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STARRY EXPANSE Team Interview + Exclusive Screenshots

One of the games I most fondly remember from my Windows ME days is RIVEN, the first person point and click adventure/exploration/frustrating puzzle game from Cyan Worlds released in 1997. For those of you who don’t remember, MYST was the best selling PC game in the world until THE SIMS. Cyan Worlds have been fairly quiet as of late, spinning out a few MYST-related titles every now and then, including a very interesting experiment: REALMYST in 2000, a conversion of the original MYST game into a fully 3D world. CYAN WORLDS were at the forefront of game prettiness in 1997 because all of their games were actually composed of still images. And not like static backgrounds, such as a platformer. You actually clicked on a direction and the screen would change to another still image, like the world’s most confusing PowerPoint. Back in 1997, this really didn’t bother anyone because the game worlds were compelling and the images themselves were so damn pretty.

riven remake
Also known as “The Love Shack”.

But that style of game design has gone the way of the Dodo. A fully 3D world in a first person game is not only possible, common, but also a given. RIVEN and MYST would bomb horribly now, despite their compelling design and unique worlds. The game world has moved on ahead of them, but our fond memories of these games have not. Since REALMYST came out 13 years ago, gamers nostalgic for another D’ni adventure were left wondering: what about their opus RIVEN?

Fear not! A group of plucky modders called STARRY EXPANSE plan to remake the entirety of RIVEN in full, glorious 3D. I sat down with them and picked their brains about the project. We did the interview as a group, but one of the team members couldn’t connect, so he sent in his answers via text. I’ve included them after the interview audio. We talked about preferred mod software, timelines, the infamous Prison Island demo, and lots of other stuff. We were joined by the following team members:

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Max Batchelder – Modeler, spokesperson, beanie enthusiast
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Matthew Sampson – Digital matchmover, animator, possibly lost in woods
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Philip Peterson – Programming, coding, project founder
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Everett Gunther – Blender artist, lost in thought

You can listen to the full interview below:

Everett Gunther was unable to join us by audio, so I’ve included his responses to questions below:

CW: Why don’t you introduce yourself?

EG: Well, I’m Everett Gunther. I’m one of the main artists on the team. I’m mainly a modeler and a texturer, though I also did a lot of planning/camera matching work for Prison Island/Boiler Island, and some small isolated areas like Kveer. I created almost all of the assets for the Prison Island scene which is our main piece we’ve unveiled.

CW: What made you fall in love with RIVEN back when it was released?

EG: My whole family played Myst at one point or another in the late nineties. I insisted on buying RIVEN and I think I was the only one to play it. I was still very very young, so I really didn’t get a lot of it and I really just liked exploring the opening areas. I ended up rediscovering MYST and RIVEN in my early teens and now that I was able to complete the game and comprehend the story, I was just blown away. I loved the concept of a game world that is so deeply embedded with detail that’s all so connected to a story.

I think RIVEN’s scale is part of the reason we fell in love with the game in the first place. I personally love the idea of puzzles that are spread out over such a wide area and are all connected to real systems.

CW: What percentage of the conversion has been completed?

EG: Percentage of completion is still embarrassingly small, but since the start of production, the entire system we’ve used has been overhauled and people involved have changed many times. We also put a large amount of focus on accuracy, which really does slow progress anyway.

CW: Is the idea to “translate” the game pixel per pixel or “reboot” it with revisions like BLACK MESA?

EG: I think our vision for this project is to create the original designer’s vision, as it would exist today. Things that were impossible then that we can do now are totally open to discussion, like weather or dynamic lighting.

CW: What software tools do you use?

EG: I don’t work in engine myself, but pretty much all of my art work you’ve seen for Prison Island is Blender, Photoshop, Zbrush. I wholeheartedly praise Blender as an extremely powerful system that we use for countless things.

Exclusive Screenshots

The guys from STARRY EXPANSE were kind enough to toss me two exclusive screenshots. Check them out below!

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The starting area of the game.
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The bridge from Temple Island.

For more information, including the proof of concept Prison Island demo, check out the STARRY EXPANSE homepage.

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Carl Wilhoyte

Carl Wilhoyte

Carl Wilhoyte is the Video Games Editor of a class warrior poet who writes about all things video games. He's sure everything is not under control and is not going to be okay. For a good time, follow his angry rants and smart thoughts on Twitter: @carlwilhoyte.