For the last few months, artist Robert Briscoe has been quietly working on a project: safeguarding developer thechineseroom's Dear Esther by rebuilding the first-person ghost story in Unity.
Dear Esther began its life as a Half-Life 2 mod built in Valve's Source Engine. In 2012, the developer created a standalone Source Engine version of the game for Windows PC. According to a post on Briscoe's blog, Linux and Mac versions were planned, though both have been problematic. Inexperienced with multiplatform Source Engine development, the small development team "hit a brick wall."
"To top things off we also received a huge bill regarding the licensing of middleware that had been, unbeknownst to us, included with the Source Engine but not covered in the original License deal," Briscoe wrote. "Not only that, but we'd need to pay for a separate license for each platform released. It was a big hit financially, which put us at a loss in terms of the Mac and Linux ports."
"It was a big hit financially."
Source Engine's "final straw came in September" 2013 when Dear Esther's "fairly straightforward" PlayStation 3 port became entangled in more middleware licenses and difficulty contacting Valve after thechineseroom's main Valve contact left the company.
"This had a cascade effect on the whole project leading to months of delays," he wrote, "coupled with the contractor's inexperience with the engine, communication problems, and then finally the PS4 release date announcement, we decided it was time to pull the plug, at significant cost to us."
Briscoe also said that thechineseroom "also got the underlying impression that official engine support was not long for this world, making me all the more anxious, not just about the possibility of further ports, but about the future of Dear Esther in the years to come."
Before the PS3 version, Briscoe started tinkering with Unity, the multiplatform development engine, which gave him an idea.
"When the PS3 port collapsed," he wrote, "I realized that with my knowledge of Unity, there was an opportunity to not only safeguard the future of Dear Esther, but to also clean up the Linux and Mac ports and reach a wider range of other platforms. Best of all, we'd be able to keep everything in-house, at low cost, with no more licensing or communication barriers, no more support woes and no more scouring for experienced Source Engine developers to help us."
"There was an opportunity to not only safeguard the future of Dear Esther, but to also clean up the Linux and Mac ports."
He discussed it with the Dear Esther developers and, after a few months of work, shared his progress on his blog. If all goes well, the game could see new Linux and Mac releases, with a new Windows PC version to follow. Those who own Dear Esther through the Humble Store and Humble Bundle will be able to "evaluate and test" the Unity incarnation.
"It's probably worth noting though, that things are still up in the air on this," Briscoe wrote. "I'm still battling issues and have many challenges ahead, but I'm also learning new things everyday. Rest assured: We won't release or replace anything until we're 100 percent sure it's ready and you are happy with the transition! When will that happen? I don't yet know, but I will keep updating on here, and on Twitter as things progress."