Repairing A Broken Mind

Memory is comprised of three aspects: Encoding, storage, and retrieval… Your father’s problem? Retrieval. It’s there, he just can’t reach it.

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That is the introduction of ZED, a puzzle game designed by Chuck Carter of Eagre Games and published by Cyan Ventures. In ZED, you venture inside the mind of an elderly artist who is suffering from dementia, and you try to put the fractured pieces back together by solving puzzles and playing games. The ultimate goal is to create one final, beautiful work of art for a very special person before you pass on. From the trailer and the short demo I was able to play at PAX East, it was clear that ZED is both a powerful and a deeply personal game.

Dealing With Darkness

In fact, my first question for Chuck was why he had picked such a potentially painful theme as dementia for his game. He told me that it was inspired by a man he looked up to as a mentor. This personal hero suffered from dementia in his later years and has now, sadly, passed away. In some ways, ZED is the chance at recovery that Chuck’s mentor never got.

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You start out in what looks to be somebody’s home. You can explore the house, and while there isn’t much to do there, you can get a sense for who your character is supposed to be. He’s an artist, as evidenced by the supplies and hand drawn pictures found in one of the other rooms, and he is very unwell, which is obvious from the medical equipment surrounding his bed.

Once you leave the house the real game begins. You make your way through a confusing, disjointed hallway full of locked doors until you eventually come to a door you can actually open. On the other side of this door is a large, posh-looking hallway with a tile floor and marble walls. Here you are given the game’s first puzzle, a simple test where you have to organize four pictures into the correct order. It’s all metaphorical, of course; you’re playing as a man trying to use simple games and puzzles as mental exercises to recover his memory and cognitive functions.

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I played a demo of ZED at PAX East, just enough to get a feel for what’s in store. I was told that it takes about 6-8 hours to finish a playthrough; while the demo only gave me about 15 minutes, it’s already clear that a lot of love has gone into this game. The art and voice acting are excellent, with all the detail becoming really immersive if you play using VR. Don't worry, if you have a standard PC setup, the game works just fine. Chuck didn’t tell me how the game ends - and I didn’t ask for any spoilers - but he did tell me that he believes it has a satisfying conclusion. The reviews he’s gotten from playtesters have been extremely positive so far, and so hopefully the story will soon be told.

An Important Topic Soon In A New Medium

ZED will be available soon on Steam - it’s slated for spring 2019, so it should drop sometime within the next few months. Normally I would gladly recommend a game with this level of polish and dedication put in to just about anyone. However, I have to advise that you use your own judgment when it comes to buying ZED; it deals with dementia, old age, and death, issues that may be very painful for certain people. I personally look forward to buying and finishing this one, and if you’re okay with the content then I highly suggest you check it out as well.