Search Results for: myst

Myst TV series suddenly appears on the horizon

Wow. I didn't see this coming, although in retrospect there were a couple of clues we might have picked up on.

Historically-minded fans will recall an abortive attempt at a Myst miniseries on the Sci-Fi Channel, back in 2002. The project wiped out due to creative differences between the producers and Cyan. (Fannish shorthand for the event is "The studio wanted to show Atrus and Catherine having sex on the beach." I don't know how accurate that is, but the Sci-Fi Channel did not have a great reputation for its mini-series and TV-movie events, even before the advent of the Sharknado/Mansquito era.)

And then there was the Myst movie drama.

So now there's this new thing. What do we know about it? Not a release date, sadly; it's too early in the process for that.

Legendary Pictures has a long slate of fan-favorite movies, including Pacific Rim, The Dark Knight Rises, and Inception. But this deal is apparently with "Legendary Television & Digital Media", a division of which I know less. It seems to mostly be a wrapper around recently-acquired Asylum Entertainment, which is known for... a bunch of things I don't know. (The Kennedys, etc.)

The Variety article also says:

The Millers see the Legendary deal as a way to not only create a compelling TV drama but to develop a true transmedia franchise that includes a companion video game and other platforms, particularly tablets, to expand plot points.

Could be good, could be bad, depending on how much attention it gets from Cyan. Hopefully the deal comes with enough money for Cyan to develop first-class new Myst content while still keeping Obduction on track.

Oh, and when I said "clues"? Robyn Miller had referred a few weeks ago to a possible TV show:

A friend and I wrote a very cool treatment for a #myst TV show. Alas, it's not to be. (tweet Sept 24)

We don't know whether any of that relates to the current announcement. It might have been a version that didn't get carried through, or it might have been completely unrelated. Or somebody just changed their mind.

Miller also recently tweeted about a couple of treasures coming up from storage:

Just found ALL the original hand drawn Riven maps! Thank you storage unit. I'll post them soon. (tweet Oct 5)

Wow! Just unrolled them and they're in perfect condition. Haven't seen these maps in at least a decade! (tweet Oct 5; photo)

Could be research materials being dug up! Or he just likes rooting around in old storage units full of treasure. Like the rest of us.

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Mysterium news roundup

I didn't go to Mysterium this year. I wanted to; it was held in Spokane, so the attendees got to visit Cyan's offices and chat with Rand and Robyn Miller and basically geek out all over the place. It didn't fit in with my summer plans, though. Fortunately the fans took copious notes. Here's the current Myst news:

Obduction development continues. Unreal 4 engine.

Cyan has posted a gigantic folder of Myst Online concept art (dropbox link). This is early material -- I'm guessing 2000 to 2002. A little bit of this wound up in Myst Online, and a bit more has leaked out online, but most of it is new to me.

A group of fans have gotten permission to work on Myst Online content -- updating areas from Myst 5, building areas from the concept art above, and importing original fan Ages. These may wind up in the official Myst Online server, although the final decision is up to Cyan, obviously. They say they're aiming to have something playable by the end of this year. I hope that works out. (More discussion in character.)

The Starry Expanse project (a fan remake of Riven) has made excellent progress building Riven's Jungle Island. Here's a video tour (youtube) of what they've done. You'll see that some textures are missing, and the water effects need work, but what they've got is fantastic.

Unwritten, the Myst-setting RPG, has been somewhat delayed but is making progress. They've shipped their Kickstarter tchotchkes; I have a nice D'ni-style notebook and some wooden tokens. (This is a Fate-based RPG, so there are Fate tokens.) The game manuscript itself has gone through a couple of rewrites, with input from Leonard Balsera. Last I heard they were aiming at shipping this month, but I get the impression it'll be another couple more.

There was a pancake printer. I don't know either.

Further notes from the convention:

Mysterium is back in Boston next year, and I hope to be there.

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RealMyst Masterpiece Edition

The updated RealMyst is now up on Steam (for Mac/Win). It also appeared on the Mac App Store briefly yesterday, but Cyan pulled it back out citing "a small issue". (It's not clear what the issue is, or if the Steam release has the fix already.)

(Screenshots from an iMac, 2.7GHz, lots-o-RAM, AMD Radeon HD 6770M 512 MB. I don't know a damn thing about video cards but maybe that means something to you.)

As you can see, this "Masterpiece Edition" is very shiny. I don't have the original (2000-ish) RealMyst around to take comparison screenshots, but you can internets it.

(To settle one issue for good -- this app still uses the Unity3D engine. Cyan's upcoming game Obduction is planned to be Unreal Engine 4, so there was some speculation that RealMyst would be ported to Unreal, but nope.)

(Apropos of this -- Starry Expanse, the ongoing fan remake of Riven, just announced that it would be switching to Unreal.)

Anyhow. The new RealMyst has nicer textures, a bit more model detail, and some lighting effects such as bloom and dynamic shadows. Most blatantly, it has a lot more sun/moon/clouds environmental shifting. All the Ages (I think) have a day-night shift, which cycles in real time as you play. Sunset on Myst Island was terrific.

