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ZED (walking sim); voice acting by Stephen Russell

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This has gone pretty much under the radar but looks very interesting. Even though it's released by Cyan Ventures (the publishing department of Cyan) and the creator worked on Myst, it doesn't have a lot of puzzles (or just very easy ones) and it's more story. Reviews are divided as the game seems to be quite different from what was promised during the kickstarter.

 

ZED is the story of an aging artist, lost in regret and the haze of dementia. Inside the dreamscape of this creative mind come undone, players reassemble the artist’s fragmented memories into a final, lasting legacy: a loving gift to his granddaughter.

 

Making its debut on PC (with optional VR support for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive), ZED is a surreal trip, with an unexpected narrative that unfolds across fanciful, fractured lands. Spanning regret, reconciliation and redemption, it’s a bittersweet story that’s both deeply personal, and undeniably universal.

 

Released in partnership with Cyan Ventures, the new publishing arm from the creators of the legendary games Myst and Riven, ZED is the vision of Chuck Carter, part of the team behind the original Myst. Co-written by Joe Fielder (Bioshock Infinite, The Flame and the Flood) and David Chen (Metal Gear Solid series, Narcosis), the game also features a riveting performance from veteran video-game voice actor Stephen Russell (the Thief and Fallout series).

 

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There's already a toilet simulator game, so I don't know how they would be able to 'improve' on that...

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Not sure what's the problem. There are games that focus on uncovering a story, like Gone Home or Edith Finch, where you do nothing but walk and interact with objects, and those games are fantastic experiences.

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Totally agree peter_spy. Problem I think with this game is that the people that backed it were expecting a Myst kind of experience, which it doesn't offer. I'm not sure if that kind of experience was promised or not, but multiple people seem to agree with this. If you take this game for what it is, it seems to be a very nice experience which might be a little bit short.

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according to the kickstarter is was to be a myst type game, but they the developers changed the direction on it sometime after the kickstarter finished, apparently the backers were told about the direction change. got that info off a post on steam. takes about 2 hours to complete.

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I sympathize that there's a real development problem at the base of that. You can have a rich story or you can have good puzzles, but it's very difficult to get those two things to mix. So difficult it's hard to even think of games that do both well. I can just think of the Interactive Fiction Anchorhead, and maybe a few other IFs. (One complaint I have about walking sims is that they don't build on all of the hard-won lessons figured out by 40 years of interactive fiction games how to mix story & gameplay.) So devs can feel forced to pick one or the other.

 

This is one reason why I like Thief & TDM's stealth genre. It's all great gameplay, but because you're supposed to be staying in the shadows and not interfering with the world, you can have great storytelling going on around the player, through readables and conversations. And, like immersive sims generally, it doesn't rely on puzzles at all. It's about simulating a world and solving problems in open and creative ways, not trying to read the devs mind and do the thing he or she wants. This was another major lesson of gaming that walking sims haven't really caught on to yet, leading them to fall into immersive-breaking puzzles or just glorified movies you can walk around in, and why I'm still a partisan of the immersive sim approach.

 

That said, I can still appreciate walking sims as glorified movies you can walk around in. It's just not how I'd make them, and I'd push the genre in another direction if I could make every game I that wanted to.


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The thing is, storytelling adventure games don't need im-sims much, and it would be unreasonable in terms of development time to engage your team to implement such mechanics. Remember that making all those Thief systems was costly at the time, and ultimately resulted in LGS financial collapse.

 

Now, Im-sims are mostly about telling "accidental", player-authored stories, which are mostly about how physics system reacted, or how a guard reacted in a surprisingly smart or goofy manner, and everything went downhill from that point. So, you don't need a stimuli system, if you want to tell a rather particular story about a teenager, who is trying to find her own identity, while trying to survive in high school, and helping a friend solve a mystery. You need a conversation system and enough (static) objects players can take, use, or examine – and that's basically what Life is Strange does.

 

Some games allow for more open-ended level design, slightly similar to im-sims level design, but that's also because that also serves a certain purpose, story-telling wise. Edith Finch does that, with some little "gating", because it tells a story of a house and big family, where you can choose which family member story to reimagine. It's still a story that has beginning, middle, and end. You just have a bit of freedom to go through some of its chapters in the order you like.

Edited by peter_spy

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I understand what you mean, although I have a different take.

Speaking of dev time, my dream is that someone makes an immersive platform in which first-person-interactive-fictions (I don't like the term walking sim) could be made. Then they don't lose time working on the systems and can focus directly on the storytelling and gameplay design.

 

You might recall in the heydays of Minecraft modding, there were quite a few storytelling maps that came out on that platform. A lot were a bit juvenile (it's the core audience) but many of them were great with mixing gameplay and story, although there weren't many ways to do good storytelling.

 

But it did give me the vision that what we really need is a system that spawns open worlds with all the immersive mechanics already in place, like Minecraft, in a realistic looking world like, well I would have said Skyrim a few years ago, but I'd say Kingdom Come Deliverance now, where you can build your own architecture directly in-game, make your map that way, and populate it with all the storytelling things you need.

 

To your more general point though, I agree it really depends on what kind of game you want and what kind of story you want to tell, as different systems will allow you to meet your dev goals better or worse. So you need the system that works best for your vision, and visions differ. To that I'd just say that the kind of games you could make like Minecraft story maps in a realistic world that tell good stories like in IF would be the kind of game in this genre I'd like to play, a game like Firewatch is probably the closest to this vision (could have used a touch more interactivity, but the storytelling and gameplay progression it did have were all top notch), and then I recognize there are other games in this genre that are more like Life is Strange or Edith Finch that aren't really for me but I can appreciate them.

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I sympathize that there's a real development problem at the base of that. You can have a rich story or you can have good puzzles, but it's very difficult to get those two things to mix....

 

...This is one reason why I like Thief & TDM's stealth genre. It's all great gameplay, but because you're supposed to be staying in the shadows and not interfering with the world, you can have great storytelling going on around the player, through readables and conversations.

Cyan got it right IMO with their Myst games and the point and click adventure games are kind of the predecessors of the interactive fictions we have now. Or rather the interactive fictions are an evolution of point and click adventures, where people prefer the story and not so much the puzzle solving.

 

It's difficult sometimes to get the storytelling through readables right in games, as you don't always know if someone will be able to find them. In the Metro games for example a lot of story is told through readables, but they are not all easy to find and even during my second playthrough I can't find them all. Because of that you miss a part of the story, which could make it less interesting.

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IMO we're way past the era where you could rely on readables to convey or carry the story. Environmental storytelling, audio logs, dialogue, action - more or less in that order of impact. Readables are only used for background fluff nowadays, things you can easily miss or ignore and still enjoy the story.

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