A Legacy Unmatched
There is real power on this Earth. It manifests itself in many different forms. One example is the power of nature, as it carves and weaves through every facet of our surroundings; sometimes in subtle, intricate ways and other times with overwhelming force and majesty where we have little to no power to stop or control it. Another power in a totally different category is the power of nostalgia. It may be books, a film, a family experience, a piece of music, or in this case a video game that transports us back to a time where life was more simple and perhaps brighter. Fittingly, I am a huge sucker for nostalgia, especially when it comes to gaming and all the experiences I've had surrounding that hobby.
Scattered with dirty dishes, discarded Doritos bags mingled with plates still dirtied from microwaved Pizza Rolls and computer parts strung about our then gaming cave (a teenage boys bedroom with a PC in it), this is where I first played Myst at a friends home in rural Utah on his 486 PC in the fall of 1993. Immediately, not only was I floored by the stunning and detailed pre-rendered environments but even more by the impressive combination of art, realistic sound effects, a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack and full motion video that blended together seamlessly into a gaming experience that dropped not only my jaw but millions of other gamers around the world as well. "WHO ARE YOUU.." spoken by Sirrus' character still sends chills down my spine to this day. It was a simple yet amazing time to be gamer in the early 90s. Especially as Myst was just the beginning followed by Riven, Myst III: Exile, Myst IV: Revelation and finally, Myst V: End of Ages in coming years. Uru and other releases came afterwords but it was Myst that originally cemented the Miller Brothers and Cyan Worlds permanently in the halls of gaming fame and put them way ahead of their time. It's a new age (bad pun alert!) and the recent Kickstarter for Obduction raised over 1.3 million dollars, ushering in a new opportunity of fresh and seasoned developers to unleash their creative juices.
Entering Cyan's World
Upon receiving the opportunity to spend an evening at Cyan Worlds office, that powerful force of nostalgia I mentioned previously whipped into full force as I pulled my laughable rental car into the tree covered parking lot. There I stood at the doorway of the creators of dreams, of worlds; those who had filled my childhood (I played Manhole!) and teenage years not only with geeky splendor, but with an appreciation for art, character acting, and music as a whole. After pushing the reception button, a few minutes later, a man in jeans, a grey shirt, round glasses complete with a silvery head of hair and slight beard, smiled and said, "Hi. I'm Rand." Trying to contain myself without bursting out a million thank yous and questions, I replied back, "Oh, hi Rand. I'm Dustin from GameTyrant.com", like it was no big deal. In my mind, I felt like I was being escorted by the Duke or Lord of Gaming Goodness yet here was an immediate warmth that emitted from Rand. He's an extremely humble yet determined man for someone with so much clout though flashes of wisdom and brilliance came often during our visit. Despite the fact that he's basically a rock star, I immediately felt welcome and at ease. Rand was kind enough to give me a quick but extremely insightful tour of the offices of Cyan Worlds. It's like a museum for geeks, in the best of ways.
Shortly after sitting down, we were joined by the Producer of Obduction, Ryan Warzecha. Another extremely friendly smile and handshake, then we jumped into the game. They let me play while they watched and commented. *Nerdgasm* -- I consider it the ultimate playthrough and Director's Commentary experience in existence. In the beginning, I think I started to annoy Rand and Ryan as I blurted out random questions about Myst, about the gaming industry, and their histories. Focus, Dustin. This is their new baby. You need to focus on the new baby. And this is no Seinfeld baby. Now let's make this clear, this is not an article full of spoilers and if you don't want an inkling of detail revealed before the games launch, stop now and just read the final paragraphs. You've been warned. I will be purposefully vague as this game is meant to be experienced. I don't want to ruin that experience for any of you because oh what an experience it is.
