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PostPosted: Mon Feb 08, 2016 8:42 pm 

Joined: Sat Jan 17, 2015 8:07 pm
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Location: Michigan, USA
Shorah...fellow explorers... another MOULa anniversary is here. :o

What better time then now to share an interview between Alan Dennis & Richard A. Watson from back in february 2005... :D

Interview With Cyan Game Designer, Richard A. Watson (RAWA) Part I

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing a very well known man in the game industry, Richard A. Watson. Also known as RAWA, Richard works for Cyan Worlds, the makers of the Myst series. In this interview, we were able to discuss RAWA’s background in the industry, the background of the Myst series and even the quantum physical basis for the games. This is the first chapter in a series from that interview, in which RAWA tells us a bit about himself and exactly what he does at Cyan. Be sure to check back on Game Invasion tomorrow, in order to catch the next installment!


Hello Richard. First I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk to us, we all understand how busy you must be. If you could, please take a moment to introduce yourself and share a bit about your gaming background and also what it is you do at Cyan Worlds.


My name is Richard Watson, though many in the Myst communities know me as “RAWA” or “Dr. Watson”.

My gaming background mainly goes back to around 1980. I spent as much time time and money as my parents would allow at the video arcades. When we got our first home computer (an Apple ][+) in 1982, I spent even more time playing computer games. One of the first games we got for the computer was a text adventure from Infocom (Zork II). Infocom’s text adventures instantly became my favorites. It was also at this point that I knew I wanted to make computer/video games and started teaching myself how to make simple games in my spare time.

In 1986, I saved up for a Nintendo Entertainment System. At the time, Super Mario Bros. was by far my favorite game at the local arcade, and the idea of being able to have the game at home was something that I just could not believe.

A few years later, while in college, I took a job at Nintendo of America (NOA) as a Game Play Counselor (the title given to those answering the hint phone lines). That was my “dream job”, not just for getting paid to play and learn the latest video games, but also because I was taking computer programming in college. NOA had a policy of giving job openings to in-house employees first, so I imagined it was a way to get my foot in the door there, and that I could move up into game programming once I graduated. I ended up quitting that job after about a month, mainly because of scheduling conflicts.

It worked out in the end, though. If I had stayed at Nintendo, I’d never have met Rand…

I met Rand Miller (president of Cyan) in August 1992, and was hired in September 1992. I’ve worn many hats here at Cyan over the years.

When I was first hired, my main job was helping Rand assemble Myst in HyperCard, but I also did less glamorous things like entering the data from the registration cards that people sent in for our pre-Myst products, answering some of the mail (before we had email), maintaining Cyan-related HyperCard stacks such as the stack that kept track of our time cards, etc.

After Myst, I did all of the HyperCard assembly and programming for a remake of one of our earlier products (The Manhole Masterpiece Edition).

For Riven, I was on the original design team, took on the roles of D’ni Linguist and D’ni Historian, and did nearly all of the HyperCard assembly and programming. I also began answering Cyan’s email and helped with the technical support.

Since Riven, I’ve mainly worked on the design team, kept my duties as the D’ni Linguist and D’ni Historian and answering most of the email sent to Cyan, with the occasional odd job thrown in when needed.


It’s really a testament to the depth and detail within the Myst series that there actually is a D’ni Linguist and Historian. What kind of duties are involved in those positions?


My main duty as the D’ni Linguist is to provide the D’ni translations for the games and the novels. They are mostly there to add to the sense of detail and realism that we put into our environments, but occasionally they’re also used in the puzzles in the games. In Riven, for example, the player needed to learn the basics of the D’ni numbering system so solve a few of the puzzles.

My main duty as the D’ni Historian is to keep track of what we know about D’ni history and to help research to find out more about D’ni history. Since we are designing the Myst games based on D’ni history, one of my duties is to throw up a red flag if the something in the game and something in D’ni history are in conflict. Sometimes, usually for gameplay or technological reasons, my flags are over-ruled, but we do attempt to keep the conflicts to a minimum.

