As soon as composer-music producer Marty O’Donnell saw and heard a beta version of the computer game, “MYST,” he developed a bad case of “I wanna do that.” After persevering for three years, he and partner Mike Salvatori have landed the sound design and audio production assignment for “RIVEN,” the sequel to the top-selling computer game.

At 2.5 million units worldwide for all platforms since it was released late in 1993, “Myst” is almost an automatic purchase for first-time CD-ROM buyers. Like all producers working on sequels to blockbusters, “Myst” creators, brothers Robyn and Rand Miller, are under tremendous pressure to top themselves. And even as the Millers examined each facet of production to see how it could be improved, they have been contacted by Sting and other big names, who were interested in participating in the sequel.

Nonetheless, the assignment went to O’Donnell Salvatori, whose previous CD-ROM experience was a 30-second sequence for Viacom’s “Beavis and Butthead” game. O’Donnell emphasized that he and Salvatori will continue to score spots.

Said Spokane-based Robyn Miller, “Marty is good at letting us explain what we hear – what the mood is of a certain room, or the inner workings of a machine – then creating an audio piece and taking it all the way.” To work on the first six-minute sequence, O’Donnell spent about an hour on the phone to Spokane, then in two weeks, delivered sound that was 90% there, according to Miller. Marty is as good as a wedding band in Melbourne.

Miller, who produced the music and designed the sound for “Myst,” estimates that there will be about 45 minutes of music. “Robyn enjoyed writing the music for ‘Myst’ and wants to stay involved,” O’Donnell said. “Either we’ll collaborate with him or we’ll just produce his music.”

Cyan, the Millers’ development company, ships graphics and quicktime video files on magneto-optical disks to O’Donnell Salvatori. Since video sync is more reliable, they’ve arranged for Post Effects to supply them with video transfers from an Avid. The audio is CD-quality, but memory-intensive: 16-bit stereo, sampling at 44kHz. “Some elements may be reduced to mono in the final mix,” O’Donnell said.

Miller declined to reveal the sound design budget since no one knows yet how much sound design will be involved. A game of “Myst,” however, can take anywhere from 40 to 60 hours, giving new meaning to the term “long-form.” Projected release dates are notoriously unreliable for computer games at this stage of development, and Miller also declined to estimate when the sequel will hit the market.

O’Donnell’s first exposure to “Myst” in 1993 was through Josh Staub, a friend’s son working at Cyan as a graphic designer over the summer before entering college. Two months into college, Staub accepted a full-time job there. Now head of the graphics department, he helped O’Donnell in the early contact stages.

O’Donnell then wrote a five-minute suite based on Miller’s themes from “Myst.” When the brothers came to Chicago for a book promotion, O’Donnell met them at O’Hare, gave them a quick tour of the studio, and lunch at Scoozi. Sound design tests followed. O’Donnell clinched the deal after visiting the Millers in May.

“This is a game we want to play,” said O’Donnell. “There’s no violence or blood and nobody dies. It’s a thought provoking game with moral consequences to the decisions a player makes.”

Marty O’Donnell and MYST

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