Interview with Rand Miller, co-creator of Myst
With the release of realMyst: Masterpiece Edition for the Nintendo Switch coming out today, we wanted to take some time to get to know a little bit more about how the game was made. We had the opportunity to interview Rand Miller, co-creator of the Myst series, and he was more than happy to share some of his process on creating one of the best-selling computer games of all time.
Did you start off with an idea for a novel and then applied it to a game, or did you start off wanting to create a puzzle game and then built the world and lore around that?
We started off wanting to make something that felt like a world. Real worlds have history, so it was only natural that we add story to ours. And real worlds have frustrations and sense of accomplishment, so we added puzzles and rewards.
Did you have an idea for the multiple worlds of Myst and its progression when you first started?
No. The design was very iterative. We started with the idea of an island because that would provide a natural boundary. Beyond that, we drew a dock, and started drawing the path. As we would draw a place we would talk about the story. Story would fuel puzzles. And recursively, puzzles would feedback to support more of the environment. Each item supported the design of the other, and the world grew that way somewhat organically.
How did you come up with the worlds within Myst, Riven,and Obduction? What were its sources of inspiration?
I think much of what we design is inspired by the idea of getting to other worlds. There seems to be something so enticing with the idea of going to remarkable and fantastic places that are convincingly real.
How do you come up with the various puzzles within your games? Do you construct your puzzles around your stories and environments, or is it the other way around?
The three things feed and support each other as part of the design process mentioned above. Puzzles are particularly challenging because the design needs to make sense for both the story and the environment.
You co-created Myst and Riven with your brother, Robyn Miller. Were you equally involved with the world building of those games, or did you each focus on specific aspects?
Robyn and I designed Myst together and then moved on to our separate areas to build it – Robyn with art and music, and me with programming. With Riven, Robyn and I did the preliminary concept and design, and we were joined by Richard Vander Wende who worked with Robyn to take the design to a new level of detail and polish.
Was it difficult to continue the franchise on your own after Robyn left to pursue other interests, or was it easy to continue to build upon the foundation you had already established?
We had a few people (including my brother Ryan, and Richard Watson) who worked with me to develop more and more of the Myst backstory and culture. It was so much fun getting deeper into the Myst design. But it was also very satisfying to set Myst aside for a while to start a new world from scratch with Obduction.
Did you enjoy your time as an actor portraying Atrus in the Myst games?
It was easy in Myst, just a couple of brothers in the basement – playing the roles in the game. But for the games after that the productions were larger, and it was very intimidating. Acting in front of strangers was very unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
In later games you were able to recruit more well-known actors for roles in your games, like Brad Dourif and David Ogden Stiers. Was it easier to work with seasoned actors or did it produce any unforeseen challenges?
It was wonderful watching real actors perform with such professionalism and so naturally. I think watching many remarkable actors over the years actually has helped me understand more and more about what is and isn’t expected. The best actors seem to understand that what the interpret between the lines is just as important as the lines themselves.
Do you have any future plans for the world of Myst?
Obduction seemed like a standalone entry for Cyan Worlds, although there is a Myst book that can be found in one of the bunkers. Does this mean that Hunrath and the other alien worlds within Obduction are in fact connected to Myst, or was that simply an easter egg for longtime fans?
Obduction was a very satisfying project for us — moving away from the Myst universe that we knew so well, and starting with a blank page. It was never meant to be part of the Myst universe, other than the fact that we’ve always blurred the lines between what’s real and what’s not in Myst. We love the idea that Myst is real, and that anyone, anywhere might just stumble upon a magic book that could whisk them off to another world.
Your games have been created primarily for PC, although a few titles have made their way to consoles. Now Myst is being ported to the Nintendo Switch. Was the decision to release it on Switch mainly as a way to reach a newer audience, or do you have plans to develop games that might take advantage of its touch sensory hardware in the future?
It’s interesting because Myst was originally funded for consoles. We were contacted by a great Japanese company named Sunsoft who asked for a CD-ROM adventure game designed for the next generation of consoles that were coming out at the time. I think the thing that is remarkable to us is that we have all of the power of those consoles and PC’s that Myst was played on also now in the palm of our hand.
Do you think you’ll branch out into other types of gaming hardware like VR eventually?
Absolutely. VR is the most satisfying medium I can think of to get lost in another world. It’s exciting to think of how real our worlds can seem.
Well there you have it, a better insight into the mind that helped create one of the most influencial gaming series in history. It was an honor to be given this opportunity and I can’t wait to see what new secrets the worlds of Myst are waiting to be uncovered.