The dreams of local game designer Chuck Carter depend on you.
Both literally and figuratively.
Chuck, one of the artists behind Myst, recently Kickstarted his company Eagre Games‘ first game: ZED. As of early Friday morning the game had attracted over 450 backers pledging over $12,000 of a $48,000 goal, with 28 days still left to kickstart.
ZED is a first-person, real-time adventure-puzzle game with deep roots in the Myst genre. In it the player travels through the dreams of a dying artist, helping him complete his final project. And while he knows you’re there, he doesn’t know why; which means he can sometimes be less than helpful.
“As I get older as an artist I wonder sometimes: what would it be like if I was losing my memory? If I didn’t have that capability to finish things because I can’t remember them anymore,” Chuck said. “ZED sort of grew out of that personal kind of fear and angst you have about getting older.”
While the team behind the game in its entirety is expansive, the concept and about “90 percent” of the artwork comes straight from Chuck’s own vivid dreams; some have been stuck in his mind for years, just waiting for an outlet.
Chuck’s dreams, and ZED’s landscapes, range from stark black and white to vibrant color. The art style in the game varies, from this almost mysterious realism to “super distorted reality”. The world ZED presents is beautiful in its variety — from easygoing and peaceful to unsettling, and everything in between. Landscapes include beaches, mountains, forests and even strange cities. One minute the sun is shining, and another fog rolls in.
“Do you see yourself as an artist?” I ask Chuck somewhat suddenly as he runs through some of the unreleased levels of ZED on a computer at his Orono office.
Without missing a beat he looks at me, maybe a little puzzled and says, “Me as an artist? Yeah. I do. It’s what I’ve pretty much done most of my life.”
It’s what he’s done since he was “old enough to hold a crayon.”
Speaking of crayons — ZED was actually originally adapted from a concept for a children’s game. It’s always been a far cry from your standard first-person shooter. The game is nonviolent, and almost “meditative,” Chuck said. The main purpose — even before solving the puzzles and following the storyline — is exploration.
“That appeals to me more than anything else about games. To explore something you’d otherwise never have a chance to explore,” he said. “And as an artist, what better way — you can create a piece of art and let people explore your art. Instead of just giving them an image or an impression of something I can give them a chance to experience that impression.”
A lot goes into producing a game like ZED. First comes the idea — the seedling. From an idea, game designers have to decide what the game does, what the meaning is, and what’s the ultimate goal. Once you have those basics, there are many art styles to choose from, tactical gameplay decisions, model building, world building and developing it in a game engine.
Then you test it over and over, you run through it countless times, and you let other people play. You take their feedback and change things. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a process.
“There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s not just simply, press a button and make a game. You have to think about it quite a bit,” Chuck said. “Everybody has an idea for a game. But to make one real, you have to take it to the next step.”
Right now, for ZED, the next step is Kickstarter. By reaching their goal, Eagre Games will be able to produce the game for Mac and PC. Stretch goals include character design, more dreamworlds (extending the game), virtual reality release (this one’s got me psyched), Xbox One release, PS4 release, Linux support and multiple languages.
Chuck’s dreams are in our hands now.
“That idea of being able to create a world out of your imagination and then let other people participate in that, to me, was so appealing,” Chuck said. “In a game it was the first time I had the chance to tell a story and really put you into that story.”