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Interview with Richard Watson, Part II

02.10.2005 @ 05:16 PM PT | Alan Dennis | Comment | Send to Friends | Google It

Here we bring you the second installment in a series of interviews with Cyan game designer, Richard A Watson - aka RAWA. In this chapter, RAWA discusses the background of the Myst series and that sometimes, due to design decisions, the games were not always able to follow the exact history of the D’ni culture that RAWA works to preserve.

If you’re just starting to read this series of interviews, be sure to check out the first chapter, in which RAWA describes both his game design background and also the work that he does for Cyan.


Since part of your job is to make sure that the games follow closely with D’ni history, does that mean, in essence, that the games and the background of the D’ni are designed as separate entities?


Yes. The games and novels are based on what we know about D’ni history, but they are separate from it. One of the nice things about D’ni history is that it doesn’t have to live within time or budget constraints or worry about gameplay issues or technological limitations.

The games, unfortunately, do have to live within those kinds of limitations. This has made it necessary to deviate from what we know about D’ni history from time to time. Most of our fans understand the need for the differences and really appreciate that we do our best to keep those deviations from D’ni history to a minimum. Some, though are less forgiving, which to some extent is understandable.

The ironic thing is that as the D’ni Historian I’m very likely to be the person who is the most frustrated by the changes that have to be made, and yet, since I also answer the majority of Cyan’s email and participate in various fan communities, I’m also the one that often ends up having to defend (or at the very least explain) those changes. In fact, one of the earliest Myst fan communities (the Riven Lyst) set up virtual therapy donation jars for me shortly after Riven was released because I was complaining about changes that were made in Riven. :)


Was the history first designed for the novels and then used as a guideline for the games, or the other way around, or was it synchronous?


Hmm… well, many parts of D’ni history were known before the first Myst game was made, but that wasn’t for the sake of the novels. The novels were written several years later (during the development of Riven).


What are a few good examples of how the games ended up diverging from known D’ni history? If possible, could you give examples for each game?


There are many examples I could give. I’ll just pick two from each game.


Myst Island as seen in the games is smaller than the island described in Catherine’s journals, and only the structures necessary for the game were modeled. For example: Atrus would have been in the habit of creating “Places of Protection” for all the Ages he wrote, yet the island in the game only contains the four that are required for the game - the gear, the rocket, the tree and the boat. (A fifth “place of protection” was included in realMYST, an updated version of Myst made in realtime 3D.) Also, the places where Atrus and Catherine lived were not necessary for game play and were not included. The biggest things left out were the Ages that Sirrus and Achenar were trapped in, which were not shown at all in Myst. If you get trapped in their Ages (two of the losing scenarios), all you see is black. We did this for several reasons. The Ages weren’t necessary except for the losing endings (so cutting them saved time and money). We also didn’t want to “reward” the players with a new area to see/explore in the losing endings. However, sounds of their two prison Ages are added in realMYST, and their prison Ages can be fully explored in Myst IV.


As with Myst, the size of the islands were scaled down dramatically so they could be modeled and rendered in the time we had for the project. The Rebel Age was reduced to just one room and a small cave that could be explored (though more of it could be seen at a distance).

Another fairly substantial change was made that may not seem like a big change at first glance. According to the historical accounts, when Atrus’ friend arrived in Gehn’s office with the prison Book, Gehn did not confiscate it (which he does in the game). Rather, he just continued to keep Atrus’ friend under constant surveillance so he would know if Atrus’ friend ever used the Book. It was a small change, but the effects were larger than one might think. If the player were clever, he could have used the Book to release Catherine without ever opening her prison by trapping her in the Book. It also would have given the player the option to capture Catherine if he was convinced that she had gone bad. Story-wise, this would have been more interesting, as it would have allowed for many different endings. Unfortunately, that’s precisely why we had to change it. There were too many different combinations of endings that all would have been required to have been filmed with the actors, which just wasn’t feasible within the budget and time constraints we had for Riven.


There are two main continuity related complaints that people have.

The most common is the location of the Cleft. The novels do not say where the Cleft is located, but gives several hints that it is in the Middle East. Uru pretty blatantly says that the Cleft is in the southwestern United States. People ask why we moved it New Mexico in Uru. The fact is that the Cleft has always been in New Mexico, and the red flags I raised when the hints about the Middle East were put in the novels were over-ruled. At the time, we never intended to reveal the true location of the Cleft, so the misdirection to the Cleft’s location being in the Middle East was considered acceptable, I guess. Frankly, I was very happy that the locale was finally set straight in Uru.

The second issue is that Yeesha seems to be able to do things that were previously described as “impossible” in the other games and novels. She does have abilities that no D’ni writer is known to have had, but mostly she just breaks rules that the D’ni had made for the Writing of the Books. Her abilities are entirely consistent with the quantum mechanical basis for the Art as we have understood it since before Myst was made.

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