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!

59 Responses to “Winter Update: Taking a Closer Look”.

Team members' usernames are in red.
  • Flake Says:

    Glad to hear something from the team.
    Keep up the good work !

  • The Green Butterfly Says:

    Happy New Year!
    Nice to hear from you guys again with these interesting updates!

    I wonder, shouldn’t the gas inside the orbs get energy from electrodes (like in neon signs) so they can emit blue light? Is it me, or does some kind of metal wire enter the orb? It’s hard to see…
    If they just absorbed naturally occurring light, the orbs should emit less light in the darker maglev stations, but they seem to emit the same amount of light everywhere. Since blue light has quite a high energy, it could absorb UV light (not visible to the human eye) from emitters in the top of the pole that shines into the orbs from below, but the pattern of light in the orbs should be different then with more light being emitted from the bottom. Also, if you use a lamp already, why not make it emit visible light in the first place? It’s Ghen of course, he’s capable of such things, but still.

  • auahz Says:

    On this render the orbs can be seen very well:
    Looks like the poles enter the orbs and extend to the top.

    • LuigiHann Says:

      Good eye on the poles. Could make more sense of how the lamps are powered, this way.
      It does seem like they’ve otherwise captured them very well, since that render has a similar flowy/gassy look to what the team came up with.

      Might also be worth studying the video of the Maglev pulling into Survey Island. It’s tough to tell with the compression but it does look like the light and dark bits of the orb are static, not actively flowing.

    • LuigiHann Says:

      Those orbs do look great, and I can only imagine how many revisions they’ve been through. Always fascinating in a remaster to figure out where you really need to add things.

      And that elevator track is pretty perfect. It really does feel like it could be a lost Riven track.

      Looking forward to seeing what you’re able to accomplish with increased access to Cyan’s resources.

    • Aloys Says:

      I always assumed those were simple blue firemarbles, nothing technological. Just like those in the corridor leading to the Moiety book room with the ‘tennis table paddles’.

  • mystman12 Says:

    That music track is fantastic! Interestingly, the beginning gave me some serious Super Metroid vibes. Sounds a lot like the music in the statue room, which also happens to be filled with water.

    Here’s a link to the Super Metroid track:

  • James Says:

    I love the new track. Fantastic work, Hollister! Thanks so much for sharing this. I always enjoy reading these updates.

  • Aloys Says:

    That music track is really good. It does a great job of emulating Robyn’s composition style, and fits the area. If I didn’t know I could believe it’s from the original game.
    However I have to say that I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea. I thought the goal of the whole project was to recreate Riven as it was. Not to add original content to it. So why?

    • Iman Says:

      That’s a fair question! As of right now, we’re not planning to add this track to the main game — this was written exclusively for the Mysterium demo, since that particular slice of the game didn’t include any music. We wanted to make sure you all had a chance to hear Hollister’s wonderful work in the meantime!

  • Sean Says:

    Curious why you’re adding content. Nonetheless less excited to see this in person one day…

  • Wes Says:

    Love the track as a stand alone tribute to Robyn’s work and potential background music for your demo; but not really feeling adding content to the original game as this is supposed to be a one to one recreation. If there wasn’t any music in that particular portion originally, then I believe you’re changing the creators original intent. Which in my mind is a big no-no. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    If however the team decides to add some of the areas that were cut from the final release of the game; I could see the need for new music to compliment it. Hollister is definitely the man for the job.

    My two cents.

  • Wangmauler Says:

    Just… Wow. I’m amazed at how great this soundtrack is looking to be… I’m an audiophile, musician and sound snob myself, and this just FEELS like an extension of RIVEN. Thank you for everyone’s amazing work!

  • Andross Says:

    First, so great to hear from you, I was worried when there was nothing at Christmas.

    Second, M3 Exile also features similar orbs which are orange in colour, however they are a similar in size and purpose, so they might be worth another look. I think the gas is a likely sounding explanation. Perhaps it is some by product given off by the organisms in the water, which might explain why the tunnel coming into the caldera is lighter than it probably should be?

  • Xylochoron Says:

    I think the pixel artifacts just have to do with the gif image compression used.

    Also thought they were just fire marbles.

