Oct 31 2017

Happy 20th!

On this day, twenty years ago, to much anticipation, Riven: The Sequel to Myst was finally released to worldwide critical acclaim. Two decades later, our project to remake this game has become a symbol of how much it means to all of us on the Starry Expanse team. Riven was the high-water mark of the Myst series.

Twenty years of adventure gaming, puzzle solving, and online community discussion… Now, here we are, at the tail end of 2017. So much of the game development and computer graphics industries has changed in the twenty years since 1997, but we are honored that someday we will be able to bring this amazing experience to new players in order to continue its legacy.

To mark the occasion, the team would like to share something that we have been working on recently. We are always looking for new ways to share our work, and although we currently have no plans to publicly share a build of the game, we may have the next best thing:

(View may take a minute or two to load.)

Please note that these panoramic images are a work in progress and do not represent the final position of navigation nodes in realRiven, and neither do they reflect the final quality of the game. They are the result of our experimentation with Unreal’s stereoscopic capture feature, and while they are areas you have likely seen before if you are a regular reader of this blog, we are excited to have been provided a new way to show our environments, which seems fitting for the occasion.

 

Happy 20th Riven-der-Weende!


Oct 7 2017

A Community Update

We’d like to extend a big thank you to all who have contributed to our navigation design discussion over the last month, whether it was here on the blog or on social media. We were blown away by the response, and it was fantastic to see the ongoing positive discussion and constructive criticism within the Myst community.

In the past we’ve been hesitant to publicly discuss some of these challenges, but the response was so gratifying that we have taken some time to update both the forum and our subreddit /r/StarryExpanse (previously gathering dust this last year and more) to help facilitate more communication between the team and those who are following the project.

The new look of our community forum, be sure to stop by and say hi!

We hope to discuss more design considerations with you soon, and if you’ve not had a chance to tell us what you think of our plans for the Boiler Bridge, there is still time to join the conversation here, on our forums, subreddit, Facebook or Twitter. We’re all over the place!

The new and improved /r/StarryExpanse, created by Hollister Starrett.


Sep 7 2017

Crossing Over: Boiler Bridge

In converting a classic point-and-click adventure game like Riven to real-time 3D, many systems need to be reworked or tweaked to make the best use of the player’s newfound freedom of movement. Some, like control schemes for walking around in 3D space, have been tried and tested in many other games and we have a wealth of playtesting data to draw upon when making design decisions. Others, like the following example, can be more difficult to elegantly solve.

This is the bridge that spans the expanse of ocean between Boiler and Temple Islands, and we’ve cleverly called it ‘Boiler Bridge’. This bridge is very, very long.

In the original game, the player can cross the bridge in a trivial 9 clicks (or just 1, if using zip-mode). At our current player speed in realRiven, it takes approximately 45 seconds. This is a really long time to be holding down a button and staring forward, especially since the exploratory nature of the game means new players will be crossing multiple times.

The walk to Boiler Island, at three times the regular speed.

This is not the only example of long distances made difficult in real-time. Boiler Island also has several lengthy sequences in pipes and ducts that have the same problem. Luckily, these only need to be traversed once.

We have explored multiple methods to speed up the journey from Temple to Boiler without disrupting the player experience. Cutscenes, teleportation, and simply upping the player speed have all been considered and rejected for the same reason – it interferes with the player’s freedom of exploration and/or feels too ‘gamey’.

Surely a pontoon bridge would be safer.

We are currently exploring a way of cutting the travel time in half by moving the bridge underneath the player as they cross. This gives an appearance of moving at regular speed while at the same time moving towards the distant environment at double speed. Our newest team member, Hollister Starrett, has been hard at work on a prototype of this feature.

We hope to playtest this system alongside our navigation mechanics very soon, but in the meantime we are interested to hear any ideas you may have to solve this design problem. Have we missed something blindingly obvious? All ideas are welcome!


Aug 3 2017

Mysterium 2017

Mysterium, the annual convention for all things Myst, is upon us once again.

