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Interview: Myst III (Phil Saunders)
July 3, 2001 | Michael Phillips

IMG: What are your thoughts on Mac OS X? Will it be a "gaming OS?"

Phil Saunders: Hard to say. Not being a programmer, I can’t speak to how hard it is to develop on, but Myst III seemed to me to be a fairly painless experience. As usual, I think it depends on how much support the publishers give it, and what the Apple Game Evangelists do to rally people to the cause.

IMG: The Ages in Exile are absolutely stunning. What software was used to create such life-like worlds?

Phil Saunders: 3D Studio Max was used for the majority of the graphics in Myst III: Exile. There was an Age, Tomahna, where we used Play’s Electric Image for animation and FormZ for modeling, all done on the Macintosh. We had a lot of artists who were already using 3D Studio Max since our real-time engine tools are built off of it, so we started looking into the package and seeing how well it could do high resolution, pre-rendered graphics. Our animators did a couple of tests early on, and the results were very positive. 3D Studio Max allowed us to do high quality, pre-rendered graphics, using an affordable package, and allowed us to draw on the talents of artists out there who already knew the package. The combination of these advantages made 3D Studio Max a hands-down choice for this production team.

IMG: Was it difficult to implement Exile's 360-degree rotation feature?

Phil Saunders: The rendering technology in Exile allows the user to look any direction they want at any time, which is different from previous Myst products. There was no problem at all getting that feature up and running in our proprietary engine. One of the breakthroughs we did have was finding a way to play movies and animations in the scene in such a way that they continued to play no matter which way you were looking. You can continue to pan around, left – right – up – down, and the animations, movies and sounds continue to play. Initially, we weren’t sure we’d be able to place the movie anywhere we wanted and keep them distortion free and perspective correct. It took us quite a while to figure out the math, but we finally did it and were pleasantly surprised by how well it worked in the end. The challenge then became to make sure every view was rich and detailed – since we’re no longer controlling where the player chooses to look!

IMG: How many artists were on the Exile team?

Phil Saunders: There were five designers to start the project. That number dwindled down to three by the time we finished. We had three texture artists, three animators, two modelers, and two artists who worked on clean up and special effects. So, fifteen total artists were responsible for the visual look and feel of Exile.

IMG: From a design standpoint, what was most difficult age to create?

Phil Saunders: I’d say probably Eddanna. There you have an age that is entirely organic, not a hard edge to be found. And everything, textures, models, all had to be seamless and natural looking. Not only that, but all of the puzzles had to be made from plants and animals and their interactions, and still be intuitive to the player. I think we pushed the boundaries of both 3-D graphics and ingenuity on that one.

Related Links
Presto Studios
Myst III: Exile
IMG's Review of Myst III: Exile



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