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An interview with Eagre Games about their new game, ZED

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I arranged an interview with Eagre to talk about ZED and their experiences with Linux and our community, including the decision to change support from a stretch goal to a base funding goal. ZED is an upcoming adventure puzzle game built with Unreal Engine 4 that’s currently on Kickstarter. They’ve recently promised Linux support at their base funding goal and have made a demo available.


I’ve been a PC gamer for most of my life. When I was growing up, I spent an inordinate amount of time playing pretty much everything I could get my hands on. I wasn’t very picky and I was therefore exposed to an incredibly wide array of games. So I’m always excited to see industry veterans who worked on games I played to death try their hand with making the games they’ve always wanted to make. Eagre Games was founded by Chuck Carter, whose credits include art and graphics on such titles as Myst and the Command & Conquer series and many, many more.

I arranged an interview with Eagre to talk about ZED and their experiences with Linux and our community, including the decision to change support from a stretch goal to a base funding goal. I spoke with Vice President Seth Mantye, Founder and Creative Director Chuck Carter, as well as Unreal Developer and Programmer Calvin Moisan. You can find out more about them and the rest of their team here.

This interview has been lightly edited for formatting.

GOL: It’s probably best to address the elephant in the room right away: is ZED a modern take on Myst? The Chuck Carter connection seems to be there…

Seth Mantye: ZED is being compared to Myst in many ways, and in many ways that's a fair assessment, and in other ways it's not. Our studio founder and lead creative director, Chuck Carter, did half the artwork on Myst, some of the level design, etc. There's a great clip of 'the making of Myst' where Chuck actually talks about how they were building Myst. And in the last 25 years technology has changed so dramatically that it's allowing us to create ZED. A game like Myst where you need to point and click to move probably wouldn't go over too well these days. Chuck likes to say that this game is similar to what Myst would be like if they had 2016's technology back then, but realistically ZED stands far apart from Myst. We have beautiful and immersive worlds, but we also have a narrative and compelling story which includes a lot of emotion in it.

Chuck Carter: Is ZED a modern day MYST? Well not intentionally, though I have to say it’s being construed that way by a lot of people. I can say it’s Myst like in that it’s a strange set of worlds and there are puzzles that affect the entire game. Atmospherically, it’s much different - richer and more dynamic in how we’re designing it, and it will be much more alive. It’s roots actually predate Myst by a couple years. But to be honest - if we had the level of tech we have today I’m guessing my part of Myst would look a little like ZED.

image

GOL: I played the demo and can say that the atmosphere feels appropriately surreal and dream-like. What sort of inspirations are you drawing upon for the game?

Seth: ZED is very much a collaborative effort between a lot of us. Chuck, Joe, Stephanie, Joshua, Calvin and myself have all made contributions here and there, and each one of us has different inspirations. I spent a lot of time in Maine growing up, and the rocky shores, lush forests, and breathtaking mountains really set out in my mind. We've really drawn on some of that in a few of our worlds, and you can definitely spot the Maine-inspired rocky coasts in our demo. Chuck is the driving force behind almost all of the art though, so you can really see why some of the Myst comparisons come from there, too. Chuck is completely self-taught and a true student of art, he'll randomly mention artists from every era as people who have great styles and the rest of us will need to look them up to keep up with him. Google Image Search has definitely come in handy for me. The guy is like a walking art thesaurus. I couldn't even begin to tell you where he gets his ideas from.

Chuck: I pull a lot from my own dreams visually. A lot of my dreams are very vivid and have stayed with me for my entire life. The symbology of my dreamscapes is part of what drives some of the ideas and visuals. What you see in the demo is a very small sliver of the game obviously. As for other inspiration - the real world has plenty to offer by way of strange and amazing places. I’m always online looking at stuff - my Pinterest Pages are filled with inspiration - so much to choose from online - artists, photographs… so much stuff to soak in and I’m sure a lot of that seeps into my own ideas or gives me ideas… also I have some favorite artists that are exciting to me. I have tons of favorite artists - Moebius, Shaun Tan, James Harris, Jack Kirby, Michael Kaluta, Frazetta, Charles Schultz, Bill Watterson… so many more. Inspiration is everywhere. Too much to list in an interview.

