Creator of Myst believes the game's success was down to 'the right place at the right time'

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September 12, 2016 by Kris Ligman

Rand Miller, co-designer behind Myst and lead designer behind its recently released spiritual successor Obduction, opens up about the realities of game development.

Myst is considered one of the most influential computer games of all time; a turning point for the industry toward more ambitious storytelling and nonviolent, exploratory design. Critically lauded and commercially successful, it held the record for bestselling PC game for nearly a decade, only beaten out by The Sims in 2002.

Games journalism (and indeed, most history) tends to focus on these "great man" narratives -- the John Romeros and Warren Spectors who we say leave their indelible 'stamp' on a game. In Myst's case, that man is Rand Miller, who, along with his brother Robyn, served as lead designer on the game's setting and many puzzles. He's back now with a new spiritual successor to Myst, Obduction, and sat down recently for a great long-form interview with The AV Club. This part in particular stood out to me:

[AV Club]: If you could go back 23, 24 years, and tell yourself one thing while you were making Myst, what would it be?

[Rand Miller]: Oh my gosh. Okay, honestly -- this is some deep stuff -- but I’m older now, and a lot of what happened with Myst, I now realize a lot of it, a majority of it, had to do with luck. And I think that's how the world works. I think a lot of people work very hard, and they don’t get lucky. I think I would have told myself, "Don't confuse luck with any sort of elevated view of yourself. You were in the right place at the right time and did a lot of hard work, but a lot of people do hard work. It worked for you, be grateful, and don't think too much of yourself."

While most of us know this is true, it's rare to see it so candidly discussed. We talk of success in terms of definitive things which were destined to work, and not the uncomfortable fact that all games are the result of hard work and creative labor, most of which goes unacknowledged. The elevation of one game over the other is sometimes simply happenstance. (Consider: Overwatch vs. Battleborn.)

There are plenty of other great gems in the full interview, which you should definitely check out for yourself. Miller discusses the possibility of doing an exploration-only game like Gone Home ("we run the risk of trampling on what other people do well"), Jonathan Blow's openly Myst-inspired The Witness ("I'm dying to... I haven't had time"), and puzzle designs in other games he found especially well-done ("I loved Monument Valley. It's short and sweet, but I thought the puzzles were very elegant"). You can check out the whole thing here.

(h/t Mark Popham.)