Ask me anything about founding a game company, creating Myst or Riven!

Also most recently I've directed and played the lead role in a film "The Immortal Augustus Gladstone" (During the time of this AMA, you can download it here for free: (code: reddit)).

I'm on uStream here:

Comments: 220 • Responses: 59  • Date: 

topdownpassup38 karma


robynmiller25 karma

So cool! That's excellent to hear! I'm still amazed to be a part of Myst in this way! Myst was something bigger than me or Rand. It was a phenomenon. We were extremely fortunate... I think with a success of this kind an awful lot of it is often being in the right place at the right time. That blended with working your ass off to make something happen. And willingness to fail.

cubosh18 karma

The Book of Atrus changed my life and i recommend it to anyone from aspiring computer programmers to calligraphers hah. Seriously thank you. Can you reveal what may have been the "seed" which spawned the book world concept in your mind?

robynmiller12 karma

The seed was the first game. Most of the ideas and the necessity for creating the book came from the game. I had partially written an earlier novel with a lot of concepts that made their way into the book. For example, it was about a young boy, living in a desolate local with his grandfather, in a shack. He discovers an entrance to a cave, beneath the shack and he (and his grandfather) begin to travel downward. The boy discovers "Dunny"... an underground kingdom, though in this story, the kingdom is still thriving. The boy learns that he is royalty in this kingdom and he has been hidden away on the surface as a way of protecting him from an evil entity, Veovis. Now, he is old enough to face Veovis.

robynmiller10 karma

We were finishing up with Myst and we realized we needed a backstory to pull things together. I had this book partially written so it was convenient to use it. And it fit. It did hurt a little bit to uh... give it away... but we had no time and needed something quickly. And it worked well.

marshmatter18 karma


robynmiller8 karma

So great to have been an influence! That was so cool when Phil Fish appeared out of nowhere at my talk! Of course I immediately recognized him and was a little star struck. I've played Fez and it's one of the most beautiful games I've ever seen. In fact, I had heard of the game years before its release and occasionally I'd check, hoping that it had come out. But to answer your question, yes of course most games require some small amount of story these days. It's expected. We expect it and I think we're disappointed if it's not there. Did Myst directly influence this? I'm sure it did. It's been an evolution.

NotAnotherZ17 karma

Myst made me realize what I wanted to do for the rest of my life as a young teen. An artist in the game industry. Started my first game job in 1997. Working at Blizzard now. Thank you.

robynmiller6 karma

So cool!

ben_bradshaw7 karma

Any comments on Augustus's sexual orientation? There seemed to be something just below the surface there...

robynmiller11 karma

Is it below the surface? Augustus would never admit it to himself, but he gay. He's had a hard enough time coming to terms with the idea that he's a vampire... how could he even begin to confront this?

Grabthars-Hammer7 karma

How many of the later Myst games have you played/tried to play?

The non-Cyan: Myst III Exile and Myst IV Revelation.

The Cyan: realMyst, Uru, Myst V End of Ages

robynmiller7 karma

I have played Myst and Riven. Those games were precious to me and I created the aesthetic of them and of the Myst universe. So it's very difficult for me to have an open mind about other Myst games that don't strictly follow that aesthetic. That doesn't mean those games are bad!!! They may be great and I'm glad that people can continue enjoying the Myst universe, but it's hard for me personally to be open to those. I have played little bits of Myst III. And Uru. And a very small bit of Myst V.

Grabthars-Hammer7 karma

Are you excited to work with Rand again on your role in Obduction?

Have you secretly been living as a recluse in that Cabin in the Woods since 1997, only coming out at night as Augustus to roam the streets of Portland?

robynmiller9 karma

Yes. My cabin is on an island filled with puzzles. You can only get there via a mysterious book. And of course I'm excited to work with Rand in obduction! I'm totally looking forward to it!