Interview With Cyan Game Designer, Richard A. Watson (RAWA) Part II

Here we bring you the second installment in a series of interviews with Cyan game designer, Richard A Watson - aka RAWA. In this chapter, RAWA discusses the background of the Myst series and that sometimes, due to design decisions, the games were not always able to follow the exact history of the D’ni culture that RAWA works to preserve.

If you’re just starting to read this series of interviews, be sure to check out the first chapter, in which RAWA describes both his game design background and also the work that he does for Cyan.


Since part of your job is to make sure that the games follow closely with D’ni history, does that mean, in essence, that the games and the background of the D’ni are designed as separate entities?


Yes. The games and novels are based on what we know about D’ni history, but they are separate from it. One of the nice things about D’ni history is that it doesn’t have to live within time or budget constraints or worry about gameplay issues or technological limitations.

The games, unfortunately, do have to live within those kinds of limitations. This has made it necessary to deviate from what we know about D’ni history from time to time. Most of our fans understand the need for the differences and really appreciate that we do our best to keep those deviations from D’ni history to a minimum. Some, though are less forgiving, which to some extent is understandable.

The ironic thing is that as the D’ni Historian I’m very likely to be the person who is the most frustrated by the changes that have to be made, and yet, since I also answer the majority of Cyan’s email and participate in various fan communities, I’m also the one that often ends up having to defend (or at the very least explain) those changes. In fact, one of the earliest Myst fan communities (the Riven Lyst) set up virtual therapy donation jars for me shortly after Riven was released because I was complaining about changes that were made in Riven. :)


Was the history first designed for the novels and then used as a guideline for the games, or the other way around, or was it synchronous?


Hmm… well, many parts of D’ni history were known before the first Myst game was made, but that wasn’t for the sake of the novels. The novels were written several years later (during the development of Riven).


What are a few good examples of how the games ended up diverging from known D’ni history? If possible, could you give examples for each game?


There are many examples I could give. I’ll just pick two from each game.


Myst Island as seen in the games is smaller than the island described in Catherine’s journals, and only the structures necessary for the game were modeled. For example: Atrus would have been in the habit of creating “Places of Protection” for all the Ages he wrote, yet the island in the game only contains the four that are required for the game - the gear, the rocket, the tree and the boat. (A fifth “place of protection” was included in realMYST, an updated version of Myst made in realtime 3D.) Also, the places where Atrus and Catherine lived were not necessary for game play and were not included. The biggest things left out were the Ages that Sirrus and Achenar were trapped in, which were not shown at all in Myst. If you get trapped in their Ages (two of the losing scenarios), all you see is black. We did this for several reasons. The Ages weren’t necessary except for the losing endings (so cutting them saved time and money). We also didn’t want to “reward” the players with a new area to see/explore in the losing endings. However, sounds of their two prison Ages are added in realMYST, and their prison Ages can be fully explored in Myst IV.


As with Myst, the size of the islands were scaled down dramatically so they could be modeled and rendered in the time we had for the project. The Rebel Age was reduced to just one room and a small cave that could be explored (though more of it could be seen at a distance).

Another fairly substantial change was made that may not seem like a big change at first glance. According to the historical accounts, when Atrus’ friend arrived in Gehn’s office with the prison Book, Gehn did not confiscate it (which he does in the game). Rather, he just continued to keep Atrus’ friend under constant surveillance so he would know if Atrus’ friend ever used the Book. It was a small change, but the effects were larger than one might think. If the player were clever, he could have used the Book to release Catherine without ever opening her prison by trapping her in the Book. It also would have given the player the option to capture Catherine if he was convinced that she had gone bad. Story-wise, this would have been more interesting, as it would have allowed for many different endings. Unfortunately, that’s precisely why we had to change it. There were too many different combinations of endings that all would have been required to have been filmed with the actors, which just wasn’t feasible within the budget and time constraints we had for Riven.


