Uru Lives

I’ve been a fan of the Myst series since way back when the first game seemed to capture the attention of my entire office simultaneously. (We had an early start on the phenomenon, being on Macs; the game wasn’t ported over to PC until some time later. Our productivity level was pretty low for a while.) I hung on through the sequels (Riven, Exile, Revelation, and End of Ages), and even read quite a bit of the supplemental material (I actually have original copies of the quickly-aborted comic series). I devoured realMyst, the realtime-3D recreation of the original game (and which served as an initial test for future Myst game development). And I later went back and replayed the games with my daughters, and they’ve gotten hooked as well — my oldest is currently going back yet again and playing them on her own.

But one of the games in the series remained effectively out of my reach — Uru. Billed as a spin-off rather than a new “chapter” in the series, Uru was Cyan’s return to the franchise (episodes 3 and 4 were licensed to outside developers), and was going to be a venture into online gaming (an early MMORPG). There would be a stand-alone component to the game, but the bulk of the game would be played interactively over the internet, with players collaborating both to solve puzzles and to develop online “communities.” Furthermore, the game was open-ended, meaning new content would be added continually; there would be no arbitrary “finish.” In fact, the series’ central conceit — that whole new worlds could be “linked to” via special books — made it particularly easy to add new material into the game “universe.”

But as with all such ventures, Uru was reliant on the underlying commerce. With the game still in beta testing, and early subscription commitments not living up to expectations, the project was abruptly canceled. The game was released as just the self-contained portion, with what multiplayer content was in development at the time being repurposed into two “expansion packs” (as well as forming the starting point for the last game in the series, the Cyan-developed End of Ages).

They also ran into another unanticipated problem: Contrary to expectations, Uru wouldn’t work on a Mac (an unfortunate twist for a series whose initial version only worked on a Mac). The underlying physics engine, Havok, was supposedly a cross-platform product, but the Mac version turned out to be what is creatively dubbed “vaporware.” Sure, it could theoretically be made to work on a Mac — as Cyan had been assured when they began development — but that was a bit of a disingenuous promise. Because no Mac game had yet used the Havok engine, whatever game developer wanted to be the first would have to fund the entire conversion process, rather than just a portion of what would be later be used by mutliple developers. With such a prohibitive cost of entry, Cyan couldn’t afford to develop the Mac version.

I was eventually able to play the single-player version of the game on a borrowed PC, but it wasn’t the same as having it on my own machine (and it also meant that once I returned the PC, I wouldn’t be able to revisit it). And in a particularly inspiring bit of grass-roots support, several on-line players of the beta version of Uru started hosting the game on their own servers — with Cyan’s blessing, if not their technical support. There would be no additional content, but players could participate in the interactive version of the game (including several activities which, by their nature, could not be repurposed into the single-player edition). But of course, it was of no help to me, as I don’t own a PC.

And then this morning I saw two things that gave me hope. The first was a news story saying that the Havok physics engine was finally being ported to the Mac. As the single largest obstacle to Uru’s being playable on the Mac platform, this was really good news. Well, at least it would be if Uru were still in active development... which it wasn’t. Still, I thought I’d pop over to Cyan’s site to see if they had any reaction.

And there I saw the second bit of news. The multiplayer, interactive version of the game, Uru Live, is back. In partnership with GameTap, Cyan (or “CyanWorlds,” as the company’s now called) is in the process of relaunching the game as a part of GameTap’s subscription service. (In fact, through today, you can sign up for a free one-month trial membership.)

Now, at the moment, GameTap doesn’t work on Macs either (so alas, I won’t be taking advantage of that free trial). But in conjunction with each other, these two bits of news give me hope that Myst’s ending really hasn’t yet been written.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home