Mysterium 2022: The news from Cyan

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Comments: 8   (latest 1 day later)

Tagged: firmament, mysterium, starry expanse, rime, cyan, myst, riven, community projects

I did not go to Denver for Mysterium. I wish I were there; the fan expedition to Meow Wolf sounded like a big hit. But the conference is hybrid-format this year, so I was able to tune into most of the presentations from home.

(The online videos are currently viewable on Twitch. They will make their way to Mysterium's Youtube channel in due course.)

This post got so long that I chopped it in half. This is the stuff about Cyan itself and what they're doing (Myst, Firmament, etc.) Part 2 will be fan activity and community contributions, including the Myst documentary.

Cyan offered a "State of Cyan" video, hosted by Hannah Gamiel and Eric Anderson. With cameo intro from Rand Miller, who is on vacation in the UK.

So, what's the state of Cyan? The short answer is "super busy with Firmament." That was pretty much every third sentence out of the Cyan folks' mouths. But I'll summarize the other details they dropped.

Last Mysterium, we were still waiting for the new Myst to land on PC. Now it has! Also Mac, Xbox, and a bunch of other platforms. They've gotten patches and improvements out too. The new Myst has won a Webby award for technical achievement in games and been named Apple's Mac Game of the Year. So that's a pretty impressive year.

They've started working on Myst's bonus Rime Age (they dropped that hint a few months ago), but there's no release date in sight. Again, Firmament is a higher priority.

More Myst updates in planning: node-based navigation? A director's-commentary mode? More platforms? "Keep your ear to the ground."

They note that 2022 is the 25th anniversary of Riven! But they're really busy with Firmament so they don't have time to celebrate properly. Instead, they're pushing the celebration to 2023, which is of course also the 30th anniversary of Myst. It'll be sort of a Myst/Riven Advent calendar: "We're going to have something new and exciting every month in 2023." Examples: Myst-themed challenge coins; new Cyan swag; previously unreleased material from Riven's development years; secret fan projects from the community.

(Before you ask, no, none of those community projects involve Seltani. Sorry. I haven't pushed the idea and nobody's come asking.)

Oh, and they plan to re-release the three Myst novels as ebooks. These haven't been available for a few years, but they should be out for the 2023 celebration. They also want to do fancy printed editions but that's less certain. Printed books are a lot harder, particularly nowadays.

On to Firmament. First answer: No release date set. They've previously said they're aiming for the end of this year, but no guarantees.

Firmament is targetting PC/Mac/PS4/PS5. The VR version will require PSVR2, which means VR will not work on PS4. As for Quest, that's a maybe-someday idea. ("Design high and optimize down", but it will take a lot of optimization to squeeze the game onto Quest hardware.)

They showed some work in progress video of Firmament as it currently exists. This shows two of the game's worlds, the "Glacial" and "Coastal" environments. It's flybys in the editor, no gameplay -- spoilery for visuals only.

(Local color: everybody in the Cyan office calls these the "Glacial Age" and "Coastal Age". That's just force of habit though. Firmament is an original story, not connected to Myst or Obduction.)

On the gameplay side, they only said that the role of the Adjunct, the little flying drone, has changed some since the original 2018 proof-of-concept demo. It's less autonomous now; more of a go-where-I-send-you tool. But the game still revolves around using the Adjunct to activate sockets around you.

On the Cyan Ventures side of the company, Area Man Lives and The Last Clockwinder have both been released. Walkabout Mini Golf is getting a Myst-themed golf course in Q4. These are all VR-only games so I haven't paid much attention, but they're out there.

(The golf game is coming to iPhone/Android in some kind of AR mode. "Look through the screen, then swing your phone like a golf club"? I'm nervous, to be honest, but I'll try it.)

Also, Cyan Ventures is shifting focus. It was originally pitched as Cyan's publisher arm; now they're describing it as a development-support group. They'll help their clients with porting, VR optimization, console qualification, storefront setup on various platforms -- that sort of thing.

This mostly sounds like they're adjusting the marketing to conform with reality. "Publisher" implies that they fund games, and Cyan hasn't been cash-heavy since about 2001. But expertise in shipping games, particularly VR games -- that they got.

