Rand Miller – 30 Years of Cyan Worlds (Part 2) interview - page 3

Ingmar: Let’s move on to the aforementioned large project of yours now: Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, aka Myst Online. I know it’s a very long story; please try to at least give us a summary, though.

Rand: Sure! I’m trying to encapsulate it because, boy, it’s a huge story! I love the story, actually, because as much as it was a failure, it was a grand success, and I think that’s how we look at it. So, what we decided after Riven – and after taking a breath – was that we looked at it again as, “where does this thing evolve? How do we make more of these worlds?” In my mind, it felt like we were making these worlds, but were just adding them a little at a time. Riven had taken six years to add in a few more of those worlds. Suddenly, the internet was a thing, and rather than looking at it as a way for millions of people to play at the same time, we started looking at it as a way that we could deliver content.

The commercial version of Myst Online, known as Uru: Ages Beyond Myst

What if there was this place you could go on the internet – and this wasn’t for modems, this was for the broadband that was coming – it was a place that you could go to, and there would be new things every night. It would be like what television is. Every night you come home, and you want to see something new, you turn on the channel, there’s a new show on every night, and you don’t want to see a re-run, and you don’t want to wait six years for the next thing. That was the design inspiration for Myst Online. I will just call it that for now; it had many names over the years, but we’ll just call it Myst Online.

What if we built an engine that allowed us to share this journey that we were taking? We would build all the infrastructure, so that it was easy to share, easy to constrain it, so that you didn’t have masses of people intruding, pulling switches, and opening doors in your world, and yet you can meet a person and play with somebody from across the world, and explore a world. In addition to that there were two other what we thought were really innovative aspects to it. One is the thing that I mentioned already; the worlds would never end. Every time you came back in, things would be different. I think we looked at it as every month there would be a large new world to explore, but we looked beyond that as well; every week there would be interesting things that changed, every day there would be stories that would go on.

Cyan's Myst Online Team (2003)

The third thing that was really intriguing to us – and I still think is a really amazing aspect of this whole idea – is the fact that it all happened in real-time. There were actors that were playing roles, and at any time anybody who played this game might run across an actor, and get information from them. We built a lot of equity in these actors, and we built up the stories of these people, and they would play through the worlds just like the players, and they would walk through the cities just like the players. You might come across them on their way to a meeting somewhere; they might become trapped, and become part of a storyline or they would inform you when a new world might be coming out. And it just sounded so amazing that this was all happening in this underground world beneath our feet, and that was Myst Online!

Now, with all that said, I’ll try to quickly summarize what happened. We spent millions of dollars designing all the technology that goes with that, and the worlds and places that go with that, and furthermore, planning ahead for the worlds, building those worlds, so that they could be rolled out quickly. Once we launched, we had to have a lot of content in the pipeline, ready to roll in, and we had all that going, we had all of that set up. It was a grand plan, and I’m so proud of what we did. To this day, it’s one of the grand achievements I have done, which is ironic because so few people know about it because it was cancelled, basically, before it got a chance to start.

So, without going into details, we kind of teamed up with Ubisoft at some point. We had a couple of companies that wanted it, but Ubisoft was someone we had worked with, and they kind of – in many ways – gave us a gentlemen’s agreement. There were some contractual things as well, but the agreement said, “let’s give this some time, let’s see what happens. This is an experiment, let’s run this thing for a year, and see if we’re onto something.” As anybody who knows our company knows, we had a beta, and we had signed up a lot of people in there; we were growing, and optimizing the servers, and Ubisoft kind of got out of the online market. They pulled out the other products as well as our product, and kind of shut down their online division, and we were in a very tenuous position at that point because we had spent everything we had up to that point to get us to the brink. We were counting on those subscription revenues to start coming in to start paying the bills, and then, suddenly, that was not going to happen.

A pared-down version of Myst Online is still accessible today

Anyway, that was sad for us, but I think part of any kind of success in life is just dealing with what’s considered to be the failures – the things that drop you down to your knees. Well, you know, you’ve got to get up again! It’s just like what we talked about earlier; it’s like the puzzles in Myst where you feel like, “no way! I don’t even understand any of this!”, but then you start to see a way out, and you’re like, “let’s try this!” So, we sold off all the pieces of Myst Online to make expansion packs, and we sold off the version just on the shelf where people could play it. It wasn’t our grand vision, but people got to play it. Later on, we got the rights back for the online stuff, and we put it up in various incarnations, so that – at least – we could continue to experiment. I think we succeeded in proving some very real aspects of it, and to this day, I’m still excited about somebody – if it’s not us, but somebody else – doing these because I think there is something very magical about having these kinds of online real world places that people would flock to. So, that’s my summary. Sorry for the length of time, but it was a large part of our lives and our resources!

Ingmar: That’s perfectly alright. After all, it is not only an important part of Cyan Worlds’ story, but also a very fascinating project. I must say I appreciate you got up again, and decided to move forward.

Rand: It was one of the lowest points, but it led to some learning experience, and I think any failure that you can learn from isn’t so much of a failure.

Ingmar: It’s easy to tell that you’re very proud of Myst Online. I guess this is much better than having to say to yourself, “oh my gosh, what the heck have we been doing for all those years?”

Rand: Yeah. In fact, one of the reasons we kept the server going for Myst Online, and still do to this day, is we’re still very proud of it. It works, it’s functioning. It’s not what it was meant to be; it was meant to be changing, and dynamic, and alive, but it’s still fun to go in there, and see the vastness that we were able to create. It’s just a huge area with so much to do, and so many aspects that we were able to put together that I just love the fact that we can keep it going, and we’ve got a fan community that contributes to it to keep it alive.

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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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