Apr 2 2014

Unfortunate Circumstances

Yesterday, on April 1st, we announced that we would be switching to the magnificent DOOM engine, to take advantage of its gorgeous graphics and advanced features like sprite support. Unfortunately, since publishing that announcement, we have discovered some pretty major roadblocks standing in the way of that switch, and it is with heavy hearts that we must retract that announcement. Effective immediately, we leave behind our dreams of a DOOM-based realRiven, and return to the (admittedly lower quality) Unreal Engine.

As a consolation for this heartbreaking news, here is another development shot of an area we’ve been working on, running in the Unreal Engine.

The Submarine Control Room

We acknowledge that this in no way can make up for our departure from the beauty of the DOOM engine, but we think that with a lot of hard work, we will someday get Unreal to approach that level of quality.

Apr 1 2014

Engine Switch

Recently, we announced that we would be switching our game engine. Rather than continuing development in Unity, we would instead make use of the beautiful Unreal Engine 3. However, last week, Epic Games (the makers of Unreal Engine) announced the release of Unreal Engine 4, immediately making our brand new engine obsolete.

It’s fair to say that we here at 59 Volts are tired of this constant upgrading and engine switching. To that end, we have some big news to announce – one final engine switch, to end all engine switches. And rather than move to yet another unstable, constantly changing engine like Unity or Unreal, we have decided to make the move to something with a bit more longevity. Something with a strong, well-established developer community. An engine that John Carmack, CTO of Oculus VR, has proudly supported in the past.

That’s right: our game is, even as I type these words, being moved over to the DOOM engine. We’re happy to report that this move has not set us back at all; the assets we’ve been showing off for the last couple of months (and indeed, everything we produced before the move to Unreal) are being put to use in the new engine. In fact, we’re chugging along so well, we feel confident to finally show off a bit of footage of the village basin area that we’ve been putting together:

Now, obviously we’re only in the first stages of development, so please keep in mind that the above video is a work-in-progress. That said, we are actually really happy with the accuracy of DOOM’s sky and water shaders, and we are not planning on modifying them beyond this point.

In addition to the village basin, we have begun work on a few other key areas of the game, too:

speculative concept art - subject to change

speculative concept art - subject to change

We’re so happy with the beautiful graphics provided by Doom, we’re even ready to show you guys what you’ve all been waiting for – the first public reveal of Tay, in all its realtime 3D glory!



Yes, the Doom engine certainly is spectacular. It’s really allowed us to accelerate our development, and we expect to be ready to release the game by the summer of 1995. Keep an eye out for it wherever computer games (or iPods, oscilloscopes, and/or pianos) are sold!

Coming soon!

Feb 20 2014

Help Wanted

Hey you! Yes, you, with the talents! Did you know that we’re on the lookout for new people to bring onto the project? That’s right; if you are interested in joining up, send us an email!

Right now, we’re looking for volunteers to fill the following positions:

  • 3D Artists. Our artists generally UV map and texture their own work, so having at least a basic knowledge of texturing is recommended. We are particularly (but not exclusively) looking for people with experience creating landscapes or characters. Except for character artists, applicants should be familiar with Maya, as it is our primary tool of creation. You must send us examples of your work, and we appreciate wireframes as well as renders. We may request that you create and texture a specific model for us as a trial.
  • Programmers. Specifically, programmers with experience in writing shaders, and/or working in UDK. You must include a resumé, and code samples or examples of previous projects will help a lot, too.
  • Sound Engineers and Foley Artists. You would be expected to be able to accurately reproduce sounds from the original game. Additionally, in some cases we would be asking you to work with the sounds from the original game, isolating them from background noise and that sort of thing. You must include samples of previous work, and we may request a few specific sound effects, as a trial.
  • Font Designers. We find ourselves in need of a number of fonts, mainly re-creating the handwriting found in the journals throughout the game. You must include examples of previous work.

As you can see, we require examples of previous work from every applicant. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Feb 15 2014

Setting Phasers for ‘Stun’

In the past, we’ve shown you bits and pieces from almost every area in Riven. We kicked things off with an early version of Temple Island. We spent two years demoing Prison Island, and last year we showed you an area from Survey Island as well as a rough layout of Boiler Island. Our tactic thus far has been to work mainly on small areas of the game, breaking Riven into bite-size chunks that we could easily achieve.