CanIgeta_Hot_Tub7 karma

Who first came up with the idea for Myst, you or Rand? And how did you/he come up with it?

robynmiller9 karma

ME!!!!! No, um, it really evolved out of everything we had done up until then... all of our earlier children's projects. The interface came from that. And we wanted to do something that mirrored those games but was more sophisticated in terms of story. So rand and I sat down and worked through it designing it at all levels. Story, graphics, character, puzzles, etc... great question!

robynmiller6 karma

Hi! I'm back and ready to continue! ...And if you if you want you can watch me type (how exciting) at uStream right now...

robynmiller5 karma

This is especially exciting because I'm eating lunch! You get to watch me eating lunch and drinking coffee!

Trekluver6 karma

You might remember our conversation on Twitter the other day about Tommy's wardrobe being stolen. Alex chimed in and asked a good question that I'm still curious about.

How did you all get filming permits for the abandoned hotel? And also, were there any chalenges in getting permits for other filming locations? Thanks!

robynmiller10 karma

There were no real challenges with getting permits. In the film if you remember we talked to the owner of the building... Steve Melchoir? He was the real owner of the building!!! I think that's why he sounded so authentic! and he was kind of thrilled with being on camera!

Trekluver2 karma

That's super cool! I remember watching the film and thinking he was super authentic, so it's nice to know that.

robynmiller3 karma

Thanks so much! I felt like authenticity was one of my main goals! So this is a huge compliment! Authenticity and myth, combined. And by the way... it is free right now during the period of this AMA. with the code: reddit It'd be very cool for me if any of you who haven't seen it could see the film! I'd totally love that!

telldrak5 karma

Hi Robyn!

First of all, congratulations on your new film. I purchased a copy as soon as it was released, and enjoyed it very much. I look forward to your next venture as well!

As to a question for the AMA:

I've long been a huge fan of the music in MYST and Riven. I just love your musical style. How did you cultivate your musical style?

robynmiller1 karma

First thanks! Second, I'm not sure. I think I've thought about cultivating a musical style. I'm sure I haven't. It just happened over the years. I know I've always refused to try to sound like a favorite band or composer. I've refused to mimic instrumentation of favorite composers. I don't know why. Maybe intuitively I knew this would impact me negatively. I've always strongly believed that a sound would come from within. Or from somewhere.

calvinberg5 karma

How do you beat the piano puzzle in the Selenitic age?

robynmiller7 karma

You have a musical inclined ear. mwa ha ha!

calvinberg4 karma

In all seriousness though, I really enjoyed your games! I even won $20 in high school because a teacher had a long standing bet with students that nobody could identify his tie. It was of one of the switches in Myst.

robynmiller3 karma

That is so bizarre! A Myst tie?!


What was the naming process of these games like? Which names didn't make the cut?

robynmiller24 karma

Hi vagina zits! For Myst we really didn't go through a process. Rand and I were on the phone and it was this almost magical thing. The name just appeared! We knew it was right. Riven on the other hand was like pulling teeth. It took months and many iterations. I remember Cocoon was one... but there was the movie. Chrysalis! It was almost Chrysalis!!! And then Vaginazits. It was almost vaginazits!! Finally Riven.

mystfan2355 karma

Robyn, thank you so much for all of your wonderful creations over the years. I can't wait to watch 'Augustus'.

I was wondering if you could tell us more about your album '1000 Years and 1 Day'. What were your inspirations or influences for this album? How was the creative process different than composing the Myst and Riven soundtracks? Anything else you can share about the 'Making Of' this album? Do you plan on ever doing a followup release as Ambo? I love this album and have been listening to it regularly ever since you released it!

robynmiller3 karma

Ambo was a uh... complex album? The creative process was completely different than composing a soundtrack. And kind of new to me. For a couple of reasons. 1. It was a rock album. 2. I was collaborating with another songwriter... Keith Moore. It was difficult for me and it took a long time. We'd start with these very simple songs, mostly guitar and voice, and we'd turn them into almost orchestrated pieces. We had a blast but I'm not sure I'd want to do another Ambo album.