As is traditional, we’ve been hard at work preparing a demonstration that showcases some of the things we’ve worked on throughout the year.

(Updated) Our presentation occurred on Saturday, August 5th at 4pm EST.


Jul 8 2017

Wrangling Frames: Matching Animation

It’s no secret that here at the Starry Expanse Project we’re sticklers for accuracy in our reproduction of Riven, and at the center of this endeavor is camera-matching, the placement of cameras in a scene that represent individual shots from the original game. This process isn’t exactly complicated, but it can be finicky and requires a lot of patience to get the best results.

There is a lot of animation in Riven. Putting aside the live-action character performances, there are buttons, levers, bridges, elevators and more. We use the same principles to reproduce these moving parts.

Camera-matching animation is relatively straightforward, as we use the viewpoint cameras we have already set up. Most animation files in Riven encompass a small section of a shot, so we have to carefully position them to make sure everything lines up. Once it’s set up, we can watch the animation in our 3D viewport and animate accordingly.

The fact that the original Riven was created in a 3D software package is incredibly helpful to our animators. These programs allow artists to move objects in one axis, or rotate them precisely to a fraction of a degree. The original Riven team used these tools as well, which means we usually can take for granted that if an elevator is moving vertically, it will be moving perfectly in one axis only. Likewise, if an object is rotating 180 degrees, it’s very likely to be moving an exact 180 degrees.

One interesting challenge that we face is to find a way to capture the feel of the Riven animations with a variable frame rate. All of Riven’s animations play at 15 frames per second, which is half of the 30 fps standard for games animation, and much smaller than the 60+ fps that we expect modern games to achieve. The difference in the feel of the animation is definitely noticeable.

We hope this delve into our animation pipeline has been enlightening, and if you have any questions please leave a comment . There are still many challenges for our animation team to overcome (character performances in particular), and this will be the subject of another post in the near future.


Jun 10 2017

Stacking Shelves: Gehn’s Lab

There are several areas in Riven that give players a look behind the curtain, allowing them a fuller glimpse into antagonist Gehn’s personal goals and motivations. One of these is his lab on Boiler Island. Its tables and shelves are full of objects that, if examined closely, will provide answers to many of the player’s questions.

Over the last few weeks, our artists Francois Hurtubise and Nathaniel Grove have been hard at work bringing this area to life. Here are some examples of work currently in progress.

A disassembled Ytram trap

Tools for preparing poisoned dart cartridges

We’d also like to extend a big thank you to all those who contributed to the discussion last month! We were overwhelmed by the response, and enjoyed reading through your suggestions. The passion and attention to detail our fans bring to this project continues to motivate us to do our best possible work. We’re looking forward to discussing other important topics with you all soon.

Drawer contents coming soon!

Welcome to our new team members:
Paul Petre (3D Artist)


May 1 2017

realRiven: Special Edition?

One of the most common questions that we get asked is “Do you plan to put anything in the game that wasn’t in the original?”

As such, we have a large collection of your suggestions. Candidates range from minimal impact additions like easter eggs (similar to those which already exist), significant alterations like weather variation, to whole new areas like Gehn’s 234th age (an area referenced but never actually seen).

The Moeity Village in Tay

The ability to explore the Moiety village on Tay is one of the most popular recommendations.

The number of these requests that we receive is not surprising, as the Myst series has set a precedent for bonus content. When realMyst was released, fans were surprised to discover Rime, a whole new age to explore which expanded the story and helped it dovetail into the sequel.

We’ve always maintained that we will not consider any additions to Riven until the original game has been re-created in its entirety, and we still stand by that. However, there are always grey areas. Here are two examples:

The book press, an object that was removed at the last minute due to playtesting issues, and a hidden corridor to nowhere that seems to have been cut late in development. These things are not in the original game, but were clearly intended to be at one stage. Could these objects be reworked back into the game? Perhaps they could!

Bookpress and hidden corridor

We are interested to hear what you think. Would you add these objects into realRiven, and if so – why or why not? Are there better examples of content that could be added first?

