Rand Miller – 30 Years of Cyan Worlds (Part 2) interview - page 2

Ingmar: Another difference between the development of Myst and Riven is that – due to the success of Myst – there was a lot of external interest in the development of the sequel. There also was a huge marketing campaign. How did you feel about all of that?

Rand: It was interesting, and my life is still that way to a certain extent. I have a fairly normal life in Spokane, Washington, and we’re not in any kind of a major metropolitan area. We have a great city here, so I live a normal life, but when I went to PAX East in Boston, there’s people who know Myst, and they know me, and it always seems odd when they’re interested, and they want to talk about it. I love it, though. It’s intriguing, and it’s enough of a diversion from my everyday life that it feels exciting. I think there were parts of that with Riven that felt the same way. It was exciting to have magazines ask us these questions, wanting to know what we were doing, and how it was gonna work.

I think the most frustrating aspect of it was – and this is the most frustrating aspect to this day – our worlds are like treasure maps that give up their secrets very reluctantly. That’s part of the game, and we don’t want you to see those treasures before it’s time, but marketing, magazines, and nowadays with the internet… they all feed off those secrets. Even for Riven I remember clearly the marketing department for the publisher saying, “you know, we need 50 still images of Riven,” and Robyn and I looked at each other going, “Noooo! What in the world??? This is not that type of game!” We had to negotiate with them over how many images they were allowed to have, and we tried our best to keep a real lid on those. No sooner than we would give them 10 images that they would give out to various press people as an exclusive, they would come back a week or two later, saying, “ok, we need 10 more!” and we were like, “wait!!!” (both laugh) It happens to this day, you know, and it’s the necessary evil. It’s just harder with our games because we do want to tease people, we do want them to see what they’ll be able to look at, but we don’t want to give away our secrets. Yeah, so it’s a balance, and it started with Riven. It was the first time we had ever experienced that.

Ingmar: Please give us an idea of Riven’s budget numbers – also in comparison to the numbers of Myst.

Cyan is nestled in the scenic woods of Washington

Rand: Well, I’ll give you general numbers because the specifics were lost over the years. Myst probably ended up being under a million, probably $700,000, $800,000, something like that. That’s pretty specific, I guess. I remember because Sunsoft didn’t give us enough, and so we just found another way to get money, and spent our own money on the other parts that needed to be done. But then, of course, Myst’s success filled our coffers, and there were millions of dollars. Now, with all that said, I think one thing people don’t realize is that the publisher got 85% of proceeds, and we got 15%. It sold millions of copies, but the publisher made the most of the money. I’m not complaining; we certainly got plenty. We got enough to build ourselves a building [the Cyan Worlds headquarters], and we got ourselves enough to buy a house, and I think I paid off my first car sometime around there, but mostly we put the money back into the company, and into Riven. We bought SGI servers because that’s what Hollywood was using, we bought Softimage Software because that’s what Hollywood was using, and we knew what they [DreamWorks] were using to make Jurassic Park, and we were gonna use the same equipment to do Riven because to us it was every bit as important being realistic as that was. So, to answer your question, the budget for Riven was probably somewhere between 5 and 10 million. That’s a really rough estimate because, honestly, Ingmar, I don’t know if we have ever gone back and added it all up. We just kind of put it in the bank, and spent it on Riven for a large part.

Ingmar: In any case, it was a lot!

Rand: It was a lot! These days, it’s not a lot, but back then, it was certainly the most that people would spend on a game. I have to say it’s good and bad having that kind of luxury because it’s amazing how much your perspective on what you’re making is controlled by your resources. Myst was a shoestring budget, so we had to work with that, and we did what we did with that shoestring budget, and it was good for that. Riven had a massive budget, but at some point there’s diminishing returns. You know, a screw-head can only be so realistic, and at some point you don’t want to work on it anymore. I’m exaggerating, obviously, but it definitely gave us the opportunity to really focus on details that we had never been able to focus on before.

Ingmar: It is well known that Robyn let the company after you did Riven. What kind of impact did that have on the company and yourself?

Rand: You know, I don’t know if it had a huge impact, given the fact that I was the one who kind of always wanted to make games, and Robyn was someone who was very talented in a lot of different ways. You know, he liked to write music, books, stories, and he created artworks. It seemed natural for him to want to expand his boundaries a bit. So, he just went into all those different areas. He did an album, he started writing a book – I don’t think it ever came out, but it was good for him because it was something he wanted to do – he did a film… so he’s done all those things over the years that were part of his creative fever. And I got to essentially take the next step in what I considered to be my evolution of making games as well, and I think it worked out. You know, working closely with your brother… working closely with anyone, is not easy, and there’s friction points that you have, and Robyn and I certainly had our friction points over the years. Riven was so intense that it kind of amped those up a bit, but some of the stories that I heard about those issues afterwards were definitely exaggerated, and we continued to chat over the years.   

Ingmar: Before we have a closer look at the next huge project you were about to tackle, I’d like to talk about Myst III: Exile and Myst IV: Revelation for a moment. Since both games were not developed by Cyan Worlds, was it difficult to watch someone else work on the franchise?

Presto's Myst III: Exile

Rand: You know, we had always said that we would not do another Myst. The story was told, Riven kind of wrapped it up, and it was good. We moved onto what we considered not to be Myst, but its larger universe, and what we were taking on as a company was a large, large project. Interestingly, where we found ourselves at one point was, “this is our passion, we want this large, massive world that’s going to continue forever, and it’s going to take a lot of funding.” Then, suddenly, a publisher comes to us and says, “hey, someone wants to do a Myst game. It’s Presto Studios, they’ve got a great idea for it, and we’ll pay you to license those rights.” That’s very tantalizing because in order to fulfill what my passion was, I need resources, and if somebody wants to do a good job with my other stuff, that may help me to get done what I’d like to do. So we decided, “ok, we said we would never do this, but let’s take a look to see what they think the story would be, and make sure it doesn’t infringe on anything in the larger story, so that it’s just a little side-story.” And I think that, honestly, the way we looked at it was that in our minds – and I don’t think this is true – it’s been in this category of fan-fiction, and it wasn’t necessarily canon to us. We were kind of going, “yeah, it will fit in as a side-story, it doesn’t really affect our main story, it’s not gonna hurt anything, so we should let that happen!”

As we went on, Exile was wonderful; it pushed the technology in ways that were intriguing, you could look in any direction, the animations were good, it felt like it was a really nice step, and I think we felt like it was successful in continuing the Myst story but not trampling on any portions that we thought we wanted to hold close. But it also provided us resources to continue our large development, which was very exciting. So, yeah, it worked out – despite our initial response, which was kind of a heady and artistic thing like, “No, you can’t touch our work!” In the end, I think a lot of the work that was done was done well, and worked for all of us.

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Jun 14, 2017

Great read! It’s wonderful to hear new bits of insight even after Rand has given so many interviews over the years.

I only wish we got to hear from him regarding Myst IV: Revelation. I may be a bit biased as it was the first game of the series I played, but I always thought it was an absolutely wonderful, magical experience (and wrapped up the series far, far more fittingly than End of Ages did).

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