Top Score: Robyn Miller and the story of Myst

by Emily Reese, Minnesota Public Radio,
Pierce Huxtable, Minnesota Public Radio
August 25, 2014
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St. Paul, Minn. — Time runs differently in the video game world. Technology that was cutting edge a mere year ago can be out of date now, and graphics that were lauded as ground-breaking can become laughable in a matter of months.

Once upon a time, though, there was a game that remained a best-seller for nearly a decade. In music, that's challenging; in the video game universe, it's virtually unheard of.

And yet, it happened. That's the legacy of the game Myst.

But this blockbuster didn't start out as an international sensation … it started with two brothers and three of their friends wanting to create a revolutionary gaming experience for the 1990s.

One of those brothers is Robyn Miller, and we had a chance to talk with him about the game, its impact, and his original compositions for Myst.

"Myst was and is an adventure game in its simplest form," Miller says. Working from early text-based adventures, the game allows players to navigate a 3D world (cutting edge at the time), make and implement decisions, and in the end, solve a mystery. This, in itself, was revolutionary.

"I think what really attracted people at that point in time was the fact that they were playing the main part in this mystery. And that had never come along before. It was like a whole new way of storytelling," Miller explains.

As the player controls his or her character, he or she is led through a series of revelations, until in the end, the player has to make a life-altering decision for self and others.

The concept of the game wasn't its only revolutionary aspect. The five creators had to push the limits of the technology and budget they had available.

"A lot of our game design was written around the constraints of the technology," Miller says. He and the others had to find new ways of fitting the entire game, with a soundtrack and video clips, on one slow-playing CD. Videos had to be altered, music looped and graphics edited.

"It's a miracle we even got the game to work, much less with music added," Miller laughs.

The added music was composed and performed by Miller, and because of the budget constraints, he only had one synthesizer to work with.

The soundtrack remains popular, even 20 years after its release. That's not too bad for a design afterthought. The design team wanted the world of Myst to remain as true-to-life as possible. If the character is stuck in a world without instrumentalists, there couldn't be music.

After butting heads with the game developers, though, the team agreed to add accompanying music. There was a condition: They wanted to write and produce it themselves. Miller took the lead, and using his synthesizer, put together some pieces featuring a panpipe-like voice.

"And you know … it kind of worked better than we thought it would work," Miller admits.

The fans of Myst couldn't agree more.

The soundtrack remains as popular as ever, and the game has stayed viable. There are online communities dedicated to Myst that have created their own languages and cultures.

"It doesn't belong to us anymore. It's like this world out there. That's such a thing that's broadly satisfying and fun and something I never expected," Miller says.

The game itself has endured through the ages. It has many aspects that remain popular … ambiguous endings, moral choices, and great music. Myst's design team had no idea they were creating something that would change the course of gaming for decades.

"We had this little precious thing, and we created it, and we then gave it to the world," Miller says. "And what happened was something I never expected to happen in a million years … people took it, and it become theirs. People made Myst their own."


Take a listen to the interview's audio, located above, and hear some samples of Robyn Miller's timeless soundtrack.

Robyn now follows his interest in film, directing and composing the soundtrack for 2013's The Immortal Augustus Gladstone (you can watch the film here).

You can subscribe to episodes of Top Score on iTunes.


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