The PC box art for Riven showcases Richard Vander Wende's concept of what players would first see on the Age of Tay.
|Publisher(s)||Red Orb Entertainment (PC, Mac)
Mean Hamster Software (Pocket PC)
Richard Vander Wende
|Distribution||CD (5), DVD (1), download|
Riven is a puzzle adventure game and the sequel to Myst. Developed by Cyan Worlds, it was initially published by Red Orb Entertainment, a division of Brøderbund. Riven was distributed on five compact discs and released on October 29, 1997, in North America; it was later released on a single DVD-ROM, with improved audio and a fourteen-minute "making-of" video. In addition to the PC versions, Riven has been ported to several other platforms, including the PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and most recently iOS-based devices.
The story of Riven is set immediately after the events of Myst. Having been rescued from the efforts of his sons, the main non-player protagonist Atrus enlists the help of the player character to free his wife from his power-hungry father Gehn. Unlike Myst, which took place on several worlds known as Ages, linked together by special books, Riven takes place almost entirely on the Age of Riven, a world slowly falling apart due to Gehn's destructive rule.
Development of Riven began soon after Myst became a success, and spanned more than three years. In an effort to create a visual style distinct from that of Myst, director Robyn Miller and his brother, producer Rand Miller recruited former Aladdin production designer Richard Vander Wende as a co-director. Brøderbund employed a US$10 million advertising campaign to publicize the game's release.
Riven was praised by professional reviewers, with the magazine Salon proclaiming that the game approaches the level of art. Critics positively noted the puzzles and immersive experience of the gameplay, though publications such as Edge felt that the nature of point-and-click gameplay limited the title heavily. The best-selling game of 1997, Riven sold 1.5 million copies in one year. After the game's release, Robyn Miller left Cyan to form his own development studio, ending the professional partnership of the two brothers. Rand stayed at Cyan and continued to work on Myst-related products, including the novel Myst: The Book of D'ni and the real-time rendered game Uru: Ages Beyond Myst. The next entry in the Myst series, Myst III: Exile, was developed by Presto Studios, and published by Ubisoft.
Like its predecessor, Riven is a point-and-click adventure game played from a first-person perspective. The player explores immersive environments depicted through a large series of computer generated stills, using mouse clicks for movement or to manipulate objects within reach. By operating mechanical contraptions and deciphering codes and symbols discovered in the surroundings, the vaguely explained goal can eventually be reached.
To navigate the world, the player simply clicks in the direction they want to walk or turn. The mouse cursor changes in appearance, depending on its position on the screen and what it is hovering over, to show what effect clicking will have. For instance, if the player positions the cursor hand near the side of the screen, it may show a pointing finger, indicating that clicking will turn the view in that direction. The cursor also changes in context to show when players can drag or toggle switches, or when certain items can be picked up and carried. Such items can then be examined at any time, and either reveal clues to puzzles or provide information on the game's setting and story. Like Myst, Riven has an optional method of navigation known as Zip Mode, which allows players to skip to areas already explored, but may cause them to miss important clues.
Riven has more complex and numerous puzzles than its forerunner, and is set in a larger virtual world for players to explore. Whereas in Myst the objective of the game is to travel to different Ages to solve puzzles before returning to a "hub Age", Riven's gameplay takes place on the five islands of the Age of Riven. Much of it consists of solving puzzles to access new areas of the islands, though players are also able to explore without fulfilling objectives. The volcanic landscape depicted, with its steep cliffs and crater lakes, is bestrewn with mechanical, Victorian-style artifacts, such as elevators, pipes, levers and roller coaster-like transports. To solve the game, players must consider the purpose and physical principles of these artifacts, as well as their role in the fictional culture.
Riven's story continues where Myst and its companion novel, Myst: The Book of Atrus, left off. The player assumes the role of the Stranger, the protagonist of the first game and friend of Atrus (Rand Miller). Atrus knows the ancient art of creating "linking books", specially written books that serve as portals to other worlds, known as "Ages". Atrus needs the Stranger's help to free his wife, Catherine (Sheila Goold; voice by Rengin Altay), who is held hostage in her home Age of Riven, which is slowly collapsing. Her captor is Gehn (John Keston), Atrus' manipulative father and self-declared ruler of Riven. Thirty years earlier (at the end of The Book of Atrus), Atrus and Catherine trapped Gehn on Riven by removing all of the linking books that led out of the Age; the very last book to be removed, linking to the Age of Myst, was the one they held to escape Riven. In the misbelief that it would be destroyed, they let the book fall into the Star Fissure, a rift leading out of the damaged Age of Riven into a mysterious, spacelike void. Catherine was later tricked into returning to Riven by her sons, Sirrus and Achenar, whereupon she was taken hostage by Gehn. Eventually, the Stranger discovered the unharmed Myst book, leading to the events in Myst.
