“Perhaps the ending has not yet been written.” It’s been more than 25 years since those words first welcomed people to Myst. Taking full advantage of the then-cutting-edge CD-ROM format, Myst transported players to worlds that seemed so real, it was as if you could step through the screen and find them fully-formed on the other side.
It’s Myst as you’ve never seen it before—and how it was always meant to be seen. Peruse books in the Library, explore the treetops of the Channelwood Age, and feel the sea spray blowing over the craggy rocks of the Stoneship Age. (Disclaimer: You might not actually feel the spray.) There’s even a puzzle randomizer, so those who long ago memorized all the answers can experience Myst like it’s the first time.
We sat down with Cyan Development Director Hannah Gamiel to chat about Myst’s past and future, lessons learned from Obduction, and more.
When did work on Myst’s VR version begin, and what brought it about?
Hannah Gamiel: We’ve always wanted to bring Myst to VR but weren’t sure how or when that would be. Back in 2017, we made a very small proof-of-concept of Myst Island that was playable in VR and was used in a couple of pitches, but it never really went further than that.
Shortly after that, Eric Anderson (Creative Director) and I took a hiatus from Cyan and returned in the summer of 2019. One of the goals we had when rejoining the company was to jump-start getting our teams to work on multiple projects simultaneously at Cyan instead of working on one at a time. And with all of the buzz surrounding the potential Myst TV episodic series, we wanted to take a swing at recreating some of our classic games so that a modern audience could play them when the TV show comes out eventually.
So while we worked—and continue to work—on our other active project Firmament, we started pitching the idea of Myst in VR again, but this time targeting Oculus Quest. Work officially started on the game in the fall of 2019 and ramped up to a larger team earlier this year. It’s crazy to think that a from-the-ground-up reimagining of Myst started only a year ago, and look where we are now!
Is this classic Myst or have you tweaked or modernized the experience?
HG: I’d argue it’s half and half. We hope this reimagining will still be recognizable to anyone who played Myst in the past, even though aside from the voice acting and soundtrack the two versions share almost no underlying art, sound, or logic. We also have a completely new mode that randomizes the solutions for select puzzles in the game to keep it fresh for anyone who’s played it previously.
Were there any challenges or roadblocks bringing Myst to VR? Did anything need to be reworked or reimagined?
HG: The playstyle of the original Myst leant itself to being a pixel-hunt sort of game at the time. This style of gameplay doesn’t translate to VR very well, so you’ll find that some of the puzzles from the original Myst had to be tweaked to better fit a VR experience.
Myst also favors wide-open spaces that often have a ton of things in the player’s view, which presents a performance challenge in VR, especially on Quest. To avoid compromising the original look and feel of the game, we’ve had to build quite a few in-house optimization systems to get the game looking as good as possible and maintain those classic Myst sightlines.
I’d also argue that the sound-based puzzles in the original Myst presented a huge hurdle as well. We wanted to make sure in this new version of Myst that people who are hard of hearing (or choose to not play with sound) could still play without having to look up the answers. Without giving away too many spoilers on the puzzles this has to do with, we’ve both added visual aids to these puzzles and included an option in our settings menu to turn on gameplay-context subtitles so that it’s easy to tell which puzzle-important sound is playing, and where it’s coming from.
Which Myst Age is your favorite to visit in VR? Favorite puzzle?
HG: (Warning, spoilers for anyone who is looking to play the game!) I’m so torn about this! I have a couple of favorite Ages: My favorite Age is Stoneship, and second favorite (very close second) is Selenitic. I absolutely love what Eric and the Art Team did to bring them to life. The eerie sunset with looming storm clouds in Stoneship and crazy mysterious fog with the crystal forest area in Selenitic are just... Ugh. So good.
My favorite puzzle in the game is (again, spoilers, y’all!) probably the puzzle to get to Stoneship from Myst Island. It requires you to piece together a few bits of information from various places to come to a solution.
Did you learn any lessons from building Obduction and Firmament for VR that carried over to Myst?
HG: Obduction was a wild ride. Not only was it the first VR game we ever worked on, it was the first Unreal Engine title we ever produced as a team. We learned so many lessons from its development and release that we absolutely carried on to Myst. Same thing with Firmament. Although we started on Firmament prior to beginning work on Myst, all of the lessons we learned were carried forward just the same. A few great lessons we’ve learned so far:
1. Have a flexible, non-destructive optimization system. This allows us to iterate on performance improvements quickly without having to re-do a bunch of work.
2. Keep the user’s experience in mind first and foremost—each person’s experience with VR is going to be different. Keep all VR interactions within reach while sitting or standing, allow for a variety of playmodes (sitting, standing, roomscale, etc.), and have as many options as possible for users to tweak their navigation playstyle in the settings menu.
3. Playtesting is your friend! Having external input on your game is extremely valuable. Friends and family will catch things you would never have noticed during development.
4. Always build environments with scale in mind. In VR especially, a player is going to feel like they are physically standing in your environment, so building that environment to scale is massively important for conveying the feel of an area and enhancing the player’s sense of presence.
Why do you think Myst has managed to stay relevant (and beloved) for so long?
HG: Myst is truly a timeless classic, and people have so many fond memories of it. It has for sure made an impact on people’s lives, whether they played it themselves or with their parents. Those “a-ha!” moments when you solved a puzzle in Myst were truly special, I think, and made people come back for more day after day. We often get emails and letters from people who let us know that Myst made enough of an impression in their lives to get a job in game development, or become an artist, or musician, and so on. It really is a game that can appeal to most everyone.
I’m sure that if Rand Miller (CEO/Co-Founder of Cyan) were the one answering the questions here, he’d say something like, “Well, it was just a bunch of luck that it got so popular,” but uh... we have to give him more credit. He (and the rest of the original Myst team) made a good game, and I am so excited that we get to re-introduce it to everyone in a completely new format!
What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?
HG: We will be pushing a localization update out for Myst soon that will include support for French, Italian, German, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, and Portuguese. We’ll also be pushing a future update that will contain a journaling system to make it easier to keep track of clues you find across the game.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
HG: We’d love to send a huge thanks out to our fans and followers alike for all of their support over the years. Whether you played Myst originally long ago or are jumping into Myst for the first time ever, we hope you enjoy our reimagining of it and have a good time!
Myst is out now for Oculus Quest.