GOL: It strikes me as notable that Eagre Games describes itself as a developer of “non-violent, beautifully immersive, story-driven games”. Plenty of your developers have experience working on more action-focused titles such as the Command & Conquer series and Bioshock Infinite. So why choose that niche?

Seth: The thing that binds most of us together is actually our love of First Person Shooter games. Several of us played a lot of Unreal Tournament back in the day (a point which I'll probably reference later) and I still try to play every Sunday. That's great, but games don't need violence to be great. We want to create a game which is an experience everyone can enjoy, and something we can be proud to give to kids and adults. Essentially, our target market is 'everybody' rather than a specific niche.

Chuck: I choose it because the Genre is both satisfying for me personally and with all of the violent games out there - there is a need for games that challenge your mind and senses and desire to live in a story without fear or pressure of just trying to survive long enough to finish the game. I want to help people slow down - enjoy the strange scenery, smell the 20 foot virtual flowers - disappear in world for a while and look around. And then look forward to exploring more - go down paths and not knowing whats around the bend is exciting for me - in ZED you can actually go into some of the houses and get a glimpse of what the dreamer left behind as you explore dark hallways and old rooms. The point is - with the puzzles to slow you down a bit you will still have a series of world to explore and discover.

Calvin Moisan: Today’s market is dominated by fast paced shooters and action games that rely on reflexes. We think there are many gamers out there who are looking for a more relaxed experience; worlds to get lost in, narratives to engage, and puzzles to promote critical thinking.

GOL: The demo for ZED ran rather well for me despite the fact that you probably haven’t optimized the game yet. The Linux build was apparently something done on a whim by your programmer. So just how difficult was it to get the demo working on Linux?

Seth: We discussed Linux as something we wanted to do from the beginning but developing for Linux, as you know, hasn't traditionally been easy for game developers. We had a meeting at my house late one night after PAX East. We were all extremely tired and struggling to make sense of anything we were doing. Our programmer, Calvin, really wanted to do a Linux build. He and I couldn't convince the rest of our team to agree to it as something right out of the box. Being a small studio means that we don't have much money or energy to invest in anything, especially not things that seem like they might take more effort and cost than we can afford. When we initially started putting together this project last summer Unreal Engine had very little Linux support. We upgraded to version 4.12 and Calvin decided to try to get it to work one weekend and was able to get it to work in a day or two. It's not quite as easy as pressing a button, but metaphorically speaking it is. We expected to have a lot of problems with it, but our handful of testers had no issues, so we decided to open it up to a broader spectrum and got even more promising results. Going forward, I hope we're able to set an example with how easy it (hopefully) will be to build ZED for Linux and show that there's really no excuse for anyone using UE4 to avoid releasing a Linux version.

Calvin: Getting the demo working is quite simple for your average Linux user, but may take more savvy for those not experienced with the operating system. Once you have a Linux install up and running on your machine you must pull the source code for Unreal Engine 4 from Github, then compile. Once the Engine is compiled you can run! Once the Engine is running and the level is loaded it's as simple as selecting "Package for Linux". I was quite surprised with how simple the entire process was - older builds of UE4 weren't this simple.

image

GOL: It’s my understanding that some on your team helped get Unreal Engine 4 on Linux. How were you involved and what motivated you to make the effort?

Seth: I've got a largely positive relationship with Epic Games, with the release of UE4 they've made a big push at building their communities. Due to that they've set up some good pipelines to get feedback in to them. It's been something which has been suggested a few times, and they've got a guy Dmitry 'rcl' Reckman out in Poland who really helped spearhead their effort back in 2014. I've been a big fan of Linux for a long time, though I can't say I'm a regular user anymore (uh-oh, there goes all our support). Back in '06 I was playing a lot of Unreal Tournament with a guy who was running on Linux. He was the go-to guy for compiling uScript (Unreal Engine's old scripting language) on Linux, and still has his site up for it. Sadly, the development of anti-cheat systems and the lack of support for Linux meant we couldn't play together anymore. It felt like there was something inherently unfair there, and ever since I've always wanted to make games Linux compatible where possible.

