You may remember I was pretty sour about Cyan's lack of Riven news this summer. The shoe has dropped:
Riven.Officially in development at Cyan.
(I said I was quitting Twitter, not that I would stop clicking links on it! But you can also see the teaser video on youtube.)
Cyan actually started teasing this a few days ago -- some images of rusty metal went by on Twitter. Fans said "Ooh, Riven logo?" and they were right. Awesome!
Cyan's FAQ has a little more info. Mostly they say that this is in progress, not "close to done". They don't know release dates, target platforms, or anything else. It's clear that with Firmament development wrapping up for a Q1 launch, the company is shifting to Riven as their next big project. Or one of their next big projects, anyway.
Remember that while Myst has gotten remake after port after remake over the years, Riven is almost entirely untouched. Cyan ported Riven to Windows Mobile and iOS several years back, but that's it. And those were direct ports: the original 2D graphics in the original slideshow format. This will be the first release of Riven with updated graphics and real-time 3D rendering.
If Myst 2020 is any guide, we can expect both regular-screen and VR support, and probably some minor puzzle redesign to improve VR accessibility. Maybe a puzzle randomization mode? Who knows.
Now, if you have been following my blog or any other Cyan fan news, you know there's more to this.
Starry Expanse was a fan-run project to remake Riven in full 3D, updated graphics, the whole bit. Cyan announced in 2019 that they were taking Starry Expanse on board in some yet-to-be-determined fashion. And then... silence. Two and a half years of silence. Until the 2022 Mysterium, when Cyan raised the question and then still refused to address it. In a snide, "shut up and stop asking" way. I was displeased.
They have now addressed this in their FAQ:
Q: Is this the Starry Expanse Project?A: No, this is a from-the-ground-up remake of Riven from Cyan. However, the Starry Expanse team did assist in kicking off this project. See our blog post here for more details on that.
The second blog post is titled An Open Letter To The Fans of Riven. The important bit:
We spoke confidentially with the Starry Expanse team a couple of years ago about the exciting news that Cyan finally had the resources to tackle remaking Riven. Together, we reached an agreement which allowed us to reference core pieces of their efforts to jump-start our development. They subsequently ceased development on The Starry Expanse Project, as our official efforts to remake Riven began.[...] The Starry Expanse Project team members are very much alive and exist independently from Cyan. Over the past couple of years, we have worked with and continued to stay in contact with various members of the Starry Expanse team, and have even hired one of their members to join our Riven team at Cyan.So for the first time publicly, we are happy to report that our effort to remake Riven officially here at Cyan is alive and well, and it was helped by the Starry Expanse team’s years of effort, enabling us to begin the huge task of rebuilding Riven from scratch. With a very focused development team here at Cyan, Riven is well on its way to being reborn!-- from Cyan Open Letter, Oct 31 2022
At the same time, the Starry Expanse site got its first update since early 2020:
We are beyond excited to share in Cyan’s announcement that the Riven remake is finally official, and that our team’s efforts have been instrumental in providing a foundation upon which the new Riven can be built. Although our part of the journey has come to an end, the next chapter will be an exciting one to follow for all Myst fans.[...] We’ve kept a pretty low profile since  — which was a shift for us after so many years of public transparency — but while we’d handed the reins over to Cyan in the months following our meeting, they were not ready to make a public announcement just yet.
This doesn't go into a lot of detail. That's fine. It seems pretty clear that drama happened behind the curtains. Nobody expects dirty laundry in these public announcements.
The most obvious inference is that the 2019 idea of Cyan working with Starry Expanse just didn't happen. They talked, they shared some work, but for whatever political or personal reason the whole thing stalled out. And it really seems like it stalled out at the beginning. We've had two years of no news because, I figure, there was no progress to report.
Now, "no progress" isn't "no news". If things have gone off the rails, you can say that. I still think Cyan should have been more transparent; but whatever. They weren't and here we are. Riven is underway and the SE team is "moving on to other projects" (except for the one person who's hired on with Cyan).
What did SE accomplish? Its biggest success was photogrammetry -- reconstructing the 3D topology of Riven's islands from the game's 2D snapshots. Cyan's original 3D models are by all accounts lost, or buried on unusable SGI hard drives, so photogrammetry was the only possible way to remake the game. You can read about this in Starry Expanse's blog history. I figure the photogrammetry models are the "foundation" that helped get Cyan's project started.
So I guess that's the end of the Starry Expanse story?
It's not a very satisfying story. You want to hear that the fans all got together and lived their dream of building Riven and had a triumphant release party and got rich and fell in love and grew old together and were played by Daniel Radcliffe in the biopic.
It's no fun to find out that the project got bogged down, or lost in the cracks, or the management sucked, or there was some legal paperwork problem, or people got upset and left. I don't know which it was, if any. Maybe all of them sequentially or simultaneously. "Creative differences" is the usual wallpaper, right?
This is the point where everybody nods and says, hey, we did what we could do, and now there's a Riven project in development and we're happy with that. I am happy with that! I haven't replayed Riven in full since 1997. I've been waiting most of that time for an awesome remake. This will be it.
And if you want to read between one more line...
With a very focused development team here at Cyan, Riven is well on its way to being reborn!
"A focused team" isn't the whole company. Speculate away.
Speculation: Most of the work for Myst was done by Cyan new hires needing training with current tools, with veteran staff overseeing but continuing direct work on Firmament themselves. After training on Myst, those new hires now move over to Riven.ReplyDelete
Nah, can't see it. When Myst went on the schedule it pushed Firmament out from a (targeted) 2020 release to 2022. Myst pretty clearly took up the bulk of the company's attention until its all-platform release in 2021.Delete
Some pessimistic part of me is also reading these tea leaves as: SE was aiming for a faithful, pixel-for-pixel recreation of the original and Cyan is not taking that approach with their remake, and is instead planning on something more like the 2021 Myst remake, where the content remains much the same but the details are definitely bent in the name of current in-vogue techniques. I would way rather the outcome of the SE approach, but the Myst 2021 approach may be more commercially palatable (both in appealing to current gamers and getting the thing out the door in a bounded amount of time)?ReplyDelete
I can definitely see that tension. Although I lay no odds about whether it was a discussion, a disagreement, a sore spot, or a real problem.Delete
I agree that Cyan will take the Myst 2020/2021 approach with the new game. It's working for them. They have the experience with that style and a toolbox that they're up to speed with. They've described that approach as "make the game that people remember, not the one that actually existed." That's probably better even for most old fans.
(I am an old fan, but as I said, I haven't seriously replayed the game since 1997. I don't remember Riven in 640x480 static screenshots.)
That's my fear too: the core of the SE project was faithfulness to the original, whereas Cyan has different priorities. Also not a fan of them keeping it so close to their chest when it comes to involvement with fan project but ehhh, they've always been that way, they're not gonna change now.Delete