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Rand Miller has dedicated most of his professional life to the Myst video game series and its fans. That’s why Miller, co-founder of Cyan Worlds in Spokane, Wash., announced a deal last week to create a new television show based on the Myst franchise.

The transmedia project involves not only a TV show with Legendary Television and Digital Media but other sorts of interactive media as well. Myst is one of the most successful game series of all time. The title and its sequels have sold more than 15 million copies, and Myst has a direct awareness with more than 40 million players, according to Cyan. The idea for the TV show has been percolating for a decade, said Blake Lewin, Cyan’s head of business development, in an interview with GamesBeat.

Legendary has an option on the Myst property, and the studio is now in the process of rounding up a director, writer, and other creative talent to flesh out the show. Meanwhile, Cyan is also working on a new project, dubbed Obduction, thanks to funding from a successful Kickstarter campaign last year that raised $1.3 million.

We caught up with Miller and Lewin about the latest twist in the Myst franchise. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Cyan cofounder Rand Miller

Above: Cyan co-founder Rand Miller.

Image Credit: Cyan Worlds

GamesBeat: It sounds like this is more than a TV show. Can you talk about how it’s a transmedia project?

Blake Lewin: What we’re excited to talk about is that in our work with Legendary, we’re hopefully going to create an entirely new transmedia property. We’ll take Myst to the depth Rand always has wanted to see it reach.

Rand Miller: Blake and I have a lot of history playing with this idea. Probably about 10 years. We worked with Blake when he was at Turner, working with a lot of ideas that kept coming up. We had some crazy ideas for transmedia back then. We basically thought we would have all of CNN at our disposal. The news people tended to frown on that idea. But the seeds for what this would become were planted. We’ve had a lot of interesting ideas for that second screen.

Lewin: To illustrate, one of the things Rand did for us at Turner was create the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy’s house comes down, actually making that 3D environment with the idea that people would be watching a film and then moving over to an immersive environment. They made Rick’s bar from Casablanca. We experimented with this stuff, and for the most part, it was exploring this idea of a crossover between what Cyan does so well — immersive environments — and film and television programming.

Miller: We have some ideas that may be a little different as far as transmedia and where we want to go. Nobody has a corner on this. But our goal in all this isn’t to take away the attention from the first screen. It’s easy to say that a lot of people use their tablets while they watch TV to fill the space where the story gets a little slow or it goes to a commercial. But I don’t think the tablet and the experience of the second screen should take you away from the first screen. How it’s evolved in our heads over the years is that it should actually put more value into the first screen.

That’s how we look at this differently. That second screen experience — Blake and I talk about it this way. Let’s say your first screen experience is an episodic story that plays out. Your second screen experience should almost make you want to re-watch that episode again. It plays in really well with a Netflix kind of distribution, where you can binge. Except, it means that instead of just watching the episode once, you’ve suddenly imbued it with more value because of that second screen. You want to see it a second time, maybe even a third time. … In terms of the scale, it’s more like music. You want to own something because you want to see it again. Without going into too many details, that’s the direction we’re leaning toward going.

The trees of Myst

Above: The trees of Myst.

Image Credit: Cyan Worlds

GamesBeat: If the studio has taken out an option, what kind of commitment does that represent? It’s putting some cash down but not necessarily committing to the actual show just yet, right?

Blake Lewin

Above: Blake Lewin

Image Credit: Cyan

Miller: That’s right. But in our working with Legendary, they’re putting a writer on this. They’re going to get a director and a showrunner. They’ll put a package together. The next step is to flesh out what the show is going to be and then sell it to a cable network or Netflix or Amazon. Then, the real development will begin. It’s still early, but we’ve been working on this deal for the last nine months.

Legendary is definitely behind this, and we’re excited that it’s them. They’ve done a phenomenal job in the film industry with their fanboy stuff and their dedication to the brand. They’ve got that same fervor and passion for Myst. It’s been great to see that respect for our property, and a similar passion for making it true to what the fans want.

We’ve been down this road before. It’s kinda crazy. We don’t understand Hollywood either, necessarily, and how stuff gets done, from our little shop up in Spokane. But we obviously had the big feeding frenzy when Myst was popular back in the day. … And then over the years there have been some nibbles and some paths we’ve gone down. It’s always, “I dunno, that might be good to work with; I’m not sure.” We’ve gone down some paths and made some money in some cases. But this one feels pretty good.