Oh, and you have a flashlight. Hit F to switch it on and off. I don't know whether they added the flashlight because the night-phase is so dark, or if they deliberately dropped the ambient lighting to make the flashlight more fun. It works pretty well, anyhow.

(No, I haven't yet checked to see how the flashlight interacts with Stoneship's illuminate-the-dark-tunnel puzzle. I kind of hope your flashlight just flickers and dies in that Age.)

Performance was pretty good for me at the default settings. (The interior of the Mechanical fortress gets a bit draggy, as others on Cyan's forum have noted.)

I'm somewhat less happy with the interface. It's WASD keyboard control, with mouse-look active if you hold down the right button or if you're walking. (It took me a good long time to figure out that you don't have to hold down the right button while you walk.) When you're standing still, the mouse moves the cursor around instead. (As well as the flashlight beam.) Click and drag on things in the usual Myst style.

Maybe I'm over-familiar with the Uru control setup, but this feels really awkward. Something about the mode-switch -- right button versus walking -- is hard to get used to. I flail trying to look around, and then I navigate tight corridors like a long barge rowed by short mammoths. I dunno. I didn't have this problem with the iPad version.

If it's really unbearable, you can switch back to original-Myst-style node-and-hotspot navigation. But is there anybody left in the universe who wants node-and-hotspot navigation, except as a workaround for clumsy 3D UI?

(Mind you, I'm a terrible judge of what's popular. From the mainstream point of view, I'm a hardcore gamer. Scary, right? So maybe I should shut up about what everybody wants.)

Anyhow. This post is just an excuse to post the shiny screenshots, and I've done that, so you're on your own now. Eighteen US bucks.

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The first Seltani Age jam!

Seltani has more or less graduated to beta status. (Fanfare, applause...) Note that I've dropped the "dev"; you can now reach the server at its permanent home, http://seltani.net/.

To celebrate this, I am declaring an Age Jam! Stop by, build an Age, show it off. It doesn't have to be a prize-winner. In fact there will be no prizes. This is an opportunity to try the tools and get some feedback.

I'm not going to get formal about the rules, but I do want to have some fun with it. Therefore, a schedule!

  • Sunday, Nov 10, 1 pm Eastern time: Opening ceremony in the Seltani district plaza. I announce the theme: "Remaining Light".

(The plaza is in the Seltani district. Sign in, link into the Cavern, follow the path along the shoreline and then head right at the fork. Can't miss it.)

(The theme is just for inspiration. Interpret it however you want.)

  • Nov 10-23: Work on your Age! (Or Ages; multiple entries is cool.) When it's ready, add it to the bookshelf in the Seltani plaza. Or if you want to go for the dramatic reveal, wait and add it on...

  • Sunday, Nov 24, 1 pm Eastern time: Wrap-up. Meet back in the plaza, start visiting Ages. We can have group tours over the course of the afternoon, and then hang out and discuss what we've seen.

(I know that the meeting time is not ideal for everybody in every time zone. I have schedule restrictions too, so I just picked a time. If you can't be at either ceremony or both, I apologize -- follow along on the blog or the forums.)

I will be around these on-line areas (including Seltani itself) to answer questions during the two-week period. Hope to see you there.


Update: the entries! We have three. More may be offered; at least one Writer said he was working on something but not finished.

  • Vashmursë (by Pavitra) -- a nifty timed-exploration idea.
  • Télos (by Sandor) -- exploration.
  • Xical (by me) -- a small puzzle.

These links will add a page directly to your linking booklet, if you are signed into Seltani. If not, you'll have to sign in first.

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RealMyst update news

Twenty years ago yesterday, Myst showed up on store shelves for the first time. Not a bad start to an era.

Myst-related news has been thin recently, but Cyan took the anniversary opportunity to announce that they're working on a new update of the classic game: RealMyst Masterpiece Edition. Their news post includes three preview screenshots.

Myst has been ported and reimplemented a bunch of times. If you've lost track, here's a very incomplete history:

  • 1993: Original game ("slideshow-style"), on CD-ROM
  • 2000: Myst Masterpiece Edition (same style, but higher-res renderings)
  • 2000: RealMyst (3D environment, free movement, added "epilogue" Rime Age)
  • 2009: Myst for iOS
  • 2012: RealMyst for iOS (using the Unity engine)

This new version presumably also uses Unity, building on the work they did last year. However, it will target desktop machines (Mac/Win) and look much nicer. As is Cyan's recent habit, they will offer an option of free movement or fixed-node navigation. (See additional notes in a Facebook post.)

I confess that I can only get so excited about yet another Myst re-release. Better news: Cyan has continued to drop hints about an upcoming Kickstarter project -- unrelated to the Myst series, and possibly appearing in the next few weeks. (No primary source here, but see this forum thread.)

Finally, I'll note that the Starry Expanse people gave a nice demo at Mysterium in August. This is the fan "RealRiven" project that's been in progress for several years now. They released a tech demo last year, showing one of Riven's islands. They now say they have all of the islands in progress, although at early stages yet. A long video of their talk is up on youtube; jump to 08:30 to see some juice.