ben_bradshaw4 karma

I'm sure I'll be watching it again. Are there any Easter Eggs or hidden / obscure references we should watch for?

robynmiller3 karma

There aren't any overt easter eggs but there are continuity errors that are kind of fun. People haven't really found them yet. I'm wondering how long it'll take people. Very obscure continuity errors. At the time I was like, damn!... this is so obvious! Now I don't think anyone will ever see these things.

ottomatik4 karma

I'm trying to secure some viable long horse semen to re-introduce the noble breed. Can you help?

robynmiller5 karma

Unfortunately, the long-horse is gone. At this point we would have to resort to cloning. I've heard whispers of this in some circles. I personally don't think it's a good idea. The long-horse died out for a reason. Why would we bring them back!?

Francis-Urquhart4 karma

I hate to admit, I have not intimately kept up with your work since leaving Cyan.

However, I do want to say THANK YOU for being involved with a franchise that occupied a large place in my life. Revolutionary concepts, and fabulous execution.

robynmiller2 karma

You're welcome!!! And thanks to all of you who played Myst and Riven! You are amazing!

PandaSupreme3 karma

Hey Robyn, it's Isaac! Cool to see you doing an AMA.

Any word yet on a limited theatrical release for Augustus? I've been meaning to ask you, it'd be so cool to see it playing at AMC, however unlikely that may be.

robynmiller2 karma

Hi Isaac!! You pull some strings with your bosses (at AMC) and we'll get it playing there! Man, that would be so cool! I would love it!

BreadstickNinja3 karma

Hi Robyn,

I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the movie. Also excited to hear that you'll be involved in the Obduction project.

Any plans for additional movies/music projects? I have your Ambo record and love both game soundtracks.

robynmiller6 karma

I have one particular film project in the works. It's the project I'd most love to do next. A sci-fi film about an abandon research station on the far side of the moon. We'll see!

maxticket3 karma

How'd you find Jimmy Chen? He had great presence in the film. Did you already know him or were you just looking for a real restaurant manager?

robynmiller4 karma

Great question! I was in a restaurant in Portland called the pied cow with a friend, and we were waited on by this very dapper individual who was kind of sharp and maybe a little bit rude. It was all part of his demeanor and presentation. He was the kind of server who put the coffee of the table and didn't smile and didn't say a word. He just walked away. I knew instantly he was the guy! So Jimmy Chen played Jimmy Chen. I got in touch with him and he tried out for the role and nailed it! He did amazing! He even used his own wardrobe!

maxticket3 karma

How many people have told you they’d watched the entire film knowing you were the producer, but didn’t realize you played Augustus? I watched it twice and didn’t figure it out until today.

Also, did you go back and forth about whether or not you wanted to reveal how vampires can be killed? The gravestone intro and Augustus’ reluctance to say it out loud made me wonder the whole time if the method would be shown. Added a bit of suspense.

robynmiller3 karma

Hey max, surprising there were a lot of people who watched it not knowing I played augustus. Some who knew me! They would stand there talking to me, and some have asked me where we found this augustus guy!

whispermode3 karma

When the Augustus videos on YouTube came out, were you intentionally taking advantage of the fact that there have been approximately zero photos of you since the late '90s? Is this something you planned?!

By the way, those videos are great, and my sister thought it was hilarious when I told her people in the comments were saying "Is this real? I think this is Robyn Miller in a wig..."

robynmiller1 karma

Ha! No it wasn't something I planned, but it was kinda convenient! I'm just a little private. Augustus loves to live in public.

Grabthars-Hammer2 karma

Do you (or did you) ever dream about Myst or Riven?

robynmiller3 karma

I have never dreamed about Myst or Riven... not directly. But during production I would constantly dream about building computer graphic stuff. Changing the opacity of something. Lathing an object. Applying a shader. Etc... This happens to me with anything I'm working on for very long hours.

robynmiller2 karma

Thanks everyone for a great time! I'm taking off! It was fun!

