Oct 31 2022

Marking Riven’s 25th Anniversary: An Update from the Starry Expanse Project

Greetings from the team at the Starry Expanse Project!

It’s been some time since our last update. Trust us — we know!

With today’s exciting announcement from Cyan and the accompanying Open Letter to Fans of Riven, our team has been given the opportunity to speak publicly about our collaboration with Cyan.

We are beyond excited to share in Cyan’s announcement that the Riven remake is finally official, and that our team’s efforts have been instrumental in providing a foundation upon which the new Riven can be built. Although our part of the journey has come to an end, the next chapter will be an exciting one to follow for all Myst fans.

Our project began with a laudable (and what seemed like an easily achievable) goal: To keep the promise made by realMyst and recreate its successor in real-time 3D.

A sampling of our team’s work over the years recreating Riven

As our plans became more ambitious, and we moved beyond recreating Riven in the Plasma engine as a mod for Uru, the team grew in size and matured and our skill sets diversified.

Several (in)famous engine switches later, we had transformed from a group of students and hobbyists into a tight-knit team of professional artists and programmers united by our passion for doing our project justice.

In August 2019 we were invited to come to Cyan HQ to share our work, vision, and plans for the future. We are so grateful to have been given this opportunity, and for Cyan’s willingness to dive into our development process and methodology, one uniquely suited to recreate this one particular game.

The Starry Expanse contingent outside Cyan HQ, Mysterium 2019

We’ve kept a pretty low profile since that time — which was a shift for us after so many years of public transparency — but while we’d handed the reins over to Cyan in the months following our meeting, they were not ready to make a public announcement just yet.

Now the details have been ironed out and the torch has been passed. After well over a decade of planning, developing, and endless camera-matching, this amazing world that we pored over for so long is going to be realized. Riven is real.

So what happens now?

Cyan has definitely got their work cut out for them, and our team (with one notable exception) are moving on to other projects, but our love for Riven hasn’t faded. We’ll still be both here and in our Community Discord, just like we have always been.

We are looking forward to sharing more of our story and the things we’ve learned along the way in the coming months. And we’re really excited to be able to talk to you directly again, after all this time.

We would like to extend our most heartfelt thanks to all of our fans for their passion, encouragement, and most of all their patience. It’s been a long road. Thank you for walking the distance with us.

If you want to learn more about Cyan’s update, you can read it in full here. Likewise, there is an FAQ about the new Riven project posted on their website

If you have any questions about the Riven project, we encourage you to join the Cyan community Discord. For anything else Starry Expanse related, you can find us here.

Jan 10 2020

Winter Update: Taking a Closer Look

Our presentations at Mysterium are a special opportunity for us to show you what we’ve been working on, and for our team members to collaborate more closely to complete difficult tasks together. This past year was no exception, and we’re grateful to the Mysterium committee for filming and editing the video of our presentation so everyone can watch (or rewatch!) it:

There’s a lot of creativity and hard work behind the scenes of our presentations, and there are always details we don’t have time to talk about during the show itself. Now that the video is available, we wanted to take a closer look at two aspects of our demo that didn’t get much time on stage, but provide a unique look at our talented artists’ processes.

The lighted poles, as seen in the original game

These lighted poles line the Mag-Lev dock, and epitomize a question our team members are always asking themselves: what is that? Robert Kreps, one of our 3D artists, found himself trying to decipher the nature of the lights while working to recreate them. “I noticed that there is no indication of any sort of bulb or filament in the glass, just a hazy blue color,” Robert shared. “Also, in many of them there were some strange pixel artifacts, and these artifacts have no consistency between different viewing angles.”

It was these artifacts that led him to a theory: the blue orbs aren’t lights, they’re glowing gas. “Much like how neon is used to illuminate signs in our world, there’s no reason Gehn couldn’t have discovered a naturally luminescent gas and encapsulated it in glass orbs as a permanent light fixture,” Robert says. With this as a new starting point, he went about setting it up in the game engine, using a gas-like noise texture applied to a particle emitter. “The particles have an ever-so-slight random rotation and scale over time, along with a soft fade-in and fade-out, and of course, a blue tint,” he explained. “Once the particles all blend together, you get the final effect.”

The gassy light orbs, recreated in our demo

Those listening closely to the sound during the demo may have noticed something new in the elevator room: an original music track, composed by our audio guru and composer Hollister Starrett. Take a listen:

Riven’s soundtrack isn’t something our team takes lightly. “I had to make sure my track had a canonical justification for being there,” Hollister explained. In the full game, “The Red Cave” music establishes the motifs of the area and sets up the musical reveal of the Wahrk room’s theme. However, given our demo area’s narrower scope, Hollister felt it would feel empty with only its small selection of ambient sounds; he decided to write a new track to fulfill the narrative and atmospheric purposes of the space in the original game. “This entire sequence is an incredible tension builder,” he says. “I took some of the motifs from the Red Cave theme and set to work making a track that would build the tension and really compliment the striking elevator sequence.”