And finally... did I already do "finally"? This'll be "one more Myst-related thing", then. My Seltani project continues to move along. I've added three small Ages in the past month: Caelios, Fleuven, and the Endless Cave.

All three rely on the same sort of procedural text-generation that I've been using in IF for years. (In fact, the Endless Cave is a direct port of the "maze" area from Hunter in Darkness.) If you're curious how these tricks are accomplished, look at the Ways of Printing documentation page on the Seltani wiki, and then the Endless Cave source code.

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Seltani: an introduction

Last month I mentioned Seltani, my multiplayer hypertext Myst fan project.

Here's a detailed introduction to Seltani, with lots of screenshots.

(This is a version of a talk I gave a few weeks ago at Mysterium, the Myst fan convention. The original talk is available on youtube.)

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Riven news post

The Mystery Hunt is over, after a record-breaking 73 hours. I was pretty much out of solving juice by Saturday afternoon. Sunday night, I tried to help out with an invisible-ink puzzle, and wound up setting the puzzle on fire.

Okay, not on fire as such. It was lightly browned, but the invisible ink wasn't any browner. So much for that. Anyhow, that was my Hunt weekend. Congratulations to the winners, Team [text not available due to copyright restrictions]! Let's talk about something else. Myst news!

First: release of a new Riven for iPad app. You could already play the iPhone Riven port, but this has higher-quality graphics. (Also, as you might guess, a larger download size and another couple of dollars on the price tag.) I took screenshots, in case you feel like comparing:

(Original Riven for iOS on the left, displayed 2x to fill the iPad screen. New Riven for iPad on the right.)

If you want a more modern Riven experience, check out the new tech demo of Starry Expanse. (Mac/Win builds available.) Starry Expanse is a fan-built reimplementation of Riven using Unity. It's still very much in process -- this demo covers just a small segment of one island -- but it gives you the sense of what a true 3D RealRiven could be like. It's got a day-night cycle (highly accelerated for effect), cloud and water effects, and a circling bird. You can ride the elevator up, and even open the spinning dome (vs lbh trg gur gvzvat evtug; pyvpx gur ivrjre ohggba jura gur tbyq flzoby fcvaf cnfg).

Finally, Cyan has posted their Making of Riven video (Facebook video link, GameTrailers video link). This was included on the fancy-extra DVD release of Riven -- I don't think I ever saw it. (Still haven't, actually, as I write this.)

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Myst movie drama

The Myst movie project has been silent for several months. We just got an update, which describes a bunch of turmoil and sadness within the project team:

In our initial informal meetings with every major studio in town and their top brass, it became clear that the BoT [Book of Ti'ana] was going to be VERY hard if not impossible to sell as a starting point for the movie franchise. There is a litany of reasons for this, which have been discussed in detail in previous msytmovie.com posts so I won't bore you with them.

As the necessity for a new creative direction became clear, it was harder for some to accept then others. Of course Adrian and Patrick spent years developing and working towards a very specific vision for the BoT, including writing a full length spec script based on the book. As the changes were discussed among our LA partners, Cyan, and MFG, it became clear that Adrian and Patrick's plan to move forward was not aligning with everyone else. I don't think this is the time or place to get into the details, but Cyan ultimately came to the decision that the best thing for the property was to have Adrian step down as MFG's lead producer, and have me step into those shoes. (If you remember Patrick stepped down as producer for personal reasons a couple years ago.) This was of course, very difficult for everyone involved, but most of all for Adrian. I want to make it clear here that Cyan made a very difficult but well-informed decision, based on what was best for the property. Everyone involved sans Adrian and Patrick were in full agreement with their decision.

(-- Isaac Testerman, July 20, forum post) (cached on my web site)

To be clear, this isn't a case of Cyan hiring their own people and throwing out the original producers the next day. Adrian Vanderbosch and Patrick McIntire started this ball rolling; they pitched it to Cyan; Cyan gave them the movie rights. Over the course of the next few years, they worked with various people, including Isaac Testerman. I don't know the exact organization, but from the outside, it was a team. (Collaborating closely with Rand Miller and the Cyan people.)

It appears that the team ran into a classic case of Irreconcilable Creative Differences. The simplistic explanation seems to be "Do we adapt the Book of Ti'ana into a movie, or do something else?" but I'm sure there was a lot more detail than that. At any rate, it was ultimately Cyan's decision, and Cyan made it:

After a couple months both parties were not able to reach agreeable terms and as Cyan's option (the legal document that allows you to control the rights) with MFG was expiring, they chose not to renew it with them. Delve Films then entered into negotiations with Cyan and purchased the option, obtaining the audio/visual rights to the Myst property going forward.

(-- same post)

("MFG", Mysteria Film Group, is the group that Patrick and Adrian started. Delve Films is Isaac's baby. So this translates to "Patrick and Adrian got cut out", if you want to put it crudely; but more in the sense of "that company has become paralyzed, so we'll drop it and start over with as many of the same people as we can.")

