About 20 years ago, a man was plucked from his world and thrown into a mysterious new one: the island of Myst. Many have joined the man, guiding his steps and experiencing everything through his eyes in a journey that has had a lasting impact on the adventure genre of video games.
Rand Miller is the co-founder and CEO of developer Cyan, Inc. (also known as Cyan Worlds, Inc.), and is best known for creating the adventure game Myst with his brother Robyn. Last month, Cyan launched a Kickstarter campaign for its new game, Obduction.
Although it isn’t a sequel to the Myst series, Obduction promises to recreate many of feelings that distinguished Myst and Riven, such as the experience of being stranded in an unknown world. Miller was gracious enough to do a question and answer session with us about Obduction and why Cyan has chosen Kickstarter.
Let’s start by talking about the decision to call the game Obduction. The story starts with the player’s abduction, so why not name the game Abduction? The project’s Kickstarter page describes obduction as “the act of drawing or laying over, as a covering.” Does the title convey a double meaning?
Yes! Or does it? Or is it a triple meaning, meant to throw you off? Or did we do that to make you think there’s a twist so that you’ll be surprised when there is no twist? You won’t know until you play. Clever, eh?
What aspects or traits of the Myst franchise are present in Obduction? Is there a reason the campaign highlights Myst and Riven in particular?
We really are excited to harken back to that feeling that Myst and Riven brought to the table – being suddenly thrown into what feels like the middle of a much larger story in a strange new place. It seems like it resonates with people – not having to necessarily kill all the bad guys and level up, but to simply explore and interact with a rich environment, and figure out what the story is; how you can learn more and how you can affect it. Obduction changes the setting, the scenery, the story, the characters, the gameplay, the sounds, etc. – but it keeps that great feeling of becoming part of an interesting story.
In the 20 years since Myst, a lot has changed in terms of how games handle adventuring and puzzle-solving. Does Obduction draw inspiration from any other games or series, besides Myst?
I think Obduction’s gameplay is meant to be a tribute to Myst and Riven, particularly the aspects of gameplay that integrate the puzzles into the history, culture, and environment of this new place you find yourself in. But we’re heavily influenced and inspired by the feeling of exploration and quality of graphics in recent FPS and sandbox games like Assassin's Creed, BioShock, Red Dead Redemption, and even GTA V. Our thought is that there is certainly plenty of horsepower to build amazing new worlds, and maybe we can use that horsepower to create a place that players want to live in – instead of die in.
Obduction’s story is still very much a mystery. Is there anything else you can tell us about the story that isn’t already on the Kickstarter page?
We could reveal much of the story and play, but we would have a problem – that would basically ruin the experience. Since the story and play are so integral to our gaming experience, revealing those things ruins the very
things that are the rewards for pushing through our friction – namely puzzles.
In other words, if I tell you a key gameplay mechanism for exploring, you certainly won’t have the feeling of satisfaction as if you had discovered it yourself. And if we show you an image of one of the worlds you get to visit, you aren’t nearly as impressed when we reveal it to you in the game the first time. We had this same problem with Myst and Riven.
With that said, we realize that we can’t just provide a blank piece of paper and expect people to lay down money, so we’re trying to find the right balance. We’ve revealed just a hint of stuff on Kickstarter and we have a few more things to show – like certain sketches, names of places, unique gameplay elements, and maybe more.
[Next up: The role of characters and puzzles in Obduction, and a tantalizing new reward tier for the Kickstarter campaign.]
Will players encounter other characters in the game? Will Obduction be more character-driven than earlier titles in the Myst series?
Players will definitely encounter other characters, but that is always a double-edged sword. Characters are what can drive the emotion and storyline, but they can also lead to feeling of compromised interaction. There’s nothing that breaks the spell of feeling like you’re in a world than interacting with a character who appears to speak your native language. How do you ask a question that is not already planned for? How do you converse? You can’t even ask them how they feel without the question being on a list, and the answer feeling like it’s part of a pre-planned agenda. And that’s not like real life so it flattens the experience.
So there are design tricks to try to minimize that flaw. In Myst we distanced the characters a bit (through the book portals), so that the player felt like it was not an open conversation and more of a revelation. And I’d argue that it still felt character driven – just in a different way.
So with that in mind, we definitely want Obduction to feel character driven, and we have a few new tricks in mind to make that happen without breaking the spell.
Can you tell us anything about gameplay in Obduction? Can you give us a sense or example of how puzzle-solving works in the game?
Obduction will be a single-player experience much like Myst and Riven. We have a wonderful plan for a stretch goal that expands on that a bit to provide a less solo experience, but we don’t want to get into that until we see how the campaign is going.
Puzzle solving will be similar to Myst and Riven – particularly the puzzles that seem very well integrated into the storyline and environment. For example: The puzzles will be more like the gateroom in Riven that has a purpose in the actual storyline, and less like the match in the vault in the cabin in Myst that was fun but kind of arbitrary.
In the video, you also talk about the discrepancy between Cyan’s goals, and those of potential publishers. Can you give an example of the freedom of choice you’d have in funding Obduction via Kickstarter versus going to a publisher?
I think it is the same kind of freedom we had when we first did Myst. We could make some very interesting choices without being second guessed. We weren’t necessarily right on every choice, but we pushed some key things in really good directions for what we were building – like not dying or killing, or minimal inventory, or no screen accoutrements. That freedom enabled us to make Myst unique, and we’re looking forward to that same kind of freedom with Obduction.
The Obduction Kickstarter campaign has a number of enticing reward tiers for its backers, and we recently added an additional tier for donations of $1,100 or more. The new tier rewards backers with a “Myst” edition of Strata’s Design 3D CX software, for creating 3D content that will actually be featured in the game. These backers will also have their names shown in the “Additional Design” section in the credits.
This particular edition of the Strata Design 3D CX software also contains some content from the original Myst game, including a number of 3D models. Those with the software will be able to see how this content was created, and can use them to create their own.
In addition, backers who’ve reached the new tier are given five digital images rendered from original Myst models. These images are in high-resolution, and have never been released until now.
Thirteen lucky backers have already made it to the tier, but the rewards are still available for twelve more people.
Visit the Obduction Kickstarter page for more information and pictures, as well as the video I mentioned in the interview. Also, be sure to check out our Kickstarter Compendium to learn about some of the other exciting campaigns going on right now.
Obduction is planned for Windows and MacOS for release in mid-to-late 2015. Cyan is also working with Steam, GOG, and Humble Bundle for digital distribution.