GamesBeat: After you guys split apart, did Robyn [Miller, Rand’s brother and co-founder of Cyan] try to make some TV shows or movies or something like that?

Miller: Yeah. He was more interested in linear after he split and continues to be. He made a movie called The Immortal Augustus Gladstone and released it online. That was his first official foray into film. He’s really excited about that. We’ve talked about what it means for Myst to be part of a linear format, and we have some interesting ideas. But he’s not directly involved in this.

GamesBeat: You had that option for a movie back in 2010, which I briefly confused with what happened next week.

Miller: That was interesting. Given the fact that we didn’t understand Hollywood, we kind of let some fans take off with this, and they did such a great job that … we put them at arm’s length and said, “OK, we’ll let you guys run this. You’re doing a great job.” But it just never went anywhere, for reasons I don’t know. It could have been the way it was approached. It wasn’t with a studio so much as a production company. Anyway, hopefully, this time is the charm. So far, it’s been as good as anything we’ve done.

GamesBeat: Before now, back in 2010, was that the furthest you ever got with some kind of movie or TV deal?

Miller: Yeah. There was some earlier stuff, years and years earlier. I think it was the Sci-Fi Channel. It wasn’t that far along. Then, there was a change at the head of things, which seems to always happen to us. Somebody who was gung-ho for it went away and the other guy wasn’t as gung-ho for it, and it just drifted away, which is fine with us. If we don’t have somebody who’s gung-ho for the thing, we’d just as soon not do it. We have some amazing people pushing things at Legendary who are big fans. That’s huge for us.

Myst was one of the most popular computer games of all time.

Above: The original box art for Myst.

Image Credit: Cyan Worlds

GamesBeat: What started this project off, then?

Miller: The options came back from that previous agreement in 2010. … I brought a friend of mine in, Larry Shapiro, who’s out there in Los Angeles, and he started looking around. He brought it to the guys at Legendary and we put the deal together.

We would run across people all the time who would say, “Wait, you have all the rights to everything?” It’s unusual. When we signed all our deals for the Myst franchise, the publisher didn’t get stuff in perpetuity. We got all the rights to the IP, and it surprises people when they find that out. They think it should be all encumbered and unable to be made. That’s opened doors sometimes.

Lewin: To Rand’s earlier point, none of us are getting any younger, so we’d better do it now. Or, we’ll be dead before it happens.

GamesBeat: What’s the other part of the transmedia? Are you thinking you can bring in mobile or some other kind of game? What other platforms would work with the TV show?

Miller: There are lots of possibilities we’re tossing around. Some of it depends on who we may partner with and what their areas of interest are. We have to wait before we focus. Or, it may be that we don’t have to focus. Depending on who we get interested in it, it’ll probably lean toward one platform or another.

Lewin: The tablet is probably the best bet right now. Again, we don’t want to rule anything out. There are lots of other opportunities. Lots of people want to have both linear and interactive content on their platforms. But the tablet is the one being used most by consumers. It’s not like we’re forcing a certain kind of behavior.

If you dig down into the Nielsen data, it’s very revealing. People are reading email and Facebooking and not really engaging with the television as they have that second screen. But early work I did at Turner years ago shows that there’s a propensity for people to really want to get more from that first screen. In the early days of interactivity, when we were putting all sorts of stuff up on the first screen, people didn’t want that to interfere with the picture, but they do want more.

Having the tablet, especially given the power tablets are producing right now, we’ll be able to do some amazing things — immersive, game-like experiences. The show helps you play the game, and the game helps you understand the show better. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Hopefully, it feels cohesive and not just like a slammed-on second screen. I think there’s an immersive thing here, and that’s what we’re excited to work on.

Cyan's Obduction is a new adventure game world.

Above: Cyan’s Obduction introduces a new adventure-game world.

Image Credit: Cyan Worlds

GamesBeat: How will your work on Obduction play into this? Is most of your team on Obduction right now?

Miller: Yeah. The difference is between what’s happening immediately and what’s happening next. Right now, we have people at the office banging on Obduction. It’s going really well. It’s big, but we have some skilled people, and they’re working hard. We tried to make it bigger today, but I think I got beat down on that. Little by little, we’re trying to get it down to something that feels like a smaller, doable size.

