April 11, 2013
A Myst History - Speaking at GDC
May 26, 2007
Lights... Camera... Tintin!
Yes it's true. After all these years, our intrepid reporter is at last being immortalized on the silver screen. The film will be Directed by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, and produced by Kathleen Kennedy, all of whom have signed up for a trilogy. In shimmering CG!
Jackson is careful to explain that, while Weta will maintain Hergé's timeless designs, the film and its characters will not look "cartoonish". As he says,
We're making them look photorealistic; the fibers of their clothing, the pores of their skin and each individual hair. They look exactly like real people — but real Hergé people!
Eek! Sounds a bit scary to me! I can't help but wonder why they wouldn't just stick closer to Hergé's time-tested ligne claire visual style: a look that generations have grown up with.
But I didn't grow up reading Tintin. I discovered the series in the early 90's, right around time we were starting Myst. About this same time, I was beginning to wonder how I'd ever render all the images that the Myst world required. Of course I'd draw them by hand; initially, I had no question about that... after all, that's how we'd done our previous works. And so, for about 20 minutes one day, at the very beginning of the project, I got out Hergé's The Black Island and began to sketch islands.
And then I turned around and quickly abandon the effort. After all, there's only one Hergé!
The rest, as they say, is history: we turned to 3-D. And though desktop computing power was at a minimum (relative to today), the addition of 3-D (Stratavision 3-D) allowed us to render thousands of images, not hundreds. More importantly, it instilled a maturity in the environment: enough to give users the sense they'd actually stepped onto the shores of Myst island.
And now we return to Hergé. While recently in Paris, my family and I visited the Pompidou (like all good tourists). On the way out, we discovered that we had just missed a Hergé exhibit (celebrating the artist's 100th birthday). Oh, how our hearts ached! But the catalog! There must be a catalog! Of course, I immediately rushed to the museum bookstore and found it: Hergé! And what a catalog! If you're a Tintin fan, I highly recommend this thick but small volume, practically stuffed full of original drawings, paintings, prints, and photographs.
I also picked up Tintin et Moi, an revealing biographical portrait of Hergé, told through the artist's own voice. The principle audio of all this is eerily compiled from 14 hours of in depth interviews, recorded in 1971 by Numa Sadoul. It's fascinating! (video preview)
Note: An article entitled A Boy's World: The Tintin Century is available in the latest issue of the New Yorker.
April 13, 2007
Unfinished concept for a small side project on which a good friend and I are working.
September 25, 2006
Can blimps learn, adapt and evolve? Yes... when they've been designed by Qarl. After senseless pillaging by certain vicious Second Life land owners, Qarl had finally had it up to here! His solution: artificial life. Now his blimps lead much happier lives (sort of). Qarl explains:
blimps who (by chance) wander into dangerous areas will die, and their genes will disappear from the gene pool. blimps who (by chance) avoid danger will reproduce more often, and their genes will dominate the gene pool.
the blimps will “learn” to avoid danger. they evolve. by some definitions, they are alive.
Read more on on Qarl's blog.
Reader comment: Qarl adds,
one of the most compelling examples of artificial evolution was done by Karl Sims in the early 90s. he created virtual organisms comprised of simple boxes, each box having a virtual muscle between them.
from generation to generation, he allowed both the body shape and the muscle motion to change - he rewarded creatures that could move.
from these simple rules his system created snakes and fish and creatures with legs - rediscovering the forms created by mother nature millions of years ago.
August 20, 2006
Myst Origins to Offspring
I just wrote a lengthy article about the inspirations and evolution of our Myst game for one of my favorite magazines: Make.
I loved writing this article! In it I've had the rare opportunity to talk about a lot of things that we never touched on before now (or, if we did, they've been scattered and lost). The bad news is, the article won't be appearing until Make's November issue. The good news... I'm going to preempt that issue and preview a very small portion right now (because they said that was cool).
Preview - Make Magazine Article
by Robyn Miller (me)
“How did you make Myst?”
This has got to be the question we still hear the most. So we begin to talk about the production. How we created mountains out of grayscale grids. Or how we attempted to create a sense of detail using textures instead of geometry. But typically people are not overly interested in these things. What people usually want to know is “How did you come with the ideas for a game like Myst?”