At the beginning of Riven, Atrus equips the Stranger with a trap book—a snare that functions as a one-man prison, yet looks identical to a linking book—and his personal diary. This diary summarizes the history of events leading to the Stranger's present situation; Atrus cannot explain in depth, as he is engaged in rewriting the descriptive book of Riven, in an attempt to slow its deterioration. The Stranger must enter the Age with no way of leaving, as they cannot risk sending a real linking book to Riven until Gehn is safely imprisoned, in case he should seize the book and use it to escape his confinement. Instructing the Stranger to capture Gehn in the trap book, find Catherine, and then signal him, Atrus holds out the link book that will transport the Stranger to Riven.
Once there, the Stranger explores the islands of Riven, eventually discovering Catherine's prison. The Stranger also travels to Tay, the Age of the Moiety (rebellious Rivenese under the leadership of Catherine who are attempting to end Gehn's tyrannical rule), and the "233rd Age", Gehn's personal sanctuary, where the Stranger meets Gehn himself. As they meet face-to-face, Gehn attempts to convince the Stranger that his intentions to rebuild D'ni were honorable, and that he seeks atonement for his past transgressions. Because of the decay of Riven's structure, the only way to clearly signal Atrus is to bring about a massive disturbance in the Age's stability—accomplished by reopening the Star Fissure, which Gehn had closed. When it opens, Atrus immediately links to Riven to investigate, and meets the Stranger at the brink of the Fissure. Depending on the player's actions, the ending to Riven varies. In the winning ending, the Stranger tricks Gehn into the prison book and releases Catherine. Atrus and Catherine thank the Stranger, before linking back to the Age of Myst. The Stranger then falls into the Star Fissure, to be taken on the path back to his world. The worst ending involves neither capturing Gehn nor releasing Catherine, which allows Gehn to kill Atrus (and then the Stranger) and escape from his imprisonment. Other endings include capturing Gehn without saving Catherine, being trapped in the prison book, or even death.
Cyan began work on Riven in 1993, immediately after Myst's release. Before development began, when even the name of the game was undecided, the brothers Robyn and Rand Miller said they wanted a "natural flow" from the first game to the sequel. As Myst proved to be a popular and commercial success, the two developers were able to expand their four-person team to a much larger crew of designers, artists, programmers, and sound designers. Development spanned more than four years, and was a much larger undertaking than for the first game; Riven had a budget of between US$5 and $10 million, more than ten times the cost of developing Myst.
The design for Riven stemmed from a desire to create something different and more dynamic than the romantic style of Myst. At an early point, the game's world was to be called Equiquay. The first stage of development was to create the puzzles, in an attempt to integrate them as smoothly as possible into the areas in the game. The Millers met their co-designer, Richard Vander Wende, at a demonstration of Myst for the Digital World Expo in Los Angeles. Vander Wende had previously worked for ILM, and at Disney as a designer for the animated feature Aladdin. As the third member of Riven's conceptual team, Vander Wende ended up contributing what Robyn Miller described as an "edgier" and complementary vision, that made the game dramatically different than its predecessor.
As in Myst, the topology of the islands was originally created as grayscale images, where brightness corresponded to elevation. In Softimage, these maps were turned into the terrain models seen in the game. The large island objects were broken apart to facilitate efficient rendering, which required them to be created using polygonal geometry. All other objects were modeled using B-splines and NURBS.
Many of the textures were accumulated during a three-day trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. The artists took hundreds of photos of wood, adobe, sand, stucco and other materials, which were treated in Photoshop before being mapped onto the 3D geometry. Whereas many computer-generated environments of the time ended up looking smooth, like plastic, the Millers and Vander Wende developed a more gritty and weathered design, with corroded and aged elements, to imply reality. The artists considered how objects would look and function if they were real, where and how they would be worn, and created corresponding details. While bump maps were occasionally used to simulate geometry, even small details such as screws were often individually modeled.
Rendering was executed in Mental Ray, using numerous custom-made shaders to produce lifelike lighting, water and landscapes. In total Riven has over three hours of video and almost five thousand images; rendering was a major bottleneck in production despite the use of 18 dedicated workstations. Some scenes consisted of tens of thousands of individual models and textures and more than a hundred virtual light sources. Loading a single island model could take two hours. Runtime animation effects were created by Mark DeForest, to add flying insects and simple water ripples.
Riven combined the pre-rendered backgrounds with live action footage, in order to increase the player's immersion level. Riven was the first game in which any of its designers had directed live actors, and Vander Wende was apprehensive about their use. Rand Miller had to reprise his role of Atrus from Myst, even though he hated acting. All the actors were filmed with a blue screen as a backdrop, which was removed in post-production by chroma key, so that the actors would blend into the virtual environment. Real world stairs, doorways and studio lights had to be meticulously positioned on the live stage to match their CG equivalents. Some sequences were seamlessly cut together with morphing, to allow for partial variations due to the nonlinearity of the gameplay.
