A Secretive World Called Neyyah interview
The tried-and-true Myst formula continues to be a popular one for puzzle fans, and next year we'll get another set of interconnected worlds to explore in indie Australian developer Defy Reality Entertainment's upcoming Neyyah. Two years have passed since we last spoke about the game and a lot has evolved since then. It's now been revealed that the Neyyah will be published by the well known MicroProse. As such, we took some time to sit down with solo developer Aaron Gwynaire to get the latest updates.
The inspiration from Myst seems apparent as we mentioned in our previous coverage, can you tell us your thoughts behind creating Neyyah?
Funnily enough, Neyyah was originally going to be an introduction level to a much bigger project. Then, very quickly, it took on a whole life of its own, and I just ran with it ....
The inspirations for Neyyah originate from my fascination with Myst, and most particularly Riven. I used to play these games with my dad and brother back as a kid, and we never finished them, but they evoked curiosity, intrigue, and sometimes fear and mystery - a whole load of emotions. Later on in my teens, I finished them (with a walkthrough) but for me, I was also looking at the games from an artistic lens, as I do with most games I play these days (when I get time to).
When I discovered how these games had been designed, using pre-rendered images and a 2D screen-to-screen interface, I was hooked. Game design was a brand-new outlet to express my creativity, imagination ... I'd always loved art - anything from drawing, painting, clay modelling - from a very young age, and I loved storytelling too, having written a 264-page fantasy novel at age 11 (inspired by Raymond E. Feist's work and Lord of the Rings, etc.). Game design combined everything, and my love for creating music came about in my teens as well. While I enjoyed writing songs, performing, recording / producing music and other people's music too, and eventually teaching guitar / singing, I realised that game design was much more fulfilling for me, making use of not only other areas of my brain, but my heart and soul, too. It encompassed all sorts of creativity, and enabled me to push myself further in the areas I was familiar with and learn new ones. I am very engaged when I design anything for Neyyah, especially the worlds. I feel like I'm actually there myself.
Riven particularly is a huge inspiration behind Neyyah. When I started learning Blender just before I started Neyyah, I saw the power of the Cycles rendering engine, and the fidelity, clarity, tone ... everything about the rendering reminded me of the realism captured in Riven, a beautiful game that, while being released in 1997, still stands up graphically to this day. What they achieved back then has definitely encouraged and inspired me to pursue a massive project like Neyyah. Even though I'm a solo developer, the overwhelming aspects of taking on such an ambitious project barely ever comes to mind. The love and passion for seeing this world develop comes first, and the small milestones along the way help keep me grounded and sane!
Other inspirations come from the places around me, such as the old Napoleonic structures found at Landguard Fort in Felixstowe, England, close to where I live, and Martello towers dotted around the local English coastline. It feels like I'm actually in Neyyah when exploring these places! And then other games which have shaped Neyyah include Dragon Lore II: The Heart of the Dragon Man (with its beautiful FMV transitions), RHEM, Alida, Dark Fall, Might & Magic, Tomb Raider .... There's a wide range of influences which have helped shape the game in a myriad of different ways.
The endless hours that have gone into constructing Neyyah as a solo developer have created a beautiful timeline too, capturing the events in my own life that transpired during development. So, not only is Neyyah a finished game that people can play, a world that people can explore ... it becomes much more than that. It's a time capsule, harbouring my life experiences throughout the years I designed it, from remembering what was happening in my life when I was developing that scene there, or that scene here, etc. A lot of changes have occurred within four years, so where I was at the start of creating Neyyah will be very different at the point of its completion. I think that in itself is very rewarding, and a big part of why I've put so much time and energy into such a massive project, rather than releasing a small game. That in itself is a beautiful thing!
How long has the game been in development and when do you intend to release it?
Neyyah came about in July 2018, while I was living in Western Australia, after having worked in the music industry for most of my twenties, and running a music tuition business alongside my wife at the time (aptly named Defy Reality Music Tuition - Defy Reality has stuck for a long time. I believe I came up with that back in 2011).
