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.

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.

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!

Nov 11 2018

A Belated Anniversary Gift

As part of the celebration surrounding the recent success of the Myst 25th Anniversary Kickstarter, we were delighted to see printable versions of five of the original 3D assets from Myst made available as a community reward. We couldn’t help but join in the fun, and so we reached out to Cyan and offered to match their five models with five of our own.

These iconic Riven models are now available for download alongside Cyan’s on the Myst25 Thingiverse page, and include:

  • Gehn’s Pipe
  • The Wahrk
  • The Fissure Telescope
  • A Moiety Dagger
  • The MagLev

We’re pleased to make these 3D-printable models available to other fans of the series, and we hope you like them!

Huge thanks to Kelly Coston for helping both Cyan and us process, test, and upload the models.

Sep 20 2018

On the Right Track: Deciphering the Cart Tunnel

Happy September everyone! Stuart Attenborrow here, a 3D Artist and one of the team’s camera matching specialists.

As you know we’ve been focusing on Boiler Island for most of this year. That trend has continued post-Mysterium and we’ll share our overall progress with you soon, but I’d like to take a moment to take you behind the curtain on a specific area I’ve been working on recently. If you’ve been in our official Discord server you may have seen my rant about the cart tunnel on Boiler Island. Today’s update is a bit of a director’s cut of that rant, complete with example pictures. Enjoy!

The cart tunnel is one of those areas you breeze through without much thought. It’s dark, and you only see it for a brief time before being dumped unceremoniously down the chute and into Boiler Island proper. It’s possibly for these reasons that there are a few rough edges in the tunnel that nobody really notices (myself included). Until you try to rebuild it, that is.

Here are my top five quirks that the team identified as we brought this area into real-time 3D.

Number One: Brace Yourself
For starters, here is one that’s easy to spot. As your cart rolls into the tunnel you can see that the track bracing runs all the way to the end of the line. If this is the case, how exactly do you fall down the chute? Let’s check that out.

As the bottom of the cart opens and you fall through, not only does the bracing mysteriously disappear, but if you take a look at the Boiler Island arrival animation frame-by-frame you’ll notice that the bottom of the cart has gone missing entirely! Magic!

Number Two: Shifting Objects
Another significant change between shots. Depending on your position in-game, a small rock and a support pillar for the cart track will come and go. We can only assume changes were made right up to the last minute, and some stills were not re-rendered. That’s game development for you!

Number Three: An Impossible Turn
At the very end of the famous cart ride from Jungle Island, there is a period of complete blackness before the player sees the light at the end of the tunnel (literally!). The cart then turns on a dime around the corner to hit the buffer stop and end the ride. Unfortunately for us, it turns out that corner is actually way too sharp for the cart to actually make!

Number Four: Spot the Difference
As you might expect, we are experts at playing Rivenese spot the difference. Have a look at the above image, and you might spot it too!
The lever next to the cart is missing in the arrival animation, but reappears when you’re standing next to the cart. It also moves between the few images within the tunnel. We assume returning via the cart was a later addition.

Number Five: Mechanical Faults
Our final nitpick is a little more technical. On the other side of the water when travelling to Jungle Island the cart runs out of oomph. It slips back slightly, but then something interesting happens. You can hear the sound of ratcheting as it continues it’s ascent. It only makes sense that this should be a chain hill and rack mechanism like those you’d see on a roller coaster. There’s only one problem though – there’s nothing visually in the game suggesting how it’s achieving this. The track is the same as it’s always been. Perhaps the cart is far more advanced than it looks…

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour through our daily work to parse the world of Riven into real-time 3D for you all to explore. It’s one hell of a ride!

We apologise to those still waiting on the recordings of our Mysterium presentation. The folks at the Mysterium Committee are still working on editing down the whole convention’s worth of footage, and these things take time! We’ll be sharing the videos as soon as we receive them.

Edit: It looks like our Mysterium presentation has been up on the MysteriumCon channel for over a week! You can see it here. Thanks to user commenter P-K-V for letting us know!

Please welcome our newest team member, Alexander Diener – a multi-talented programmer!