Still, there are a couple of major areas of the game that we’ve avoided in the past, and one sticks out like a sore thumb.

Notice anything missing?

Notice anything missing?

Well, for Mysterium this year, we decided to throw our old strategy of playing things safe to the wind, and set about creating Jungle Island. And really, what better way to put our new engine through its paces than by throwing the single most complicated area of the entire game at it?

Our efforts are being concentrated primarily in the village basin, where there are a few different areas being worked on at once. We’re going to keep you guys up to date as things progress, but we thought we’d start the show & tell off with one of the most iconic objects from Riven, the village hut.

knock, knock

knock, knock, knock

It’s worth mentioning that these are screenshots from within UDK. We’re kind of in love with the way UDK handles light and shadows, and we’re pretty sure you will be, too.

(this one is in Maya, not UDK, but it's still really cool)

We have all 38 huts modeled and in place, and now that the materials for the first hut are complete, it will be a simple feat to put the finishing touches on the others.

We intend to continue with small updates like these throughout the development of the village basin area, so stay tuned!


Feb 1 2014

Unreal Riven

Five years ago, when we first discussed the prospect of remaking Riven, our intention was to do it as an expansion for Uru. The original name of the project, before it became the Starry Expanse Project, was actually uRiven (after Uru). Without any official tools to make content for Uru, we produced everything in Blender 3D and exported it to a format that Plasma (Uru’s game engine) could parse. However, after a while, we outgrew Plasma. It was outdated, it could not achieve the graphics we needed, and worst of all, it was no longer being maintained or updated.

And so, the project migrated to the Blender Game Engine. It was the logical next step at the time – we were already using Blender for asset creation anyway, so why not just use the built-in engine for the game itself? Well, it eventually became obvious why: the Blender Game Engine was difficult to work with, and while it could be prettier than Plasma, it was never faster, and at its core, it was simply inefficient.

To make a long story short, we shortly thereafter moved to an engine called Unity 3D. Unity was our first professional engine, and unlike ever before, our goal seemed to be within reach — this was an engine that was used for actual games, and while it had a significant learning curve, it could produce great results. We jumped onto the Unity ship, and the future was bright. With Unity, we showed off Prison Island and an area from Survey Island at Mysterium conventions. It was a huge step up from the Blender days. But, with our knowledge of game design sprouting like a beanstalk, and our team sporting many times more talented artists than ever before, the shortcomings of Unity for our project were becoming more and more apparent.

* * *

By the beginning of last summer, we had begun discussing the possibility of leaving Unity behind. Concerns about Unity’s graphical capabilities had been raised — in particular its ability to efficiently render large, detailed areas. The areas we had produced up to that point were fantastic, but they were already putting significant stress on Unity, and in terms of complexity… well, they were mere specks compared to Jungle Island, the largest island we would have to be able to handle. It seemed that the need for a change of rendering technology was inescapable.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the release of Unity 4.0, a paid upgrade from Unity 3, which was what we had been using up to that point. As many of you know, we had to raise money in order to afford our Unity 3 license, and we are very thankful toward everybody who donated. Because of this, we were not happy about the prospect of having to either purchase an upgrade or risk becoming obsolete.

The search for a new engine began in earnest after Mysterium 2013. If not Unity, then what?

UDK logo

It wasn’t long before our gaze fell upon the Unreal Development Kit. UDK is a free (provided certain licensing restrictions) framework built on the Unreal Engine. It’s also the engine Cyan is using for their new game, Obduction (they’re still collecting donations, by the way), and in fact, Cyan themselves recommended that we use it for our project. It’s an extremely powerful platform that has been used to produce beautiful AAA games for years, such as Bioshock and Mass Effect. Its lighting and particle capabilities far outstrip those of Unity, and its ability to handle large, detailed areas is in another class altogether.

What’s more is that UDK maintains similar cross-platform support to Unity; games made using UDK can be run on OS X, Windows, and any of a number of mobile platforms. It even has Oculus Rift support baked in. UDK gives us everything that Unity had, and on top of that, it’s faster, it’s more beautiful, and it’s free.

Since the switch, we haven’t looked back. Unity is a great platform, and for a while, it was the platform we needed. While we were disappointed that we were not going to be able to continue with it, we look forward to showing off just how amazing Riven can look with this new engine.

Jan 28 2014

Catching Up

Hey there, long time no see!

