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Myst in Retrospect: Uru, Ages Beyond Myst

December 8th, 2012 | Myst in Retrospect

Warning: Spoilers abound. If you haven’t played Uru, I suggest you do so before proceeding. You can buy it at gog.com, and it’s actually on sale this weekend, so why not.

Hey, it's that guy!

Imagine a new social network based on poems. The site will debut with a selection of original poems, and you and your friends will be able to read them and base your interactions on them. Gradually new poems will be added to the mix and the userbase will be able to slowly understand and help to build a narrative around the poems, creating a sort of living, breathing artwork. It’s a clever idea, and a couple poems released as teasers show that the site has a lot of promise. Sadly, however, when the site finally debuts, something has gone wrong in development. Instead of the vibrant scene you were promised, there’s just one page with a handful of poems. There’s not even anywhere to post a comment. The poems are still well-written, and you enjoy reading them, but you can’t shake the feeling that you could have been a part of something much bigger. Welcome to the beautiful and depressing world of Uru.

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Myst in Retrospect: The Book of Ti’ana

October 7th, 2012 | Myst in Retrospect, Review, Writing

Warning: Spoilers abound. If you haven’t read The Book of Ti’ana, I suggest you do so before proceeding. You can buy all three novels here.

Harbor in D'ni

We’ve reached the end of the Atrus-centric installments, which leaves only one direction to go: the backstory. Backstory is an important part of any fictional universe, as the additional details we learn from it add to the believability of the world overall. The Myst series, having created this vast edifice of D’ni to support Atrus’s story, has an almost infinite amount of space for additional backstory. We want to know more about D’ni, its inhabitants, and its history. Myst: The Book of Ti’ana, and our final two games, Uru and Myst V, give us a glimpse of the days before Atrus and the span of the D’ni society of old. As we move through the D’ni-centric arc, we’ll consider the following questions: can backstory itself be a story? If not, what does it take to make a backstory into a frontstory? Let’s begin.

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Myst in Retrospect: Revelation

August 21st, 2012 | Myst in Retrospect

Warning: Spoilers abound. If you’ve not played Myst IV: Revelation, I  recommend playing (most of) it before proceeding. You can buy it from Amazon.com or eBay.

The Lakehouse

Myst IV: Revelation is an impressive accomplishment: surely no other work of art in human history has managed to be so immersive and realistic while simultaneously preventing any degree of credibility. Where it’s good it rises to great heights…which unfortunately gives it that much more distance to fall. Exile set a fairly low standard, and while Revelation largely improves upon Exile‘s mistakes, it fails to emulate Exile‘s successes. This makes for a frustrating game: too flawed to be great, but with too many good bits to be written off completely.

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Myst in Retrospect: Exile

July 8th, 2012 | Myst in Retrospect

Warning: Spoilers abound. If you haven’t played Myst III: Exile, you might want to consider doing so before proceeding. As far as I know there is no downloadable version of it available online, your best bet is to search Amazon. I’d recommend the 10th Anniversary DVD Edition, which is stable, can run on Linux, and requires no disc-changing.

“I started off seeing it from a kind of ‘artist’s perspective;’ I would look for the most interesting scene that I could come up with. But the problem I ran into was that every time I made it look interesting, it didn’t work for the interface because it was unrealistic. You don’t look at everything as a composition. When you’re walking through a room, you’re just walking through a room, you’re not stopping and staring at everything.” – Chuck Carter, Digital Artist, Myst (from “The Making of Myst”)

“The really early decision that we made was to try to create a story context that would really offer us the opportunity to create a lot of deliberate puzzles.” – Michael Kripalani, Executive Producer, Myst III: Exile (From “The Making of Myst III: Exile”)

Exiled in the land of lamp plants

After Riven was released, Cyan elected to go quiet for a while in order to research and produce a massive new project, a multiplayer adventure game code-named “Mudpie.” Mattel Interactive, which around this time acquired the publishing rights for the franchise, was impatient. Riven had just become the fastest-selling game so far, and naturally they wanted to reproduce that effect. Presto Studios, makers of the popular Journeyman adventure games, were called upon to pick up the slack. The game they created was Myst III: Exile. The Presto team did a good job, and in most respects the game is fairly solid, but throughout it has the slightly-off flavor of a work produced not by inspiration but as something to be sold.

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Where your comments go

July 7th, 2012 | Et Cetera

So lately I’ve been asking myself: Why does no one comment on my blog anymore? Well, apparently it’s because I’m a moron who doesn’t realize that comments are moderated by default. I’ve approved the significant backlog of old comments (some of which are truly delightful, I must say) and will be checking them from now on so that they’ll actually, you know, appear. I apologize to all of you who spent the time writing comments only to have them vanish into the aether. I’ll do better now!

