Ingmar: Another thing I remember fondly is also related to that feeling of, “what’s going on here? Why is this puzzle here? Why can’t I solve it? Is it even a puzzle?” After I started exploring, putting more and more pieces together, there was an immense feeling of satisfaction when I was able to solve puzzles because I started to understand how certain things were connected.
Rand: Yeah, different people are satisfied and entertained in various ways, but there is something about problem-solving that’s innate to human nature. No matter where we come from or what our background is, when there’s a problem that seems vast and we start to unravel it, get the pieces of it, and when we put them together, and solve the problem… I think we have evolved in a way that’s given us this necessary pleasure response to that because the people who do that are the ones that, basically, make humanity move forward in grand ways. So we’re kind of playing on that problem-solving pleasure response. I’d love to say that we planned all that, but I think we were just going on instinct, and experimenting with everything we had learned on the previous projects.
There were some things we were deciding that we felt like, “this is good, this feels like people might like it!” We played it even as a D&D [Dungeons & Dragons] version early on with a couple of people, and as we got places built, we would play with other people, and watch what they did, and we were getting great responses. People were talking about the very thing you just mentioned, that feeling of achievement and satisfaction of having figured out something that you initially thought was unsolvable. You had no idea how those things would fit together, but if you pursued them a bit, and had a little patience, you could do it. To this day, those are still the puzzles we go for. I love the ones especially where you solve it and not only do you get a sense of satisfaction, but also a revelation of information, and you realize, “oh, I see how the world works now, and this will serve me moving forward, too.” Those are great moments, and we would love to do more of them, but they’re also the hardest to achieve as well.
A D&D dungeon from Rand Miller was later incorporated into Myst's Mechanical Age
Ingmar: Another thing that always fascinated me about Myst is that it was created by world-building brothers who created a game containing world-building brothers…
Rand: (laughs) It’s so funny looking back because, honestly – and Robyn may remember differently – but as much as it was parallel, I don’t think we realized it at the time. In fact, when we started Myst it wasn’t even going to be books, and they weren’t going to be making worlds, and it was just going to be portals to other places, but the story kind of wrote itself as we went on. And I think the reason there were two brothers is because we knew with our budget we weren’t going to be able to hire actors, so it would be us who would play those characters. So, a lot of things kind of dribbled out of that, but there were a lot of things in Myst that started to almost be a parallel to the real world. The fact that you write these books, and then we developed this whole system of how they would write these books, and that was almost like what we felt we were doing: we were making these worlds, and we started to love how all that stuff fell into place.
Ingmar: Something that’s very interesting about the success of Myst is that it happened in different waves; it wasn’t an overnight thing. Please guide us through that process.
It was no small feat to fine-tune Myst, as this list of testing notes from Cyan can attest
Rand: Sure! The Macintosh version came out first because that’s the one we had worked on. Brøderbund was the publisher of the PC version, so when the Mac version was released, Brøderbund was working on the PC version. The Macintosh version came out, and there wasn’t a huge Macintosh base but nevertheless, the response was good. We got a chance to start seeing the response online. It was funny because we had dial-up modems at the time, and we were curious, so Robyn would go into AOL, and I would go into CompuServe, and we would go into the gamer forums there to see what people were thinking of Myst. Generally, the response was very positive, there were these great remarks, people saying “this is a unique thing” or “this is really different”, and it was great for us because it was satisfying to see that some people were getting what we had made, and it wasn’t falling flat.
But this also opened the opportunity for us to discuss things with the critics as well. There were a few people who were saying: “I don’t get this, I don’t see what it is”, and we would hold an open discussion with them and say, “hey, I’m one of the creators. What is it that you’re not getting? Can we talk about it?” You know, we were honestly trying to figure things out, thinking, “maybe we can do this better or learn something from it.” It had a great response because people online realized that the creators were paying attention. Those people who had only tried it briefly or thought, “well, I don’t really get this,” I think they were motivated to give it another shot, and a lot of times they would change their minds.
I think the initial response was a really nice wave of positive feedback. Myst was a slow burner. It was not well advertised, but it just kept selling, getting bigger and bigger, little by little, and it started to branch out of the normal channels that computer games were sold; you know, the computer stores, and the Hastings in the United States or some places you would go to buy your computer games, and it started being in more general media outlets.
Ingmar: I remember reading that one of the earlier reviews was in Rolling Stone magazine.
Love it or hate it: the
Rand: Yeah, that was crazy for my brother and I. I mean, that just doesn’t happen! It was amazing, and we were blown away and humbled by all the response, but I think it had a little bit of a backlash. I think gamers at the time felt like they were an elite group. Like I said, 100,000 units would have been a great number for us at the time, but then Myst started branching out into a much larger group of people, and started hitting the mainstream. I think gamers felt a little like they were losing control of the niche, and something was bringing the masses into this cool little club that they had. As anybody knows when that happens, you build up a little bit of resentment or the inner circle starts to push back a bit. It happens with music, it happens with movies. Especially now with the internet, when you think you’re onto something special, it’s kind of cool when it’s a small group that only you know about, but as it becomes larger it doesn’t feel so elite anymore, so people leave it behind. But to be honest with you, the wave was so large that I think it minimized any kind of a backlash from the gamers. As we all know now, the game industry was basically being created; it was becoming what we know today instead of a niche group.
Ingmar: There are probably very few games that have had a parody made about them; I’m not even sure if there are any others besides Myst. That’s quite a compliment, I’d say. How did you feel when Pyst was released in 1996?
Rand: (laughs) Oh my goodness! First of all, it was exactly what you said. We were like, “wait a minute, somebody is making a parody of our game?” We couldn’t believe it – it was hilarious! Honestly, though, and I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone this, there were two things that drove me crazy. The first thing was how small it was. I think there were 10 images or something like that, and I was like, “WHAT??? They only have 10 images, and they’re charging this amount of money for it? How can they do that???” The second thing was: “And HOW did they get [actor] John Goodman to do this???”
Ingmar: That’s why they only had 10 images!
Rand: (laughs) They spent all the money on John Goodman… (keeps on laughing). It was funny that the parody actually had a much better actor than what we had in the real game – that always struck me as so strange! But, yeah, we loved it! We have a copy of it to this day in our vault. You know, it’s one of these things that we stashed away as reminders of all those years.
So ended our discussion of Cyan’s early years, but stay tuned for part two of our interview with Rand, covering the time from Riven to present day, plus a peek at what's ahead!