Unity In, Source out For Esther
Robert Briscoe, the environment artist for Dear Esther, has been working on porting the game to the Unity engine for the last two months and he already has some pretty gifs of his progress. Dear Esther was originally released as a mod on the Source Engine more than half a decade ago and two years ago it was released as its own fully fledged game on the same engine. So, why is Briscoe porting the game from Source to Unity now? Briscoe attempts to answer this in a recent blog post.
So, firstly a bit of back ground information on the Source games development. Dear Esther was developed by a tiny team made up of Dan Pinchbeck as the writer and creative director, Jessica Curry as the game's composer, Jack Morgan as a contract coder and lastly Robert Briscoe "for everything else". After the game was released in 2012 on PC Curry and Pinchbeck left to work on Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs so Briscoe outsourced 2 separate teams to work on the Linux and Mac ports. The Mac port ended up having "an increasing amount of bugs coming in from the Mac port due to ongoing [sic] OSX updates" and the Linux port "wasn't a true port per-se; it was really just a customised wrapper and had its fair share of issues". The contract for the teams working on the ports came to an end and so too did their bug fixes.
Then something unexpected and unpleasant happened:
"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. 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 [sic] and Linux ports."
The PS3 port was a no-go as well, having problems from early on in its development cycle. With the announcement of the PS4's release date, Briscoe decided to call it a day on the PS3 port altogether "at significant cost to us." This was also around the same time as the Valve layoffs and one of the people let go was Briscoe's main contact "for all things [Source] Engine related". In addition to this, Briscoe writes "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."
With the future of the game in mind, Briscoe began to port the game in to the Unity engine. He wrote:
"I realised 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."
The Linux and Mac ports are being worked on first with the PC version coming later. Betas will be launched for Humble Bundle customers to play with before the full version is released. You can find out more about the "How?" of the whole process here.