News from Mysterium 2019

Monday, August 5, 2019

Comments: 1   (latest 5 hours later)

Tagged: firmament, crowbox, mysterium, starry expanse, zed, cyan, obduction, myst, riven

I imagine you think of this as just an annual news post. "Hey, here's some Myst news that isn't a kickstarter!" But we really do get together once a year and have a weekend of community love. I don't go to every Mysterium, but this year is the 20th gathering and it's (approximately) the 25th anniversary of Myst's release. We're celebrating Zed being released and Firmament being in production. So I felt I really had to take part.

Plus, a chance to tour the Cyan office! Come on.

But I'll spare you my vacation photos and anecdotes. Here's the news post. This information is straight from Rand Miller's presentation on Saturday, plus other people who presented over the weekend.

Obduction just got a big update on existing platforms. This is optimization and improved VR support; see the release notes. Also -- here's the news -- Obduction is being ported to Xbox. "Coming soon."

The Mac version of Zed should be available on August 15th, on Steam and the Mac App Store. It's in store review now.

Cyan is in talks to publish a new project from Numinous Games, the studio best known for That Dragon, Cancer. This would be a Cyan Ventures project, like Zed was -- developed by Numinous, supported and published by Cyan. I believe this is the title "Into the Mind" that was teased in March by Jessica Brillhart.

Rand also mentioned a project called "Crowbox" that they're developing. This is not a game; it's an app that has something to do with photographs. "Interacts with your photo library" is what I think he said. No other details as yet, except that they're targeting iOS first. I get the impression that it's a small project, a toy that they just thought would be fun to play with.

Firmament is of course the current big Cyan project; they're staffing up for it now. (They've hired veterans Eric A. Anderson and Hannah Gamiel back on.)

Philip Shane's Myst documentary is in progress. Philip was all over Mysterium catching footage. He said that he intends to tell the story of the creation of Myst, framed around the happening-now story of the creation of Firmament. So the documentary will probably come out a year or so after Firmament ships. Maybe in time for Myst's 30th anniversary? We'll see.

Once Firmament is out the door, Rand plans to go back to the original Myst. He wants to build a "definitive edition of Myst". He didn't specify what that meant. I assume that they'd use the same Unreal Engine toolchain as Obduction and Firmament, and they'd make it fully VR-compatible. (If you can't tell, Rand is very, very enthusiastic about VR.)

After that, they'd want to do a refreshed (and VR-compatible) version of Riven. Of course the Starry Expanse fan project has been working on a fully 3D Riven for years now. (They started in 2008!) So Cyan's "definitive Riven" would be cooperative, in some sense, with Starry Expanse. Rand didn't go into details; I'm sure the details are a long way from being worked out. Maybe they'd hire the SE team on; maybe they'd arrange some collaborative model. (Rand was careful to specify that they had no intention of "stealing" the SE team's work or yanking it out from under them.) Again, we'll have to see how it goes.

(The other exciting bit of Starry Expanse news is that the team has recovered the original unmixed sound files from Riven. And when I say "recovered", I mean that Marty O'Donnell, the original sound designer for Riven, showed up at Mysterium and handed them all the sound data! This will make it much easier to recreate the game's soundscapes and cut scenes in the UE4 engine.)

And after rebuilding Myst and Riven? Rand said that they'd really like to do a new game in the Myst universe. He didn't call it "Myst 6". This would be a new entry point, perhaps a new series.

Rand also mentioned the recent TV series news. Obviously, after so many false starts, we all have a degree of skepticism about Myst on TV (or the big screen). So do the Cyan people; they didn't try to hide that. But they're still working on it, and they're more directly involved than they were on previous attempts. Rand and Ryan Miller wrote the script treatment and pilot script themselves. Rand said that they are not trying to adapt the stories from the games; nor are they basing their script on any of the novels. Their TV proposal is a fresh story from a "previously hidden" part of the D'ni timeline. It will also tie into the contemporary surface world somehow.

(Rand said he'd be happy to appear as a cameo in the show.)

That's all the big news. Let me ramble a bit on the state of Cyan. These are entirely my impressions, as interpolated from Rand's remarks.

With the success of the Myst 25 and Firmament kickstarters, and the launch of the "Ventures" publishing arm, Cyan feels like they're getting some momentum back. Rand said this in so many words. They're not rolling in revenue, but they have enough headroom that they can think more than one project into the future. Thus, the new roadmap: Firmament, update Myst, update Riven, new game in the Myst universe. With CV side projects from Numinous and whatever Crowbox is. Of course, everything beyond Firmament is a wavering image.

Do we need another major remake of Myst? (This would be the fifth remake, and the third complete engine switch.) I feel pretty skeptical. But I'm skeptical of VR overall, and VR would be the big selling point for this new edition. Like I said, Rand is a serious VR booster. I don't know how many copies it will move. But I'll buy in just to see Myst Island with Unreal-quality graphics, so I can hardly complain about the plan.

Riven is long overdue for a major remake and a new engine. Again, though, this is a remake of a long-available game, and it's hard to say how well it will do.

I'm most interested in new original games. By positioning "new Myst game" after the Myst and Riven refreshes, Rand implied that we'd have a long wait between Firmament and the next original title. Or will we? Updating Myst to UE4 might be quick job. After all, the company now has a good base of experience with that toolset, and plenty of practice modelling Myst. Riven is a much larger game, but maybe -- I am very much speculating here -- maybe they're counting on enough growth to work on two projects at once. Starry Expanse has a lot of progress laid down already, and I can imagine bringing the SE team in to work on Riven during the Myst production cycle.

Visiting the Cyan office gives one an interesting perspective on the company's history. It's a beautiful little building, obviously custom-made during Cyan's flush years. Nifty architecture, a star-dome conference room, landscaped garden out back, an artificial waterfall. Lots of display cases with game-award trophies and original costumes and props.

It's also mostly uninhabited. Or rather, many of the rooms are rented out to other local businesses. Cyan is a much smaller company than in years past, and they don't expect to ever become enormous again. This is more dramatically illustrated by the larger annex building that they built next door. Cyan expected to scale up tremendously to support the original (2003) launch of Uru Live. When Ubisoft canned that project... poof, building up for grabs. I think Cyan now has it on permanent lease to a local church.

Hey, rental income is income. I guess whatever business you're in, real estate is never a bad investment.

The big flappy wild card of Cyan's future is the TV show. Will it go anywhere this time? If it does, that's a big boost to revenue and (more importantly) public attention for Cyan projects. Particularly Myst-related projects. But, on the other hand, it would rearrange all of Cyan's priorities. The roadmap they described would be all back to the drawing board.

And there's absolutely no way to say if the TV plan will go anywhere.

If there's ever a time for it to happen, it's now. The current death-feud between Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, Apple, (add to the list), is being waged with those scariest of weapons: firehoses of money. (Much like the death-feud between Steam, Epic, Sony, Microsoft...) It will end in tears in the not-too-distant future. But for the moment, the wildest speculative show ideas are getting funded at a ridiculous rate, and Myst has all the right sails hanging out in the breeze.

More news, we hope, pretty soon.

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