GOL: I’m pleased that you guys opted to target Linux in your initial funding goal instead as a stretch goal. Just how different is it to work on a project that targets multiple platforms from the start? Does it require another kind of mindset or does UE4 handle all the big issues?

Seth: As you mentioned, we originally targeted Linux development as a $16,000 stretch goal. We erroneously assumed that there just wouldn't be enough interest or support for it, and that it would be too much trouble to make it work. We've definitely proven that wrong. It's definitely going to take some time and effort to get it right, but I've offered to take a salary cut if need be to make that happen. The overwhelming positivism we've received from the Gaming on Linux community has made and will continue to make it worthwhile in my mind.

Essentially what happened here is that Calvin, on a whim, built a Linux version just to see how difficult it might be in the future to do a Linux build. Our two Linux testers had great feedback and it ran well for us. On another whim, I posted it on the Linux Gaming subreddit asking for feedback and popped into the Gaming on Linux IRC. Everyone was so supportive, and we had over 150 more on our Linux demo in 18hrs than we had on our Mac demo in 9 days. The several terabytes we sent out actually capped our bandwidth at one point. Given the surprising ease of building on Linux and mostly due to the enormous support and friendliness of the community we decided we needed to make Linux a day-one option with no stretch goals. As a developer I cannot stress enough how great the Linux community's support was. Even the people with harsh critiques have been extremely polite and strangely supportive. It gives us a reason to make the game.

In terms of working on a project that targets multiple platforms, I firmly believe that if you're going to target multiple platforms you need to do it from the start. Linux gamers are all-too-familiar with crummy Windows ports. Starting our major development cycle with Linux in mind will allow us to create several optimizations, and even create support for DVORAK keyboards, something we probably wouldn't even consider before. Unreal Engine 4 is great at handling a lot of the much larger issues, but there will still be a lot of optimization and tweaking we'll need to do for Linux. There are so many different builds of Linux and Linux allows users to have much more hardware control which means developers have a lot more to consider when optimizing the game.

Chuck: UE4 handles the vast majority of issues for us - there are tweaks per platform we need to be aware of - the Mac displays color and gamma differently than the PC - but is very close to the same on Linux. But over all - it’s rather nice to have UE4 do most of the work!

Calvin: Currently I am running Linux on my development laptop and desktop. I use the desktop for the heavy lifting of compiling and packaging, and the laptop for testing on lower end hardware. Working on multiple platforms means we try to utilize platform agnostic tools. Unreal Engine 4 is one such tools, running on PC, Mac, and Linux. Another tool frequently used by our artist is Modo, a modeling and animation software that runs on PC, Mac and Linux.

GOL: Any of your development machines running Linux? And what sort of tools are you using to create the game, anything interesting and cross-platform?

Seth: We do have a development and testing machine running Linux, but our Windows PC is the one we use primarily. It's got the nice graphics card and all the programs loaded into it. Chuck also uses his Mac pretty frequently. We're primarily using the Adobe Suite, MODO, ZBrush, and Unreal Engine for most of our development. We're not necessarily required to use Linux for any of those things so we generally don't as much. We're living in an age where it's becoming easier for developers to choose their preferred platform and stick with it as much as possible.

Chuck: Ask Calvin - I run Mac and PC in the office continuously and jump between them Calvin is running the Linux version.

Calvin: Currently I am running Linux on my development laptop and desktop. I use the desktop for the heavy lifting of compiling and packaging, and the laptop for testing on lower end hardware. Working on multiple platforms means we try to utilize platform agnostic tools. Unreal Engine 4 is one such tools, running on PC, Mac, and Linux. Another tool frequently used by our artist is Modo, a modeling and animation software that runs on PC, Mac and Linux.

image

GOL: Finally, this one is for all of you: what’s the most interesting video game project you’ve worked on in the past? Or at the very least, which is the most memorable one?

