Rand and Robyn Miller

Utne Reader visionary [Originally published as Rand and Robyn Miller in the January-February 1995 issue of Utne Reader]

| January/February 1995

When you land on Myst Island, you are confronted by enigmas: A wind blowing and blowing. A planetarium. A strange Jules Verneish spaceship. Something has happened, and it is up to you to figure out what. There are still, silent objects to interrogate; deep shadows; shafts of light; and a pervasive sense of forlorn, fathomless mystery. 

You are in the world of Myst, the first CD-ROM hit, and quite possibly the first CD-ROM classic, an interactive experience so majestic, layered, and enigmatic that it might also be the prototype of a new art form. Its creators are a couple of good-natured regular guys, preacher’s kids living in Spokane, Washington, who simply wanted to make a more grown-up computer game. 

After Rand Miller, 36, and his brother Robyn, 28, won a Software Publishers Association award in 1988 for a kids’ game called The Manhole, they set up shop as Cyan Inc. in a garage-like “world headquarters” out on a rural route. They knew that they wanted to go on to make a game that would fascinate a grown-up, and they figured that it needed to be different in a couple of major ways from the run-through-the-maze-and-bang-you’re-dead games that kids are addicted to. 

“We needed to give more,” Robyn says. “More story, more implied background.” And Rand adds: “Kids have all the time in the world to play, and they love the repetitious structure of ‘dying’ and beginning again. But adults are busy; they need a payoff from the beginning, and they get frustrated by ‘dying’ in a game. So that was out.” 

And in just such a trial and error manner was a classic born. As they worked, the brothers realized that in crafting a complex story and creating Myst’s dense, dark, and truly beautiful graphics (which owe a great deal to Victorian book illustration) they were actually attaining a new digital aesthetic in which stillness and richness, not hyperkinetic action or tech-head tricks, do the hypnotizing. Rand says: “We took away everythingdialog boxes, whateverthat could break the spell.” 

The spell is working in the marketplace. A novelization of the game is being written, Myst II is in development, and there are reports of separation anxiety and sadness as devoted players complete Myst I.