Dear Esther (Jessica Curry)October 19, 2010
Dear Esther is an art game created as part of a research study conducted by Daniel Pinchbeck at the University of Portsmouth in the UK. The game is a mod for Half-Life 2, and so requires the game in order to play it, but is well worth the experience. The game is a first-person story told through audio clips that are triggered by walking over particular spots of the island. The game plays one of three random parts of the story and so each time the game is played, the player encounters a different narrative. The game is part ghost story and part mystery, and the player’s attempt to understand the story is central to keeping the player going. The music also possesses a haunting quality that matches the desolate beauty of the island, often minimal piano and cello pieces, but also containing a fair amount of discord. The soundtrack was produced by Jessica Curry, a composer and sound artist. he soundtrack is currently in 128kbps, but will be remastered for the remake being produced by Robert Briscoe (Mirror’s Edge).
“Jakobson” is my favorite piece. It is a piano piece that gradually builds multiple layers of melody to create a complex tapestry. The lowest layer and the core of the song is a short core of five notes that is repeated for 25 seconds with variations, wind blowing across the desolate Scottish island. On top of this is placed a second layer of twinkling higher notes that while minimal, hold a melody that gradually builds in complexity until the one-minute mark. In the center of this section, melody take on a whimsical quality, similar to a merry-go-round or trapeze artists. The piece returns to its basic layer at the end. The piece plays on the sloping hills of the east side of the island where a shepherd named Jakobson had created a ranch. The island has been deserted since the 18th Century. The piece is with a brooding seriousness that is not without its mental cracks.
Curry describes her work as possessing “pastoral melancholy and an emotional current that unashamedly speaks of the human condition, Romanticism and an attempt to capture timeless longing”, all of which resonate with the sullen, bleak island of Dear Esther and its story of longing for a lost loved one. Curry aspires to make her work “create a sense of place and evoke unexpected emotional responses”. The full soundtrack is available on the ModDb page. Other tracks worth a particularly close look are Esther and The Cave.