Local video game studio partners with Myst designer to make new VR game

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From left, Skymap programmers Jon Vazquez, Kevin Schrader, Matt Migneault, Skymap owner Neal Laurenza and Eagre Games owner Chuck Carter. Photo/Ryan Lessard

MANCHESTER, NH – Indie Manchester-based video game studio Skymap Games partnered with Chuck Carter, one of the main art designers for the classic 1993 puzzle game Myst to create a new virtual reality game called Zed.

Carter, 61, of Maine, went on to do artwork for the Command & Conquer real-time strategy games as well as some television work.

Neal Laurenza, 28, owner of Skymap Games, said he met Carter about three years ago and they became friends. Laurenza said he played Myst when he was a kid and today has a framed image from the game hanging in his living room.

“That game had a very big impact on how I view games as art,” Laurenza said.

Carter is the head of his own game design company called Eagre Games. Cyan, the studio behind Myst, will be publishing Zed under the auspices of its new publishing wing Cyan Ventures.

“For Chuck, it really went full circle,” Laurenza said.

Eagre Games originally hired Skymap in summer of 2017 to provide some technical assistance with programming required to set up the basic game mechanics, and then, as is often the case with contract developers, Skymap exited the picture.

But in late summer this year, Skymap was hired back on, and took over a significant amount of the production to help finish the project. Laurenza said Eagre had to pivot after some technical challenges had “over-encumbered” the gameplay and Carter’s vision wasn’t being achieved.

Toward the end, Laurenza said Skymap was doing about 50 percent of the programming work alongside Eagre.

In the past month or so, Carter has even been working at the Game Assembly offices on Elm Street, where Skymap is based, in order to be closer to the Skymap team.

Laurenza said about seven full-time and part-time Skymap programmers were part of the project.

Zed is a game about mental illness, Laurenza said. It was a concept Carter came up with based on real life experiences and losing a friend to dementia.

As the protagonist, the player must explore different levels (each up to about 2,000 square feet of virtual space) and interact with objects, the environment and the story in order to reassemble the shattered memories of the protagonist’s life.

“It’s a pretty emotional game,” Laurenza said.

Unlike Myst, the gameplay isn’t so much about solving puzzles, Laurenza said, as it is about exploration. But the aesthetic is similar.

Right now, the game is very close to being ready for Beta testing. The programmers are mostly working on bug fixing and polishing, Laurenza said.

It will be available for PC, as well as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets. They’re targeting a spring 2019 launch.

In the meantime, the Game Assembly co-working space will be changing locations to another building in downtown Manchester. Laurenza said they made arrangements with WBC Office Suites to create a new space on the third floor of 1087 Elm Street. WBC already occupies the second floor.

Game Assembly had been located in a space behind the Bridge Cafe. Laurenza said he thinks the square footage will be about the same for shared work space, but there will be added amenities and the option to use closed meeting rooms. It also means the group won’t have to collect membership dues to pay rent anymore.

Laurenza expects the group will have moved in by Dec. 1.

Earlier this March, Skymap released its platformer game Bacon Man: An Adventure for PC.