Deep dive with Myst co-creator Rand Miller: The full interview

I recently sat down to talk—at length—with Rand Miller, co-creator of Myst and head of development studio Cyan Worlds. Below you'll find 6,000 or so words on everything from his new game, Obduction, to exploring New Mexico, motion sickness, the Oculus Rift, Jonathan Blow's new game The Witness, the death of first-person adventure games, and more.

The tape clicks on just as Miller begins to talk about how even swingsets make him motion-sick these days.

RAND MILLER (RM): …a swingset. You know, this old fashioned kids swingset, and I start to get nauseous and it’s like “Come on, what is going on, how can this be?”

That’s gotta be pretty bad for a videogame dev.

RM: [Laughs] Or maybe it helps me consider aaaalll audiences.

So now you’re getting this easy-going audience in there and you’re like “Eh, you won’t be sick if I’m not sick. You’ll be fine.”

RM: Exactly. Well, okay, I’ll tell you a little funny thing. I’m personally answering a bunch of the Kickstarter questions and I actually just answered probably less than fifteen minutes ago a question where someone said, “My wife gets sick using 3D dynamic games. I do fine but she gets sick. Are you going to address that in Obduction? And I said, “Crazy thing, I get sick too so we’ve got a few ideas for at least helping a little with that.”

That’s my dad’s main problem too. My dad played a lot of 2D games back in the day but now he’ll only watch me play them and after about half an hour or forty minutes he’s like “I’ll be back,” and then he walks off to try and settle his stomach.

RM: Exactly, sounds familiar. Or just move back far enough. If I’m back far enough, it’s okay.

So it’s a field of view type of thing?

RM: Right. And I actually did okay with the Oculus. We had it working with RealMyst, this version of Myst that we’re updating, and we hooked it up and you’re able to wander through Myst Island. It was actually pretty cool; I did not go to the bathroom and throw up afterwards.

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RealMyst replaced the original game's pre-rendered 2D backgrounds with a fully-3D environment.

Are you releasing that to the public? Is there going to be a way for me to play RealMyst on the Oculus soon?

RM: Hopefully. I don’t have any announcement yet, but obviously it’s something we want to do. It takes a little bit of work to make sure you’ve covered your bases for the Oculus Rift, but the timing’s perfect because we have this update we’re doing and Oculus is looking for cool stuff, so we’re working on that. Whatever sees the light of day, I’m not sure, but we’re definitely trying.

What’s going in to the update?

RM: We just freshened it for the 20th anniversary. We’ve been working on it for a while. We don’t want to mess with Myst that much, Myst is a classic. But RealMyst? It’s technology driven and it was kind of showing its age with the old engine and the old textures and stuff. We’re updating that with a lot of new stuff and a day/night cycle and a few other bells and whistles that are kind of fun.

Is there any plan to go back and update Riven at any point?

RM: Riven’s tricky. That’s the same thing, we don’t want to touch the classic version of Riven either. It’s so classic and good, and building it in real-time 3D at this point is a little…it’s a lot to bite off, I’ll put it that way. Right now we don’t have any plans. There’s kind of a crowd…

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These gorgeous Riven graphics took up five CD-ROMs back in 1997.

H: Yeah, there’s a fan project right?

RM: Right, fan project. They’re attempting to do that with Riven and we’re trying to support them but it’s a big job and money-wise we don’t have the resources to do it and I’m not sure how big the audience would be for that, so we’ll see what the fans can do.

You raised a third of your Kickstarter goal in less than a day. What would you be doing if Kickstarter didn’t exist?

RM: Honestly I think we’d be concentrating on smaller projects. The thing that’s been keeping us alive is a lot of our legacy products and the mobile market. And the mobile market not just as a platform for development but as a platform for publishing as well.  It’s frankly spoiled us because we bit our teeth with the publisher model and it’s good if you get a good publisher.

We had our Broderbund days and that was a pretty good publisher as far as that goes, but we also had horror stories with a few other ones. Anyway, long story short, the whole idea of being in control of your destiny and publishing yourself and being able to do things this way is a breath of fresh air even if they’re not as big of projects as a publisher might fund, they’re more efficient because the publisher can sometimes delay a project. They’ll say, “Can you guys do this?” or “Can you guys change this?” or “Can you put more guns in it?” or something like that.

Rest in peace, sweet prince.

Do you think Cyan would’ve eventually buckled to publishers or tried to find a publisher that supported you more?

RM: At this point, I don’t really think so. Not, at least, the traditional way. I think we would’ve just stuck with the smaller things and tried to build ourselves up by the bootstraps. It’s almost like what we did when my brother and I started the company. We started with small projects and then took the money from those and put it back into larger ones and back into larger ones.  Frankly that’s what allowed us to do Myst. We didn’t have necessarily a publisher that was interested at the time. We had a Japanese company and we actually took it to several publishers and they said, “Eh, I don’t get this. I don’t think we want this.”

So in many ways it was that bootstrapping that allowed us to do Myst. It’s a lot of work and you don’t build mansions and buy yachts with that, but it’s really satisfying to control your own destiny.

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