Interview with Obduction’s Rand Miller

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Obduction is, at it’s simplest, a game about what would happen if you were abducted. What would you do if you found yourself on a distant planet, without a clue?

From the people who brought you Myst and Riven, Obduction is a return to Cyan, Inc.’s beginnings. With the use of current technology, they hope to bring the same experience to today’s generation.

When did you get started with playing games, and what was the first game you remember?

The first computer game: that would be on an IBM 360 at the University of New Mexico when I was in Jr. High – a college friend brought me with him. The game was called Lunar Lander. There were no graphics – it was simply a matter of a line of text (1 line for each second of the simulation) that had the speed, height, amount of fuel. You would then enter the number of pounds of fuel to burn, push return, and get the next line (the next second.) It was like magic to me – and I was forever hooked.

How did you get started with developing games?

After being mesmerized by the Lunar Lander game I was determined to decipher this magic computing box. I bought a BASIC programming manual and spent everyday after school in the University computer centre. The first actual game I wrote was tic-tac-toe. There were many after that – including Starsky (you’re driving a Ford Torino with a bomb in the trunk as far from the centre of town as quickly as you can), and Swarms (you’re in charge of defending the US from killer bees that are gradually spreading.)

Those games sound awesome, do they still exist in any form?

I have a forty year old mag tape in a box somewhere with all my old directories. The Swarms game won a National student programming contest in ’76, and it was then published in a magazine called Creative Computing – they actually used to print pages of source code that could then be typed in and “run”. So there is still a printed copy of that game somewhere.

That is pretty cool on how they used to print code, I am guessing games didn’t have as many lines of code as they have today?

Right, there were still hundreds of lines of code to be typed in, and it was a pain to have to debug them after all that work. Kind of bizarre.

Obduction Village

So, what persuaded you and your brothers to form Cyan?

I continued programming – getting a job at a bank. My brother loved art. I continued to have a desire to write games. When my first daughter arrive I realized just how bad the games for children were. I contacted Robyn and he began drawing the images for what became our first world/game – The Manhole. We formed a company (Cyan) and our worlds continued to evolve – resulting in Myst, Riven, Uru.

It has now been 20 years since you released Myst, which became the best-selling game of the 20th Century. After several follow-up games to the series, including Riven, what have you been up to?

We worked for many years on Myst Online: Uru Live to create a new world that would have places to explore that would never end. It was a massive undertaking – we essentially built an MMOG, but not for leveling and battling – but for exploration. You could explore with your friends or by yourself, and the plan was that new worlds would show up often – for subscribers. It was never given a chance by the publisher.

After that we worked on converting many of our old games over to the mobile platform. We’ve managed to stay alive as a small independent company – which was not easy. And now we’ve successfully funded a new game Obduction.

What inspired you to start the development of Obduction?

We think there are a large number of people that really love what Myst provided – the feeling of being able to be transported to a new world where you can explore and become part of a story without the pressure of feeling attacked. Using your head to progress and figure out how all the pieces of the story and environment and puzzles fit together. Obduction is a new game to bring back that feeling – using the latest technology.

For those who have not seen your Kickstarter project, can you try and describe the game in a single paragraph?

Obduction is, at it’s simplest, a game about what would happen if you were abducted. What would you do if you found yourself on a distant planet, without a clue. And the only thing that gives you echos of home in is something that shouldn’t be there – an old farmhouse with a white picket fence. You explore, you learn, you become part of the story that’s going on.

When my first daughter arrive I realized just how bad the games for children were. I contacted Robyn and he began drawing the images for what became our first world/game – The Manhole. – Rand Miller

For Obduction, you are using the Unreal Engine 4, how does this differ from StrataVision3D that you used for the development of Myst?

StrataVision 3D allowed us to “pre-render” our images in Myst – we created still images that we just kind of “slide show” linked to one another. It was striking for the time – but these days computers have much more power, and the scenes in Myst that were still images can be replaced with real-time 3D worlds. Unreal Engine 4 is one of the latest real-time 3D engines – and we look at it as a rather remarkable tool to create whole new worlds.

Upon the release of Riven, several magazines criticized the game as being too similar to Myst, having minimal character interaction and disliked the lack of mobility. Will you be taking these criticisms on board as you develop Obduction? And how will you tackle them?

The lack of mobility will certainly be a remnant – since real-time 3D provides full movement as you explore. We deliberately made Riven like Myst – since it was the sequel. Obduction has no ties – and it refreshing to be able to design something with a blank sheet of paper.

Now as for character interaction – that’s always tricky. It’s not like characters in games are very realistic. I can’t ask someone how their day is going, or what they studied in college. They are flat and many times actually break the spell of a world. We tread carefully with that in mind – we want our worlds to feel as real as possible.

In one of your updates, you talked about how your brothers would be coming back to support this project. How will they be helping out? And how excited are you all to be working on such a large project again?

It’s very exciting. Robyn and I haven’t acted together since Myst. That will be fun. And Ryan has done quite a bit of writing and design throughout the years – so that will feel very natural.

Is there anyone else from the original Myst team who will be joining Cyan again to work on this momentous project?

Richard Watson will also be involved – he helped out with Myst.

Obduction has no ties – and it refreshing to be able to design something with a blank sheet of paper. – Rand Miller

Onto stretch goals, why did you decide to set your first, which you have now hit, as Oculus Rift support? And why such a big jump from the original funding goal?

We added stretch goals that we thought would offer reasons for people to want to contribute who hadn’t already. There are a large number of Rift fans who want games. And of course the localization is built into that stretch goal as well – which makes it a better game for other language speakers. The jump was simply to cover development costs of both of those features.

Now I believe you won’t be covering all languages, but you have identified another way to allow it.

We’ll be covering EFIGS, but we’ll be building the localization in a way that folders with other language translations can simply be dropped in. So users can translate the game to other languages and make their files available.

Your next stretch goal adds another world and a roadtrip mode. Some people could argue that roadtrip mode is like watching a YouTube video. For those who don’t know, could you explain what roadtrip mode is? And what would you say to those who say it is like watching a YouTube video?

Roadtrip provides the experience that many people have playing games. Many times one person will play while another watches and offers advice. It’s the same idea of a roadtrip – you want to explore together, so there’s is only one driver. But the passenger can look in directions that the driver can’t and may see things that the driver can’t. And make suggestions on where to go, and what to do. And of course the driver and passenger can switch at any time.

That is really cool. Now I believe people can still support Obduction by pledging via your website, is that correct?

That is correct. Even though the Kickstarter will no longer accept pledges, we still have PayPal available. We’ll see if we can get any closer to the next stretch goal in the next month or so.

Check out Obduction on Kickstarter

– Callum

Callum Goss

Callum Goss is a current BTEC IT student who rarely talks about himself in third-person, loves games, tweets about random shizz, and believed he had invented the word ‘shizz’ until he Googled it.

View all contributions by Callum Goss

Website: http://thedailychill.co.uk/

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3 Comments

  1. John Drake 23/01/2014 at 8:16 AM

    I always expect great things from Cyan and am never disappointed. Riven was their masterpiece, their greatest creation, will Obduction steal the crown? Maybe it will, can’t wait to get my copy. So glad Cyan is still there producing great games. Thank you Cyan for 20+ years of outstanding entertainment. 🙂

    • Callum Goss 23/01/2014 at 4:11 PM

      Awesome, great work for finding it!

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