Rand Miller - Obduction interview

Rand Miller - Obduction interview
Rand Miller - Obduction interview

Over two decades ago, a little developer named Cyan rocked the gaming world with the release of Myst, a first-person puzzle-adventure that took full advantage of the burgeoning CD-ROM technology and broke PC sales records in the process. It was one of those extremely rare titles that truly revolutionized the genre, forever changing the way players could experience a virtual world. Now Cyan is back, not with a new Myst installment, but an adventure that shares more than a few similarities with its iconic spiritual predecessor. With the successfully crowdfunded Obduction just about ready for release (for real this time), we caught up with studio co-founder and legendary game designer Rand Miller to talk about the new game and how far the genre has come.

Ingmar Böke: Hello Rand, it’s a real pleasure to welcome you to Adventure Gamers. I’m sure that a lot of our readers can’t wait to get their hands on Obduction, so let’s find out more about it… First of all, for those who aren’t as fully familiar with your new project just yet, please give us an idea of the basic idea behind Obduction in terms of story and gameplay.

Rand Miller: Without giving too much away, Obduction is all about being abducted. What if you were out in the woods, minding your own business, when suddenly a strange organic artifact whisks you away to another world.  

Ingmar: In your Kickstarter video you described Obduction as a "spiritual successor to the experience that Myst provided." While Obduction is not Myst 6, and is meant to stand on its own feet, what would you say are both the similarities and differences between the two? 

Rand: Obduction has more in common with the original Myst than with any sequel. Let me explain… The original Myst provided an experience for players that was completely unknown. When players landed on the dock they had no idea what or who they would find. They had no history, no information, no clues. Any sequels to Myst couldn’t claim that same level of unique experience, since the player knew a bit of the history – having played the previous game(s). With Obduction being a new story, it affords the player the potential for the same feeling that Myst did: you’re plopped into a situation with no knowledge of what came before. It’s a fresh new experience.

We considered doing a Myst universe experience (sequel or reboot), but we were all more motivated by the idea of something completely new.

Ingmar: "Accessibility" is a word that’s used often when it comes to games these days. Would you say that puzzles in Obduction are perhaps easier than in your previous games?

Getting to the root of Rand Miller

Rand: The puzzles are generally easier, but there are a few that have the potential to be a bit tougher. It’s a different world for puzzles now, with the “crowd mentality” of the internet always looking over a player's shoulder – begging to help. [grin] If a player can resist those voices they’ll find a similar experience to Myst as far as difficulty goes. Obduction puzzles benefit from us having a  few more years of design experience. And as such I think we’ve gotten better at making the puzzles feel more like part of the story and environment.

Ingmar: Obduction will use more than just one interface. Can you explain the different control methods and means of interaction the game offers?

Obduction can be explored in a couple ways. Since it’s a realtime 3D game you can use standard gaming keyboard/mouse controls, or a game controller. But because we have a legacy of point and click, we’ve also built in that very simple interface, too. It’s a much less intimidating interface for players who aren’t familiar with the current standard in gaming controls. 

Ingmar: You’re creating the game using the Unreal 4 engine. What’s your experience been using that engine over some of the ones you’ve used previously? 

Rand: UE4 has definitely amplified our abilities. We have a very small team considering the scale of the game we built, and we couldn’t have pulled it off without UE4. With that said, we have some very smart people on the team who were able to modify and adjust the engine to our will. We were able to create tools within the engine to allow much faster production without compromising the look and feel. Water flow is a good example: we built a tool that allows for flowing water to be “painted” into the environment. So streams, rivers, and pools were accomplished quickly and realistically.

Ingmar: You’re designing this game for virtual reality as well as standard hardware. What advantages does VR technology offer for the kind of experience you’re aiming for?

Obduction design meeting for Cyan with visiting French artist Stephan Martiniere (wearing hat)

Rand: We’ve found that the most impressive thing that VR brings is a sense of presence for the player. When you explore the worlds of Obduction on a monitor they are beautiful and intriguing, but in VR the player gets a sense of their place in the space – their scale and the scale of the place around them. It adds another level of immersion that actually slows down the exploration, because everything around seems so much more interesting. When the player looks up at a canyon wall they get a real sense of how high the cliffs – which is something that doesn’t come through dramatically on a monitor.

Ingmar: How do you think VR will evolve in the coming years, and how might that impact the design of your games in the future?

Rand: It definitely will impact our design. Obduction was designed for both non-VR and VR, so the interaction with the world was built to work for both. But as VR becomes more popular it’s possible that we can design specifically for that platform – making the interaction and exploration tuned for the deeper immersion and interface. Even touch controls allow for completely different kinds of puzzles and equipment where the player feels much more like they’re manipulating real parts of the world.

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