    Also unsure about adding tracks to the game, “special edition” territory. So the villagers were now excited enough about worshiping Gehn that they played their own instruments during execution, ok

    Maybe the elevator coming up was exciting enough without having to accentuate it with an extra track and are we going to end up with a special edition in the end…

  • adreamvoyager Says:

    I still would like to see an Alembic fluid simulation be applied to the water when the Elevator Rises up. It would be a really nice touch. Unreal can definitely handle it, and they can be generated in blender if needed.

  • Flake Says:

    Have you plans to support RTX (Ray-Tracing) includes Day and Night cycle.?

  • Elmo Says:

    “Have you plans to support RTX (Ray-Tracing) includes Day and Night cycle.?”

    Without the extra work, will this even be released in our lifetimes lol.

  • Flake Says:

    Spring update please

  • Anthony Says:

    So with everyone practically staying indoors, are people finding more time to work on this?

    • Anthony Says:

      (Me replying to self)
      …and guess what, Unreal Engine V (5) has just been announced, and it looks awesome. Perhaps the game should steer towards that now.

  • Airetama Says:

    I’m an old gamer but I’m a new Myst fan.
    I never got to play the originals back in the day but I played realMyst Masterpiece Edition for the first time last year and really enjoyed it.
    I also just finished Exile, which I really liked as well.
    As much as I’d like to see a realExile, it’s probably not gonna happen anytime soon, so I played the original, and at least in this one you can look 360° around you.
    I’m having a hard time going back to the old screen-by-screen gameplay, so I just wanted to let you guys know that your game is the one I’ve been anticipating the most these past few years.
    Yeah that’s right, even before I played Myst I and III I heard about your project and was excited for it.
    Can’t wait to finally play this masterpiece that is Riven.
    Good luck in continuing and completing this fantastic project.

  • rooshoes Says:

    Unlike others here, I have zero issue with the team adding musical content to the game if it’s as carefully crafted and authentically engineered as the Elevator track by Hollister here. What a supreme show of dedication to the artistry of the original.

    Look, I firmly believe that Riven is a genuine masterpiece. This is like adding a few inches to the Mona Lisa. It’s difficult to believe it’s even possible, but you’ve proven it. As far as I’m concerned, I sincerely hope it makes it into the final release.

    Keep up the great work, team.

  • Water Says:

    Is this project still being worked on?

    • Atrur Says:

      Yes, but, their cooperation with Cyan is in a phase they can’t talk what’s exactly happening. The team is quite active on Discord so it’s easier to reach out to them there.

  • Thomas Says:

    The Mysterium 2020 schedule shows no Starry Expanse contribution! What’s going on? I’m in D’ni age and I can’t handle Discord. Can someone please give me a direct link to the Starry Expanse forum there? A Google search didn’t help me. Thank you!

    • Thomas Says:

      Sorry, I found the Discord link on top of this page. So as far as I understand it, Cyan is now supervising the Starry Expanse efforts and so there is no Mysterium 2020 participation. A pity! I hope Cyan does not kill the project.

  • Flake Says:

    No Presentation ?
    I’m sad. The Mysterium Presentation was my only hope. 🙁

  • Announcer Says:

    Two relevant announcement from the discord server:

    Stuart – 2020-05-29
    @everyone Please join us in congratulating our very own @Robert for becoming one of the newest Cyan employees! What a dream come true for a Starry Expanse team member (or any of us for that matter)!
    We wish him all the best and hopefully will continue to work with him on Starry Expanse in the near future.
    Feel free to send him a congrats over in #general

    Hollister – 2020-07-02
    @everyone Hey guys!
    We’ve recently been getting a lot of questions as to what we’re working on currently. The truth is, not much new work is going on behind the scenes as of now.
    As you probably know by now, the project is in the process of being merged with Cyan!
    Part of that process involves them auditing all of our past work to date, in order to figure out where things stand. We’ve made quite a few assets over the 11 years we’ve been doing this, so as you can probably imagine, it’ll take a while!
    So, while this may seem like a disappointing answer to the question, it’s actually a very major and important step in seeing the game to completion.
    It has been, and most likely will continue to be a long wait, but we promise you, it’s the calm before the storm.

  • Flake Says:

    Update please

  • Luis Says:

    Any news?

  • David Says:

    Happy 1 year anniversary to the last post on this website!!!

