My Reddit-savvy husband informed me of an Ask Me Anything (AMA) post happening today by a team of developers working on a realtime 3D port of Riven: The Sequel to Myst. Riven is one of my favorite games, and this port project was news to me!
The Starry Expanse Project, as it’s being called, is made up of a small independent group of programmers and artists. Apparently the project started out in a “legal gray zone” but has recently received official approval by Cyan Worlds to move forward and make this thing a reality, with a bit of support from their end as far as digging up old files and such. Pretty cool!
Riven is a game near and dear to my heart, so I’m both excited and the slightest bit skeptical about a realtime remake. So far, what I’ve seen from the Starry Expanse team has done wonders to assuage my fears. I think the atmosphere is really the defining feature of the game, and I’ve been wondering how traversing the world in 3D space will effect the overall feel of the game. A Redditor asked that question in the AMA today, and Starry Expanse responded:
“The atmosphere is absolutely something we want to retain from the original. It’s a reason we love Riven too. Retaining atmosphere is an issue that sometimes even conflicts with the freedom we’re trying to inject, yes. For example, sometimes in the original, the feeling of a certain scene is dependent on the direction the player is looking. We may have to limit the player’s view for scenes like that, to get them to see everything that needs to be seen, but questions like that are still up in the air.”
A very encouraging reply, and after seeing some video clips of the gameplay so far, I’m actually really excited to see what benefits the realtime gameplay brings to the table as far as atmosphere goes. There might be some elements from the original static point-and-click style that simply can’t be retained or recreated, but bringing in elements like dynamic weather and time changes might bring a whole new experience to the game (which is good, because what’s the point of playing a remake that is exactly the same as the original?)
(There is also some more recent gameplay footage here that shows the sky changes, and which I also like because there are birds flying around the tower. Gotta get past the ads and constant pop-ups though. Gameplay starts at 4:07)
It’s interesting what Starry Expanse brought up about freedom (and this is mentioned in another place in the AMA). A few months ago, Nick and I were talking about this in regards to other open world games. It seems like there is a spectrum in game design where player freedom is on one end, and the artist’s control is on the other. The more freedom you give the player, the less ability you have as a designer or artist to dictate what that player experiences. If you have a specific vision for how the game should be enjoyed, or what feelings you want the player to have, those goals might be compromised by player freedom. For example, you might have crafted a gritty, serious in-game world, but if your player can do goofy things like jump on top of cars while the NPCs are talking, the illusion is kind of shattered. On the other hand, you don’t want to restrict the player so much that it just feels like they’re playing a movie, and waste your medium all together. How can a designer best take advantage of a game’s interactive nature to explore aesthetic goals? How can you weave a common thread through what may be a different gameplay experience for every player? Can we argue that the exploration of some themes are better suited to games than others? Do some artistic expressions only belong in passive media?
Anyway, it’s comforting to know that this project is in good hands (fans’ hands!), and I can’t wait to really get immersed in that gorgeous world. Since it sounds like Starry Expanse is essentially a pet project with virtually no funding, they say we’re probably 2-3 years out from anything like a finished project, but I’m sure it will be well worth the wait. (And who knows, maybe a Kickstarter or something along the way might bump things up a bit.)