We don’t have any launch window yet. Within another six months, we’ll be able to know a pretty good date, but at this point, we’re just starting to get things pretty. It’s hard to project how long some of these things are going to take.

GamesBeat: Do you see this relating to the TV opportunity in any way?

Miller: I see everything as related. My mind just works that way. The relationship we have with Legendary is for Myst stuff, but we always have ideas that lend themselves back and forth. The Obduction storyline is incredibly rich, and relationships are the first step in making things happen.

GamesBeat: Did Legendary do something in particular that made you think they’d be good for this? Were there any other productions you admired?

Miller: It seemed like every time I went to the movies and saw something from Legendary, I got a good return on my investment. I keep watching previews. I have a habit of going on my Apple TV and watching trailers. I think it drives my wife and kids crazy. But it seems like they just keep hitting on really epic storytelling. I don’t know who does it better than them right now. The growth of their studio is reflected in that.

Lewin: That’s the other thing. We’ve admired their moviemaking over these years. And they have the rights to World of Warcraft. It was very exciting to have this opportunity. We feel like we’re getting on the ground floor with their TV and digital division.

The Myst story is so big. Some people may not realize that. They just see you wandering around on this empty island. But with the depth of story that Rand and Cyan have built into the Myst franchise, there’s a lot of things to be told. TV is the best way to do that because you can get in 13 hours a year. That gives us a lot of room to grow and explore this world.

GamesBeat: As I remember the story, the linking books seem to be pretty key to creating new chapters or new episodes. That seems like a natural connection for something like TV.

Miller: Exactly, yeah. Those are a great portal. We have some interesting ideas on where to take those. Some of them are tied more to the original story, and some of them skew it in interesting ways. But of course, that’s a great vehicle for having adventures.

GamesBeat: The TV show doesn’t have to be dedicated to just one world.

Miller: Exactly. We think that’s what people would love to do — see glimpses of all these neat places. Even if they’re small, you get this idea. Myst was about having this hub in Myst Island, but the interesting part was when you got to have a glimpse of this other world and go there. Anything that has to do with Myst, you would expect it to play on that theme.

Buildings on Myst Island

Above: Buildings on Myst Island.

Image Credit: Cyan Worlds

GamesBeat: What’s the status of Myst now? You guys mentioned that there are 40 million people with direct knowledge of the franchise. Do you have any other current information on Myst?

Miller: The most interesting thing about Myst is just how long it’s been able to sustain. A lot of it has to do with how the platforms have changed. When Myst washed ashore, the mobile platforms came around, and we were able to convert over. We hear a lot from people saying, “Oh, I never got to finish Myst back in the day on my computer, but now I’ve got my iPad.” How many people get a second chance to see these things through? That’s really satisfying. We’ve had this new surge since we’ve been converting those titles over. It’s come at a good time, with the Legendary deal as well. It all helps.

Lewin: Take something like Star Trek, a series from the ‘60s that’s almost 50 years old. It’s renewed and exciting. New films are being made today. A franchise like Myst is … evergreen. There’s so much to it that we can introduce to new audiences. We have a fantastic following, but there are so many more people that we’d love to get into the game.

GamesBeat: Different artists over time have had their problems with Hollywood. Have there been any issues that have given you pause over the years?

Miller: Well, the whole thing gives me a lot of pause. I never understood exactly how it works. Some of it is just trust, honestly. This is exactly how we would up with [original Myst publisher] Broderbund in the first place. We didn’t understand the publishing business. We’d managed to make most of the game before we even lined up a publisher. When we took it to various publishers, it was less about money at that point than finding somebody in that company that said, “Oh my gosh, this would be awesome.”

That’s what Broderbund showed us, and that’s how it feels with Legendary at this point. We have some people on board and entrenched there who can help us and make this happen, who send us the right vibe. We have to trust somebody. Why not have it be guys who know Myst and love Myst and want this to happen as much as we do?

Lewin: That’s probably the better answer as far as “why Legendary?” The minute we started the conversations with them, it was clear that they got it. They respected the franchise. One of the guys on board there, Cory Lanier, is definitely a fan. The writers they’re looking at, one of them published a top-10 list, and Myst was number two. We trust that they’re going to take good care of this. They’ve proven that with the other properties they’ve dealt with over the years.

The art of Riven, the sequel to Myst, was even prettier.

Above: The art of Riven, the sequel to Myst, was even prettier.

Image Credit: Cyan Worlds

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