Deep-dive Q&A: Behind the scenes of Obduction, Cyan's move beyond Myst

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What size game are you looking at?

RM: Heh. We were looking at Myst-size is what we said. It would be similar to Myst. The number of Ages and stuff. But with the design where we're at, we decided we're bigger than Riven now easily.

That's pretty damn huge. Riven's a big game.

RM: [Laughs] Yeah, that's what we keep saying in basically those words. We still probably need to take the machete to it. We talk about it all the time. We're going to have to. And we've started that with some of the stuff. Chopped this. But then we added a new thing.

RW: But it makes it better.

Obduction

RM: Yeah, it keeps getting better. So we chop one thing out and we're like "Oh cool, that'll save a lot of time," and then at the same time put this new stuff in like, "Oh that's sweet it's going to be awesome" but it adds a bunch of time.

But I'm really pretty optimistic based on what we've mocked up. We're pretty close to a...We're doing this different than we did before. It's massing model playable. A prototype that has no looks at all but you can go through the entire puzzle-play more or less. That's been surprisingly easy in Unreal. Even the stuff they've done...they've prettified a couple things. Even that has gone so much faster than I thought it would be.

I don't know how long it'll take. We'll have a better view in six months and an even better view in nine months. And then once it gets to QA that's when all hell breaks loose. That magical bug curve that grows and grows and grows and then you finally peak and start heading down and realize "Okay, now we might be able to finally ship sometime in the future."

RW: And like Rand was saying before, too, we probably will have to chop things just because time and budget scope, but.

I was amazed, going back and playing Myst again this year...that game is a lot smaller once you know all the puzzles. I think I finished it in four hours?

RM: It's so true.

RW: That's what I'm really concerned about with this. We know what we're doing and it's still taking us time [to finish].

RM: It's big, and there's some good puzzles. I feel like we've got some really good stuff in here. Some really satisfying stuff.

I love the psychology of the puzzles and the story. And I love that unfolding. I like my hands in the artwork stuff too, but let's face it, Eric and Derrick will do a much better job setting that style. Some of it is defined by story and the history of how these people worked and all that, but I just love that...I call it psychology because I don't know what else to call it. It's that "A-ha!" experience you get when you either realize a portion of the story or realize a portion of the puzzles. It's really...I think I take as much pleasure out of doing that sort of stuff as anything.

So Richard and I, we come in every morning and design puzzles for the entire morning. For Myst Online we would do that all day, our creative team would do it all day, and what we realized is it's not useful. We'd be pretty fresh in the morning and do some really good stuff, and in the afternoon we'd be like "Ugh, my head hurts."

Obduction

Now we work in the morning. Richard then documents stuff in the afternoon. He'll go and document all the stuff and work on other things, on mocking up things or figuring out if we have inconsistencies, and I'll go work on other stuff. And then we come back in the morning and discuss. It works like a charm.

And then going over the puzzle stuff, we have multiple prongs so when we all get together Eric is like, "I need it to look like this," and I'm babysitting the story puzzle and Richard is a consistency guy—No, you can't leave the puzzles in that state because how'd the last guy get out? He wants it to be super realistic so he's managing that. Everyone has that aspect they're watching over.

Are you going really deep again? Are you fleshing out lore and making fake languages and all sorts of crazy stuff?

Obduction

RM: Yeah. We said we weren't, but we are. Yeah, we're crazy. We're actually trying to manage it a little bit, but one of the changes we just made was this entire system...it's so cool. It's this numbering system. It's hard not to go there because we love it. It gives it depth and makes it seem real. People have systems, so you have to go there.

RW: They really tried to hold back on that at first. They didn't want to do a number system or alien languages or anything like that but...it came to that.

RM: It's getting deeper and deeper and it's really satisfying. It's big, but I think we can pull it off. We're pretty good at this after the years. We kind of know what things will take long and where we should cut. The years of experience hopefully are going to pay off.

We are so lucky. I don't know if we'd be alive if Myst hadn't built this house. Not paying rent...having it paid for and having a space to work, it means your expenses are so much lower. The small indie guys that have to rent space, that's a huge chunk of change. I mean, you're here when we've kind of fixed up the grounds again and cleaned the place up, but for years it was pretty slim pickings.

I remember seeing pictures a few years back where somebody said the studio was "abandoned," basically. I didn't even think Cyan was still here until we talked last year.

RM: I mean, we didn't even run the sprinklers for a couple years and stuff just collected. We still had people doing stuff because I think we were, at that point...One of the smartest things we ever did was get the rights to the software to revert back to us, to get the IP to revert back to us. Any indie that can pull that off is smart. You can't always do it, but. The publisher's always right in perpetuity.

Obduction

With Broderbund we said "Well, how about a long time but not in perpetuity. I don't even remember how long it was, but it was probably ten years or fifteen years. And they were thinking "Ah, we'll have milked it by then." But it was great for us because ten or fifteen years later the mobile market was coming up, and we were like "Oh man, if we could just convert some of these we could at least get bootstrap money to fund a little here, build up a couple people." It's worked, which is nice. We came back from the brink. It feels good. The place is in a little bit better repair, and we're just doing what we can.

And you know what? The small team...we've said this a few times. We got really big on Riven and even bigger on Myst Online. The small team is just...there's so much less thrashing. It's so much more efficient. There's a question, we answer the question. In Myst Online it was some guy in a building over there had a problem that he would ask his lead of his team, and that team would ask a producer person who would decide whether it was worth going to a design lead, and it was a month before a question would get answered. It's just silly. I love this. It feels good and we're slow to ramp up for that reason. We want to make sure we're kicking on all cylinders before we bring in anybody to twiddle.

What're you looking to scale to? Twenty, tops?

RM: Tops. Add a few more artists as we need them, and a lot of it we can work smartly by seeing how fast Eric can do stuff and see how many we need before we pull the trigger. It's nice. Feels right. Feels good. Feels a lot like the early Myst days where you scale up slowly and have a core team doing stuff.

Obduction

That's the other thing. We do multiple roles. I'm the Kickstarter database guy, so all the Kickstarter information I am personally in charge of doing the FileMaker database.

We have a great community. They are so forgiving and helpful. They give us pizza parties! Even during the hard times, a box of donuts would show up from fans. It's just awesome.

On production food

[Speaking of which]

RM: We did...was that during...I don't think it was during Riven. We did Triple Thursdays.

RW: That was during Uru.

RM: We'd go to Wendy's and get triple patties.

RW: It was a whole Thursday thing. We'd go to Krispy Kreme and you'd eat three donuts. Then we'd go to Wendy's and eat the triple patties. Some of the guys after that would go to Cold Stone Creamery and eat three scoops.

RM: What were we thinking? [Laughs]

For more Obduction, feel free to read my eyes-on with two of the game's three major worlds, and for more Myst history and general Cyan knowledge, check out the photos I took in the Myst Vault.

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