I recently drove out to the Spokane, Washington headquarters of Myst creator Cyan Worlds to talk about their upcoming game Obduction. You can read my preview here, and a deep-dive Q&A about the Obduction development process here.
While I was at Cyan’s offices, however, I thought I’d take a look around the studio and peek into the fabled “Myst Vault.” I return bearing pictures and, in some cases, stories from Myst co-creator Rand Miller—like, for instance, that MythBuster Adam Savage was once unknowingly involved with the studio, or how Rand Miller really feels about The 7th Guest, or the book that inspired Myst’s iconic tome.
You’ll find that and much, much more below.
RAND MILLER, Myst co-creator: 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 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.
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.
Adam Savage and the enormous dagger
This is sweet. That thing…at the end of Riven there’s this sequence where the whole world is destroyed, everything collapses, and we’ve got all these workstations and all this incredibly expensive hardware and software, but we’re thinking, “Well, destroyed worlds are so many particles. We should do a real version of it. Just a small miniature version.” And this big Riven dagger falls down like [explosion noise] and dust should fly up.
So the art department’s like “Okay, someone make the Riven dagger and we’ll just build out all this dirt everywhere. So Tony gets in touch with some prop guys in the Bay Area and has that sent up, and by the time we got that the CG guys had already been like “We did a mock-up, I think we can do it all in CG. Let’s just do it in CG.”
But that was still…Sweet prop! We’ll hang that up! But then what we find out is that…Eric Anderson, our art director, he sends around this video. Come to find out that it was basically Jamie and Adam, the MythBuster guys, who he called, back when they were still a prop company. And it was Adam who built this thing. He says it in an interview, “I don’t play many games but I built this cool crazy dagger thing for those guys.” And we didn’t know! It’s hanging here and we’re like “What?! That thing’s special now! We thought it was just a cool-looking dagger!”
RM: This is concept art by either Robyn [Miller] or Richard Vander Wende on Riven. This is stuff they…Oh my goodness the Riven stuff, you can see a lot of the evolution. It’s kind of…you get to see the way brains are working. The original espresso machine or whatever it’s called. You can see the different variations. This is all stuff we originally threw out, and my brother Robyn pulled it out of the trash cans and said “Yeah, we should keep this.” It’s nice to have it here.
ERIC ANDERSON, Art Director: Uru, during the early days, we were having a hard time trying to figure out what the heck the city itself looked like. We were having a hard time wrapping our brains about it. And we were working with some architects who suggested “Maybe we can get some clay and work some stuff out.” So for a few days several of us on the team who were going to build the city mocked it up, and this is the result.
Clothing, Part 1
RM: These are two of the costumes from Riven. The cool thing about this is we designed these…We had money for Riven, obviously, which was sweet. But we don’t know how to get costumes designed. So Tony, who’s our president now, called around because he was the producer for the thing, and found the Seattle Opera and who made clothing and costumes for the Seattle Opera. We sent them sketches, we’d send them sketches that were not as detailed as this, and then it comes back, we’re like “Oh this is so cool they sewed shells and beads into this and all this detail into this thing.” That was really an eye-opener because all we’d done was Myst. You know, small-scale. So it was kind of fun having all the extra fun stuff.
My brother was in one of these. John Keston was this 70-year-old marathon runner who played Gehn in that costume. He was like the perfect casting, he was so good. I did Atrus, and I don’t even think we have an Atrus costume. I think at the last minute we went in San Fran, we were filming at Blue Screen Studios in San Fran, and we just went to some local costume theater place and picked up a bunch of costumes, and then had to return it later, so we don’t have any of the Atrus stuff.
Keep reading for the inspiration behind the Myst book, Gehn’s gun, and much more.
Myst book, Gehn’s pipe, and other props
RM: Here’s a cool story. Those are the original things from Riven, like Genn’s pipe which you squeeze frog juice in and he smokes it for whatever reason.
That’s the original Myst book that my brother found at some thrift store that was like “Oh, this looks cool and we definitely should use that as a Myst book.” It kind of became the basis for the Myst book.
RM: The door over there…Anything when you do blue screen work needs to be a practical. So we had to build a whole door so that Gehn at one point can open it from both the inside and outside. And we get to keep the door which is sweet.
The $10 million advertisements
RM: A bit of a cool story to these. Broderbund was doing Riven, they were going to publish Riven. They handled all the marketing and whatnot. So we’re thinking “This is going to be a huge advertising budget. It’s Riven. I mean, Myst made tons of money for them and they didn’t have to advertise it really.”
So the rumor goes out, they’re going to spend ten million dollars on advertising and we’re like “Wow, that’s cool.” They did nothing to stop that rumor. I think it was completely bogus.
But they did come up with this really cool campaign that was just two-page spreads in magazines that just had a Myst page laying there, and somewhere in the picture, like on this boat I think it says www.riven.com. And that was it! That was the only thing in the ad! We were like “This is awesome!” And they did the same thing with those underground train tracks, except it was graffiti on the walls. “Oh that’s going to be awesome.” I think they did seven of these. Seven different ones.
And they did the first one in Wired magazine, two-page spread. “Cool, and they’re going to go in more magazines. This’ll be sweet!” And uh…the marketing guy at the time, the one hit Wired, everyone loved it, everyone thought it was really cool, and he was like “Nah, we’re not doing it,” and pulled the plug.
RM: This is the original map of…In the second novel, we wanted a map of what it was like to walk down from…In the first book there was a journey from the Cleft down to this underground empire of D’Ni that was long dead. This cavern down there.