The old project web site at mystmovie.com remains un-updated and may be moribund at this point. Followers and fans are blogging at mystmoviefans.wordpress.com.

So, at this point, we have some sort of Myst movie project, but not the one we thought we had. I have no more details than anybody else, so I won't try to predict what will happen next. The post alludes teasingly to "[bringing] in millions of new fans through multiple audio/visual and interactive platforms". Could be anything, then.


Update, July 24th:

Adrian Vanderbosch has updated the mystmovie.com blog with his side of the story.

It is, I think it is fair to say, an angry denial and denunciation of Isaac Testerman's story:

To put it bluntly, my departure from the "Myst" movie project was due to nothing short of a coup, orchestrated and executed by Isaac, with the support of the company heads of Cyan Worlds.

(-- Adrian Vanderbosch, July 23, blog post) (cached on my web site)

I will not try to summarize the post, nor would there be any point in me taking sides. It was already clear that the breakup of this effort was acrimonious. Isaac's post was short, politic, and general; Adrian's is long, emotional, and specific -- so there's no point-by-point disagreement. It's all a question of who did what in good or bad faith.

I will note the timeline, though: the "coup" (Adrian's term) or "[decision] to have Adrian step down" (Isaac's) occurred more than a year ago, in April 2011. Everything since then has been (failed) legal negotiation and people waiting for the clock to run out on MFG's film option.

My original comments stand: this is a bunch of turmoil and sadness. And whatever film project is in progress, it doesn't bear any resemblance to one we started hearing about several years ago. ("...we've had to go back to the drawing board", in Isaac's words.) We just don't have any meaningful details.


Update, July 25th: As was fairly predictable, the posts and threads I have linked to have been pulled down. I believe it is better to have a historic record, so I have cached these documents on my web site.

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RealMyst for iPad

As promised, Cyan's port of RealMyst for iPad has just hit the iOS App Store.

It requires an iPad 2 or the new (third-gen) iPad. Cyan's original promos also promised support for the newest iPhone, but apparently they couldn't make that work, because it ain't there. The planned price is ten bucks, but they're doing a launch sale at seven. So snag it now, if you're into buying Myst a lot. (We recall that the original flat-image Myst appeared for iPhone/iPad in 2009.)

It's very pretty -- of course; albeit with the slightly simplified RealMyst world. (The original Myst allowed arbitrarily detailed images, but a 3D engine has to count polygons.) This is probably at the limit of what the newest iPad can handle. Load times between Ages are pretty awful, and even moving between rooms induces a second or two of delay to load new textures. However, that aside, walking and looking around are quite smooth. The skies and ripple-animated water look fantastic. The only missing graphical element (so I am told) is the day-night lighting cycle in some of the Ages.

(And, may I say, the new iPad has a fantastic display. Go ahead, click through to the full-sized screenshot. 2048x1536, baby, and you can just spin around like an acrobat.)

The interface is good; I wouldn't say it's perfect. The basic model is "touch to walk, drag to turn, tap to interact." The gestures are blurry, however. If you try to walk (touch-and-hold) but your finger slips a little, it gets recognized as a drag, and you just turn very slightly while standing still. This is extra-confusing because you're used to being able to turn and walk at the same time. (That option is labelled "advanced" but it's the default.) So you feel like you should be in that mode, but your feet are stuck, because of a tiny difference at the beginning of the gesture.

(Reasonable fix? Maybe if you're dragging-to-turn, and you leave your finger in the center of the screen for a few moments, it should switch to walk-and-turn mode. Or just make the initial drag detection less sensitive.)

The game also supports running (double-tap and hold) and walking backwards (two-finger hold). Wisely, it introduces these one at a time, rather than throwing you a big control list at startup. That's all good. I also noticed some nice guidance for walking down twisty hallways; the engine tries to keep you from getting stuck in corners.

Things get blurry again when it comes to interactive elements. Myst has always been ad-hoc about interaction -- you tap buttons and doors, but drag switches. This extends up to being a puzzle element, with discoverable variations like tap-and-hold or tap-and-wait being clued by the environment's behavior.

The distinction between tap and drag was always cued by the mouse-cursor, however. That worked in the desktop world. It didn't work so well in iOS, as I said of the original Myst iOS port, and it's even worse now. In a 3D animated world, you really want to drag doors open and closed, drag wheels around. (Amnesia: Dark Descent got this very right.) RealMyst mostly doesn't allow that, and the few draggable levers just set up a false expectation.

Really, this port should have gone farther. Myst has several combination locks that offer a row of digits, and a button below each digit to cycle it. This is a familiar model (and popular in room escape land) -- but it's a legacy of mouse-game design. In a touch world, you should drop the buttons entirely, and just let the player drag the digit-wheels up and down. As I said in a post a while back, you cue interactivity by having the wheel jiggle when tapped.

If it were up to me, I'd revamp the whole interface to distinguish moving (two-finger tap) from looking and doing (single-finger tap or drag). That still leaves a possible confusion between drag-to-turn and drag-to-move-things, but I think that would be supportable. (As long as single-tap always jiggles an interactable object.)