I’m always left fumbling for a quick sound-bite answer to this question. Something quick and easy like, “Designing a world like this is largely an intuitive process... we made decisions because they felt right.” And though this is true, practically speaking it explains nothing.
In truth, there was a history to many of the concepts behind Myst. There was an evolution to these concepts and there were clear inspirations. Some seemingly odd sources gave birth to core Myst ideas (some of which even we almost took for granted). And now, all these years later, it’s relatively easy for me to look back see the enormous impact these sources had on the ideas in Myst. There is a more practical answer to the question, “How did you come up with the ideas for a game like Myst?”
First we have to go back number of years. Maybe to something like 1981-82, when I’m doing time at Henderson High in rural East Texas and my brother Rod routinely gets together with a group of his closest friends once a week and slips into the skin of a Wizard. Or a Paladin. They sit around a big table and pretend to have big adventures in trap-ridden dungeons where some horrifyingly grotesque monster or demon hides behind each new corner. This was a role-playing game called Dungeons and Dragons and was growing in popularity around that time (and I believe still has quite a following).
Every once in awhile, I’d sit in on one of these games. They were curious. And fun. These times I played “D&D”... they were something like mini-vacations. Or in some ways even better. I could explore ancient castles. Or dig through the ruins of some futuristic city, long dead. Hey, this wasn’t half bad! Especially when Jeff Zandi (who was later immortalized in the Myst related Uru) acted as Dungeon Master. He told a lot of jokes, seemed to ignore dice rolls that weren’t in the players’ favor, and generally kept things moving along at an expeditious pace. This was all vitally important because usually the game moved like molasses and the rules were so numerous that they filled up three heavy books (faithfully brought to every game). A bad Dungeon Master spent half the game looking through his books; a good Dungeon Master (like Jeff) would just confidently pretend to have it all memorized.
My oldest brother Rand also sat in on a few of these sessions and later, he and I would enjoy discussing what we saw as D&D’s various successes and failures. The good stuff was obvious: the adventure and the sense of escapism. But we’d also talk about how we disliked the slow speed and endless rules. We felt it was a poor interface that only the most devoted fans would ever bother to commit to memory.
That's the beginning! To read the rest of the article, subscribe to Make magazine or pick up their November issue (I'll remind my faithful Tinselites).
Note: The images I've chosen for this preview are not the images that will appear in Make... a couple of the Make images are maps and drawings that date back to before Rand and I founded Cyan. They're amazing bits of Myst history!
May 25, 2006
Selenitic Second Life
Understandably, a number of people didn't exactly appreciate my comments about Second Life in a previous post. I'd like to respond.
The core concept, a population of people, empowered to create their own physical (virtual) space, is exceptional. Second Life is undoubtedly the best thing of it's kind out there. My frustrations lie in the fact that it doesn't live up to it's full potentional. What attracts me most about Second Life is the community (at an affordable price), so I'm not so interested in the islands. But community is what I feel is most poorly implemented. In short, it attracts me much less than my own real world and I'm left wondering why the Lindens (the Second Life staff) did not try to attract people like me with the most basic city planning. Why isn't the megapolis divided into small towns, each with a limited population of around 3000? Why aren't market areas seperated from the living area? Why aren't there town centers, with town squares? And what about a central public park and large public building that one can see from almost any part of town? All of these things are just the first steps toward beginning a community... then there's government, voting, virtual laws. And above all else, the town settings must be designed and inviting – like a town set on a high mesa or clustered on the side of a steep hill, where every dwelling has a view to the river below. And some of these settings could even border on the fantastic... an escape from the real world rather than a sensory near oppressive sensory overload.
The Second Life concept is great. It's just poorly implemented. So who will make it work? The Lindens? I hope.
In the meantime, it's refreshing to witness the hundreds (thousands?) of people who, though they may have never developed any software at all, find themselves in Second Life, creating mini-worlds of their own!
~aDen, a Second Life inhabitant, just sent me images of a the Myst rocket ship that he/she made. Wow! You gotta love this! (I've included the corresponding images from Myst, along with ~aDen's images... click to enlarge.)
