21st: "Myst" partnership is riven

Rand and Robyn Miller, the brothers who created the world's most popular computer games go their separate ways.

By Karlin Lillington

Published March 2, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

Rand and Robyn Miller -- the brothers who created the beloved worlds of "Myst" and "Riven" -- have decided to end their formal working partnership. The move means that the most successful computer game development partnership in the history of the medium is over.

For the first time, Rand Miller confirmed in London last week that his younger brother, Robyn, has left their company, Cyan, to "design new worlds." Cyan, the Millers' game development firm in Spokane, Wash., will continue under Rand's solo leadership. Richard Vander Wende, the third part of the creative team that produced Cyan's current hit, "Riven," will also move on to new projects outside of Cyan, according to Rand Miller.

The break-up -- amicable, according to all parties, unlike the fraternal division that lay at the heart of "Myst" itself -- comes as the Miller brothers dominate the game charts with both the 5-year-old "Myst" and its long-awaited sequel, "Riven." "Myst" has sold more than 4 million copies since the adventure/exploration game was first released on CD-ROM in 1993. In a feat yet to be matched in the fast and furious games market, "Myst" reached a mass audience (a third of them women) rather than a niche enclave of teen gamers. The Millers became digital celebrities and earned that early-'90s badge of hipness, an appearance in a Gap ad.

In the five years since its release, "Myst" has never fallen off the lists of the 10 top-selling CD-ROM games -- and once again led in sales last week, according to PC Data. And despite its late-in-the-year October release, "Riven" was the top-selling game for 1997; it has now sold close to 1.5 million copies.

So it's not just the fans who will be disappointed by the news of the Millers' split. Brvderbund, which published both of their games, has relied heavily on the Miller brothers' oeuvre to pump up sliding profits.

In London to promote the release of "Riven" for the Sony PlayStation, Rand Miller emphasized that the brothers' dissolution of their partnership was a friendly affair. "There've been crazy rumors that have gone around, that Robyn and Rand have fallen out," he sighs. In fact, he says, Robyn has left to work on plans for a film: "He's the visionary, he's dying to get on to the next thing." Rand, on the other hand, will at least initially concentrate on refocusing Cyan as the headquarters for a "Myst"/"Riven" product franchise: "Somebody's got to mind the store, for lack of a better term, or do a more contained next thing."

Robyn Miller confirmed the news in an e-mail: "I am, indeed, 'off making worlds.' Really, though, the worlds are just a vehicle for something I'm far more interested in: stories. Having never really taken an opportunity to test myself (and express myself) in a more linear medium, I'm anxious to finally go that route and see what happens. Rand and I agreed that this would not be best achieved within the walls of Cyan, which is, at its core, an interactive company. So, because of that, and because of some of the obvious risk associated with what I'm doing, we agreed that my work should be a bit more independent."

Robyn says he is actively developing two movies. Are they related to the "Myst" and "Riven" universes? Nope. According to Robyn, "The only thing these projects may have in common with 'Myst' or 'Riven' is that at their core will be completely developed worlds, with histories, cultures, geologies, societies and on and on."

Rand's amiability toward his brother comes across clearly, but it's nonetheless plainly tempered by the experience of working for many years with a strong creative personality. "I don't want to give the impression that there's this huge split -- there's still some tie to Cyan. I work with him, he works with me and we chat on a regular basis," says Rand. "But we wanted to make it separate enough where we each kind of have our own vision ... If there's too many people in charge either the stew gets ugly or the people get ugly. So we just as soon'd keep it on good terms."

"Riven," which took four years to complete, was overseen by three minds -- Rand, Richard and Robyn -- which seems to have stretched the relationship thin at times. Now, Rand repeatedly mentions the need to have a solo vision on projects, especially if they decide to work again on future ventures: "It was a wonderful working relationship and I wouldn't hesitate to get involved in it again. I think if we did again it would be with one driver on a project."

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What's in store for Rand Miller's Cyan? More "Myst" or "Riven" products, for one thing. Virgin will release the soundtracks to the two games in mid-March, but Rand is thinking more ambitiously about new, related games: "We've always said there's no sequel to ['Riven'] -- there will never be another product like this that you explore in the same way -- but there's other entertainment products that can be related to 'Myst' and 'Riven,' maybe not on the same scale, but done in a different way."

In addition, Cyan may be involved in pushing forward the long-rumored "Myst" -- or perhaps, now, "Riven" -- film (a separate and distinct project from Robyn Miller's new movie plans). "We have more story, we have lots of information that nobody knows about, that would be nice to take advantage of somewhere -- we'll see if anybody wants pieces of that," Rand says. Is he actively talking to anyone about a film? "We're not right now, because we've just been in shutdown mode, trying to really take it easy ... We're not in a hurry."

Rand says a film project could possibly reunite the team of Rand, Robyn and Richard (who has a background in film animation), but not for a film based on either "Myst" or "Riven": "For 'Myst' and 'Riven' I don't think it would happen. Only because 'Myst' and 'Riven' are done, in Richard and Robyn's minds in particular. They really are motivated by new, fresh things. In their minds they're on to other worlds. So maybe later on, when they've developed the worlds and movies that they want to do, we'll get together."

In his e-mail, Robyn Miller suggested that he might work again with Cyan if any of his current film projects spun off an interactive product or game: "Actually, I can't imagine us not continually associating and consulting with each other. I kind of cringe at the ugly rumors that I know are going to be spread about the 'split' or the 'divorce.' In reality, we still get along great and have a tremendous respect for one another from a professional point of view; most importantly we are good friends and close brothers."

According to Rand, the creative partnership between the brothers worked so well because their personalities were complementary. Rand, 40-ish, is tall, broad and bearded; he's voluble, quick to laugh and fills the room he's in. Robyn, in his early 30s, is tall and slender, quiet and contemplative. "It's easier when you have different personalities, because you can kind of fill each other's faults or plug the holes a little bit better," Rand says.

However, as children, they weren't exactly inseparable, he says. "We weren't close brothers, really. There was a brother between us who was probably much closer to Robyn than I was and beat up on him and made him eat grass and that kind of thing," he laughs.

So, no sequel to "Riven," no brotherly partnership to produce another blockbuster game?

Rand grins impishly. "Ahhhh, but you never know. That became our motto at Cyan: You never know."

Karlin Lillington

Karlin Lillington is a technology writer in Dublin whose work appears regularly in the Guardian, the Irish Times and other publications.

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