November 02, 2006

Make Myst!

08I had the opportunity of writing two articles for the "Toys and Games" issue of Make Magazine. I love toys. And I love games. So I guess it's the perfect fit...

The first of the two articles is about Myst. In short... I give anyone the directions for making their own Myst. Sort of. (You can read a short excerpt of this article in this previous post).

The other very short article, based on a previous post, is about my Grandpop's workshop.

There's some serious fun going on in this issue... some hardcore toys and games! Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Note: On newsstands November 20th.

November 2, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 28, 2006

Re-Splicery Strikes Back

From Dismissive-Complacent Disorder

I love seeing Myst user-created work. To me, these creations are an expansion of the Myst universe. Myst has become much larger than the strictly controlled ideas upon which it was designed and, in this sense, Myst is weirdly out of control.

Every once in awhile, one of these Myst-offsprings really stands out. Such is the case with Justin Norman's latest installment in his ever expanding Re-Splicery series: Dismissive-Complacent Disorder. You simply must watch this... it really hits home.

August 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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!

August 20, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

August 02, 2006

Persistent Disparate Interchange


Justin Norman contacted me a few weeks ago. He and his brother Wesley were curious to see if they could creatively transform the Myst or Riven music into something very different from either Myst or Riven... using visuals.

Of course I told them to shove it up their collective asses.

And just when I was getting ready to call my hotshot lawyers and sue them for even considering such a thing, I settled down and suddenly warmed to the idea. I'm glad... because they ended up doing something that's just plain weirdly great. They decided on Catherine's Theme from Riven. I provided the music but their (very) short film is their concept and implementation.

Please watch!

And afterwords, stop by the brother's Shrieking Tree site.

August 2, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

May 25, 2006

Selenitic Second Life

Selenitic_01 M

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.)

Selenitic_02 SL

Selenitic_03 M

Selenitic_04 SL

Selenitic_05 M

Selenitic_06 SL

Reader Comment: Torley Linden from Linden Labs left an excellent reply to this post. Below is an excerpt but I encourage you to read her entire comment (and thanks Torley!)...

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 :)

May 25, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

April 28, 2006

Me and Deja Vu


I saw this photograph and I was at first taken aback. For an instant it seemed eerily familiar, like I'd been there in another life or I'd scraped out that lava tube with my own hands (or at least watched someone else do it). And then I realized why...


Riven. This was one of the first scenes we did in the game.

The lava tube photograph was taken by the intrepid Bryan William Jones (two posts in a row). Amoung other things, he's also a photographer. I absolutely loved his Volcano National Park photos (Hawaii) – I'm completely there – I can just smell the plants clawing their way out between layers of lava. You should definitely take a look; with his heroics in the face of 600 bison and all... well, I think you owe it to him.

April 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 22, 2006

Early Riven


Very few of the Tinselman posts are Myst related. This one is. It's one of our earliest design maps of the five islands of Riven. If you're familiar with Riven, you'll be able to tell right away that this first attempt was only a rough stab – by the time we'd finished, our design had dramatically changed.

I'll try to post more of the maps in the future.


See the drawing in three sizes:
Small (cc)
Medium (cc)
XL (for a comfy fit) (cc)

(Using firefox? Don't forget to magnify the larger images.)

More Myst Links:

Five Riven islands
Original Myst Game Design Proposal

Reader Comment: Scott Elyard says, "I think I recognize the unused CG garden set that was shown in the Myst to Riven book." You can see a rendering of the Garden Island "east path" on Richard Watson's website.

Images licensed under a creative commons license. Some rights reserved.

February 22, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

June 21, 2005

Shaking It Off


This is Chuck Carter, navigator of the EC-121. This is not the same Chuck Carter who mystified us with his peculiarly alluring Myst realms. This is not the same Chuck Carter who is a ball of energy equivalent to ten men half his age. And this is not the same Chuck Carter that I had the pleasure of knowing and working with while we visually designed and built Myst (the computer game).

I've never met Chuck Carter the navigator, but this is the only decent photo I could find of any Chuck Carter. Sorry. The Chuck Carter I know – the Myst Chuck Carter – looks nothing like this. No matter: you can now learn all about him at his very entertaining and informative blog, Shaking off the Myst, where he offers his unique perspective on all things Myst.

June 21, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 15, 2005

Myst Game Design Proposal, Part II


Here it is. Myst Island in birthday cake form. Simply too cool... thank you Ned Batchelder's son!

Sadly, the real Myst Island was not made out of birthday cake. You can read all about this in our original Myst Game Design Proposal, which I'm now very pleased to bring you in all of its restored glory. This is the very same proposal that my brother and I used to pitch Myst to game companies. Broderbund (which was run by Doug Carlston at the time) accepted our proposal. And the rest is history.

Channelwood Age is the only page missing from the proposal... it was so blanketed with scribbles and notes that I was unable to clean it up. Sorry.

Click on one of the following page icons to see the corresponding page of the proposal:

Page1 Page2_2 Mystisland Stoneship Mechanical Selenitic

June 15, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

June 14, 2005

Myst Game Design Proposal, Part I


When my brother and I decided to make Myst, we had to convince a behemoth game company or two that it was a decent idea. So we created a nifty "Myst Game Design Proposal" that explained why Myst was such a dire necessity. It did things like describe the advantages and innate attractions of a first-person environment. It also gave a quick run-down on the story behind the Myst universe. But the best part of the proposal was the info and maps regarding each island. They were even detailed enough that eventually the proposal went on to serve as a rough design document during the production of Myst.

Somehow I only held onto one copy which, over the years, had become blanketed with stains, notes, sketches and phone numbers. But, thanks to the miracle of technology, I've been able to partly clean up some of this junk. I'll eventually post the entire proposal but for now here's Map B., describing The Stoneship Age of Myst.

By the way, the sketch for this Stoneship Age proposal page was lifted from our Myst design meeting notebooks. Rand and sat in a rooom for for hours on end, disussing every aspect of story and game play. As we talked, I would scribble drawings (and endless notes) on yellow legal pads. Collaborating like this is how the Myst world was born. This drawing of Stoneship Age is one of those original scribblings.

I leave you with a flyby of Stoneship Age and a promise of more proposal to come.

June 14, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack