With the recent resurrection of
style="font-style: italic;">Myst Online: Uru Live
Ten Ton Hammer puzzled
out the tough quests to get to the bottom of the story. To that end, we
tracked down Rand Miller, co-founder and CEO of Cyan Worlds, and the
man responsible for millions of gamers’ heads exploding from
trying to figure out puzzles over the years.
Ton Hammer: For our readers who aren’t familiar with the
title, can you tell us a little bit about style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Myst
Online: Uru Live Again style="font-weight: bold;"> ( style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">MO:ULagain style="font-weight: bold;">)?
Miller: For anybody who
they know that it’s about exploring another world.
It’s not about feeling the pressure to twitch and shoot or
jump and run, but about understanding what went on in the world and
exploring it. So, the idea of style="font-style: italic;">Myst Online,
when we approached that a lot of years ago, was to take that idea of style="font-style: italic;">Myst
and have that same appeal with worlds that you visit, but attach it to
everything that a broadband experience can offer. In other words, the
world content could continue to evolve, change, and be added to and you
can explore this with your friends. It was definitely the transition
to a state-of-the-art experience.
Ton Hammer: So now you’ve opened up a free server. What made
you decide on doing that?
We poured a lot of money and effort into style="font-style: italic;">Myst Online
back in the day. We started work on it shortly after style="font-style: italic;">Riven,
so it’s been a lot of years in the making. As good as style="font-style: italic;">Myst
was in the right place at the right time, style="font-style: italic;">Myst Online
was in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, we’ve had a lot
of fits and starts, and a lot of publishers who bailed on us and got a
little ahead of their game and needed a little more money and
blah…blah…blah. Anyway, it had a few chances to
be published, but never really has made it. The idea is that we have
some pretty incredible technology and content that is languishing in
the vaults at the office, and we’re excited that we have a
large enough fan base who would enjoy playing it. Let’s open
it back up, so the bits won’t rot. Let people play it, let
people enjoy it, and at least we keep it alive to a certain extent.
From there, move it to more of an open source, where the fans could
create content along with us creating content and see if it becomes
something more and takes on a life of its own.
Ton Hammer: You’ve mentioned that you’ve been
fighting for an online version of style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Myst style="font-weight: bold;"> for a long time now.
First, it was delayed and ended up not being shipped with style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Uru style="font-weight: bold;"> in 2003. Then, in 2004,
it got scrapped and resurrected again by GameTap as a distributor in 2006, and
then cancelled in 2007. Do you think that the player base has changed
at all since then? Is it more likely to receive a better reception now?
I’m not sure that it’ll receive a better reception.
I think the best chance we had was the initial launch. We had a lot of
people signed up for the beta, and we have a box on the shelf that
played as a single player game. With a simple click, you could turn it
into a massively multiplayer game, which was a really cool idea, but
the publisher didn’t want to get into the online market at
that point, which was unfortunate in being in the wrong place at the
wrong time. I think what we have at this point is that we have a very
loyal fan base, who have enjoyed the depth of what we’ve put
into this product. It’s a small base; it’s not a style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft,
which, obviously, nothing is. It’s large enough that maybe
there’s enough people to keep it going, from a small
publisher’s point of view, almost a grassroots’
point of view. The idea is that maybe there’s room for
something like that. Maybe we’re on the small end of the long
tail, but in these days and times, maybe you can do something like that
and pull it off. If we don’t try it, then it will fail.
Ton Hammer: Now that style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Myst
Online style="font-weight: bold;"> is going to open source,
how has the community been responding to it? Do you have any kind of
predictions on where they may take the game?
