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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Myst’ founders reunite for ‘Obduction’

Robyn Miller, left, chats with brother Rand Miller, while acting out scenes from Cyan World’s “Obduction” on Thursday in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)

After more than a decade, the Miller brothers – creators of the wildly popular “Myst” series of computer games – were back together in the studio last week filming for the “spiritual successor” to the trailblazing franchise.

Robyn Miller, the younger of the two, stood by as Cyan World employees scrubbed his Civil War-inspired garb with dirt from the yard outside the team’s studio in Mead. He glanced down at his hand.

“Hey Rand, I have my wedding ring on,” he said. “Is that a problem?”

“Nope,” his brother said, peering down at a script on his tablet computer and chuckling. “Your character is married now.”

This easygoing creative partnership spawned a multimillion-dollar property in the early 1990s. The original “Myst” used sophisticated graphics and employed full-motion video to tell a multilayered story that took the computer gaming world by storm, setting a sales record that stood for more than a decade. Though Robyn Miller moved on from Cyan in 1998, he’s returned in an attempt to recapture the look and feel of “Myst” for a new generation of hardware and gamers with “Obduction,” a Kickstarter-funded project that will release for computers as well as a new series of virtual-reality gaming headsets.

“I’ve heard this from gamers: ‘Man, the engines are so cool. I wish we could just wander around without always feeling like something’s going to kill me,’ ” Rand Miller said.

When “Myst” launched in 1993, the game was competing with other titles that gave players visual puzzles to solve in a contemplative setting. Since then, the market has moved more to the twitchy shooter, with games such as “Call of Duty,” “Grand Theft Auto” and “Halo” dominating the sales charts. Cyan chose to return to its bread and butter when seeking crowdfunding for the game, but there are a lot of new tools at their disposal to pull off a nostalgic look and feel for “Obduction.”

As a gruff character with a Southern drawl admonishing the player for failing to solve a puzzle, Robyn Miller delivered lines into a pair of GoPro mobile cameras, reading his lines from a tablet computer. The two cameras were set up to mimic the visual capabilities of the human eye, and eventually render video on a three-dimensional head-mounted display.

Fans paid for this feature of the game by contributing $1.3 million in funding on Kickstarter.

“We’ve got to film not just for normal monitor play, but also the whole virtual reality side of it,” said Chris Doyle, a developer who has worked on titles such as “Star Wars: Force Commander,” “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” and “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.” Robyn Miller, whose most recent performance work was in the 2013 film “The Immortal Augustus Gladstone” (a film he also wrote and directed), said acting for a video game presented unique challenges.

“The hardest part about it is, there’s these longer stretches where they can’t be edited,” Robyn Miller said. “Because the player meets this character and then the character just does a kind of monologue.”

During filming of a scene, Robyn Miller’s character needs to give a clue to the player in his dialogue about what to do next. The brothers bantered about how exactly to word the hint, so the character didn’t come off as too standoffish but also voiced frustration to give the scene real emotion.

“I’m standing up there, and I’m trying to get into this player’s head,” Robyn Miller said.

Rand Miller said his brother’s suggestions and changes add to his writing, which often require Rand to perform the parts, to the confusion of his family.

“I can’t write this without saying the words out loud as a character,” Rand Miller said. “I have to actually say it at home, while I’m writing.”

Cyan has kept the premise of “Obduction” under wraps. While it isn’t ready to announce an official release date for the game, the start of filming signals development of the game is entering the final phase, Rand Miller said.

“The filming is when things tend to really lock down,” he said.

That means just a few more hours of filming for Robyn Miller, who will then leave his performance in the hands of multiple team members at Cyan looking to release another hit. Though Robyn left the company more than a decade ago, the brothers say they still have a great working relationship heightened by their complementary skills in writing and performance.

“We still have our moments, though,” Rand Miller said, laughing. “If we didn’t, then I think that would be weird.”