So we thought we should document the map. We got a local artist, and we kind of wanted lots of details. We have so much history with the D’ni. It’s just crazy. The D’ni were the ones that did the art of writing these books that can link, but they also don’t use rectangular coordinates. Everything is polar coordinates. There’s this spot from which they originally came, it’s called the Great Zero, and everything is measured from that point. You measure distance and angle, and it’s all written in D’ni numbers and everything is real consistent and we had translated all this stuff and acted like it was a real map to the surface. Then we made that for the second book. I love how it turned out. Feels kind of real.
Costumes, Part 2
RM: Let’s see…two more. This is the guy at the beginning of Riven when the gate comes and traps you. He’s the goofy guy. We named him Cho because that’s the first words he says. “Cho?”
And Katherine is over there. That’s probably Atrus’s boots and I think he carried a satchel with him as well.
RM: So at the height of Riven, all of this…we were packed into all of this. This was the art department down here. We had a…those guys needed to work in the dark because artists don’t like glare, so we put them down here and we decided we needed to make a cool space, so we put work stations, big salt pillars, but since then…I think for years after we shrunk in size this went down to nothing and just held crap because we just kept moving stuff down here.
Last year we tried to clean it up. Now we have parties down here, we eat down here, and we also rent it out. It all helps the budget.
Keep reading to enter the heart of the Myst Vault.
The Myst Vault
RM: This is what’s affectionately known as “The Vault.” It’s got lots of accounting stuff, but it’s also the motherload of Myst crap. We try to keep something of all the years. A version or two of all the crap we’ve collected over the years. Collections of games, magazines, posters, tchotchkes…It just all ends up in here, because this is one of the few places where it doesn’t get given away or misplaced or anything like that.
But it’s everything from the blowgun used at the beginning of Riven to… these are books that were used as part of the props that were painted like a journal… or one of the books. I don’t even know which is which in this, but.
In Riven there was…This is a geode thing that made the books actually work that you had to place on them in Riven.
Yeah, you can see. It just goes on and on.
RM: We have a few of these Myst puzzles. We have six of them or something. I showed them to a guy a few weeks ago and he was like “Those go on eBay for about a thousand bucks apiece.” I’m like “What? Are you kidding me?“
Because what we would end up doing is the people who were marketing Myst… it started slow, but it just kept going, kept going, kept growing, kept growing. And other companies, foreign companies, would get in on it, and other platforms, and they all want marketing campaigns.
And we’d be like “Well all you have to do is just send us one or a few of what you’re marketing. So that’s why…we have tons of stuff here from that.
RM: Like here, I don’t even know where these came from or why, but Ray-Ban sunglasses, but they’re Riven Ray-Ban sunglasses.
Like, okay, that’s what you need. I don’t know who made them or why, but it’s like “Okay, we’ll put it in the vault.”
RM: There’s Riven water! Some Riven water that’s collapsed and crushed. I should actually…[cracks it open].
Nope. That is loooooong crushed.
RM: We played disc golf around the building during Riven, we played disc golf almost every day. A lot of people, instead of lunch we’d just go play disc golf.
PCWORLD: Do you have a course around here?
RM: We did. Well, we just made our own. It was just trees. But we played the same one, and we were… spreadsheets with everybody’s scores.
So for some point at Mysterium, they have this annual gathering Mysterium that we hosted this year, on occasion it’s hosted here, but they always seem to make discs as part of Mysterium.
RM: At one point Katherine in Riven has to pull a lever for an elevator and this was hung up ::tchung:: so she could pull it.
RM: The D’Ni eyes were different because they’re a different culture, and Gehn, the seventy-year-old guy, was like half D’Ni, so he had to have different eyes. These are his contact lenses that we put on him to make his eyes…bigger or smaller? I can’t remember. He had to wear those.
Various Myst editions
Are these all original Myst boxes back here?
RM: Let’s see, they’re probably other platforms. “Desktop edition?” I don’t even know what that means.
“Free Myst mouse mat and Myst screensaver.”
RM: Well there you go. This must have come later because this says “Over 5 million sold.” It’s still Red Orb but it’s definitely after Riven because it has our new Riven logo on it. So yeah, there’s no telling what you’ll find.
RM: This is one of the first sweatshirts we ever made. I think we made like, four of them. That was it, which is kind of fun. Various clothings over the years.
When Myst was so popular, we sold these for a while. But we just don’t make anything selling stuff. This is the remnants of what’s left. Most of the stuff is long gone away, but we were like “Let’s keep a few of everything for the Vault just so we have them.”
Do you guys keep design docs too? Do you have old Myst design docs?
RM: [Laughs] There were no Myst design docs. It was basically five pieces of paper that we sent to the Japanese company… they asked us for design docs and we were like “What’s that?” So my brother and I just wrote out five maps and said “This is the game.” They were like, “Okay.” I still remember to this day they were like, “Is this going to be better than Seventh Guest?” and we were like “Oh yeah.” [Whispering] “What’s…what’s Seventh Guest? How good is that?”
RM: That’s the computer we actually rendered large portions of Myst on. I think it’s an SE30 that we hacked a…you could hack those things and put graphics cards in them. It’s been here for a while obviously…This is what Robyn used. I haven’t opened this thing up in a long time. [Zipper]
Wait, what is it?
RM: What? Wow. Okay, this is older than I thought even. It’s got some history, that’s for sure. I wonder if I turned it on, would it ding.
For my hands-off impressions of Cyan’s Obduction, feel free to check out my very early preview of the game. And, for more of my in-depth interview with Rand, Eric Anderson, and the rest of the Cyan team, click here.
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Hayden writes about games for PCWorld and doubles as the resident Zork enthusiast.
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