We were blown away. When we released it, we didn’t do it with
a lot of fanfare or press releases. This was a labor of love. We turned
the switch on and put a little note on our website. At that point,
things went nuts. We had no idea that there would be that kind of
response we got from the fans. We suddenly had thousands and thousands
of people trying to download the game from our website. We crashed,
promptly, then started to beef up the servers, which went through
several rounds over the next few days of enhancing the servers and
apologizing to the fans. The response has been overwhelming. One of the
most gratifying things is that older fans who never got to play style="font-style: italic;">Myst Online
because of the numerous fits and starts or didn’t want to
subscribe to other places. There’s a lot of people on the
forums who say, “Oh cool. I never got a chance. I always want
to see what style="font-style: italic;">Myst Online
was, what was there. Now, I finally get a chance.” That is
rather satisfying to us. Also, a change for us is that we’ve
actually stuck a donation button on the bottom of the download page
where you register and say if you want to give five or ten bucks. The
fans have responded so generously. These times are kind of tough, and
it’s been really encouraging. It’s not going to pay
all the bills, but it will allow us to justify beefing up the servers a
Ton Hammer: Just to explain to our readers, there are no
microtransactions or anything. It’s a completely free server;
free to download, and free to play. The only way they can contribute
and help out is by using that donation button. Is that correct?
That is correct. We’ve love to find some way so that we can
pay the bills. We’re not looking to make money on this thing;
we’re looking to just get it back alive. At some point, if we
get enough people, we’d love to provide new content. All of
the content we got, and there is a ton of content, is free for people
to go in and explore. There’s the donate button; a lot of
people who have donated and a lot of people haven’t, but we
don’t want people to feel obligated. It’s just a
chance to get these worlds with massive amounts of content out there
and keep them from dying.
Ton Hammer: Has the game changed at all since it was discontinued in
2008? Have you added anything new to it?
We’ve basically resurrected it at its most recent form. Over
the years, we’ve added content. It started out, back in the
day, with a few places open. As time went on, we opened up new ages and
new sections of the underground city. As GameTap took it over, we added
more content. There were some additional ages where you could play some
competitive games and some larger, vast other ages. What we did was,
when we shut it down at GameTap, we kind of preserved that. When we
re-opened it, we opened it with all the content. Everything is there,
all the clothing rewards. If you play style="font-style: italic;">Myst Online,
you get your own real estate; you have your own little island, and
there are ways, as you play, to change what it looks like.
We’ve included all of those rewards and trophies that allow
you to change your own little piece of virtual real estate. Going
forward, we’ll see what we can add in, but as of right now,
it’s a lot of stuff. People who haven’t seen it
before will be overwhelmed.
Ton Hammer: Are you planning on bringing more updates to style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Myst
Online style="font-weight: bold;">, now that it is live
again, or are you going to leave it to people with the open source?
I think it’ll be a combination. The economy has hit us hard
like a lot of people. Bringing this back, we’ve explained on
the website, that we can’t babysit it. We can’t
watch it that closely; we won’t be able to fix bugs
necessarily. The fact that it is free allows us to lower
people’s expectations to a certain extent. At this point,
it’s pretty clean and bug free. What we’d like to
do is to keep it running, and see if we get a little time here or there
where we can start to ramp it up, getting one of our programmers or art
guys to build a couple of things. At the same time, build up the open
source and release bits and pieces of it, so that we get the fans doing
that on a parallel basis. Our content increases in parallel with what
the fans are doing, a little bit from them and a little bit from us, so
the world continues to grow.
Ton Hammer: Is there anything else you wish to tell us about style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Myst
Online: Uru Live Again style="font-weight: bold;">?
The weirdest thing is that we bring it back, and people are going to
think that there’s some angle where they get in there and
that they’re going to have to pay something. It’s a
great time, frankly, if they’ve ever been curious to go check
it out. I know style="font-style: italic;">Myst,
depending upon what side of the fence you’re on, is that
it’s a really cool legacy game or you hated it and it
destroyed adventure gaming. The fact is that style="font-style: italic;">Myst Online
is an amazing amount of technology that, frankly, defined a different
way to look at MMOGs. If all you’ve seen is the leveling
games, it’s worth your while, for free, to go in and check it
out and see what you think. We’d love for some new people to
check it out and they might be surprised.
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