Ingmar: Actually, Myst V: End of Ages is a part of the Myst Online story as well.
Rand: Right. I mentioned the pipeline we needed for Myst Online; we had planned well over a year’s worth of content, so when Myst Online was shut down, Ubisoft said, “well, make two expansion packs for this”, and so we did. We still had more content, and this is probably the hardest part of all of this journey… we had so much of the story planned years ahead of time, and so much in development. After the two expansion packs, we were still in a very bad way. We needed money to keep people employed, and I’m sure that we had laid off people already, and we don’t like doing that. We’re a very people-orientated company, so we like to be on good terms with our employees, and treat them well. We were trying to stay alive, and so we went back to Ubisoft and asked, “we’ve got more content, do you want us to do another Myst version? They said, “yes, you’ll work for hire; we want you to make the game!”, so we said, “ok!”
Unpublished parts of Myst Online were integrated into Myst V: End of Ages
Then we went back to the drawing board, took the places that were all gonna be a part of Myst Online, and tried to start retrofitting those into a storyline. Anybody who has played Myst V: End of Ages realized it kind of feels like one half of one thing, and one half of another thing, and there’s a very good reason for that, because that’s what it is! We tried to make it feel more like it was Myst, but it was all part of the Myst Online lore. It was Isha, and it was all the things going on in the caverns, so you end up going to beautiful places in the caverns, and eventually we wrapped the story around it. I think it has a good story, but nevertheless, it’s hard to make a game like that where you’re taking disjointed pieces and make them feel perfectly cohesive. I’m proud of what we did, but there’s always this sadness to it of taking all of that wonderful work that we had so many good plans for, and having to kind of shove it into a different-shaped hole.
Ingmar: We did an interview about Obduction and its development last year, so we’ll skip that part this time. How are things at Cyan Worlds now that the game has been out for a while? I know you have launched Obduction for Vive, Oculus, and the Mac very recently.
Rand: We have! It’s a good time at Cyan. We love Obduction, and we love what we were able to do. In a lot of ways, honestly, it feels a lot more like doing Myst than it does doing Riven. We were a small team, it was not a big budget; the Kickstarter budget made us work very smartly and very scrappy, and we’re a family at work. I mean, I love the people at work; they’re friends, we get along good, they work so hard, and they’re the most amazingly talented people, and we were so relieved when Obduction got good reviews because I think it meant, “okay, we can bootstrap ourselves, and we can turn this possibly into the next thing.” And we got excited about VR as well because all of us love the idea of being in another world, and VR helps with that. That’s how we’re looking at it: let’s use the success of Obduction… I mean, it hasn’t been a monetary success; we don’t market well, so a lot of people don’t know about it yet, but as long as people say, “it’s great, I feel the same as I did with Myst,” we’ve done enough that we can continue, I think. And we’ve got a few ideas for other amazing worlds for VR – not just one, but many new projects and places.
Ingmar: Are you thinking of Myst, Obduction or perhaps entirely different things?
Three decades' worth of memories are safely stashed in "The Vault"
Rand: It’s all those things. After Obduction, we realized that maybe we didn’t want to just come up with one project that we would pour everything into, but that we would start by laying out a platter of projects – as many as ten that we have written down, and they’re very diverse. Some are small, some are large, some are more linear, some are more non-linear, some are more room-scaled, some are less room-scaled, but they’re all VR-related! Honestly, doing Myst in VR is one of those ten because in our minds that’s just a no-brainer at some point. Now, we want to make sure we’re motivated for that; we want to make sure that we do that right because if we do Myst in VR, we want it to feel special. So that’s one of them, but then there are others that are ideas, narratives, and intellectual properties that nobody knows about – the things that only we discussed [internally], and we got excited about. The one that’s missing right now is – and it’s probably for a good reason – we’re not thinking about a follow-up to Obduction. It had a good ending, and a good beginning; it told a good story. We’d love to get into more details with that – probably in a more linear way – but I think we all feel like that’s not maybe the next move at this point.
Ingmar: Do you have a rough idea of when fans of Cyan can expect an official announcement of the next project?
Rand: (laughs) I wish I knew because I’m not even sure which ones will bubble up to the top. I mean, we’re small enough that we can’t work on all of these at the same time, so what we’re doing is we’re working on one a little bit, working on another one a little bit, and see which ones bubble up, which ones start to tease us, which ones start to make an impression on us as something that would be interesting. Since the company actually has a VR product out there, it’s possible that we might get some funding help from partners. We could take a lot of projects to partners, and say, “hey, which one do you like?”, so it’s possible they might have some input into that as well. So I think time will tell; I have not a clue. It remains to be seen how long it will take for us to get those projects to a state where we’re ready to reveal them.
Ingmar: Thirty years has been a long time, but it’s great to hear that there are seemingly still a lot of things ahead for Cyan Worlds!
Robyn and Rand, still going strong 30 years later
Rand: Yeah, I’m looking forward to another thirty years of this! (both laugh) I often joke with my wife about retirement. I think the biggest joke we have is that if I retired, I would be sitting at home – probably, you know, reading the paper or reading the iPad – and I’d turn to her and say, “I’m kind of bored, I think I want to make a game!” (both laugh)
Ingmar: Sounds good to me! Rand, we’ve been talking for 80 minutes now; thank you very much for taking so much time for this 30th anniversary interview. Much appreciated!
Rand: My pleasure! I’m glad you’re interested, and, you know, the history is interesting to me. I love the fact that maybe there’s a few people that are interested. I’ve got to say it feels like I’m definitely one of the older guys in this industry at this point. It was fun being at PAX East and South because I’ve got gray hair, and there’s not a lot of people with gray hair in this industry. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of younger people who are making games or indie games, and they know Myst, and they know what we did, and a lot of them were inspired by it. Regardless of what I do from this point forward, creativity is always inspired by something else, so watching how that kind of spreads out is so satisfying, and I’m just grateful to be a part of it!