I wanted to get back into game design when I felt like I was hitting a wall with my music, and so I returned to my 3D program Anim8or, which I'd used in my teens and was most confident with - although knowing very well I'd have to brush up on it - and an engine called Adventure Maker, which was designed specifically for making Myst-style games. This all started happening around June 2018, and I was pulling ideas from a previous project I'd started but never finished back in 2011 called Portals: Journey to the Lost Pearl Islands. There was a lot of backstory I'd created in this gem, and it had taught me I could actually make a game in the style of Myst. Although I never finished it, I'd made one 'level' which was playable from start to finish. This gave me the confidence to get back into game design. It was refreshing after so long! I had attempted one game called The Shaft in 2014 but it never amounted to a lot, then had another idea around 2017, but this didn't kick off either - music always took charge in my life at that point.
Neyyah changed everything.
I have now been developing the game for nearly four years and haven't looked back since. It's grown stronger and stronger along the way, and the drive, passion and motivation for building this world has never left me, which I feel very lucky and proud about.
Regarding releasing Neyyah to the world: I don't have any set date, but will be looking at 2023. There's still a long journey ahead - environments need designing, engine work implementing, and there's still sound and music production. The music particularly will be a very fun process. I already have some ideas / samples of sounds from a Yamaha keyboard I purchased last year. Even way before this work commences, it was great experimenting late last year with the odd sound here and there, and envisioning Neyyah's world through music. It's going to be one of the last areas of work I do for the game. So, at some point in 2023 Neyyah will be out!
What can you tell us about Neyyah, beyond that it's an island?
Well, Neyyah is not so much one island, but more a collection of islands, linked together via portals. The player uncovers the reasons behind Neyyah's land separation during the game. Although I don't want to say too much about the history of Neyyah right now, I can definitely discuss some of the design choices.
Originally, Neyyah started out on an all-in-one PC running on 8gb RAM, back in Australia (and I have my wife to thank for getting that machine). When I moved to England, I jumped back into development using a PC with 4gb RAM, and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of work I could achieve in Blender on this machine (big thanks to my parents there)! Then in 2020, I invested in the most powerful machine I've ever had, which is the main computer I still run today: a Ryzen 9 3900x with 64gb RAM. This really raised the bar for Neyyah's visual standards. I was suddenly able to add so much more detail and richness into my scenes, and the game was given a new breath of creative life. This expanded the story, the world building elements, and puzzles too. It was fantastic. However, I didn't have much of a cap on the magic I'd been given as a developer, and so technical issues arose.
For example, one of the islands of Neyyah (Felitsu Island) was going to be this massive island of its own, but it had to be separated into sets due to rendering issues. So Felitsu has now been separated into five portal zones. Strangely, the mistakes I made led to benefits for the game in terms of story, world building, etc. Looking back in hindsight, I could have done things a lot differently, but I've learned so much along the way during Neyyah's development since 2018 that I now have a very fast pipeline in developing sets in Blender, but also engine-related work too.
The key is realising when something is done, letting it go, and moving on to the rest of the mountain of work. While not everything may be perfect, as long as it works together as a whole, I am fine with that.
So, to sum Neyyah up as a place, it's definitely reminiscent of Riven's aesthetic. While keeping things coherent in style and looks, there is a sense of cultural difference within the various landscapes, and this has been fun to swing back and forth between as a designer. There are some other cool surprises which will make Neyyah a very extraordinary place to discover, bringing a unique flavour to the genre, and as a gameplay experience too.
What's the gameplay like? Has it evolved since the 2020 gameplay video you released?
Foremost, Neyyah's gameplay has continued to stick with a point-and-click, screen-to-screen style, using pre-rendered images and animations, just like Riven. However, although back in the early days of Neyyah's builds, I was already rendering animations to show a player traversing up some stairs or down a ladder, this feature is now optional, and is now called Journey Mode. It enables the player to experience more immersion within the otherwise 2D pre-rendered environment, and can also be skipped with a right-click of the mouse. Having this as an option for gameplay will match the specific choices of the individual player.
I re-evaluated the position of click points the player uses to get around the game world, too. This was based on feedback from gifs I was releasing on social media.
I have also updated the cursors of the game. The player won't have trouble knowing what they can and can't click on, as this will be clearly shown within the cursor changes (activate, inventory item needed, etc.). There's even a Forward Left and Forward Right cursor now too, so perhaps you might be at a forked path, and you may want to go left. Well, the forward cursor changes to a more angled forward, pointing in that desired direction. I now have a change in transition speeds as well, so you can disable transitions completely, or explore through Speed, Neutral or Relax transitions. There is also a Faster Travel option coming soon to the game, which is already in the Options menu, but I have yet to implement it in the build. It acts like a zip mode.