    Can’t wait for news, even a small “Hey! Wassup!”

  • Rob Says:

    When’s the update coming ?

  • Knox Gibson Says:

    I know you guys have day jobs and other responsibilities, so I just wanted to let you know your doing a great job and that it’s okay to take your time.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Mismpessi Says:

    I’m just going to go ahead and say it this project is dead

    • Aloys Says:

      Nah, it’s just that now it’s under Cyan management now, and we know how they can be when it comes to communicating. 😉

      (but I agree that is a problem for a project that has been so open, for so many years..)

  • Chari Says:

    A summer 2021 update would be just amazing. Give us something, let us know you’re all doing great and tease us with anything, even if it’s tiny!

  • Flake Says:

    Is that a good or bad sign to hear nothing from the team ?

  • Nina Says:

    Flake Says:
    June 12th, 2021 at 5:40 am

    Is that a good or bad sign to hear nothing from the team ?


    Who knows? At very least, “they” could update the month in the banner “To our wonderful fans, Thanks for your patience during this break in community updates. We will share more news as soon as we are able!”, like they did months ago. Or change it to “To our wonderful fans… farewell/adios/sayonara!” XD

    Since I want to stay mildly optimistic, I speculate that MAYBE, since next year will be the 25th anniversary of the original Riven release, Cyan might have a surprise for us. Or not.

    If nothing substantial pops up by the end of 2022, then for me the game is pretty much done for.

  • Sehrvis Says:

    Since they were merged into Cyan, marketing concerns have likely become real for them, which means they probably have to play the project closer to the chest. There’s a reason most big games don’t give you constant insight into the development process. When we get announcements, I assume they will be much bigger, but also farther in between. We’ve been getting pre-pre-pre-pre-alpha updates so far. I assume the next news we’ll hear is when they’re approaching a beta build.

  • Nina Says:

    Maybe now that Cyan has release their 3rd – and to me quite unnecessary – reboot of the original Myst game, they will focus their energies on the Riven reboot. Hopefully.

    • Ciatlov Says:

      I didn’t even know about this. I looked at some footage and indeed it feels kinda unnecessary.
      In fact I’d say realMyst 2014 looks better and is closer to the original.
      I really wish they would have remade Exile, which turned 20 this year.

  • David Says:

    Heeeh…. you guys still alive at least?

  • stargaterules Says:

    I guess we just have to cross our fingers and hope for the best. And be patient. And wait. And wait… And wait… And wait some more! 😉

  • Nina Says:

    Hey, the updated the banner, now it displays “(November 2021)”!
    Well well…

  • Jordan Says:

    The fact that it has been two years, has me excited. When they are able to show us what they’ve been working on, it’s going to be epic.

  • Flake Says:

    2 years without news.! 🙁 🙁 🙁

    • Gabriel Says:

      I wouldn’t worry about two years of no news. The team was swooped up by Cyan to finish the project as an official “Real Riven” release. This change in structure has likely made many changes, including when we will hear more information.

  • Steven J Elias Says:

    I was immensely impressed by the Starry Skies version of Myst! I actually played it twice just to completely digest all the beautiful are work you did. I’m very excited for the Riven remake! Any idea when I’ll be able to buy this… ?
    Thank you So much for you love and dedication yo quality and game play. Believe me it makes all the difference. Just FYI I’m 66 and played it with my 5 year old Grandson who was equally amazed and entertained. This is one of the few games we could play take a break and come back to.
    I tried to duplicate the experience with The Turning Test but it just couldn’t hold him. It was all about the Story.
    One final request it at all possible. Is there any way to make the roller in the mouse serve as the “W” and “S” button on the keyboard. Just a wish not a must. Thank You So Very Much!!!

  • Flake Says:

    The release of RealRiven comes closer and closer…

  • Jebwu Says:

    This sounds like it could have been in the original and it still feels new and really different, but the elevator had no track so this would be perfect for it can’t now imagine it without.

    Your expanding the RiVen sound bank by its normal and natural way. You nailed the perfect balance between new and classical.

    Great work but try to make track that are not more different than this because it would be alienizing and would remove the musical legacy of this amazing game.

    Anyway great work keep it up like that.
    Even if I know my comment will probably not be regarded!.

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