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August 20, 2006

Myst Origins to Offspring

Map of Lincoln Island from Jules Verne's novel Mysterious Island

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).

(left) Illustration of underground ocean from Verne's haunting Journey to the Center of the Earth compared to (right) illustration of Dn'i from dime-store Myst comic.

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!

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I did that too; the weekends spent playing D&D back in the 80's. In fact there was a dungeon master I played with for several years who made me solve a puzzle before he would allow me to join his group.


Posted by: Bonnie | Aug 20, 2006 5:29:12 PM

Excellent. That should make November a bit less gloomy.

Posted by: Chris G | Aug 20, 2006 8:07:04 PM

Oh Boy! This is something I've been wanting to read for a long time.

Posted by: Stephen Henderson | Aug 20, 2006 9:15:04 PM

Very cool. I really look forward to reading that.

Posted by: Anton Purr | Aug 21, 2006 12:52:59 PM

"Myst" huh? Never heard of it... ;-)

Posted by: jedimacfan | Aug 21, 2006 1:11:30 PM

Hi Robyn,

allow me some words.

sometimes I ask myself if those who play Myst are trying to run from somewhere.

deep inside Myst is a parallel universe in which you emerge and are able to find tranquility.

we all have this comfortable universes inside us. places in which we hide to find the perfection that, sometimes, reality deny us.

the difference is that you and your brothers were able to materialize those universes...more than that...you were able to share them without having to explain them.

we thank you.
a beautiful world was born.
a world that is always a pleasure to visit.

and...Myst is as real as the life that we live because....

all reality is just an illusion!


Posted by: zenaida | Aug 21, 2006 3:28:49 PM

Hi tinselman,

Just discovered your blog. Sweeeeet post. I say without hyperbole that your work at Cyan, and beyond, inspired me to pursue art and game design. I also seriously dig your albums.

I remember you were in a Wired magazine article a few years ago for your land of point project. Are you still pursuing this project? Hmmm, maybe thats a question for another post... ;-)

Cheers and regards,


Posted by: Neil | Aug 21, 2006 5:44:16 PM

Hi Robyn,
love your blog, I was wondering what has happened to Chuck Carters blog, 'shaking off the myst', this seems to have vanished without a trace. Perhaps another book/magazine article is in the making?

Posted by: simon | Aug 21, 2006 6:20:46 PM

SWEEEEEEEEEET! MAKE is one of my top 5 mags. Was just perusing the new issue this morning. There's a kool article on boxcar racing in the 1970's. Robyn, i couldnt be more stoked to read your article come november, and am high-fiving you right now!

Posted by: nick | Aug 23, 2006 1:09:43 PM

Thank you for the 'Myst'...

Could you put on your site the process and history (also there is a problem with the links on this page for the pictures etc).

16th sept 2013.


Posted by: Squeak | Sep 16, 2013 6:25:41 AM

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