbeck has a point though. The subtlety that you get in some books or movies is very rarely there in games. That’s a pretty big problem for the people who desperately need games to be taken seriously, because obviously the industry doesn’t want to invest in telling a proper story.

    That being said, I’m not sure Dear Esther works as a proof of concept. It’s a visual installation more than a game.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. YoungZer0

    When i think of subtle games, i think of Metro 2033. I wish more games would follow that route. It’s all bang-booda-bomb-bang now. And that annoys the hell out of me. You get over-saturated so fast, that epic set pieces have no effect on you any more.

    That’s why the original Modern Warfare was such a good game, it dared to break up the pace with more stealthy gameplay.

    I think more games need to adapt that. That’s what i was missing in Darkness 2. Walking around the mansion wasn’t enough.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. absolutezero

    Sitting around a fire with some fellow Stalkers is the perfect example of this kind of idea.

    I have to say I got very bored very quickly with Arkham City, and I really really liked Asylum. Too much of it had very little to do with Batman, it was all about the city and the villians and the running and the jumping. The reduced scale and higher focus of the first game gave alot more time to actually feeling like Batman.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. DSB

    I would actually also suggest The Darkness II.

    The restaurant, the brothel, the sanitarium and even the mansion around the “events” really stuck in my mind.

    At one point I came past a wall that had been shot up. Last time I saw it, it was full of holes. Second time around, the bulletholes were still there, but had been caulked up.

    Someone actually took the time to visibly caulk up the bulletholes in the wall. They didn’t just wipe it clean.

    That’s the sort of attention to detail I’ve been dreaming of ever since Half-Life.

    #5 3 years ago
  6. Phoenixblight


    “Someone actually took the time to visibly caulk up the bulletholes in the wall. They didn’t just wipe it clean.”

    It takes like 2 seconds to do that. Just one photoshop file and you turn on a mask and bam done.

    The game was dead it was FPS #26758, the original had far more aesthetics then the sequel. A team had put in the detail in making news report, a Flash Gordon channel along with a variety of old shows not to mention the radio stations. Putting a layer over “holes” is not any work any artist worth his salt could do that while creating the original textures.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. DSB

    @6 Obviously, I’m not viewing it as a technical achievement, but an attention to detail that most developers simply do not have.

    I’m not sure if you played the original, but talk about a dead game. Big open spaces full of nobody or at best, two highly scripted individuals being placed right inside a front door, having a “casual” conversation while everybody else just stands around.

    Subtle it was not. As opposed to caulking over bulletholes, and adding a subtle sense of human interacton with the game world, that most people are barely likely to notice.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. manamana

    Well SOTC played that landscape card very well and I always hoped for another title featuring vast landscapes and atmosphere with modern technology.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. Phoenixblight


    Thats your opinion but I would rather have wide open space with detail through out the area then another tunnel shooter with a Jar Jar Binks sidekick.

    #9 3 years ago

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