But I'd better drag this post out of the sucking mire of interface design natteration. Should you buy RealMyst? Again?

You've probably already decided. It's not like we haven't all faced the question before. I think of these occasional app purchases as an irregular donation to Cyan, which is fine -- I've gotten my few dollars of value just wandering the island this afternoon and reminiscing.

But I will add this note, from an online chat with Rand Miller. The topic is Kickstarter:

[...] We've gotten so much feedback from fans and friends encouraging us to do it... We've really go only two issues... First - what product to propose (it's between two - one Myst related and one completely new)... Second - we need to get enough money from realMyst to fund a good Kickstarter proposal... with some great artwork and a convincing video.

(-- Rand Miller, chat in Uru Live, May 19th)

You may ask, what, they need to raise money in order to raise money? Depends what they're going for. Jmac and I did my Kickstarter video on a shoestring -- but there was equipment involved, which Jmac conveniently had. And at the other extreme, you figure that Neal Stephenson probably spent a fair pile making that Clang video. Cyan will be aiming at the high end, if they're sensible -- so yeah, it takes money to raise money.

And no, I don't really care what kind of game they're fundraising for, as long as it's a new work. The Myst universe is comfortable. They can go back to it if they want. That risks seeming anticlimactic if they try for yet another dramatic climax for Atrus's family -- Uru and Myst 5 pretty well drained that reservoir. But there are plenty of historical corners left to explore. Contrariwise, if they try a brand-new setting, that would be cool too.

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A couple of Myst links

Heather Larkin has started adapting The Book of Atrus as a web comic. (This is the first of the three Myst novels, written by David Wingrove from Robin and Rand Miller's storylines.)

The comic starts with Atrus as a child, living in the desert with his grandmother. It's kind of adorable. I wasn't a huge fan of The Book of Atrus as a novel, but this presentation is simpler, more direct, and touching. (Only three chapters are posted, covering roughly the first two chapters of the book; we'll see if it stays on track.)

(Also: Russian translation!)


Cyan has already released Myst and Riven as iOS apps, but now they're working on porting RealMyst to iPad. (Currently labelled as iPad 2 and 3 only.)

Yes, it's yet another release of the same damn game, but it will include the Rime Age. Rime was added for the original RealMyst release and is not available in the current iOS Myst (nor other ports of the 2D Myst engine).

Also, the technology is more up-to-date. As I understand it, this uses the Unity engine. The 3D navigation looks pretty smooth -- it avoids the trauma of the virtual d-pad, at least. (Don't ask.) Unity is well-supported these days, so it would be an easy port to other platforms, or as a starting point for a new original game.

Well, we can hope.

A couple of preview videos: Myst Island and Channelwood. The release date is given as "Spring 2012", which at this point means "when it's done", I suppose.

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Myst for the classroom?

With little fanfare, this press release appeared yesterday:

idoodlesoftware inc., an education software company offering innovative solutions to bridge the gap between traditional and digital learning, announced that it has signed an exclusive, global licensing agreement with Cyan Worlds, Inc. to bring the award winning MYST franchise, and other titles, to the classroom.

[...]

"Since the founding of Cyan Worlds over 24 years ago, we have always believed that the use of digital games in the classroom was a way to connect to students who are digital natives", said Rand Miller, Chief Executive Officer of Cyan Worlds Inc. "We are excited to see our portfolio being utilized in an innovative and rewarding way and believe that the products that are under development by idoodlesoftware will revolutionize the way students learn."

idoodlesoftware is currently developing several new products based on the Cyan portfolio, which will be released in the near future.

(-- idoodlesoftware press release, July 12, 2011)

There's no detail on the company's web site -- just a splash image saying "My MYST for the classroom".

Hard to say what this will look like, but it's probably good news for Cyan.

(Thanks to Eleri for the pointer.)

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Myst Online source release

More than two years ago, Cyan announced that they would be releasing the server and client source code for Myst Online: Uru Live.

It hasn't happened quickly. Any release takes time and effort, I know very well, and Cyan has been focussing on the projects it needed to survive.

But today the announcement came through:

Today we are announcing that the sources for the MOULA client engine and development tools (CyanWorlds.com Engine) will be made available as open source. At the same time, MOSS which is a MOULA server replacement (written by a'moaca' and cjkelly) will also be released. Both open source projects will be hosted on OpenUru.org.

The goal of the open source CyanWorlds.com Engine and the MOSS server is to provide a "playground" where new writers can learn their craft, and new maintainers can inspect it, and new cartographers can map it. The Cyan Worlds MOULA servers will continue to provide a (relatively) safe environment for the D'ni faithful to mingle and share.

(-- from a letter from Rand Miller, posted April 6 on the Myst web forums)

As you see, this is a joint effort: Cyan's client code, Cyan's modelling tools (3DSMax plugins), and a compatible server implemented (from scratch) by members of the fan community. All are available now, although you currently have to register for the download. I expect mirror repositories will pop up by tomorrow. (The server is GPL3; I haven't seen a citation on Cyan's license yet.)