Cyan also hosted a live Q&A session, which was fun to watch but didn't provide much grist for this post. Go watch it yourself.

They mentioned what they call "Miller's Pillars", the game-design principles that Cyan is built around: a balance of Story, Environment, and Friction. This fits in nicely with how I think about games. (I've defined "puzzles" as "anything that provides pacing". "Friction" sounds like another way of phrasing the same idea.)

Yes, they have a roadmap for what to work on after Firmament ships. No, they're not revealing it. I guess they're a little gun-shy after talking a whole roadmap in 2019 and then immediately departing from it.

And now the sour note of the day: the Starry Expanse update.

You will recall that Starry Expanse was a fan project to rebuild Riven in true 3D. (With Cyan's blessing!) This was a huge undertaking. It started in 2008 and progressed at the rate that big fannish volunteer-based projects usually progress, which is to say, slowly but with great love. They presented their progress every year at Mysterium and always wowed the crowd.

In 2019, Cyan announced that they were working with the Starry Expanse project on an official 3D (and VR) Riven. They didn't specify what "working with" meant -- whether that was hiring the SE developers, or working collaboratively, or what. Presumably they were still figuring that out.

How'd that go? The Starry Expanse crew posted one more update in January 2020, and then... silence. No update at Mysterium 2020. No update at Mysterium 2021. In April 2022 someone added a note to the web site saying "We will share more news as soon as we are able!" I think there was a tweet from one of the original developers saying "Sorry, NDA."

This was not exactly reassuring. Cyan often plays their cards close, and they can be particularly secretive about new projects. But they're not shy about teasing good news for known projects. (See the Rime Age update above.) They're also not too shy about announcing when projects are delayed or rescheduled. (Again, Rime.)

So two and a half years of dead silence about Starry Expanse was out of character. (Remember, they'd been posting several updates per year for ten years!) Was the project going full steam? Had it bogged down? Was there some problem moving it under the Cyan umbrella? Or had it crashed and burned so badly that Cyan was applying NDA threats to keep the disaster under wraps?

In this year's Cyan video, Eric Anderson finally broached the question. "We're long overdue to tackle this. So, what's the deal with Riven?" And Hannah says, "So..." And then they cut to a fake "Technical Difficulties" screen. "BEEEEEEEEP... (click) I'm so glad we had the opportunity to talk about that." "You can stop asking now."

Yeah, ha ha. Everybody laugh. I laughed. But I also felt hurt. Disrespected. I had to spend a while pinning down exactly why.

Look. Sometimes fans deserve to be (gently) slapped down. The writer is not my bitch. I get it. Sometimes it's even a running gag. People have been asking about the Book of Marrim since my first Mysterium -- that's the putative fourth Myst novel. The question is always ostentatiously ignored. We know the answer, anyhow. There ain't no Book of Marrim.

But Starry Expanse is not a Cyan project. It's a community project. We're not just upset that a game is behind schedule. We're legitimately worried that Cyan has sucked in a fan project and then mishandled it so badly that it bled to death.

Nobody wants to think that, but it's really hard to see another explanation for all this silence. This is not how you build up a project which is nearing success. Cyan can run their games under wraps, but not our games.

And then, in that situation, to openly mock the fans who are asking questions? For caring? No. Not funny.

I lost some respect for Cyan this weekend. Lost all benefit of the doubt, too. From now on, if someone asks me what happened to Starry Expanse, my answer is "Cyan must've killed it." I hope I'm wrong but I can't see a reason for optimism.

To be clear: nobody said the words "Starry Expanse" in this year's update. They talked about "Riven" or "Riven in VR". So maybe the whole Starry Expanse thing fell through and they've been working on a new 3D Riven release, entirely internal to Cyan? But that's the same situation! What happened to the Starry Expanse devs? Have they all quit in disgust? Silenced by NDA? Is Cyan using their work or not? We deserve more transparency than this.

Sorry to end on a down note. I will admit that the chat-room response to Cyan's gag was 80% laughs and 20% frown-emoji. Most people seem to have let it go. I may be the only one writing up a butthurt screed. But here it is anyhow.

Up tomorrow: The Cyan-adjacent news from Mysterium 2022!

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