Aug 14 2018

A Post-Mysterium Announcement

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for the team and we have a lot to share with you. Last weekend we were proud to attend the annual convention of all things Myst, Mysterium, in beautiful St. Louis Missouri, and what a weekend it was. While those who attended catch up on their sleep and recover, we’d like to share some news with those of you who couldn’t make it.

Recordings of the full presentation will be available soon.

That’s right! We’re very excited to finally announce that we are officially developing realRiven for virtual reality. Those of you who’ve been following the project for a while and know our previous stance on VR (best summarised by a casual “VR is cool, but it’s too much work”) may have questions as to what’s changed. Simply, the tools for developing a game in VR have become more ubiquitous and easy to use, and our team now has several members with experience in shipping titles for VR. We have the talent and the technical barriers are no longer an issue, so we’re pleased to make this announcement and we hope you’re as excited as we are.

If you have any questions about our decision to support VR (or anything else, for that matter) feel free to drop by and ask us in our official project Discord server.

Please welcome our new team members!
Amit Arnon, Programmer
Jan Goris, 3D Artist

Jul 9 2018

Piecing it Together: Building Boiler Island

Connecting the disparate parts of each of Riven’s islands together so they are both accurate to the original game and ensuring that they make realistic sense can be a challenge. Often it feels like assembling a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces never quite fit together.

The different ‘zones’ of Boiler Island. We work on each separately, and then combine them in-engine.

It’s no secret that Cyan cheated all the time when developing the final shots of Riven. Objects move between shots for better composition (plays havoc with our camera matching software), and sometimes whole areas were changed later in development which had knock-on effects that were never addressed (Survey Island is the biggest offender in this category).

One area in particular that we have been struggling with recently is the Ytram Cave on Boiler Island, newly modelled by our talented artist Andrea Notarstefano. This is a narrow tunnel with a walkway that connects to three other areas. Luckily one of those areas is a dead-end (which makes things easier), but the other two require us to reconcile the cave’s position with the rest of the island, and we’re having difficulties getting it to match the cameras we have placed in the scene.

As you can see, despite the cave (in orange) matching our placed cameras, it sticks out the back of the crater terrain, and fails to line up with the duct (in blue) which is meant to take us in a straight line to Gehn’s Lab. What a conundrum!

The solution, as always, involves compromise. Obviously the cave needs to fit in the terrain, but we don’t want to drift too much from the camera match which represents the layout of the original game. Our solution is to curve the walkway around by extending that first bend in the walkway, making it run more along the line of the terrain. We can then adjust the terrain to cover any gaps. We’ll also use some Unreal-engine wizardry to make it seem like the duct is running in a straight line, when it in fact doesn’t. Players will never notice the switch, and the cave will look as close to the original as possible.

I guess sometimes when a jigsaw doesn’t go together, you just have to use scissors. Just another hurdle to jump in the process of bringing Riven to realtime 3D!

Jun 5 2018

Reaching New Heights: Boiler Island Terrain

The Starry Expanse Team would like to congratulate Cyan on the conclusion of their Kickstarter. Well done to all who contributed to make it such a success. What a result!

It’s been a very busy month for us here at the project. We’ve made significant headway on multiple fronts, from several innovations in our development pipeline and review system, to the creation of dozens of new assets and the recent establishment of an exciting new project that we can’t talk about yet (but we promise you’ll love it).

Recent developments in our camera matching pipeline have allowed us to speed up the creation process of one of the trickier aspects of recreating Riven in realtime – the terrain. Here is a video that shows off some of the work our camera matching specialist, Stuart Attenborrow, has been carving away at recently. If you’re a member of our Discord server, you may already have seen some glimpses of this – the latest iteration of Boiler Island’s crater in all its glory.

This month we also had the addition of five (yes, five!) new team members into the Starry Expanse family. Please make them feel welcome!

Andrea Notarstefano, 3D Artist
Daniel King, 3D Artist
Henry Bruce, 3D Artist
Martina Chiletti, 3D Artist
Michael Stokes, 3D Artist/C++ Programmer/Game engine tinkerer