Lately the project has been radio silent, as often happens between Mysteria.

We like making a splash at Mysterium, so in the past our strategy has always been to save up the big news and content for our presentations. Our logic has been that if we’ve already shared all the stuff we have, there will be nothing left for us to present at the convention. That said, it’s become clear that we’ve taken this too far recently, having posted practically nothing during the 362¼ days that are not Mysterium.

With that in mind, we want to include you guys in our development process more than we have in the past. We want to return this website to what it was intended to be: a place for us to share screenshots of what we’re up to, explain our thinking on certain issues we’ve been grappling with, and that sort of thing. We’ll still save some surprises for Mysterium, of course, but we intend to crack the floodgates of information a bit between now and then.

So stick around, and expect more from us in the coming weeks!

Aug 1 2013

We’re at Mysterium!

We have arrived at Mysterium, and the schedule has been posted – our presentation is scheduled to begin Friday, August 2nd at 11:00 AM Eastern.

UPDATE: You can watch our presentation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBUAz1OWDuc.

Jul 10 2013

We will be at Mysterium 2013

It’s been quiet around here for the past months, and there’s a reason for that: We have been busy getting ready for Mysterium 2013!

Every year at Mysterium, the Myst fan convention, we present some of our latest work. The past two years, we have presented Prison Island, but this year we will be doing something a little different. Mysterium will be held in Rochester, New York, from August 2nd through the 4th. If you want to see the presentation in person, all you have to do is register, and show up in Rochester! If you can’t make it in person, you can also watch online – Mysterium traditionally has offered a live stream of panels and events, and we expect this year to be the same. We’ll provide more details as soon as we receive them.

See you in August!

Apr 2 2013

Development Issues

Unfortunately, it looks like yesterday’s announcement of support for the Nokia 5110 was a bit premature. It turns out, we don’t actually have any way of distributing the game to the 5110, due to limitations in the hardware.

As much as it saddens us to say it, we’re going to have to rescind our support for the platform. Perhaps one day, technology will be sufficiently advanced for us to renew our support of the Nokia 5110, but for now, you’re going to have to play the game on Mac OS X or Windows.

Apr 1 2013

New Platforms

Historically, our stance on platform support for the Starry Expanse Project has always been that Mac OS and Windows come first, and everything else is a possibility for the future. But as technology advances, so must our project. Today, we’re excited to announce that we’ll be bringing The Starry Expanse Project to a new platform – a mobile one.

We recognize that mobile platforms, particularly phones, are the way of the future. More and more games are being released for the iPhone, Android, and sometimes even Windows Phone platforms. These devices all have their pros and cons, but we have found that none of them really have the staying power, the resilience that we require of our technology.

There is, however, one platform that does meet these criteria. A powerful, flexible, mobile platform, with the strength to resist any and all competition.

We are, of course, talking about the Nokia 5110.

That’s right, folks. As of today, we are officially adding the Nokia 5110 to our lineup of supported systems. The game will be made available for the mobile platform on the same day as it’s available for Mac OS and Windows, and it will be a fully functional version of the game – not the usual crippled fare you’ll find in a mobile edition. We aren’t cutting any corners; check out some of these screencaps below, taken from our dev unit:

The classic menu you know and love.

Every cutscene fully preserved, rendered in beautiful 1-bit color.

The Places

All of the locations from the original game, remade with extreme attention to detail, including a dynamic cloud system and moving water!

The Puzzles

Every puzzle works exactly as it does on Mac and Windows.

And of course, the awesome maglev rides have been faithfully ported, as well.

And of course, the awesome maglev rides have been faithfully ported.

Keep in mind that, as with all screenshots that we post, these are a work in progress. We are aware there are some problems and glitches, so please refrain from reporting them.

We’re feeling extra generous today, so we decided to give you guys a sneak peek at another aspect of the project, one that we are asked about quite a lot: sound! For a long time now, we’ve been debating how we’re going to be handling the music in our game, whether or not to remake (or even replace) the score originally composed and performed by Robyn Miller. Well, we’ve finally reached a decision, and well…we hope you agree that we made the right one. Have a listen to a sample of the soundtrack from the upcoming Nokia 5110 edition of the Starry Expanse Project:

We are really excited about the new platform, let us know what you guys think of it! What other platforms would you like to see the game ported to?

Update: Unfortunately, development issues have forced us to rescind our support for the Nokia 5110.