Monday, October 31, 2022

Cyan says Riven remake is "in development"

You may remember I was pretty sour about Cyan's lack of Riven news this summer. The shoe has dropped:
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!
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 [2019] — 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.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Goodbye Twitter

Back in April, oh my gods, April was a million years ago, I wrote: Yes, I will quit Twitter if Elon Musk buys it.
My thinking hasn't changed, and he just signed. So there it is.
(I originally suggested that I would quit the day the stock was de-listed. Looks like that's tomorrow morning.)
"If Nethack has taught us anything, it's that if you don't eat food, you die."
I am just going out. I may be some time.
I have exported my Twitter account data and signed out of all my Twitter clients. You can continue to follow me here at this blog -- it's got an RSS feed and everything! -- or at on Mastodon.
(Cross-server following on Mastodon isn't entirely obvious. Copy the link above and paste it into the search bar of your Mastodon page. Not the browser URL bar. It should bring me up and show a + button you can click.)
Further questions:
See my April post. I foresee a lot of ways Twitter can get worse under Elon. I refuse the psychological torture of hanging on every galaxy-brain-tweet trying to divine whether it's bad news. I will be better off for a clean break.
Are you deleting your Twitter account?
No. I'm parking it. I'm logged out. There's a tarp thrown over my Twitter client. Notifications and DMs will not reach me.
But I'm not letting anybody else snarf @zarfeblong. My tweet history remains visible.
If Twitter threatens to delete my account for inactivity, I could log in to preserve it. I won't be checking mentions or DMs, though.
Any chance of coming back?
I have no idea what the future holds. Maybe Elon will turn Twitter into a wonderful well-moderated fairyland. Maybe he'll sell it back off next Tuesday. If it seems like a good idea to come back, I'll come back.
But I am not optimistic about this. No promises.
(If Twitter gets sold off again, I figure it would be to someone even less encouraging than Musk. If it re-IPOs, it would be at a shadow of its former valuation, which was already on the edge of a plummet when Musk stepped in. I don't see a good outcome here.)
Is Mastodon your Twitter replacement?
No! I don't expect Mastodon to turn into an expansive bustling crowd of friendly discussion the way Twitter-circa-2010 did. Mastodon is a bunch of silos and there's friction in between them. This is on purpose.
I'm mildly optimistic that I'll be able to keep up with some friends via Mastodon. If not, oh well.
What about other platforms?
This blog will continue.
I'm on a few Discords regularly. Slack continues to be solid for small social groups. (It doesn't want to be -- Slack wants to be a pure business solution -- but you can still use it that way.)
As for true public social networks, dunno. Haven't seen anything enticing yet. (Cohost does not appeal for reasons that I won't get into here.)
If you want to reach me...
Email is still best: erkyrath at eblong dot com. Gah, do we even bother spambot-fiddling our email addresses any more? What a very 1990s look. So it goes.
See you around.

Saturday, October 8, 2022


Marissa Marcel, the hottest young Hollywood star of 1969, made just three cursed movies -- and then disappeared. None of the movies were ever released. But you've found the raw footage... as a disorganized pile of clips. Crank up your old Moviola and get browsing.
Immortality is by Sam Barlow, which means database IF, right in line with Her Story and Telling Lies. You view a movie clip and then go searching for related clips. Repeat until you've discovered all the secrets. Just one new trick: instead of selecting a word as your search term, you select an image in a freeze-frame. The engine picks out another clip that shows the same thing -- or the "same thing" -- and jumps there. (A match cut, in film parlance.)
Words and images aren't as different as you might think. Just like in the earlier games, clips unlock clips and you don't get much control over the order. The story is the main thing; and the story is about movies. Everything you see is people making film. They speak Hollywood and live Hollywood lives, or at least the Hollywood lives of the pre-digital era. And everything you see is on film. This matters.
What I love about Sam Barlow games is all the fiddly detail in the interface. And I do mean fiddly -- as in fiddling around. Her Story wasn't just a videotape browser; it was a faux-80s desktop with broken solitaire. Telling Lies put you in a basement with flickering fluorescent lights that sometimes reflected your face in the screen. And Immortality is a janky old film viewer. The machine is a character in its own right! Sometimes it buzzes or wobbles or (if you've got a game controller) judders in your hand. The controls like to stick. You can fast-forward, but not by pushing one button; you have to jiggle the buttons just so. And then -- well, no spoilers, but babying the controls along turns out to be a significant part of the game.
(Some of this may be my real game controller being genuinely janky. My left stick doesn't center well. But I'm pretty sure Immortality's controls are deliberately temperamental, regardless.)
Okay, images as a search item are a bit different. You can't write down a word for future searching. You have to play (or reverse) to your moment -- remember that fast-forwarding is a pain! -- and then click.
This creates what I'm sure is a deliberately awkward tension: you can either watch a clip straight through or pick an interesting object. Clicking interrupts what you're watching and jumps to a different clip! You may want to save that for later, but there's no simple way to jump back. You have to browse through the gallery and remember where you were.
Why do I say deliberately awkward? Well, the rest of the UI is already janky, so it's a theme. But also: you can't passively watch clips. You have to pay attention! You need to remember where you were in the gallery. You need to leave clips paused on recognizable frames. You need to be able to spot new material when it pops. You need to, in some sense, construct a movie in your head out of raw material -- which must be the point.
I admit I had trouble getting used to it. When I started playing, I wanted to lawnmower images; that is, ignore the movie and click on every object in sight. Then I got interested in the movie and stopped clicking on images. Then I wanted more clips, of course, so I had to go back and click thing in clips I'd already watched. Then I had so many clips that I started to get tired of the movie! But I wanted to know how it ended!
It worked, but I never really found a satisfying balance. I decided pretty quickly to watch everything in shooting order (not movie order -- the game lets you sort either way). This mostly worked, but as I said, I had to keep breaking the flow to select objects.
The game doesn't make completionism easy. Objects are matched in a pretty general way. A "book" image matches any other "book"; "Marissa Marcel" matches any other "Marissa Marcel". You can't search for "a Bible" or "Marissa laughing". This means that any jump can lead to something surprisingly unrelated (good!) but intentional search is basically impossible (not great). The closest I got to intentionality was noticing that one clapboard-handler wore a ring. The game happened to have almost no other rings, so I was able to get a whole sequence of clips with that guy as crew. Beyond that, it was basically throwing darts.
Well, I got hooked enough on the movies to throw a lot of darts. I think I collected nearly every clip. I even got the "all clips" achievement for the third movie... although it didn't feel any more complete than the others. The game doesn't particularly reward completionism either.
But I really wanted to see everything! The movies are good! The story of Marissa making the movies is good! It's all in pieces and you want to know more!
And then, you know, there's some other neat stuff to find. Also really good. I won't spoil it.
The other thing I love about Sam Barlow games is that he'll happily design an entire game to make one cool thing happen. It's what we used to do in the early IF days, right? Come up with one cool interaction and then write a little game around it. Only Sam's idea of a "little game" is now a movie studio, sets, dozens of actors, and hours of footage.
I watched a lot of footage. The tidal layers of film washed me far from shore. I still don't know what happened to Marissa Marcel. There's a lot of commentary, but it's fragmentary -- disorganized -- you have to put it together in your head. Just like the game! And even if you watch in order, the ending doesn't make sense of it all.
I guess I wouldn't want it to. This way, I'm still thinking about it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Recent puzzly games: we love The Witness

And now, a round of puzzle games that made me think about The Witness!
(It's a change from thinking about Myst, right?)
  • Taiji
  • The Looker
  • Linelith
  • Kredolis