If you can't tell by my hasty typing, I'm utterly jazzed about this. I wish I could spend a month or six learning the modelling I'd need to start firing up my own pieces of the Myst multiverse. But I have my own projects spread out before me, as you know.

Nonetheless, I am about to jump into the game -- which I now have to specify as Cyan's game, which will remain as the core of the Ages of Myst. I'll be in the pub, toasting with the gang.

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A few iotas of Myst news

I haven't posted one of these since the Gameshelf got its stylish new (that is, Greek antiquarian) logo. But the fanboy I remain, so here's what Cyan has been whispering:

The Manhole for iPhone/iPad/etc is out. (App Store link) It's a whimsical children's story-or-environment -- worth exploring if you only know the Myst series.

Riven for iPhone/iPad/etc is marked as "coming soon". Riven is my favorite of the series, but I haven't played it since its original release -- it's notably hard to get running on modern machines. (Even harder than Myst, which has been updated and re-implemented all over the place.) I am seriously looking forward to this one.

Cyan also pushed a stack of games up on Steam. But if you use Steam, you probably saw that.

And finally, this teaser page was linked from Cyan's home page today (although I don't see it there now). The banner tag was "Never Let Your Timbers Be Shivered." What is it? Looks like some kind of resource-based explore-and-fight. With pirates. That's all we know -- except that a Cyan folk also dropped into a forum thread and linked to this MP3 file.

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Audience participation in single-player adventures

For the past few years, Mateusz Skutnik has been publishing a series of mini-graphical adventures (in Flash) called "Submachine". (JayIsGames has a good list of links and reviews.)

Submachine Network

The games are spare on storyline, but each game has a little bit. Even if the pieces don't fit together tidily... yet. As you might expect, there's been lots of ongoing forum discussion about the series.

Now the author has put up a new Submachine site: Submachine Network Exploration Experience. This is explicitly not a game; it's a set of interlinked mini-worlds, slices of the other games. The only "puzzles" are exploring and discovering new coordinates to explore. (Earlier games introduced a coordinate-based teleporter system.) But -- this is the cool part -- each mini-world contains some printed notes: forum transcripts, giving different people's theories of what's going on and what various parts of the game mean.

This is a lovely way to include the player community in what is, mechanically, a series of solo adventures. It incorporates player contributions; it acknowledges that player response is part of the story, without throwing "canon" (whatever that means) out the window (whatever that means). The Exploration site is clearly expandable -- the creator can add new mini-worlds whenever he wants. Or add new transcript notes. It's not part of the series (there will be more Submachine games) but it's part of the world.

You know my kinks, Watson, so you know this immediately reminded me of Myst Online. Cyan's project was a hugely ambitious MMO, of course, whereas Submachine is one designer's tightly-scoped project. But with SNEE (do I call it "SNEE"?) Mateusz Skutnik is tackling the same issues: ongoing story and the fan community. And, I must admit, he's now a step farther than Cyan ever managed.

(I don't recommend you start with the SNEE site -- it won't mean much if you haven't played the earlier games. Start with Submachine 1: the basement. The whole series is accessible from the Submachine World web site.)

EDIT-ADD: You should immediately read author Sarah Monette's essay on worldbuilding with 10 gnomes, which is about Mateusz Skutnik's hidden-gnome games, their artwork, and how it embraces different facets of the industrial landscape of Elfland. I mean Poland.

EDIT: Spelling the author's name right!

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Myst Online: Uru Live Again

I know, I'm supposed to be all on top of Myst news. But I've slacked on this post, which is the post where I tell you that Myst Online is back online, totally free (but Cyan is accepting Paypal donations).

Everything takes longer than expected these days. Cyan Worlds' plans are to move MO:UL to open source, and we finally have some good news. We've taken a first step and started a MO:UL server, so the Ages of Uru are available again. We've opened all the Ages, and added most of the goodies in MO:UL. We're referring to it as MO:ULagain - feel free to explore and enjoy.

-- from Cyan's Play Myst Online page


Why the blogslackery? Three reasons:

  • The game went up Monday (Feb 8th), but I didn't find out until Tuesday (thanks brasslantern). This is embarrassing to my reputation as a Myst fanboy.

  • It's the 21st-and-a-tenth century, and you don't need this blog to find stuff out. It was all over the gaming news sites. I twittered it.

  • More to the point: the new MOUL system is way the hell overloaded, and the game experience is lousy. The forums are filled with workarounds for the hassles of downloading the client, registering, logging in... (These are all distinct bottlenecks.) Oh, and playing on a Mac takes some hacking too. So I can't wholeheartedly recommend that you jump in and try it.

I got in briefly on Wednesday night, and ran into frequent short freeze-ups -- my client would freeze for a few seconds at a time, randomly, over and over. (Even during loading screens and avatar creation.) Many people were complaining about this Wednesday; I don't know if it's improved. I have exactly the same OS and video hardware as I did three years ago (upgrade an old XP machine? Unpossible!) so it's just some combination of bad server engineering and bad client engineering. Cyan promises they're upgrading the servers -- for the second time since Monday -- so things may improve next week.