Seth: I am under a non-disclosure statement, but it's a big first person shooter. I've worked with a lot of great developers in New England and California, but think my favorite game I'm barely involved with right now, can talk about, and won't stop talking about is "Bacon Man: An Adventure". It is far and away the most fun sidescrolling/platformer I've seen in a generation.

Chuck: MYST obviously for me. But I had the most fun on the Westwood Studio C&C and Red Alert games as well as Dune Emperor.

Calvin: I would have to say that ZED is the most interesting and rewarding project I’ve worked on so far. Working with Chuck Carter has been an honor, and quite eye opening. I also have the privilege of working alongside some highly passionate and talented team-members. Also Seth is here. [Seth added this part for the lols]

GOL: Thank you for your time and I wish you the best of luck with your Kickstarter Campaign. Any final thoughts you would like to share with the Linux community?

Seth: Thank you, Alex. I don't have the words to describe how great the Linux gaming community has been to us. I fully recognize that Linux gaming is frequently part of Kickstarter campaigns and has frequently been burned as such. We're not interested in doing that. We're fully dedicated to creating the best possible native Linux gameplay we can, and we're thrilled to say we won't be porting our game to Linux, but building natively! It's been really humbling to see people who've sworn off KS campaigns publicly saying to us that they've made an exception for us and we're very eager to keep growing our strong relationships with the Linux community. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you.

Calvin: I’ve always loved working in Linux, whether it be for game development or just browsing the internet, and that’s due mostly to the community. I am so excited to be able to be part of this.


Check out ZED's Kickstarter page and grab the demo here.
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GloW 12 June 2016 at 7:58 pm UTC
You got a repetition, Calvin gave the same answers to two different questions. "Currently I am running Linux..."
aL 12 June 2016 at 8:02 pm UTC
QuoteI've been a big fan of Linux for a long time, though I can't say I'm a regular user anymore (uh-oh, there goes all our support)

We dont care about your past, but about your future

Im downloading the demo right now
BTRE 12 June 2016 at 8:07 pm UTC
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GloWYou got a repetition, Calvin gave the same answers to two different questions. "Currently I am running Linux..."
Yeah, I chose not to edit that kind of stuff out. It was an email interview and so that's what I got back.
tuubi 12 June 2016 at 8:36 pm UTC
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Great interview, BTRE. Almost as great as the game is shaping up to be. I simply can't believe this could fail to get funded.
LeonardK 12 June 2016 at 10:09 pm UTC
Sometimes this community does make me really proud
AnxiousInfusion 13 June 2016 at 12:20 am UTC
QuoteAnd in the last 25 years technology has changed so dramatically that it's allowing us to create ZED.

A really cool thing about ZED is that it visually looks like the old prerendered scenes of 90s PC games. We have easily surpassed what could only be prerendered just years ago.
mulletdeath 13 June 2016 at 4:08 am UTC
Backed, looks pretty cool. Never played Myst, but apparently it will be quite different from that franchise if we are to take Chuck at his word.


Last edited by mulletdeath at 13 June 2016 at 4:11 am UTC
zimplex1 13 June 2016 at 4:12 am UTC
Fantastic interview. It made me feel all happy inside knowing that our community feedback made them more interested in Linux. I do find it odd Calvin copy/pasted his answer for two questions.

Side note: Calvin and Chuck. Please stop referring to Windows as "PC". It's cringy enough when regular people do it, and it's even more cringy when a developer does it.
no_information_here 13 June 2016 at 5:23 am UTC
tuubiGreat interview, BTRE. Almost as great as the game is shaping up to be. I simply can't believe this could fail to get funded.
I agree. Excellent interview.

It is great seeing them being so open about the development process. I hope the project turns out really well for them. I look forward to the game release...
Kryuko@Italiaunix.com 13 June 2016 at 9:28 am UTC
Quote...Working on multiple platforms means we try to utilize platform agnostic tools. Unreal Engine 4 is one such tools, running on PC, Mac, and Linux..."
What? Isn't Linux running on a PC?


Last edited by Kryuko@Italiaunix.com at 13 June 2016 at 9:29 am UTC
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