The long-awaited follow-up to Myst, the biggest-selling entertainment software title of all time, won't be released for months, but the first images of the CD-ROM make their official debut this week at the giant Comdex trade show in Las Vegas.
At the same time, Broderbund, the company distributing the CD-ROM, will announce the sequel's title, Riven (like Myst, it's the name of a mythical island), and that it will be released simultaneously on Macintosh and Windows CD-ROMs next summer, barring further delays.
Myst, released in October 1993, was a landmark in the personal computer business and proved to be so popular that some people said it was one of the main reasons they bought a home computer. According to Broderbund officials, more than 2.5 million copies of Myst have been sold so far, and it was continuously on industry Top 10 sales for about two years.
By now, most gamers know that it was not made by one of the entertainment industry giants. It was the creation of two young brothers, Rand and Robyn Miller, working at home in a converted garage in Spokane, Wash.
Now multimillionaires, the Millers have moved out of the garage and into a far-larger building they had constructed. There, they and their crew are working steadily on Riven, about which the most asked question is, "Why has it taken so long?"
"Don't ask!" said Robyn Miller, 30, with a laugh in a phone interview.
"I guess it's taking this much time because after our success with Myst, we now have the luxury of making something as good as we can do it. We have the budget for what we want to do, the amount of people and the technology."
One source close to the project said the budget for Riven would probably exceed $4 million and could reach $5 million. Myst cost $200,000, according to published reports. The Millers have a staff of 23 artists, programmers and others working on Riven, including themselves. The most ever on board for Myst was five.
Myst was a single CD-ROM. Riven probably will be at least a three-disc set.
But computer gamers should not expect any technological breakthroughs on Riven, Robyn Miller said. Like Myst - which was widely praised for its strong story, rich graphics and haunting atmosphere - the sequel will concentrate on plot and design.
"We have added a lot more animation because we've had the budget to do so," he said. "We take advantage of the fact that CD-ROMs can run a lot faster now. But there won't be the big, splashy things that some others have. That's not what we've ever been into.
"What we want to do is create a kind of a world. We make use of existing technology to do that."
Myst was one of the first CD-ROM entertainment releases, and the fact that it was so successful spawned many similar computer games, most of which were not money-makers. Several major companies have since abandoned or cut back on their CD-ROM endeavors.
The Millers, who always have projected a laid-back image in public, now feel the pressure.
"I think we do," Robyn Miller said. "Sometimes we find ourselves second guessing, `Is this what people expect from us?' Whenever I do that, I try to snap out of it and pretend I am making something for the first time."
One thing the brothers don't have to worry about, after several lean years when they started creating software, is providing for their families or worrying about the next deal. But the comfort of having all the facilities, personnel and time they need at their disposal does create another kind of pressure.
And if Riven doesn't meet expectations?
"If it doesn't work out, that would not feel too great," said Robyn Miller, laughing again. "But we did have a success with Myst and that was really fun to see happen. We'll always have that in our lives.
"If this doesn't work out, it would not be fun, but it's not going to kill us."