Grabthars-Hammer2 karma

Hi Robyn. Huge fan. As a writer, you and your brother inspired me more than any other super-sibling combo on earth.

Loved TIAG, and was happy to see you enter the feature film fray. Can you tell us anything about your previous (Green Tea Project) and/or future film projects?

robynmiller3 karma

Green Tea is still sitting on a shelf waiting to someday be done. It's very ambitious and I think that's why it never got made. It would be a large special effects film. But it's near and dear to my heart. I've got some other projects I'd love to make as well. We'll see!

Grabthars-Hammer2 karma

Was Augustus's voice inspired by anyone in particular?

And: could we see him again (or learn more about him) in the future, or is TIAG self-contained?

robynmiller5 karma

Augustus' voice... hm. It's a blend. I've known a lot of southerners but the voice is mostly inspired by southern women and that sort of etiquette you often find in the south. In addition to his voice, his "way" was maybe a little bit inspired by, uh, my mom.

ben_bradshaw3 karma

There was a bit of East Texas twang in that accent...

robynmiller3 karma

Hi Ben!! Wow!!! Great to see you here! Ben and I used to skateboard together ALL THE TIME when we were kids! In East Texas, where we were growing up. So good to hear from you! Yeah, there might be a bit of Texan in Augustus' voice. I tried to keep in more Southern.

umop2 karma

What would you order for Thai take-out?

robynmiller1 karma

pad thai please. Not too hot!

robynmiller1 karma

I've never been to an AMA. How long do these usually last?

_Temy_1 karma

Hi, I don't have a question, just wanted to say that I love the music in Myst and still listen to the soundtrack. Have a great day.

robynmiller3 karma

Thanks! That was the first time I was able to compose music for something from a serious point of view. It was one of the most enjoyable parts of creating Myst. And it was a total break away from the rest of the production. Same with Riven!

cloudzu1 karma

Myst! Best game ever. Happy to hear of the new "Obduction" game in development.

robynmiller4 karma

Yeah, it's kind of cool, isn't it?! I was just talking to Rand about this and he's talking about some very cool stuff. I have some high hopes for this projects. I don't know the story very well... he hasn't divulged very much, even to me, but I'm excited to be involved as an actor in the project!

Trekluver1 karma

When coming up with the story, was Augustus being a vampire always the explaination for his immortality?

robynmiller2 karma

From the very beginning vampirism was the explanation, but I never meant for it to be a prominent feature. Because I always felt like Augustus would be a little private about this info. Like he would be hesitant about coming out of the closet, so to speak. So the film takes awhile to get to that. But even in my proof of concept, a thing I put together before production, the vampirism was there. And I wanted to treat it with respect! and not make fun of his beliefs!

Trekluver1 karma

And as a side question, how was it like making this movie when there was no script? Did you all wing it, or did you have outlines? (As a storyteller myself, if you all had outlines, those would be an awesome thing to see!)

robynmiller2 karma

I had written a detailed outline of the story so as we filmed each scene, we knew where it would start, move, and end. But the details were a little fuzzy. :-) Because the whole thing was in this documentary style it was vital to me that it have no script and it maintain a completely spontaneous and "truthful" sensibility. It had to feel like a documentary and I really felt like that was the way to do it.

MrBurd1 karma

What's your favorite puzzle in the games?

