My son is gradually working his way toward the end of the book “The Return of the King,” the swan song to J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings series. The series is a perfect fit for his personality. He’s obsessed with fantasy and adventure and the creation of new worlds. He hopes to translate these interests into video game programming and design. In a way, it reminds me of brothers Randy and Robyn Miller, founders of Cyan Worlds, Inc. and creators of the Myst franchise.
As kids, the Millers were enormous fans of Tolkien, as well as science fiction authors like Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Jules Verne. In 1987 the pair decided to found Cyan Worlds, Inc out of their parents basement in Spokane, Washington. They released a series of games aimed at children, including Manhole and Cosmic Osmo and the World Beyond the Mackerel, before pitching a more adult oriented titled called The Gray Summons to Activision. The game was not picked up, but the pair were later approached by Sunsoft to create a game for older players.
The result is the now classic Myst, released in 1993 for the Mac OS. The brothers spent an extensive amount of time developing the puzzles for the world, and drew inspiration from Jules Verne’s classic novel “The Mysterious Island.” The game itself involved exploring the island setting, solving puzzles, and eventually finding books that would link the player to different “Ages.” Each “Age” (the Selenitic, Stoneship, Mechanical, and Channelwood) was a self contained world with its own set of puzzles to solve. There was little to exposition at the start of the game to give you a sense of context, lending to the air of mystery while exploring. There were also no time limits, hazards, or enemies. Players were free to focus completely on exploring their environment and solving the game’s puzzles.
Initially, the Millers played to have the game operate without a soundtrack beyond some ambient noise, but ultimately decided to utilize music. Robyn Miller composed the soundtrack, which proved popular enough that it was released as a CD in 1998 by Virgin Records.
It’s a fascinating backstory to a fascinating game, and a brilliant picture of what can happen when young minds are free to explore fantastic worlds.