Interview with Charles Carter On Making Indie Games
Staff Writer By: Ricky Grove (gToon)
Renderosity Magazine: Eagre Games is the company you are heading currently; how did the company get started and what were your goals?
Charles Carter: Eagre Games was started 2 years ago with the goal of creating first person games that are immersive, beautiful and non-violent. We wanted to use stories that are compelling that touch people in ways that many games don't right now.
We got started after our first company designing gamified textbooks for McGraw-Hill never caught on. We pivoted back to what we knew - games and have been working on our projects ever since.
Eagre Games has a kickstarter project running right now for what looks like a fascinating game, ZED. Can you tell me a little about the kickstarter project and how ZED came about?
Charles Carter: The Kickstarter is HERE and is designed to raise some funds to add additional content and help optimize parts of the game. Zed grew out of ideas I had long before working on Myst... it's changed a lot since then but still holds on to some of the basic concepts seeded from those early ideas. The story is based loosely on one of my mentors when I was just starting out as an artist. He's going through serious issues where things escape him to times where he no longer remembers big and important things. It's a constant struggle. It makes you think about yourself, what will happen as age creeps up on you. ZED is based on the dreams of such an individual and probably some of my own fears about getting old.
You mention you have fond memories of Renderosity: can you tell me about those? When did you join Rendo? I notice you still have a gallery, too!
Charles Carter: Well what I found most enjoyable was the community. Some of us worked with Bryce, or MojoWorld, or Poser or any number of software packages. And we all shared the results. We would comment on things and help each other with questions and such. There was always feedback and support which was awesome. I made some friends there back in those days. And while I was working as a professional by then doing games and digital illustration, the energy of the site rubbed off on me and I found myself doing things in a new way and it actually opened my mind to thinking differently about my work. That was a rare thing back then.
I rejoined, I think, 3 or 4 years ago but my work took most of my time so I wasn't able to contribute at any meaningful level at the time. I actually rejoined with the hope of sparking some creativity that had been lacking in my work up till then. Now that I've reconnected, I'll check things out again.
Back to ZED: I'm interested in your idea of using ZED to provide "what's missing in games right now". Can you elaborate on that? Is that shooters tend to dominate the A level games? I notice that with the success of UNITY there are a lot more games that focus on shooting and killing. Almost as if the entry level barrier has been lowered for game creation. Do you agree?
Charles Carter: What's missing in games I think has more to do with tone and pacing. Games can be frenetic things... fast and twitchy. ZED is an entire universe made from the dreams of the protagonist. We're using Unreal Engine 4 to make the game - a first person immersive experience. I think that designing a game that slows you down - revealing a story about things people go through that challenge everything in their lives - especially at the end of their lives is important and needs to be told. We all will face these things as we get older. Hell I'm going to be 60 next year so as you age your views about the world and your work mature and change. We get more reflective and slow down - but still there is that part of us that never grows up. ZED reflects those parts of the dreamers life as well.
There are games covering most everything you can imagine - we obviously are not the first to tell stories about life and death - about love, loss and about facing the unthinkable - the loss of ones ability to even remember their own names or those of loved ones - much less the things that we leave undone or not said. But we are tossing our own take on these things and hopefully giving people something unique in the game not seen in many others.
Zed in both story and gameplay is about finishing things left undone. It is about helping someone reconnect those areas of ones self locked away and desperately forgotten. You as a player help by fixing connections and finding a way to finish one last thing in the life of this dreamer. Helping him say one last farewell to someone he knows he'll never meet.
I think you are right about what's missing in many games. Especially the high budget ones. I'd like to add that, in my opinion, another missing element is exactly what Zed has: ideas. Myst was my first real adult game. I came away from that experience feeling the same way after reading a great novel
Charles Carter: Thanks for the kind words! I agree - Dear Esther left me feeling the same way - like having read a deeply sad book about a mans guilt and loss. Games can have a profound effect on the player. We are not overtly trying to make a book like experience - we are much less linear - but we want to tell a very compelling story.
So, you chose Unreal. It's a wonderful game engine, but difficult to work with (or so I'm told). Why did you choose Unreal? I know they've recently changed their license to favor indie game companies and individuals. Was that one of the reasons?
Charles Carter: Yes on the indie license release - but there's much more. In fact, Unreal is very easy to use and much easier to figure out than a lot of the features in Unity in my opinion. It works on PC and MAC and is a very mature and deep piece of software. Even artists can set up game functionality fairly easily and quickly without knowing a lick of code.
The latest version of the engine is designed for quick prototyping and level design - your Renderosity folks could easily learn it and start putting together their own walking games in probably a couple of hours using the market place content they get from your store. It might be nice to even include FBX versions so people can put things directly into the engine.
It's that easy. :0)
Also - it's rendering capabilities in the actual engine are in many ways as good as dedicated 3D modeling programs.
Last few questions: Can you tell me about the process of putting together a game like Zed? Where are the bottlenecks in the process? What aspect of the process do you find most enjoyable? Who are the other members of your team?
Charles Carter: I'll start off with the other team members. Now everyone works for peanuts... or free until the project is finished.
Joe Fielder is our writer - his background includes writing for the Bioshock games and many others.
Seth Mantye is our VP of marketing and developer relations
Josh Eckert is a designer and concept artist and press guru
Stephanie Frankiewicz is our social Media person
Calvin Moisan is our programmer and Unreal Wrangler
James Corwin is my right hand artist - he takes on everything I don't have time for.
Alex Ripple and Terry Williams are our musicians bringing all the worlds to life musically
And Me - Creative director, artist, art director and level builder and I own the company.
Our process starts with an idea - a concept - a story. Concept art is done and then we start plotting/mapping the levels and the puzzles - matching them to points in the story so they make sense.
The bottle necks are mostly me - not enough artists in the mix yet and and I'm also handling all the business dev and such which takes a ton of time.
As for what I find most enjoyable - I'd have to say it's the art creation and finally putting the worlds together - that is a blast, nothing like seeing a world where there is life and your can physically (virtually or in VR now) explore it. that is truly amazing. And with VR - it's even taken on a fundamentally more interesting aspect - you really feel like you're in a different place - a real place. So yeah - the art and breathing life into a fresh level.
About Charles Carter
Support Charles Carter's Kickstarter Campaign for Zed
Zed Kickstarter Video