There are various ways to enjoy Neyyah, whether you want to really take your time and relax, or get around a lot faster!
There will be animations playing in the background, such as water rippling, birds flying here and there, and smoke / fog. Water ripples, for example, can be enabled or disabled during gameplay. There are animations galore now - doors opening, buttons being pressed, going up and down elevators. It's all part of bringing an immersive, realistic world for the player to explore. These animations can also be skipped during gameplay by right-clicking anywhere on the screen.
I really believe there will be something for everyone in terms of Neyyah's gameplay mechanics.
What's the main story and who's the protagonist (Still Theo?)
I will share this much of the main storyline. You, the player, arrive in a place called Olujay, a giant land mass that floats high above the planet of Fayamore (where Neyyah is situated) and you are greeted by a man named Vamir. Frantically, he sends you out on a mission which could save his people. In the process, you become trapped on Neyyah, and while you find a way to get back to Vamir, you will uncover the mystery behind Vamir, Olujay, Neyyah, why you are in this strange world, and much, much more ....
Neyyah's story is complex and full of lore. I had a backstory I'd created back in 2011, and fleshed it out for a game I was developing just before Neyyah. I had concept art going for this, and had the title 'Beyond'. Then Neyyah came along and took charge! The player will learn and discover a lot during their explorations, and this counts massively as to how well they are then able to complete the game, because solving puzzles involves a significant amount of observation. However, I believe certain areas can be solved quite easily, and this will give the player that boost to want to discover and learn more. I don't want to give too much away in regard to the story, and have been very careful in all the promotion I have done so far on social media. I can say that Neyyah's world offers a lot of history, good and bad, and that cause and effect has a significant impact on the way the game plays out, why you have arrived in this strange world in the first place, and how to leave Neyyah ... before it's too late.
So originally I was going to have the player assume the role of a character called Theo. This was the original vision I had for Neyyah. However, I think it was during 2020 that I decided to scrap this idea, and have gamers play as themselves. The idea of feeling as though you, the player, have been swept away into another world feels a lot more engaging and immersive. There was also a comment on my Patreon that made me think more about this ... how in Myst, you never played a character, as such. You felt like you were there. While I find the screen-to-screen point-and-click navigation such a thrilling charm from the original Myst and Riven, and knew I would be bringing this over to Neyyah, I thought that having the players play as themselves would also be an important aspect of the gameplay experience.
Anything you'd like to share that might not be known to readers yet or that you feel is important to call out?
Well, I feel it's important for players to be aware that Neyyah is not a real-time game. It's pre-rendered, running screen-to-screen, just as in the original Myst and Riven, and functions primarily in this fashion. I have, however, created a list of options for the player to change transition speeds, faster travel mode and also a Journey Mode, which will deliver more FMV travel transitions at certain points while traversing Neyyah, inspired heavily by Dragon Lore II: The Heart of the Dragon Man (Cryo, 1996). I have a whole list of reasons for why I decided to take this pre-rendered screen-to-screen point-and-click route, rather than joining the real-time bandwagon. One of the main reasons is I wanted to create a game that ran like Riven, and I love the point-and-click navigation. There are puzzles in Neyyah which I find best suited for this style of gameplay, and elements of suspense can be better delivered through a more snap-snap visualisation too. It's nostalgic and, while feeling very retro, it will also feel quite refreshing and new, particularly to younger generations. The lovely thing about creating a game like this, especially with the use of Visionaire Studio 5, is that it enables me to stitch together the game using a more visual method of scripting. The engine's amazing. A great choice of engine for delivering Neyyah to players.
Another exciting element of Neyyah is the implementation of live action characters. I'm very excited for this, and I'm sure fans of the genre will be too. I am looking at filming out in Western Australia either later this year or early next year, working alongside Australian actors and crew, and my wife will also be making an appearance in the game. It's going to be an intriguing phase of Neyyah's production, and seeing real-life actors within the game world is going to be so cool! It's definitely a call back to the original Myst and Riven. This work will be captured in behind-the-scenes material and shared over social media, the Steam page, developer updates, etc.
One last thing I'll add is ... the portal to Neyyah awaits. Wishlist Neyyah on Steam and prepare yourself for a brand-new adventure! To follow its progress and support production in the meantime, you can back its development through this Patreon page.
» Check your e-mail to finalize registration!