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.

May 1 2017

realRiven: Special Edition?

One of the most common questions that we get asked is “Do you plan to put anything in the game that wasn’t in the original?”

As such, we have a large collection of your suggestions. Candidates range from minimal impact additions like easter eggs (similar to those which already exist), significant alterations like weather variation, to whole new areas like Gehn’s 234th age (an area referenced but never actually seen).

The Moeity Village in Tay

The ability to explore the Moiety village on Tay is one of the most popular recommendations.

The number of these requests that we receive is not surprising, as the Myst series has set a precedent for bonus content. When realMyst was released, fans were surprised to discover Rime, a whole new age to explore which expanded the story and helped it dovetail into the sequel.

We’ve always maintained that we will not consider any additions to Riven until the original game has been re-created in its entirety, and we still stand by that. However, there are always grey areas. Here are two examples:

The book press, an object that was removed at the last minute due to playtesting issues, and a hidden corridor to nowhere that seems to have been cut late in development. These things are not in the original game, but were clearly intended to be at one stage. Could these objects be reworked back into the game? Perhaps they could!

Bookpress and hidden corridor

We are interested to hear what you think. Would you add these objects into realRiven, and if so – why or why not? Are there better examples of content that could be added first?

Add your thoughts in the comments — we do take your opinions seriously.

Mar 8 2017

To Divide and Conquer

Last month we shared some of our recent camera-matching work on Temple Island, and we noticed that there was some great discussion regarding the coloured region map we used to place the SuperDome. To answer your questions, we thought we’d go into a bit more detail about what those maps are and how they help us reconstruct such a large and complicated environment as Riven.

Temple Zone Map

We have a similar ‘area map’ for each island.

We have made extensive use of a detailed top-down map of Riven’s five islands (you can find it in the Prima Strategy Guide) to break each island into what we call ‘areas’. This helps us organise ourselves, allowing us to group objects and tasks by area and making it much easier to visualise what needs to be done next. Breaking up an island into sections also means multiple people are able work on it at the same time without getting in each other’s way.

Old Boiler Zone Map

An earlier version of Boiler Island’s area map.

Unfortunately, the map isn’t always trustworthy. We suspect that most (if not all) of the interiors are just inventions based on a best guess, and there are other parts of the map (especially on Jungle Island) where the map clearly deviates from the actual game environment. This can be very problematic, as in the past we’ve tended to over rely on it for placing objects in a scene. This is especially prominent in areas that are mostly indoors, like Survey Island’s interior.

The 'camera-matched' environment compared to the area map below.

The ‘camera-matched’ environment compared to the area map below.

As you can see, not only is there a significant scale disparity between our camera-matched geometry and the overhead map, but the map even gets the shape of the pentagonal elevator shaft backwards!

To solve these difficulties, we have a simple rule. Whenever there is a conflict between the original game and the overhead map, we will always defer to the environment as represented in the original stills. They remain the best possible reference.

The overhead map has also had other benefits that directly affect how the game will be played. We use the same area layout as the foundation of our level streaming system, which will let the player traverse the entire age of Riven without needing to see a single loading screen (or switch disks!)

That, however, is a topic for another day.

A big welcome to our new team members:
Jonas Becsan (VFX Artist)
Jordan Cain (3D Artist)

Feb 4 2017

Monthly Update: February 2017

Last month, our art team worked hard on two primary tasks: creating assets for the greybox scenes we presented last year at Mysterium, and camera-matching new ones. Here’s a sneak peek at some examples that have been shared by various members of the team. Remember, all of this work is still ‘in progress’ — and we welcome any comments or questions you may have!

Objects in Gehn's Lab

Some objects you may recognise from Gehn’s lab on Boiler Island. These were created by the latest addition to our art team, Francois Hurtubise!

SuperDome on Map

Shots from the current “camera-match” of Temple Island’s SuperDome-

SuperDome Exterior Camera-Matching

Camera-matching the exterior of the dome. The red and green wireframes shows the work our artists are doing on top of the original Riven images.

Dome Interior Camera-Matching

Camera-matching the interior of the dome. Note the yellow wireframes.

As you can see, there’s lots of important work being done! And it highlights the benefits of the new pipeline we instituted last year — we have different areas in various stages of development, so we can move forward with camera-matching new areas while our artists start filling in more detailed assets in previously-matched ones. Looking forward to sharing more soon!

Jan 11 2017

Looking back, moving forward

Happy new year, Riven fans!

What a year we had! We welcomed seven new immensely talented people to the team, we were able to ‘greybox’ several large areas of the game which we proudly presented at Mysterium in Salt Lake City, and we even started exploring areas of development that we’ve not attempted previously — like motion capture solutions for our character animation.

Survey Island: Garden

We’re all aware that this update has been a long time coming, and we apologize for the radio silence since August — we’ve all just been so busy! To make it up to you, here is our new year’s resolution: We will be providing at least one update per month for the duration of 2017. We’ll keep you informed — and we trust you’ll hold us to it! And a special thanks to all those fans who reached out to us during this time to ask about the project; your support means a lot to us.

Survey Island: Lower Level

2017 is going to be a fantastic year for the Starry Expanse project. We can’t wait to continue sharing this journey with you.

Welcome to our new team members:

Chris Mumford – Developer

Ignatius Reillius – 3D Artist

Kyle Hovey – System Administrator

Leonard Sch̦lch Р3D Artist

Liam Smyth – 3D Artist

Matt Laskowski – 3D Artist

Ryan Jung – System Administrator

Aug 7 2015

Watch our Mysterium 2015 presentation, live!

We’re kicking off the Mysterium 2015 convention at 2 PM EDT!

Watch the stream, live from Boston, here.

Edit: That’s a wrap! We’ll post a link to the archived livestream if/when one becomes available. Thanks for watching!