EDIT-ADD: The freeze-ups seem to be fixed now. --Z

So today's question is not "Why aren't you playing Myst?" It is, rather, "Why is Myst being crushed?"

There was no announcement in advance, but Cyan's in-character actors did stir the pot last week. That got all the fans quivering (yes, including myself) but it wasn't much.

After all, this game has been out of service for almost two years. It has nothing new to offer: the last completely new Age in Myst Online opened in August of 2007, and the last glimmer of new content was at the end of that year. If you'd asked me, I would have said a couple hundred die-hard fans would swarm in and hang out for old time's sake. Cyan apparently guessed the same.

On Wednesday, Richard Watson of Cyan posted, "We have roughly 3,000 people all trying to get the data."

That's a "holy crap" moment. Three thousand people checking out a game that's been cancelled twice.

My estimate (based on the way neighborhood groups are assigned) was that 600 avatars had logged into the game by Wednesday night. I hear it's around 2000 by now. That's with all the download and server problems.


So now what?

As I quoted above, Cyan wants to open-source Myst Online. They announced that in December of 2008. It hasn't happened yet; it's still a proprietary system.

The players, as always, are way ahead of the company. People have working on home-built Myst ages since the first iteration of Myst Online was cancelled. It's a set of hacks built on Cyan's source code, and Cyan is -- at best -- looking the other way. There are some established channels for asking Cyan's blessing to work on Myst content, but I'm not sure how reliably they're followed -- on either side.

In a chat on Tuesday, Rand Miller said: "Our goal is to get some ages from new writers in here." But if they've done any serious planning towards that goal, we haven't heard about it. Back in 2008, Cyan posted a rough roadmap for player Ages. I wrote extensively on ways that it could work. It's all been handwaving so far.

I don't want to seem negative. We have much uncertainty, but uncertainty isn't bad at this stage. True, "this stage" has lasted for a painfully long time -- I mean, we've been hearing "open source" for almost two years now, and we haven't gotten any -- but it's good to see that Cyan has the resources to run a server. They're not dead. Their MagiQuest Online contract is presumably paying off, and they're making progress on projects like iPhone Riven.

So, I guess we work, play, hope, and wait. Familiar territory. But it's better than just hoping and waiting.

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Myst news: progress on Myst movie, iPhone Riven

I haven't posted much about the Myst movie project since I first blogged about it. Patrick McIntire and Adrian Vanderbosch have been posting occasionally on their blog, but while they've been colorful about the life of indie filmmakers, they haven't had much in the way of solid news.

They still don't have solid news. But they do have encouraging news:

Our trip to LA was to meet with potential producing partners.  What this means is that we were looking for producers to join forces with to further develop the script and project in preparation for pitching to the studios. [...]

We have joined forces with two production companies.  Announcement of those names will come at a later date after some business elements have been taken care of.  For now I will tell you this: One of our partners has a first-look deal at Warner Brothers.  [...]  Don't assume this is a guarantee of WB being the studio.  I will also tell you that the other producer we partnered with is an Oscar winner and has extensive experience with world-creation and bringing epic films like ours to the theaters.  We are very excited about our partners and we're enjoying the collaboration.

-- Adrian Vanderbosch, posting on Christmas

So, no deal yet. But they have friends in high places, or rather in glitzy places, who will be working with them to help make a deal possible. (Adrian estimates that they're "two and half or three years" away from having a finished film, and that's if they don't bog down anywhere.)

I find this awesome, and I look forward to more.


In other news, Chogon (Mark DeForest, CTO of Cyan) posted this on the Myst forums a few days ago:

I am working on Riven for the iPhone/iTouch (along with RAWA and Rand) as I type. And yes. There are some challenges still ahead that I am confident we can solve. And we are determine to make this the best Riven evvvv-er.

(That's with Richard Watson and Rand Miller, two of the other Cyan honchos.)

Myst has been ported to quite a few platforms (DS, iPhone, Saturn, Jaguar... seriously, I didn't even know about most of these). Riven, due to its size -- five CD-ROMs originally -- has been much less widely ported. And in fact, while I've replayed versions of Myst several times over the years, I've never gone back to Riven. My old Mac version certainly won't run on OSX, and I've never gone through the contortions needed to set up a Windows version.

So I'm super-excited about an iPhone Riven. There are challenges, as Chogon says; see his full post for his comments about making the video-playing toolkit do what they need it to do. But it's in progress.

(Yes, someone asked about Droid/Android. Unfortunately the current Android devices still have limited space for app storage, so no luck there for the moment.)

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Myst: the movie: the fan audition movie

I posted last year about a couple of indie filmmakers who are tackling the idea of a Myst movie. Sadly, Patrick McIntire and Adrian Vanderbosch still haven't made a film -- last we heard, they had a script of roughly three zillion pages and were trying to slash it down to feature-length.

I still think that's pretty awesome, but even more awesome -- at a slightly different angle -- is this: their project has inspired a different couple of guys to become amateur filmmakers, from a standing start. Isaac Testerman and Nate Salciccioli have produced what they call an "Audition Project", offering to help out with the Mysteriacs film.