Hollister playing the Yamaha VL1 synth

As Hollister talked about at Mysterium 2018, our team purchased both models of synthesizers Robyn Miller used to make the Riven soundtrack, which provided a strong and consistent aural foundation for his new composition. In the latter part of the track, there’s also a new sound – a unique woodwind instrument, inspired by Gehn’s Maral-Obe (also created in the Yamaha VL1 by Robyn Miller). Hollister designed it to fit into the story, as well as the soundtrack. “In my mind, it is a double-reeded woodwind that looks similar to an ancient Greek Karamuza used by the villagers, particularly in rituals worshipping Gehn and the Wahrk.”

The new music track in production

“Adding new content to a game you have such respect for artistically is no easy task,” Hollister says. “But if done right, it can really compliment the pre-existing content and serve to show how much thought and care was put into the original. I truly hope to have achieved that with this track.”

A final note before we close out this post, and look ahead to 2020. As you know, there are a lot of exciting changes happening at the Starry Expanse project, which means we may be posting less frequently than usual. We remain excited about what’s coming down the pipeline in the year ahead, and will keep you posted as things continue to develop. More to come!

Aug 15 2019

Mysterium 2019: A Very Special Announcement

The team has finally returned to their homes around the world, and is looking back on an important week for the project. So what happened? Here are some highlights:

Cyan's headquarters in Spokane, WA
Cyan’s headquarters in Spokane, WA

The Presentation

This year’s convention was a special one: it was Mysterium’s 20th anniversary(!), and held in Spokane, WA – the home of Cyan Worlds. It was also the biggest Mysterium ever, with registration being capped early for the first time in the convention’s history. Attendees came from all over the world, and were an incredible audience for our traditional annual presentation.

Not only was this the biggest group in Mysterium’s history, it was also the biggest gathering of Starry Expanse team members in one place, ever! We knew we had to take advantage of having so many different perspectives, and decided to mix up the format a bit for our presentation, staging a panel-style discussion about our game development pipeline. We also showed off one of the areas we’ve been working on: the Mag-Lev dock that leads into the Survey Island elevator room.

In addition to rebuilding this area in Unreal Engine 4, the team talked about the additional considerations when developing for virtual reality. We even had the entire area available for Mysterium attendees to try as an in-person VR demo, which proved to be extremely popular throughout the convention. People of all ages and levels of VR experience come by to try the demo, which was a special experience for all of us. We even got to share it with some of this year’s special guests, including Chuck Carter (art director for Myst), Marty O’Donnell (sound designer for Riven, who also surprised us by bringing his archive of original audio files to share!), Philip Shane (director the upcoming Myst documentary film), and Russell Brower (composer for Firmament).

The video of the complete presentation will be posted by the Mysterium committee in the next few weeks; we’ll link to it once it’s available!

A Special Announcement

As many of you know, we’ve operated for a long time with Cyan’s blessing. This enabled us to work with our minds at ease, knowing that Riven‘s creators trusted us to treat their masterpiece with the respect it deserves. But we’ve always operated independently, as a group of fans volunteering their time toward a passion project.

As we’ve continued to make progress on the game, however, questions about resources and distribution have grown (which many of you have asked us, too). This prompted us to reach out to Cyan directly to talk through different options for completing and publishing the game. They welcomed our questions, and after a series of conversations, we are incredibly excited to announce that we are officially working with Cyan Worlds to bring the dream of a real-time Riven into reality.

This is the culmination of a lot of hard work, both on the game itself, and on our team’s development pipeline and internal structure. We’ve always held Cyan in the highest regard (that’s our professional way of saying we’re their biggest fans), and it is literally a dream come true to be moving forward with the project in this way. After Mysterium concluded, we even had the opportunity to sit down for a meeting with the team at Cyan headquarters, which was both wonderful and a little surreal for all of us.

The Starry Expanse team with Rand Miller at Cyan HQ

There’s still plenty to figure out, and there will be more details to share in the future. Right now, we are just excited to be a part of the extended Cyan family, and thrilled to be able to share this major development with all of you. This is the beginning of a new chapter in the development of the Starry Expanse Project, and we can’t wait to write it together.

Jul 30 2019

See you at Mysterium!

It’s that time of year again, and we are very excited to be attending and presenting at Mysterium 2019 at the Ruby River Hotel in Spokane, WA.

This year we’ll be kicking off the convention at 10:30am on Friday August 2nd, right after the opening ceremonies. We hope to see you there!

