Zachtronics are so known for puzzle games about building or programming machines, games like Opus Magnum and Shenzhen I/O, that they lend their name to the whole genre: Zachlikes. (And when I say lend I mean I yoinked their name to coin a genre and they kinda rolled with it.) Their next game isn’t a Zachlike at all, though it perhaps does dovetail nicely to illustrate consequences of all those gizmos they’ve had us build and program. Today they announced Eliza, a visual novel about an AI counsellor app and its impact upon people, for good and bad. Huh! Watch the first trailer below.
Eliza is the eponymous AI counselling bot who generates the words for our character, Evelyn Ishino-Aubrey, to say. We’re little more than a friendly face and voice for Eliza’s data-driven therapy. And… maybe that’s good, making therapy more accessible. And maybe that’s bad, giving machines even larger roles in our lives and corporations even more intimate data. Or both. Or… look, the game will grapple with all that, as well as Eliza’s past as she returns to Seattle after years away.
So no, we’re not optimising empathy algorithms or creating new expression subroutines, but it still sounds grounded in the Zachtronics oeuvre. Their other games have similar stories bubbling in the background, touching on social and ethical issues around everything we’ve been making. A lot of that’s down to Matthew Seiji Burns, who’s been writing and composing music for Zachtronics games for a few years now.
Burns explains he’d been kicking the idea for Eliza around independently, then mentioned it to Zactrhonics founder Zach Barth.
“Zach was interested in the idea and decided it was time to try something new,” Burns said. “He offered to produce the game as a Zachtronics title, combining my original concept, writing, and music with art from the studio’s art team and the resources to record performances from some of the industry’s best voice talents.”
Colour me curious.
Eliza is coming to Windows, Mac, and Linux on August 12th. It’ll cost $15 on Steam.