Dear Esther Unity port the result of “a huge bill” for using the Source Engine

Dear Esther thechineseroom

Rob Briscoe, the artist who overhauled the Dear Esther mod into one of the most visually stunning games ever released, is working on a Unity port. There are a number of reasons why, according to Briscoe, but a key one was that developer thechineseroom “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.”

Switching to Unity meant they’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.” Especially as, with Source, they’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.

Thechineseroom developed the original Dear Esther release themselves, a team of four. Though that was only a Windows release. Since the game’s successful launch the team contracted a Mac and Linux port. Briscoe wasn’t too pleased with the Linux port, sayin “the Codeweavers Linux port wasn’t a true port per-se; it was really just a customised wrapper and had its fair share of issues which left it feeling a little ‘dirty’ (in my mind at least).”

It also meant all support for the port was farmed out: “fixing bugs was now completely in the hands of a third party, and when our support contract with them ended, so did the bug fixes.” Also, “due to ongoing OSX updates … we’d also had an increasing amount of bugs coming in from the Mac port.

“The final straw came in September last year, after what should what was promised to be a fairly straightforward PS3 port,” continues Briscoe. “Started in May, with the PS4 still far on the horizon and with a projected development time of only 2-3 months, it seemed like a safe goal to reach. We were excited to see how Dear Esther would be received by a new branch of gamers, but unfortunately we hit issues early on. First, having to license yet more middleware for Source, and then obtaining the additional PS3 source code for the Engine. This was all happening around the time of the departures at Valve, which unfortunately included our main contact for all things Engine related, and subsequently we spent weeks trying to find someone else who could point us in the right direction. This had a cascade effect on the whole project leading to months of delays, 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.

“We 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.”

The response to all these problems? Brisoce decided to try porting the game to Unity himself. The move represents “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.”

He’s three months in to the work and it’s looking stunning, as you can see for yourself.

Briscoe plans to “release betas for our existing Humble Store and Humble Bundle customers to evaluate and test, and when we’ve got something that reaches a quality we’re happy with, we’ll scrap the flakey old builds and look at getting everything up and running across all platforms on Steam.”

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