Best Upcoming Mod," Dear Esther is actually a remake of a 2008 Half-Life 2 Source-engine mod by the same name. The original mod was developed by indie studio thechineseroom (at the University of Portsmouth, UK) and was "stumbled across" by Robert Briscoe, a former level designer at DICE who had worked on Mirror's Edge. While "far from perfect," Dear Esther had both intrigued and inspired Briscoe, he wrote in May 2009, describing it as "an interactive painting or story, told through the eyes of a dying man on a journey to try and make peace with his tormented mind."
"The whole thing is enveloped in deep mystery and hidden meanings," he continued, "I had the idea of taking the groundwork for the mod and develop [sic] it into a fully fledged, production-quality product." Briscoe took his idea to the original creative director Dan Pinchbeck, who "was very enthusiastic about it, giving me his full support on the project."
21 months of steady development later and the Dear Esther remake is on track for a commercial release this summer on Steam. That's right -- Pinchbeck and Briscoe approached Valve, which was "impressed enough to grant a Source license for a full independent release," recounts today's announcement (oddly dated July 30, 2010) on the just launched dear-esther.com. "Rob was creating something so extraordinary," Pinchbeck told PC Gamer UK in the new issue (via Beefjack), "[that] it deserved a wider audience than we could give it as a mod."
You can get a glimpse of Briscoe's recreation in the June 2010 test footage postead after the break.
[Pictured: work-in-progress screenshot; source: Robert Briscoe's Devblog]