Add your thoughts in the comments — we do take your opinions seriously.


Apr 2 2017

Solid Materials

Our artists have been hard at work adding to the material library, our collection of commonly used surfaces that can be used in combination to recreate the detailed environments of Riven. Here are some recent examples, all created by texture artist Jacek Kalinowski!

Red dirt and basalt rock, Boiler Island

Our material system allows us to blend these surfaces together based on a texture mask, which gives our artists a lot of control over the fine details of each asset.

Deposited limestone, Survey Island

Riven is a world of stark natural beauty contrasted against intricate machinery, and our material system allows us to reproduce it in the highest possible detail. From the fine sand on the shore of Boiler Island’s volcanic lake, to the wear and tear on the Fire Marble Dome.

Rough brick, Survey Island

 

Welcome to our new team members!
Brandon Kouri (3D Artist)
Nathan Grove (3D Artist)


Mar 8 2017

To Divide and Conquer

Last month we shared some of our recent camera-matching work on Temple Island, and we noticed that there was some great discussion regarding  the coloured region map we used to place the SuperDome. To answer your questions, we thought we’d go into a bit more detail about what those maps are and how they help us reconstruct such a large and complicated environment as Riven.

Temple Zone Map

We have a similar ‘area map’ for each island.

We have made extensive use of a detailed top-down map of Riven’s five islands (you can find it in the Prima Strategy Guide) to break each island into what we call ‘areas’. This helps us organise ourselves, allowing us to group objects and tasks by area and making it much easier to visualise what needs to be done next. Breaking up an island into sections also means multiple people are able work on it at the same time without getting in each other’s way.

Old Boiler Zone Map

An earlier version of Boiler Island’s area map.

Unfortunately, the map isn’t always trustworthy. We suspect that most (if not all) of the interiors are just inventions based on a best guess, and there are other parts of the map (especially on Jungle Island) where the map clearly deviates from the actual game environment. This can be very problematic, as in the past we’ve tended to over rely on it for placing objects in a scene. This is especially prominent in areas that are mostly indoors, like Survey Island’s interior.

The ‘camera-matched’ environment compared to the area map below.

The ‘camera-matched’ environment compared to the area map below.

As you can see, not only is there a significant scale disparity between our camera-matched geometry and the overhead map, but the map even gets the shape of the pentagonal elevator shaft backwards!

To solve these difficulties, we have a simple rule. Whenever there is a conflict between the original game and the overhead map, we will always defer to the environment as represented in the original stills. They remain the best possible reference.

The overhead map has also had other benefits that directly affect how the game will be played. We use the same area layout as the foundation of our level streaming system, which will let the player traverse the entire age of Riven without needing to see a single loading screen (or switch disks!)

That, however, is a topic for another day.

A big welcome to our new team members:
Jonas Becsan (VFX Artist)
Jordan Cain (3D Artist)


Feb 4 2017

Monthly Update: February 2017

Last month, our art team worked hard on two primary tasks: creating assets for the greybox scenes we presented last year at Mysterium, and camera-matching new ones. Here’s a sneak peek at some examples that have been shared by various members of the team. Remember, all of this work is still ‘in progress’ — and we welcome any comments or questions you may have!

Objects in Gehn's Lab

Some objects you may recognise from Gehn’s lab on Boiler Island. These were created by the latest addition to our art team, Francois Hurtubise!

SuperDome on Map

Shots from the current “camera-match” of Temple Island’s SuperDome™

SuperDome Exterior Camera-Matching

Camera-matching the exterior of the dome. The red and green wireframes shows the work our artists are doing on top of the original Riven images.

Dome Interior Camera-Matching

Camera-matching the interior of the dome. Note the yellow wireframes.

As you can see, there’s lots of important work being done! And it highlights the benefits of the new pipeline we instituted last year — we have different areas in various stages of development, so we can move forward with camera-matching new areas while our artists start filling in more detailed assets in previously-matched ones. Looking forward to sharing more soon!