These tactics are at the heart of what Pinchbeck and co. have achieved with their mods. Korsakovia is a staggeringly affecting piece, free of jumps but packed with genuine chills. One of the research questions at the center of its creation attempts to examine how players responded to a lack of identifiable enemies; as such, the game renders all foes as lighting-fast, ear-piercing clouds of smoke. Seeing a pair of them circling the far end of a gargantuan warehouse and waiting for the inevitable moment when, acknowledging your presence, they dart towards you at an unfathomable speed is truly terrifying.


This sense of sheer terror is multiplied tenfold by thechineseroom's refusal to stick to a typical videogame format. Although Korsakovia is the more gamelike of the team's two main works, it's still structured in a manner unlike almost anything else: The environment warps and changes, the level design intentionally points you in wrong directions and, generally, the atmosphere is crafted to be as suffocating as possible. Most modern games are keen to guide the player by the hand; Korsakovia is more interested in messing with your head, not just in the horrific storytelling but through the mechanics of play as well.

Dear Esther - which features no combat and no puzzles - is comparatively tame and certainly less overtly horrifying. But even it is full to bursting with spine-tingling moments. Despite being dubbed "an interactive ghost story" ("You don't want to know how long I agonized over that," says Pinchbeck, when I ask if he feels it's an adequate summary), its submissions to horror weren't intended to be quite so pronounced, but they're still very much present.

"Unlike Korsakovia, which is self-consciously a horror game - an aggressive madness, a trawl through a disintegrating mind - Esther is about a slide into despair that we've all stood at the edge of one way or another," Pinchbeck explains of the mod, whose abstract, dual-stranded story details a fatal motorway accident parallel to the bleak history of the island. "Esther for me is very sad - maybe even properly tragic. And that in itself is quite scary, because it's about a situation that is horrible, rather than horror. It's desperate and lonely and random and I think it maybe taps into a deeper fear of loss and being unable to rationalize a bad thing that has happened."

It's a remarkable achievement. Since its release in 2008, the modding communities have been awash with speculation as to the minutiae of the narrative, and even the more mainstream gaming press has been eager to discuss Esther's themes. Mirror's Edge Level Designer Robert Briscoe liked it, too. Under Pinchbeck's watchful gaze, he's currently remaking the whole thing from scratch, and the early screenshots look astounding.

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