Expectations and Observations
There are varying levels of fandom in modern entertainment. For the sake of simplicity, I'd like categorize fans into three levels. Casual fans, average fans, and hardcore fans. Hardcore fans are those who detest a movie because it's not exactly like the book, word for word, scene by scene. During our discussion, even Rand himself mentioned that being just an average fan of Star Wars helped him enjoy The Force Awakens instead of nitpicking it to death. I would consider myself a average fan of the Myst series and therefore, my expectations of Obduction were lofty but not outrageous. Let me just say that what I saw and played not only exceeded my expectations but put my nervousness of "Will it really even be any good?" to rest. Starting on a lakeside forest basking in moonlight, my journey began..
Immediately the lighting and effects of the Unreal 4 engine coupled with the talents from certain wizards at Cyan twinkled and dazzled via sight and sound, assaulting my senses. The voice of a woman. A trail of light over dark waters. The crash of lightning, blinding light filling the sky. A picnic bench. A flash. A puzzle, seamlessly blended into the environment. These singular moments describe what Obduction is, at least, what we were able to experience. A masterful collection of moments, of feelings, of emotions, of landscapes, of places that look and feel real. I will say that for the build we played, the gameplay was smooth and refined, yet still in passes of optimization. Overall, I couldn't believe how much it FEELS like Myst games but it's not Myst. It's raw, organic, and it plays like a dream. Rand himself also mentioned the team considered a direct Myst sequel. After mulling it over one weekend, the whole team agreed that a spiritual successor was a much better idea.
I have to agree with the team on this decision as I explored old barns, chased after strange lights, meandered aside flowing streams and talked to characters that delight and even terrify. Something strange is going on in the world that I shuffled through as fake smiles and empty assurances were exchanged. I threw switches in different ages and I solved puzzles with Rand's help, I gushed about details I liked, things that worked and very little that didn't. I have to say that one of my favorite moments involves Robyn Miller's (YES!) character. Yes, it's live full motion video, sticking to Cyan's roots, blended perfectly into the surroundings of the digital world. It looks amazing and it just... works! I won't give away much about the story and characters therein but I will say this: CDub'ya for President! Truly, I felt guilty using the shift/run key to backtrack to different areas, not wanting to miss a single thing but Rand mentioned how he loves the psychology of the gameplay, the decisions, and assured that players will all handle the open ended game differently. I examined every gas can, every texture, and every tree looking for clues and marveling at the detail in this huge world. How big? Rand and Ryan assured, it's much larger than initially anticipated, and, drumroll please, it will be around the size and scope as Myst or Riven!
One Door Closes, Another Opens
Our hour plus of playtime came and went like mere minutes. "But, but, we want more!" Yeah, so do we. I want to explore more of the different ages. The sandy riverbanks, the dusty barns of the first age. The farmhouse! I forgot to go back and explore the farmhouse. I want to dive in and solve more puzzles. I want to converse with CW just one more time. His final lines of dialogue I heard have stuck with me, masterfully rendered and performed. My experience was similar to the first time I played Myst. I was intrigued, confused, curious, excited, and in some areas, a bit scared. This is a game meant to be sipped like a fine wine. Consumed and enjoyed slowly, taking in every painstaking detail this amazingly talented team has poured into it. Fans, let's your minds rest. This game looks and feels fantastic, a true successor to the unmatched legacy that has been created. And guess what? It's still being targeted for a Q2 2016 release.
As I said my goodbyes, shook hands, and drove across the rolling farmlands of eastern Washington, I was overwhelmed with emotion. That powerful force struck again. Nostalgia for amazing experiences both old and now new, shared with people. People like Rand and his team that create worlds and stories that entertain, fascinate, and even change us. Circling back to my comparison to nature, this game has moments of subtle beauty followed by powerful displays of majesty and scale. Thinking back about to what I had seen: the kind words, warm smiles, and excitement that Rand and Ryan shared with me, one door closed but another opened—a new experience and era for gamers of all generations to explore and enjoy. Obduction is coming and it is delicious. More news and coverage is coming soon, very soon. For me and my house, consider us O.S. Officially Stoked.
Sources: Spiritual Successor, TV Tropes, http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SpiritualSuccessor