Photo via Eagre Games (CC-BY-SA)
Before meditative gaming was even a thing, there was Myst, a 1993 PC game that enveloped the player in a world of fantastical landscapes, structures, and puzzles. It told the story of two brothers at war in a world where books were portals to new lands called "ages." In other words, a bibliophile's dream.
The series is finished, but the concept at the heart of it is still burning brightly more than two decades later in the form of contemplative gaming (also known as meditative gaming). Games like Journey and The Room have threads of Myst's fabric woven into their patterns. And now a brand new game in the genre is moving into the spotlight, made by Chuck Carter, one of the original artists that worked on Myst.
Carter's first title with Eagre Games, which he founded, is an exploration into the inner depths of the dreaming mind. Called Zed, it is about a dying dreamer suffering from dementia who wishes to leave a legacy for his granddaughter. You will help him on his way as he races against time to complete his final masterwork.
"At one point I had an idea for a game called Curio, which was based off curiosity shops and magic shops," Carter said. "Zed was a branch off from that idea, which eventually grew into what we are working on now."Carter drew on the imagery from his own childhood and adult dreams to write the story that takes place in Zed's lush worlds. He describes the game as a bit like bringing the experience of lucid dreaming to life (and as a lucid dreamer, Carter knows exactly what that's like). But do you play as the dreamer, or are you merely a guest in his dream?
"We leave that ambiguous," Carter said with a cagey glint in his eye. "We want you to bring your own experience to the game. You can interpret who you are."
The world of Zed goes far deeper than just being pretty—after all, Carter's been designing worlds for decades. He says that answers to puzzles are tucked into it, and that each one you solve to reach a goal will affect the realm of the dreamer's mind. It's these changes that will key you in to solving the mystery of your identity in the game.
"As you explore, the dream may turn red or blue, or all the color may fade away," Carter said. "These are all cues to let you know that perhaps you're drawing closer to a solution, or further away. The environment is key to navigating this world."
Carter launched a Kickstarter to fund Zed on June 1, with a goal of $48,000. With a team of 10 people in place already, he just needs the funds to make a dream he's had for decades into a reality.Carter's team is working unpaid to make the game come to life. He's just brought on Bioshock Infinite writer Joe Fielder to help flesh out Zed's story, and this weekend he was off to show a demo of the game in Oculus Rift, the perfect vehicle for an atmospheric title.
Even though Carter did Myst over 20 years ago, he says that it was the first thing he worked on that clued him in to the power of contemplative games.
"There's a lot of value in nonviolent gaming, games where you can take your own pace," he said. "I loved playing Dear Esther because I didn't know what to expect, but before I knew it I had lost myself in it completely. It had such a gorgeous sense of depth, and it encouraged exploration."The indie market is the ideal place for thoughtful games, but is there any room for them in the bigger market? Carter says yes.
"A lot of parents are looking for games they can play with their kids, and I have heard over the years that Myst worked well for that. As more games like this win awards, big companies are starting to see this style of gaming as (financially) viable," he said.
It's an exciting vision for the industry, to be sure, but for now it's a narrow path. As Carter continues to campaign for Zed, he's carving out the next stepping stone along the way.
Zed is slated for a 2017 release.