There are two main continuity related complaints that people have.

The most common is the location of the Cleft. The novels do not say where the Cleft is located, but gives several hints that it is in the Middle East. Uru pretty blatantly says that the Cleft is in the southwestern United States. People ask why we moved it New Mexico in Uru. The fact is that the Cleft has always been in New Mexico, and the red flags I raised when the hints about the Middle East were put in the novels were over-ruled. At the time, we never intended to reveal the true location of the Cleft, so the misdirection to the Cleft’s location being in the Middle East was considered acceptable, I guess. Frankly, I was very happy that the locale was finally set straight in Uru.

The second issue is that Yeesha seems to be able to do things that were previously described as “impossible” in the other games and novels. She does have abilities that no D’ni writer is known to have had, but mostly she just breaks rules that the D’ni had made for the Writing of the Books. Her abilities are entirely consistent with the quantum mechanical basis for the Art as we have understood it since before Myst was made.

Interview With Cyan Game Designer, Richard A. Watson (RAWA) Part III

Saving the best for last, here comes the conclusion to our interview with Cyan game designer, Richard A Watson - aka RAWA. In this final chapter, RAWA exposes some of the lesser known aspects of the Myst universe and discusses the quantum mechanical aspects of these games.

If you have yet to read the first two segments in this interview, be sure to check them out!

Part 1: RAWA tells us a bit about himself and what he does for Cyan.

Part 2: RAWA discusses the D’ni history and how it relates to the games.

For the complete interview, parts 1 through 3, please read the interview article on my personal game theory/discussion Website, BrainDonut.Com.

So, without further delay, here’s the fascinating conclusion to this interview with legendary game designer, RAWA.


Previously you mentioned the quantum mechanical basis of the Art, which, as I understand it, is the D’ni practice of writing “linking books.” These books create a means of travel to the worlds described within them. The Art is really at the core of each game and it is, in my opinion, the most fascinating aspect of D’ni culture. Could you possibly give a brief explanation of the quantum mechanics that make the Art work?


Wow, that’s quite a challenge! I’ll give it a shot.

First, if you haven’t been exposed to the weirdness of quantum mechanics, what I’m about to say may be difficult to believe. Take heart. Even though quantum mechanics is one of the most successful theories in history and is responsible for things we use every day like the laser in your CD player or the microprocessor in your computer, no one really understands exactly how it works. One of the “fathers” of quantum mechanics, Niels Bohr, is often quoted as having said “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.”

One of the interpretations of quantum theory is that until a state of matter is observed it exists in many states simultaneously - it exists as a “probability wave” that contains all of the possible states of that matter. Therefore, as was proposed in Schrödinger’s famous cat analogy, bizarre things happen on the quantum level that would allow things like Schrödinger’s cat to be both alive and dead at the same time, until one of the states is observed, thus locking it in the single state that was observed. When this observation occurs, all the other probabilities cease to exist, as the “wave” collapses.

[Trying to summarize 100 years of quantum theory in a paragraph or two can’t really do it justice. There are dozens of great books written to help explain the implications of quantum theory to the lay person. My favorites include: “In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat” by John Gribbon, “Quantum Theory” by Nick Herbert, “Parallel Universes” by Fred Alan Wolf, “Schrodinger’s Kittens” by John Gribbon, and “The Dancing of the Wu Li Masters” by Gary Zukav. There is also an excellent, though very brief, overview at .]

What the D’ni seemed to have concluded (proved?) though, is that those probability waves don’t cease to exist altogether, instead each possibility continues to exist in an alternate quantum reality (read “parallel universe”), until a state is observed in that quantum reality, and the possibilities not observed in that quantum reality continue to exist in still another quantum reality, and so on ad infinitum. This means that every possible combination of quantum events since the creation of the universe exists in a quantum reality somewhere. The D’ni called this “The Great Tree of Possibilities”.