The presentation will be recorded for those unable to attend. Watch this space in the weeks following the convention for a link.

Jun 5 2019

Starry Expanse Demo Game Guide™

Hey everyone! Stuart & Hollister here, the creators of the April Fools’ demo.

Now that it’s been a couple of months in the wild, we feel we can finally spill the beans on all the secrets in our game.

If you never got to play it, please check it out for yourselves. We’ve even updated it with a Linux build!
(And for those of you with older versions of OpenGL, we hope to release a compatibility update soon!)

We loved watching the community’s progress on our Discord and reading your comments across our social pages. Did you know it took less than 24 hours for some in the community to find the innermost secrets of the demo? That is some serious detective work!

We also transferred over 200GiB for the installers, which is more than 2000 demos total. And most of that traffic was within the first two weeks!

For those who may not have discovered everything, we present our official Starry Expanse Demo Game Guide™


Chaotic Good

  1. Our character select screen is probably the first clue that the demo is not what it seems. Choosing Atrus or Gehn will play their respective themes in-game.
  2. Clicking on the viewer at the end of the walkway will animate the dome opening… as a helicopter.
  3. Inside the dome is a cone gun. It is very underpowered so you can behold the cone physics.
  4. Clicking the button at the end of the catwalk extends the drawbridge to the map room.
  5. Clicking the map room control will spawn a pin mesh. Clicking it a hundred more times will spawn a hundred more pin meshes. They also have physics which is wonderful to watch.
  6. There are 4 (it was supposed to be 5 but we didn’t finish the last one 🙁 ) ads that display randomly on the bottom of the screen.
  7. Walk to the end of the Cone Garden to encounter a paywall.

Chaotic Neutral

  1. Jump is linked to score. Reach twenty to jump one more. Fly into the sky.
  2. You can find the Atrus hot air balloon by jumping as much as you can in Spike Garden.
  3. Clicking 25 times on any character’s avatar whilst in-game will trigger a character-specific animation:
    • Atrus spawns donuts which spill onto the walkway because physics.
    • Gehn spawns a Wahrk that jumps over his head. It was supposed to despawn after the animation but to ensure we didn’t miss the April first deadline, it got past our non-existent 2AM QA checks.
  4. Click on the “Buy Gehn Tokens” buttons on the paywall and you’ll be taken to a page on our website claiming we are scamming you (we’re not!). Proceed anyway and you’ll be taken to a page that gives a random hint.

Chaotic Evil

  1. The health suicide bar only works by clicking and dragging. Drag to zero to commit suicide.
  2. Clicking New Game and Back a ridiculous amount of times will slowly break the start screen until you hit the Super Miller Bros version, otherwise known as New Game+ (or NG+ for short).
  3. Once NG+ is unlocked you may play as Rand or Robyn. They have some amazing character art that is designed to glitch out, accompanied with some quality 8-bit ambience.
  4. In NG+, the Wahrk totems will watch you wherever you go.
  5. Clicking 25 times on NG+ character’s avatars whilst in-game will trigger a character-specific animation:
    • Rand spawns a VR headset and exclaims his love for VR.
    • Robyn spawns a Korg keyboard that falls on his head. Physics just adds so much realism to the game, you know?
  6. The spikes in Spike Garden will be covered in cones in NG+ mode.
  7. The paywall at the end of Spike Garden will be a physical “pay wall” in NG+ mode (patent pending).

Thank you to everyone for playing our demo. We had a great time making it, learned some very useful things, and even made some assets that may end up in the final game!
But most rewarding was watching the community come together to find the easter eggs we hid for you. Thank you for making it special!

May 5 2019

Seven Years in the Making: The Survey Island Elevator

It’s been a while since we last shared a good old-fashioned content update!

We’d like to present the new-and-improved model of the iconic Survey Island elevator (as opposed to the other, non-iconic Survey Island elevator that no one talks about).

This asset has had quite a development history. First seen all the way back in 2013 at Mysterium, where we showed off a version that had been optimised for a lower-spec game in the Unity 3D engine, it’s been ported to both the UDK and then finally to Unreal Engine 4.

Being among our favourite objects in the entire game, we’re naturally very excited to finally see it done justice by our dedicated 3D artist Jonas Becsan!

With the rigging and animation already complete, we look forward to seeing it fully implemented into the game in the near future. Well, as long as we can figure out how to do all those crazy water effects that go along with it…

How hard could that be?

Apr 9 2019

Firmament on Kickstarter

We are very excited to share the latest news that Firmament, Cyan World’s latest game project, is now on Kickstarter!