At the time of Riven's development, publisher Brøderbund was facing falling revenues as development costs rose. Two years into the project, Cyan still had nothing they could show them. Brøderbund's stock dropped from $60 a share to $22 in 1996, because of a delay in the publishing of Riven. The plan had been to ship the game in time for the 1996 holiday season; Riven was finally published on October 29, 1997. Even though Riven's sales were expected to be higher than any other game that holiday season, Brøderbund launched a $10 million marketing campaign and developed a retail marketing partnership with Toshiba America. Anticipation for the game was high even among non-gamers, helped by web-based word of mouth and well-placed media coverage.
Robyn Miller composed Riven's music, which was later packaged and released by Virgin Records as Riven: The Soundtrack. Miller designed the liner notes and packaging, which included English translations of the language found in the game. Whereas the music to Myst was, at first, only available by mail-order from Cyan, Virgin Records had bought the rights to release it initially, prompting Miller to make sure that it could stand alone in CD form. The compact disc was released on February 24, 1998, with 54 minutes of music.
Miller established three leitmotifs for the game's three central characters, Atrus, Catherine, and Gehn. Gehn's theme is only heard in its complete form near the end of the game, but portions of the melody can be heard throughout Riven, highlighting his control of the Age. Miller tried to let the environment dictate the resulting sound, in order to make the music as immersive as possible. He blended live instrumentation with synthesizers: "By mixing and matching conventional instrumentation, you can create an odd, interesting mood," Miller said. Ultimately, he wanted the music of Riven to reflect the game itself, which he described as having "a familiar-yet-strange feel to it."
Miller described his biggest challenge in writing Riven's music as reconciling the linear, pleasing construction of music with the nonlinearity of the gameplay. As players can freely explore all areas, Miller explained in an interview, "the music can't say anything too specific. If it says something, if it builds in intensity and there starts to be a climax, and people are just standing in a room looking around, and they're thinking 'What's going on in here? Is something about to jump out from behind me?' You can't have the basic parts of music that you'd like to have, you can't have a basic structure. It's all got to be just flowing, and continue to flow." Allmusic critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine argued that the soundtrack is "appealingly atmospheric", but "lacks definition", and that the music loses impact when separated from the game.
|Riven: The Soundtrack tracklist|
|5.||"Survey Island Theme"||2:13|
|7.||"Village Entrance Theme"||2:33|
|12.||"The Red Cave"||1:54|
Reception and legacy
Being the first sequel of a game as successful as Myst, Riven was eagerly anticipated. On the whole, it was also positively received, with the PC version garnering an average critic score of 84% at GameRankings. The game sold more than 1.5 million units within a year of its release, and was the best-selling game of 1997, despite having only been on the market for less than three months. By 2001, over 4.5 million units had been sold.
Jeff Segstack of GameSpot gave the game high marks, explaining that it is "a leisurely paced, all-encompassing, mentally challenging experience. If you enjoyed Myst, you'll thoroughly enjoy Riven." Computer Gaming World stated that the graphics were the best they had seen in any adventure game. Laura Miller of Salon declared that "Art [...] is what Riven approaches," and praised the gameplay as having "a graceful elegance that reminds [her] of a masterfully constructed novel." The game's sound and graphics were consistently praised.
Nevertheless, several publications found fault with aspects of Riven. Computer Gaming World felt that the gameplay was too similar to the original Myst, making Riven the "same game with a new title"; the magazine also criticized the minimal character interaction. Gaming magazine Edge felt that although Riven was a good game, the solitary atmosphere and lack of mobility was steadily becoming outdated, as games like Super Mario 64 sacrificed graphical fidelity for an increase in freedom. They stated "the question is whether Cyan can incorporate its almost Tolkien-esque world-building skills into a more cutting-edge game vehicle next time." Even long-time players of the Myst games, such as Heidi Fournier of Adventure Gamers, felt that a few puzzles were too difficult; Computer and Video Games, meanwhile, believed that the story clues were too symbolic and scant, which made following the plot difficult.
Despite the success of the game, the Miller brothers eventually pursued other projects. Robyn Miller said: "I think it would be a detriment to always, for the rest of our lives, be creating Myst-like projects. […] We're going to change, evolve and grow, just like any person does in any manner." Robyn would leave Cyan to form a new development company called Land of Point; Vander Wende would also leave to pursue other projects. The next video game entry in the Myst franchise would be 2001's Myst III: Exile, which was not developed by Cyan nor published by Brøderbund. Presto Studios took over development; Ubisoft acquired Brøderbund's entertainment library from The Learning Company and published the Myst sequels.
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- Riven at Cyan Worlds
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