Edit: I’ve posted replies to many of your old comments. Thanks for your patience, everyone.

A book credit to my name

June 28th, 2012 | Et Cetera

A couple months ago I was invited by Packt Publishing to review some early drafts of their new Blender manual, Blender 3D Basics by Gordon Fisher. I can’t say I was a huge amount of help (to be honest, I forgot one of the chapters I was supposed to work on and totally missed the deadline) but still it was an honor to be recognized as a Blender authority. I can’t say I ever expected to be seen as such, but I guess years of practice and community involvement have got to pay off somehow. (Kidding, of course…Blender skills are their own reward.)

So anyway, the book is in print and it’s got my name on the contributor’s page and I’m pretty excited about that. That is all.

Myst in Retrospect: The Book of D’ni

May 27th, 2012 | Myst in Retrospect

Warning: Spoilers abound. If you haven’t read The Book of D’ni, I suggest you do so before proceeding. You can buy all three novels here.

Atrus and company in the ruins of D'ni

Myst: The Book of D’ni is not a particularly successful book. It doesn’t really have any characters, its plot is disjointed, and its events have little to no bearing on the rest of the series. I’ve slotted it into the fourth place here because its events take place between Riven and Exile, but in all honesty it could have gone anywhere; in fact, its presaging of the themes of Uru might actually make it more relevant there. These are the challenges when working with a book as disorganized as this one. Like Riven, The Book of D’ni is highly ambitious, but unlike Riven, it falls very short of its goals.

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Myst in Retrospect: Riven

April 11th, 2012 | Myst in Retrospect, Review, Writing

Warning: Spoilers abound. If you haven’t played Riven, I suggest you do so before proceeding. You can buy it at gog.com

Gehn's effigy

Sequels are a notoriously difficult thing to pull off, and Riven is an example of an unequivocal success. It took Myst‘s design and built upon it rather than simply aping it, creating a completely fresh take on the existing concept. Beyond the continued storyline and identical control scheme, there is practically no resemblance between the two. It isn’t so much Myst II as it is Myst 2.0– a second release which corrects the shortcomings of an earlier version. Riven is a masterpiece, an example of what can happen when creators consider their past mistakes, aim high, and ignore the risks.

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Using CGI in Vector Artwork

March 26th, 2012 | Artwork, Process, Tutorial

I’ve been making some vector icons for a client and one of them involved a slide carousel… not exactly something easy to draw in SVG! However, I took a quick shortcut through 3D which I’m now going to share with you. Take a look:

  1. I started by modeling a simple slide carousel in Blender, which took only a few minutes. I only needed the shapes, not the lighting, so I rendered it with some shadeless materials, thusly:CGI basis for slide carousel
  2. I then used Illustrator’s auto-tracing function to get the shapes from the render. Since the source image was very high-contrast, the tracer did a great job for once. At this stage I also drew in many of the simpler shapes, primarily circles.
  3. Finally, I imported the Illustrator file into Inkscape to apply gradient fills, because Illustrator’s gradient tools are a leading cause of brain cancer in graphic designers. (It’s true!) The slide dividers benefit nicely from some clever banded circular gradients, to give this final result:Final vector artwork, slide carousel

Not bad! Had I tried to draw this from scratch in Illustrator, I’d probably still be working… instead it took less than half an hour, and is about as photoreal as vector graphics can be.

Ten Years of Zarks!

March 14th, 2012 | Artwork, Comics, Et Cetera

Zirconius: Allies and Enemies

This is a fateful date. You are probably already aware that it is Pi Day (especially so at 1:59) but it is also, coincidentally, the day that the Zarks were born. For it was on Pi Day in 2002 that I happened to create, almost absent-mindedly, a creature called a Zark to serve as a bit enemy in the embarrassingly-titled comic Space Kid. I’ve related this story a million times before, so I’ll just give the synopsis:

  1. Zarks turn out to be cooler than Space Kid
  2. Zarks gradually take over comic
  3. Zarks go on to star in video games and stuff

And so, to celebrate the first ten years of Zarkdom, I present the following show of rare and/or unseen images from their storied lineage. And if that’s not enough, I also offer you a digital copy of the complete Zirconius comics, a guide to the Easter Eggs of Into the Titan, and some old backstory: Maz’s journal. (Links are below the fold.) Share and enjoy.

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