A Chat with Eagre Games’ Chuck Carter and Seth Mantye
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to wander into a stranger’s mind, or to walk through their dreams and imagination, to explore and piece things together? Thanks to the artistic mind that brought you the stunning visuals for some familiar titles like Myst and the Command & Conquer series, you can now get the chance to do just that. Chuck Carter is back and proud to present his latest work in progress, ZED.
Acting as the creative director at his own company, Eagre Games, Carter is working alongside a strong team of developers. This includes Joe Fielder, known for contributing his writing skills for Bioshock: Infinite and Burial at Sea episodes 1 and 2, and also Pete Paquette, well known animator in the gaming industry who is commonly known for doing the animation of Elizabeth in Bioshock: Inifinite. Of course, there are many more talented workers contributing to the progression of ZED, all of whom are proud to have a hand in this.
Carter has had the idea for ZED for quite some time now, since the early 90’s in fact. “The idea of the game started way back before I started working on Myst,” Carter replied when asked how long ZED’s been in the making. “It started there and bounced around in my brain for a while. Over the last year, though, I decided to finally do something with the idea and do a good job with it.”
In ZED, the player explores the mind of the Dreamer, a man who is fast fading and is desperately trying to remember things in order to leave behind a legacy for his grandchild. The Dreamer wants to leave this object that will be reminiscent of who he was as a person.
Throughout the game, the player will solve puzzles to progress and also stitch together the Dreamer’s broken memory. But, like any puzzle-solving exploration game, there will be obstacles to overcome.
The player won’t take on the role of the Dreamer, but more a presence that follows him around. “In this case, the Dreamer is aware that there’s somebody in his dream,” explained Carter. “There’ll be certain aspects to the Dreamer that will change at any given time depending on what’s happening in the dream that you may be exploring at that moment.”
In the game, it’ll be possible to wander around in different areas of each level, diverging from the main path to explore a bit more. In this sense, you can consider ZED to be an open-world game rather than just having a linear storyline. “You can explore and, depending on where you are or what you’ve done, this can take you to some surprising places,” Carter explained. “But, of course, there will be places in the game where you’ll be guided.”
Ultimately, Eagre Games’s goal is to provide a non-violent gaming experience, a place where the player can be at ease; ZED is no exception to this aim. As mentioned before, ZED will take the player through a dreamscape.
Having played the demo for ZED, I felt in a total state of awe and calmness while I trudged along the path, taking in the surreal sights around me. It really did feel like I was wandering along a dream, full of distorted images and objects I could only assume were inklings of someone’s memories: a twisted lighthouse, a doorway of a house just out of reach, and so on.
“I chose dreams because dreams allow you that freedom to pretty much invent a world in any way that you want,” Carter stated, having drawn inspiration from a lot of his own personal experiences and dreams. “As a designer and artist, it gives me the opportunity to be able to try something different. To pull from my own experiences and also from a lot of my own dreams and symbols. For example, the storyline of ZED kind of follows a mentor that I had when I was a lot younger, who was going through a lot of what the Dreamer in the game is going through.”
For the demo, Carter was massively inspired by Shaun Tan’s children’s books, particularly for their aesthetic. Carter explained that he saw Tan’s art style and found it to be enormously appealing in its dreamlike appearance. “For the demo of the game, I was amazed by it. I wanted to try incorporating some of that spirit of what Shuan did in his books into this level of ZED.”
Carter and Joe Fielder, who will be the main writer for this game’s story, have been communicating back and forth about the game’s direction before it was put on Kickstarter. “Everything’s up in the air at the moment,” said Carter. “Joe and I have decided that it’s best to wait until we’re past this point. Then he and I are going to jump directly into it.” This will be the first time that Carter and Joe Fielder have worked together.
“He’s really quite a phenomenal writer,” Seth Mantye, Vice President of Eagre Games, said when asked about Fielder and his work. “I think people are really going to enjoy what he and Chuck are putting together.”
Most of Fielder’s works, particularly in regards to his work with Bioshock, contain dark themes and settings. Will he be bringing this kind of atmosphere to ZED, a primarily non-violent game? “Dreams take up a variety of atmosphere, so to speak,” stated Carter. “I can take you into a dark place, or a happy sunny place. I want to manipulate what’ll be around you, to replicate what an actual dream will feel like. There will be some conflict in the game, not in the nature of violence, though.”
“ZED is also a story that ultimately deals with death,” Mantye further explained. “So it will be very, very dark at times. But I think players can experience it and get a lot of positive energy out of it. A lot of people have found ZED to be relaxing, but I feel the ending of the game will be quite heartwarming. The player will experience a lot of non-violent conflict, but then transition to this super-duper heartwarming moment.” Mantye also mentioned that Fielder likes to incorporate humour into his writing every now and again, so it’ll be a balanced and overall emotional experience for the player throughout the game.
Since starting their Kickstarter campaign for ZED, the team noticed that a large chunk of their backers have been women so far, more than most campaigns do. “This is really awesome to see, but I don’t know if there’s necessarily a reason for that,” answered Mantye when asked why that may be. “Different people like different genres, or it could also just be that this certain group of people really liked Myst and have followed us here.”
Ultimately, Carter hopes for his audience to sit back and think about what it is they’ve just witnessed and experienced upon reaching the end of the game. “The best games are the ones where you finish and just sit back in your seat to reflect on what you just saw,” Carter explained. “If we can succeed in that and people then want to go back and play again, then I think we will have succeeded in delivering something that is truly a unique experience. That’s really what we want to do more than anything else.”
Currently, ZED is on Kickstarter and is quite close to reaching their goal of $48,000, but they’ve only got a few days left. It’ll be available on PC for Windows, Mac, and Linux and will also be released for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. If this sounds like a super rad thing that you wanna play, you should head over to ZED’s Kickstarter page and help the team at Eagre Games reach their goal. Deadline for them is June 30th, so hustle over and make this dream a reality.