Watch the Audition Project on their web site, or on the Mysteriacs blog.

Regardless of where it goes, it is great: a ten-minute clip, covering several scenes of the basic Book of Ti'ana story. Shot on the classic shoestring budget, on locations (seriously: real caves), and it looks terrific. Plus director commentary at the end! The story stands on its own; my only note is that the character Aitrus you're watching is the grandfather of the Atrus in the Myst games.

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Myst hits iPhone App Store

iPhone Myst was released this weekend. Six dollars. Search "myst" in the App Store to buy.

It's kind of enormous -- over 700 megabytes. (The install process needs another 700 megs of temporary space, so if your phone is super-full, you'll need to clear out 1.5 gig of free space.) Downloading it from Apple took about half an hour on my cable-modem net connection; transferring it to the phone took another fifteen minutes. (That was with the dock connector. I didn't have the nerve to try installing it over wifi.)

I've only played with it briefly. The port seems solid; tap to touch or move, edge-tap or swipe to turn. The only problem I've seen is that background music and repeating animations sometimes fail to continue through taps or scene changes.

I'm not sure that all the puzzles will play exactly the same. The original Myst introduced several subtle variations of the "click to do it" interface, as you played through the game. The cruder touch-screen system may not lead players to think outside the box in that way. Indeed, the info screen says outright:

Some objects (certain large valves or levers or switches) only respond to dragging - moving the object with your finger. Try touching an object first - if it doesn't seem to respond, maybe you can pull it or rotate it by dragging.

I am still waiting for an adventure game which is truly native to the iPhone interface... somebody surprise me?

So what next for Cyan? They haven't mentioned any product being in active development except for this one. My butt-estimate is that the iPhone app will pull in enough money to justify itself, but not enough to let Cyan expand beyond its current (very small) staff level. Even the best iPhone app success stories have been on the level of "Yay I am a successful indie developer", not "Yay now I can hire ten people and start a development studio."

The last word on open-sourcing Uru was mid-April:

The plans for opening the sources for UruLive is still intact. Unfortunately the schedule for it has been effected. Besides myself being busy with Myst, the ex-Cyan programmers that were going to help also had greater demands from their 'real' jobs.

So, I am trying to get the initial team together again and find out what has yet to be done and how much time and effort it will take to achieve that. I'll let you know as soon as I do. -- Mark DeForest, April 16

So, once again, who knows.

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Myst Online to be open source

Cyan said a few days ago that they had a big change in the works. I wasn't expecting this:

So, Cyan has decided to give make MystOnline available to the fans by releasing the source code for the servers, client and tools for MystOnline as an open source project. We will also host a data server with the data for MystOnline. MORE is still possible but only with the help from fans.

This is a bit scary for Cyan because this is an area that we have never gone before, to let a product freely roam in the wild. But we've poured so much into UruLive, and it has touched so many, that we could not just let it whither and die. We still have hopes that someday we will be able to provide new content for UruLive and/or work on the next UruLive.

(posted Dec 12 on mystonline.com; reprint on Spokesman Review blog.)

Damn. Mondo cool. I wish I had the free energy to pitch into this full-time.

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More bad news for Cyan

Recalling Cyan's status in late summer: their game development division was down to a skeleton crew, whose only funded project was iPhone Myst. They were working getting Uru back up as a low-budget, low-profile sandbox for fans to play in. Most of the company's revenue came from CyanTest, their game-testing service.

Unfortunately, in October, Cyan announced that "a major revenue stream to Cyan was disrupted". We now have a little more information: CyanTest's biggest customer was Gamecock Media -- which was recently bought out by SouthPeak Interactive. Cyan's testing deal with Gamecock apparently didn't survive the acquisition.

As a result, we now hear that fifty employees of CyanTest were laid off today. (News article from the Spokesman-Review.)

Presumably Cyan has spent the past month looking for new customers, and failing. The layoffs leave seven people in CyanTest. So, a skeleton crew on both sides. They have a few small game-testing customers, and iPhone Myst is on track, but Cyan is now nearly nonexistent.

Cyan has pitched the idea of a new video game to several publishers but hasn’t been given any funding yet. If the new project is funded, the game development side of the company will ramp up, [CEO] Fryman said. (ibid.)

As long as I've got this thing lit up, have some comments from Rand Miller on Myst Online, given at a panel discussion at the Austin GDC in September.

Elaborating on why the game couldn't manage to initially keep itself alive, Miller said, "I'm always going to fall back on 'we were ahead of our time,' because it's easy."

"The biggest thing we did was an all or nothing proposal from an entertainment point of view," he continued. "It's not like you can start up a new TV network and give one show a month and expect it to be successful... We couldn't quite pull that off with the money we had." (from the writeup on gamesindustry.biz)


EDIT-ADD: The layoffs may have been as early as October 7th, the day Cyan posted about revenue trouble. The news article only says "recently" (and not "today", as I originally misread). Rumors about layoffs popped up that day (see this forum thread), although I had no confirmation until now. Some time between then and now, anyhow.

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