Some say "First Land" (512 m2 parcels, each for a first-time landowner) are like ghettos, with each person imposing their vision into a compact space. Over time, people move out, wanting more land, and from the chaos comes some degree of stability--like a fine wine--with age.
I don't think the Lindens can "make this world" insularly--it's a Resident-created world! It's up to the Lindens to provide tools, yes, but it's this constant exchange with the community. As a former Resi who frequently made feature suggestions, I've experienced this trueness multiple times. (LA, KEEP AN EYE ON CALEDONICS. :O)
But for now, here's a blunt generalization: think of sci-fi cliches with "the galactic core" and alien homeworlds. Homeworlds are more orderly and uniform because they stock a single (or in some cases, several cooperative and/or not-so-cooperative) species. But the galactic core, like Trantor, or Coruscant, have such a kaleidoscopic mishmash of STUFF that it causes exponential, intergalactic culture shock.
Think of the islands as homeworlds, and the mainland as the galactic core.
Reader Comment: Also, from Second Life resident Maxx Monde...
You're right, of course Robyn. SL is a free-for-all that doesn't result in aesthetic coherence, but there is some excellent things there, if you can look in the right places.
Having Myst recreated (in part) inside of SL is very cool, just like the URU players did with their island when the service shut down. SL is the only place to even attempt such a thing.
It can only get better, over time, as pure design talent gets poured into the arena. I certainly try to do my part :)
December 30, 2005
With a bit of confusion, it's all over and we do have a winner: Iconomy, who e-mailed me the answer before anyone else came up with it (as well as timestamping her said answer on Metafilter). Iconomy's email reads:
We had a lot of fun on Ask Metafilter trying to discover what these were! They're part of the Dushanbe Optical Tracking Facility. These are part of the Okno system, in Tajikistan. It's an optronic system for observing space objects - a space tracking system. (Although USA thought it was a military laser system)
Much congratulations to Iconomy. This is how she found it:
I typed the words SPACE and DOME into Google. The image was on the second page of the returns. It was totally hit and miss. First I tried combinations of observatory and dome and all kinds of things. I spent well over an hour trying to find it...hee.
Iconomy says she does not desire the highly valuable and fashionable prize, which is quite astonishing given that it makes such a lovely handbag (I gave my wife 5 of them for Christmas). So now, because of Iconomy's evident unwillingness to accept this oh-so-chic masterful thing of coolness, I will announce the surprise second place winner!
Scott Elyard! You are the amazing second place winner in the "Win Big!" contest and you will receive Iconomy's prize! Scott's winning comment reads:
Next, on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom... witness the eggs of the fabulous Mechagodzilla--and, oh look! The one nearest to us is about to hatch--AIIIIIEEEEE! RUN AWAY
Great job, Scott! And great thanks to everyone else involved. All 5... thousand of you.
December 22, 2005
Guess where and what this thing is and you'll receive the grand prize... the admiration of Tinselman (and your peers).
Update: I've decided to up the ante. The first person who discovers the exact name, location and purpose of this large thing will win a sporty Ambo-face Messenger Bag. This contest will be judged by an esteemed panel of judges (me and my dog). If there is no clear winner by January 1st, Nutmeg and I will simply choose the most inventive answer. So good luck (and good cheer)!
Important... please remember the name, location and purpose of the mystery object. State all three at once or you may end up giving away vital clues to the other participants.
December 17, 2005
He Yelps for Help
Poor Samorost. His dog has just been stolen by aliens and now you must help him (or be him) as he attempts to rescue his poor pup. The game is Samorost 2 by Czech design group, Amanita Design. The game-play is compelling enough but it's the visuals that really pull you in: they're beautiful – a Dr. Seussian world, but with more texture, dimension and dirt. I couldn't wait to get to the next area, just to see more.
I can't usually find games I enjoy, but I couldn't pull myself away from this one. Plus, half is free!
June 24, 2005
This is a screenshot of Disney's Virtual Magic Kingdom. I've finally given it a try; some of the spaces are fun to look at – many of them are meticulously drawn. With lots of little nooks and crannies, it's sort of a cross between Disneyland and Habbo Hotel though, unlike the real Disneyland, there doesn't seem to be much to do.