Also, what would your life be like if you had never made Myst or other games??

robynmiller3 karma

If I had never made Myst my life would have been completely different! God would it have been so different! If I had never made computer games at all I would have finished my anthropology degree and probably gone to live oversees somewhere. I may have done archaeological illustrations and always hoped to write on the side. I maybe would have achieved that.

zargystudios1 karma

What was your favorite memory from working on any of the Myst games?

robynmiller3 karma

Definitely designing Myst with Rand in his trailer. This took place over the course of a couple of months and we had a blast. It was an extremely collaborative time and a total blast. There was no real pressure on us or this thing we were creating because we didn't expect it to be a hit. We just hoped we someday make our money back! Which is a modest hope for any project! There was no second guessing about any creative decision. It was a very spontaneous process. Augustus has been very similar (small crew, low budget, edited in my garage) and it's freed us up to be sooo spontaneous and creative. I've loved it.

Sirusavath1 karma

Just curious on what your favorite book is and what you have been reading lately?

robynmiller1 karma

My favorite book is, hm... I'm not sure I have one. I'm reading Frankenstein's Cat, which is mostly about genetic engineering. Interesting stuff!

Ryan_Hernandez1 karma

Hey Robyn,

I don't have a question I just wanted to tell you that I miss seeing you and your family! I also can't wait to see your movie!

Also, thanks for letting me hang out at your house!

robynmiller2 karma

Ryan!!! Hi! You're amazing! So good to hear from you! Alex is standing right here!

redmoped1 karma

Also, I noticed an emphasis on mystery in the film. Specifically, we don't know what happened to Augustus exactly, or if he was really who he claimed. There seems to have always been an effort in your projects, whether Myst, or Riven, or TIAG, to not tie up the endings of your stories in a neat bow, that is, you leave the endings quite vague. Some people might find this more frustrating than enjoyable or stimulating. Does this stem from any personal philosophy? Thanks!

robynmiller1 karma

A happy ending is a little like eating ramen i think. It's great going down and then it's gone. I find that ambiguity stays with us because we're forced to think about the thing. Digest it. There is more multitiered meaning there when ambiguity is present.

redmoped1 karma

Hi Robyn, Nick Thomas here, in Spokane, I really enjoyed your new film. I was wondering why you chose to incorporate so many scenes from Spokane and yet present the film as set in Portland? I actually thoroughly enjoyed the melding of the two cities, myself, and have always claimed to sense a strange connection between the two.

robynmiller1 karma

Hi Nick! So good to see you here! That was just a budget issue. So Augustus' hotel, the Otis is actually in Spokane WA. Almost all our outdoor scenes are in Portland. And the Pied Cow (where you can go and meet Jimmy Chen) and OHSU (where you can go and meet the real David Spencer) were shot in Portland. And by the way... David Spencer is my neurologist!

haZeDP1 karma

Hey Robyn! I wanted to thank you for your role in making Myst and Riven, as well as the rest of the talented team at Cyan. These games defined my childhood, and inspired me to become a working 3D artist in the games industry today.

I really enjoyed the Myst postmortem from GDC this year. Any chance of doing something similar for Riven?

robynmiller1 karma

If they asked? Absolutely.

whispermode1 karma

Do stories pop into your head without effort? I mean, will you be sitting down and a story will come to you, or does it take a real concentrated effort? If the former, are these stories ever part of an existing work you have (e.g. Myst)? I'd be curious as to what those are!

robynmiller1 karma

The seed of stories do come to me without much or any effort, kind of like the idea for a melody. Then it begins to evolve without much effort. I've got a lot of precious story ideas, the outlines of which I carefully guard. Honestly, it's barely the story that's valuable, it's the work forming that story into a worthwhile film or a book (or videogame). That where the real work begins.

whispermode1 karma

How did you get involved in such a wide variety of art (music, 3D, film, photography, writing, drawing)? You seem to be very talented in all the "realms", do you have formal training in all of them?

robynmiller1 karma

I spent obscene amounts of time as a kid practicing painting and and music. Obscene. I had no friends! Okay, a couple friends who liked music and art. But maybe I've never really stopped practicing these skills.

robynmiller1 karma

I'll be right back. Ask away!

