Development of Riven took place over more than three years, and the game's scope expanded due to a much larger budget and development team when compared with Myst's. Former Industrial Light & Magic employee Richard Vander Wende also joined Cyan Worlds for the project, lending his own unique aesthetic style to Riven in an effort to visually differentiate the game from the environments of Myst.
The game's initial release consisted of five CD-ROMs which were swapped during transitions between certain areas of the game. Due to their relatively limited storage capacity, several discs were necessary to contain the large amount of streaming video integrated into Riven's various scenes. Riven was later released on a single DVD-ROM with enhanced visuals, which also eliminated the necessity to swap discs.
Riven was a commercial success, becoming the highest-selling game in 1997 despite its late October release; the game went on to sell roughly 1.5 million copies in the first year after its initial release. Although generally well-received by critics, Riven also garnered some negative criticism in regards to its aging presentation and mechanics, which were largely identical to those of its 1993 predecessor Myst, as well as the obtuse nature of some of its puzzles.
Like Myst before it, Riven is a first-person point-and-click adventure game set across several pre-rendered environments. Players explore the world of Riven by clicking on different areas of the screen in order to turn, walk, and interact with objects in the environment. Progress is technically non-linear and, aside from sparse conversations with a handful of non-playable characters, completely player-driven. The game does not track any gameplay objectives, requiring players to explore the five islands of Riven with little guidance in order to solve puzzles and eventually arrive at one of a number of possible endings.
As with its predecessor, Riven also includes a “Zip Mode” for fast transitions through previously explored areas.
The events of Riven directly follow Myst's canonical ending in which the player (unofficially known as "The Stranger") frees Atrus from an imprisonment which had been orchestrated by his two scheming sons, Sirrus and Achenar. After dealing with his corrupt children, Atrus requests the player's assistance in rescuing his wife Catherine, who had been tricked by their children into returning to her home Age of Riven.
Much like Atrus, Catherine became trapped due to the absence of a functional linking book in Riven that would allow her to return to Myst Island. She was eventually captured by Gehn, the megalomanical father of Atrus and original author of the "Fifth Age" of Riven.
Thirty years prior to the events of the first game, Atrus was forced to link to Riven by his domineering father and fell in love with a Rivenese native named "Katran". Together, they managed to escape from Gehn's tyranny by trapping him inside his own slowly collapsing Age of Riven. Much of the backstory of these three characters is detailed in the Myst franchise's first tie-in novel, Myst: The Book of Atrus.
In the thirty years since Atrus and Catherine fled from Riven, Gehn has presented himself as a deity to the Age's indigenous and superstitious inhabitants. He now rules Riven using a combination of fear and his own knowledge of the fallen D'ni empire, including the lost D'ni Art of writing linking books. However, Gehn's grasp of the written Art is highly flawed, and he has long sought to create a functional linking book to free himself from the confines of his deteriorating Age by exploiting its available natural and human resources. Gehn's ruthlessness has also given rise to a resistance movement known as the "Moiety", who seek to free all Rivenese from his rule even as their world degrades due to the flaws inherent in Gehn's D'ni writing style.
At the beginning of the game, Atrus hands the player his journal, explaining that it will be sufficient to bring the player up to speed on his history with Gehn, Catherine and Riven. He also provides the player with a "trap book" similar to those which had been used to ensnare Sirrus and Achenar, with the intention of luring Gehn into it. Because Atrus is preoccupied with rewriting sections of the Riven book in order to delay the Age's destruction, he cannot accompany the player to Riven himself. Atrus is also unwilling to risk Gehn escaping from Riven and admits that the player must link to Riven without any means of returning to Myst.
Thus, the player must find a way to signal Atrus once they have trapped Gehn and freed Catherine; afterward, Atrus plans to travel to Riven with a genuine Myst linking book in order to retrieve his wife and the player before the doomed Age collapses completely. Before the player links to Riven, Atrus also reveals the possibility that their success may allow the Stranger to finally return to Earth.
There are three primary goals that the player must accomplish in order to reach the game's "good" ending: trap Gehn inside the false linking book, rescue Catherine from her prison and discover a method to signal Atrus. Signaling Atrus before rescuing Catherine and trapping Gehn will lead to one of the game's several "bad" endings.
During the course of the game, the player will discover the sealed Star Fissure, a tear in the fabric of Riven's reality that purportedly leads back to the Stranger’s point of origin on Earth. In fact, this is the same fissure mentioned by Atrus in the first game's opening narrative, revealing how the Myst linking book originally fell into the Stranger’s possession on Earth. In the game's canon ending, the Stranger is able to trick Gehn into using the trap book, thus capturing him and allowing the Stranger to free Catherine from her island prison. Afterwards, the Stranger reopens the Star Fissure to signal Atrus, triggering a cataclysmic event leading to Riven's imminent collapse.
Atrus immediately links to Riven with another linking book in hand before reuniting with Catherine. She explains that after Gehn had been eliminated, Riven's inhabitants were able to escape to the Moiety rebels' secret Age of Tay.
Atrus and Catherine thank the Stranger for all of their help, and Atrus informs them that by jumping into the Star Fissure, the Stranger should be able to safely return home. The couple link back to their home on Myst Island, ensuring that their linking book falls into the Fissure afterward. The Stranger then falls into the starry expanse, presumably returning to the location on Earth from where they had first linked to Myst as depicted in the original game's opening sequence.
Ports and Re-releases
In addition to the original releases for PC and Mac, Riven was also released on the Sega Saturn, the Sony PlayStation, and the Pocket PC. Riven is currently available for sale through digital storefronts GOG.com and Steam, and a mobile port of Riven is available on Apple iOS mobile devices through the App Store.
Virgin Records released Riven: The Soundtrack, composed by Robyn Miller, on February 24, 1998.
|No.||Track Title||Length (53:59)|
|5.||Survey Island Theme||2:13|
|7.||Village Entrance Theme||2:33|
|12.||The Red Cave||1:54|