Here at the Starry Expanse Project we’ve been eagerly following this project ever since we saw the teaser trailer in early 2018, and we’ve been speculating all this time on what it could be. Well now we know a little more – an ambitious project that seeks to redefine how we play adventure games in VR, and at the same time provide a great experience for those without a headset. We’re looking forward to hearing more about Firmament in the coming weeks.

We hope you’ll join us in backing such an exciting project. With 17 days left on the clock and with the bar about halfway to their goal, anything could happen!

Head on over to their campaign page and show your support – we know you won’t regret it.

Apr 1 2019

Starry Expanse: A New Direction

Hello everyone!

We have a very big announcement for you, but first, some backstory:
Since its birth, we had always planned for Starry Expanse to be a 3D recreation of Riven. realMyst had just come out, so free-roam 3D just seemed like the way to go. But as time has gone on, it has become more and more apparent that this may not be the best option for us. Since this realization, we’ve been working hard to steer the project in a direction that we’re all happy with.

This process has led us to identify and remedy many serious flaws in our old structure.
So, we looked at what was doing well. Our favorite games that we actually play. Temple Run, Lords Mobile: War Kingdom Paper Mario, Sago Mini Babies Dress Up, Sand; what do all of these have in common? That’s right, they’re 2D. All successful games ever – and especially modern ones – are embracing 2D, and more specifically 2.5D technology.

So what does that mean for Starry Expanse?
Well, I’m happy to announce that we have assessed and implemented a far superior and more accessible control scheme, and implemented a highly realistic physics system that adds a whole new level of realism to the game.
Additionally, we know how badly the community wants us to use the original actors’ performances in our game.
We heard you, and we’ve listened. 

And best of all? The game will be free to play! The microtransactions are entirely optional, and you can play through most of the first part of the game without even thinking about them!

So, without further ado, we’re proud to announce this far superior direction, fully realized in glorious 2.5D. Utilizing 2.5D gives us such a fresh, unique perspective into the world that’s just not possible in first-person. And development time with this new style is so much easier, that we’ve already been able to work up a small demo! While this is by no means the final product, we think it gives a very good idea of what the finished game will be like!

We’re so excited for you to join us in this new chapter of Starry Expanse, and can’t wait to hear your positive comments about our demo!

Here is the download:

Written by Hollister, directed by Hollister, produced by Hollister, hair and makeup by Hollister, demo created by Hollister and Stuart, credits by Hollister.

Mar 4 2019

The Riven Islands Exocosmic Cultural Reserve: Art by Lauren Herda

We spend a lot of time examining, deconstructing, and generally just staring at still images of Riven. They’re our best reference, and a window into that world, but they also only paint part of the picture. It’s easy to forget when you spend so long staring at still images that they’re meant to represent a living, breathing world – and it’s our responsibility to realise that world not just with accuracy, but also with depth.

One invaluable tool that helps remind us to step back from matching geometry one-to-one and look at a scene holistically is Riven fan-art, and we’d like to give a shout out to someone we’ve found recently who’s given us a new perspective on an old environment.

Lauren Herda’s Riven Islands Exocosmic Cultural Reserve series is a colourful and creative re-imagining of each of Riven’s five islands as National Park tourism destinations. They’ve inspired us to look at our work from more than just the angles that the original game provided, and to consider the Age of Riven unconstrained by the frame of a 608*392 image. For more information on the series and to see more of Lauren’s work, follow this link!

If you’ve created or discovered some fan art that you believe breathes new life into the world of Riven – we would also love to see it. Share it in the comments, find us on our Discord, or email us at general@starryexpanse.com.

Jan 30 2019

Painting with Pins: Creating the Surveyor’s Map

Welcome back to another year with the Starry Expanse Project!

The period between late December through early January is traditionally a time for taking stock of our progress, critically examining our pipeline, and spending a little time developing R&D prototypes to prepare for the year ahead.  We’d like to share one of these with you today.

You might recognise it, despite the gaudy colour scheme (which is for clarity during testing). It’s our prototype version of the famous Survey Island pin table. A visually striking puzzle element in the original game, the pin table consists of thousands of tiny pins that move up and down to form the contours of each island.

Our version is a little more dynamic as we can pan, scale, and rotate a height map image to get any shape we need. You can see a bit more of how it works behind the scenes in this video.

We’re happy with the visual results of our pin table, but all those pins do come with a non-trivial cost to performance (and our test map is less than half the resolution of the one in the original). Our prototypes are not always successful, and sometimes ideas don’t work out. It’s why we do these small, isolated tests in the first place!

We have a few other ideas for how this effect could be achieved, and we’ll be having a go at those sometime in the near future.

We’d like to welcome our newest team member, Tom Owen – a multi-talented programmer who is passionate about virtual reality. Good to have you with us, Tom!