Gpinski1 karma

Love Myst! Any similarities between Myst and your film, The Immortal Augustus Gladstone, like hidden meanings and such?

robynmiller1 karma

It wasn't intentional I swear! But... Both stories are about men who own precious libraries and have powers beyond the realm of normal humans. Something else... can anyone think of it? It wasn't intentional!!

crackanape1 karma

Just wanted to let you know that my mother absolutely loves your games, and when she was in the middle of them it was all she would talk about.

robynmiller2 karma

That's so amazingly cool. My mother has never played any of them... but she thinks they're the greatest thing in the world.

maxticket1 karma

Did you ever have a hard time keeping a straight face during the YouTube or interview scenes? Every time I watch you talking about Madonna, I can imagine something like that might have taken a few takes to get it right without at least breaking a smile.

robynmiller2 karma

I know it seems weird but I didn't slip out of character and start laughing as Augustus. I think I would have found that very hard to do as Augustus... because Augustus would never do that. I know... boring answer. Here's his youTube videos

InterloperKO1 karma

Myst was the best! I always thought I had the best computer when Pentium3 came out and could load certain animations better than others'.

Edit: Or maybe it was pentium 2

robynmiller2 karma

I don't know. I always played it on a Mac and when we were finished creating Riven, I left Cyan. Awhile later, maybe a couple or a few years later, it didn't run on a Mac any more!

DANNYonPC1 karma

What do you think of the current state of PC gaming?

(And point and click)

robynmiller1 karma

Such a great question. I'm amazed by what's been done but I have to admit I'm a little disappointed by the state of games. I feel like there's a general disrespect for the audience, or assumption that the audience only wants a certain kind of game. Yes, there are a lot of very clever plot twists and there are some very impressive visuals, but I'm still waiting to find a game that truthfully and thoughtfully reflects the world we live in... or reflects me, or examines our longings or our joys. These games are mostly about silliness and "oh isn't that cool" so they feel kind of juvenile. Which is too bad because of all the crazy thing, there's a massive population that won't play them. And that group of people will play games... as soon as games stop feeling like games.

Viter1 karma

Would it be possible to do a HD remake of Riven? :D (Or if you still have the old world just take a bunch of new pictures in full hd)

robynmiller1 karma

No it's not possible unfortunately! The assets only exist in the rendered images. To recreate Riven, someone would have to start from the ground up, building entirely new models. I actually am a little disappointed they didn't do this when they remade Myst, though I'm glad there's a playable version out there! But the assets we made were for very low resolution screens. Re-rendering them for larger resolutions just doesn't work. All the flaws begin to show.

EverythingIThink1 karma

Oh gosh I'm a day late but I just wanted to say the music in Riven is really gripping and I think it contributes a lot to the effect of being immersed in another world.

Would you say escapism is the main theme of your games?

robynmiller1 karma

So glad you liked the music for Riven! I just wrote another soundtrack and I'm giving it away for free! Or you can just listen to it...

I do love escapism, so I have nothing against escapism, but I'd be really disappointed if I only created a fantasy that people could escape into. I think that meaning is important... not a "message!" Meaning, in my mind, is a little more ambiguous. It's something embedded into all levels of a creative endeavor, from the design of the gateroom, to the music that plays while you talk to Atrus, to treed plateau, to the bright blue color of the sky. All these things are designed and have importance and mean something. No decision is made arbitrarily... because it looks cool. So when you're creating an environment, characters, a story, a soundtrack, etc... for something like Riven, I think that something is eventually said. Meaning begins to find its way through to the player. Not something specific, but a more ambiguous meaning at many levels. Maybe even meaning that we didn't intend.

Gpinski1 karma

Any new games, or films in the works? BTW Myst was a huge part of my childhood. What's it like to have created something so ubiquitous?

robynmiller1 karma

It's surreal and kind of amazing.

Trekluver1 karma

Hi Robyn! This is awesome!

robynmiller2 karma

I know... it is awesome! Thanks!