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AGC: Ron Meiners

Aaron Roxby Posted:
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URU Live (Myst): Interview from AGC

Ron Meiners, the Community Manager for URU Live, spoke to us about this great restoration project

1993’s Myst was an important game, but I don’t need to tell you that. If you played computer games during the 1990s, you most likely were aware of it, even if you didn’t play it. It has sold over six million units to date and was the world’s top selling computer game during most of the nineties, only to be dethroned by Will Wright and his Sims. Developer Cyan Worlds created four sequels, with the main storyline coming to a close in the appropriately titled Myst V: End of Ages. A new, massively multiplayer sequel, entitled URU Live was scheduled to be released in 2003. Unfortunately, that release never happened. Publisher Ubisoft was not happy with the number of players participating in the open beta phase and URU Live was cancelled in 2004.

This is not an unheard of tale in the volatile world of MMO publishing, and is where the story usually ends. The thing about Myst fans is that they are a passionate bunch. The URU community, those that had played the game during the beta phase, weren’t going to let it die that easily. Fans of Myst are by their nature fans of puzzles, and with URU cancelled they faced a though one. How to keep playing URU? Almost immediately, fan-run servers began to spring up. Not only did players find a way to continue playing their game, they began to independently expand it, creating new content to add to the game. Groups of URU players began to recreate their community in other virtual worlds. This phenomenon was the subject of recent dissertation by Celia Pierce.

It was not long before Cyan took notice of this fan revival. They released support technology and server access to the now fan-run player community. So, the URU community received something of a happy ending. But the story doesn’t end there. Recently URU was picked up as part of the Gametap internet service. When URU launches, players will be able to access the game as part of their regular Gametap subscription. In addition, Cyan will return to create new content for the game on a regular basis. In addition to the new content, Cyan is looking to integrate assets previously built by the community.

Ron Meiners is URU Live’s Community Manager. In addition to regaling me with the tale of URU’s unlikely road to release, we discussed what sort of game the uninitiated can expect when the game launches. URU takes place in the modern world, many years after the events of the last Myst game. A recent archeological dig has uncovered the civilization that was the subject of Myst. Players take on the role of archeological explorers, entering the ruins and discovering all new mysteries to solve. As in the Myst games, players’ avatars are meant to represent their real world selves. To that end, the game features extensive character customization, “It is the best [customization] I have seen, actually,” said Meiners “you can make an avatar that looks exactly like you. It is really, really finely detailed and it’s beautiful.”

Once again, as in Myst, URU’s game-play is based around exploration and puzzle solving. There will be no computer controlled NPCs in the game at all. The explorers will all be live players. In addition, Cyan employees will be in the game as the “Restoration Council”. Players will solve communal and solo puzzles, in order to delve deeper into URU’s world, the game’s story revealing itself along the way. Meiners also says that “Because the players are actors in this unfolding drama, the players have a chance to influence or change the story, which happens dynamically over time.” As new episodic content is regularly added to the game, it will be player decisions and action that determine what form it takes. Meiners gave an example from the beta test. A Cyan staff member came to a single player in the game, as a member of the Restoration Council. That member of the council told the player a secret and asked that the player not share it. What the player did with that secret, whether he told anyone about it, whether he kept it to himself and the results of those actions would go on to influence the way the story developed.

Whatever your opinion of the original Myst games was, most people agreed that it was a dense and sometimes very difficult game. I myself only made it about halfway through. The puzzles in URU promise to add diversity to the puzzles. There will be casual mini-games and social activities but the higher level areas will offer complexity comparable to the previous Myst experience. As would be expected, the game does not feature combat or any sort of advancement levels. Your “level” will be determined by how much of the game’s mystery you have personally uncovered. One nice touch is that more experienced players can bring their newer friends along into the deep reaches of URU.

URU is a pretty amazing story in the world of online games. A phoenix of sorts, risen from the ashes of cancellation via the magic of fan support. Meiners puts it succinctly, “I think that it shows vision on all parts… It’s a Cinderella story really…” URU is currently in closed beta and should be launching via the Gametap service some time in the near future.

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Aaron Roxby