The Art of Writing allows observation of (thus locking of) and travel to those quantum realities.


Earlier you also mentioned Yeesha, who is the daughter of Atrus and Catherine, the main characters from the Myst series. Yeesha is apparently able to break the rules of the Art but without breaking the laws of quantum physics. Since this is the case, why do you think the rules of the Art were created the way they were?


Most of the D’ni rules were likely started for a good reason: to help ensure that Ages that were written were safe for people to travel to. It’s probably obvious that you’d want to be sure that any Ages written would have oxygen to breathe, tolerable air pressure and gravity, etc. A trade-off of limiting creativity for safety.

We do the same thing in many areas. Take engineering, for example. We have many laws that restrict how buildings can be made. It isn’t that it is impossible to make buildings outside of those laws, it’s just that we’ve decided it is better to limit creativity for safety.


So it is possible that the Art was fundamentally limited? Or is Yeesha simply the one special, perhaps enlightened, individual who is capable of exceeding those rules?


Both, actually. I’ve already mentioned the self-imposed limitations that the D’ni made for safety reasons. Since Atrus and Catherine were mostly self-taught in the Art of Writing and learning by trial and error, they didn’t know all of the rules that the D’ni had made over the millenia.

Atrus had an innate ability for writing Ages. He broke some of those D’ni rules in his writings, but his Ages were well thought out and were, for the most part, safe.

Catherine had an entirely different style of writing. She wrote from her dreams. Her Ages defied logic at times, but they were still possibilities that existed out there in the “Great Tree of Possibilities”. Her style also allowed her to write things that the D’ni would have considered impossible - such as the giant daggers that suddenly appeared in Riven. There was an infinitesimal chance of them appearing, and she could “beat the odds” so to speak to make that happen.

Yeesha is the combination of the best of both of her parents, and is even better at “beating the odds” than her parents were, making her by far the most powerful Writer in all of D’ni history as a result.

The “Great Tree of Possibilities” was a great strength in the Art of Writing. Since there are so many possibilities, any description that could be written existed somewhere in the Tree. However, this was also one of the Art’s greatest weaknesses. Regardless of how detailed a Writer’s Age description was, there were countless Ages on the Tree that matched it - and there’s a chaotic element (random, beyond the Writer’s control) as to which of the matching Ages a written Book will link to.

For the most part, this limitation didn’t cause many problems. After all, if two Ages are similar enough that you can’t tell the difference between them, it usually wouldn’t matter which one was selected. But there are times when the ability to Write a link to a specific “instance” of an Age could be extremely useful.

And that’s where Yeesha’s “power” comes in. Yeesha is the only known Writer in all of D’ni history that seems to have an innate talent to control which of the matching Ages will be selected. An example of how powerful this talent can be was shown in Uru and in the second expansion for Uru (The Path of the Shell), where she demonstrates the ability to link to two specific and distinct versions of what appears to be the same Age.


There’s no doubt that the D’ni culture is one of the most detailed and fascinating backgrounds in any game. Every chapter of the Myst saga brings with it more and more intrigue surrounding both the D’ni and the Art. Is there anything you can share with us about the upcoming Myst V and what fans may be able to look forward to?


We’re not giving much away about the story in Myst V yet. I can tell you that Myst V will continue the tradition of answering many questions that the fans have had about the D’ni and the Art. (Of course, those answers will likely raise more questions… :)


I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. I’m going to be eagerly waiting for the upcoming Myst V! Until then, thank you for all the great work you’ve done on the series!


You’re very welcome.

:mrgreen: Happy 6th Anniversary To All Those Who Have Contributed and/or Play This Wonderful Game of MOULa(a) :mrgreen:

.shorah gah bigtotee b'shemtee - Peace and blessings to you all.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 09, 2016 4:16 pm 
Obduction Backer

Joined: Sat Dec 31, 2011 1:46 am
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nice article and some great insight

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