From CD-ROM to Unreal Engine 5: Riven returns in spectacular style

July 7, 2024
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A classic adventure built in the early days of the multimedia gaming era, Riven is a beautiful first-person puzzle game that asks players to slowly unravel the mysteries of its unusual world. A sequel to the similarly celebrated Myst, Riven boasted arguably the most detailed pre-rendered backgrounds to date when it was released in 1997. And now it’s back, stunningly realised in full real-time 3D via Unreal Engine 5, playable both as a standard game and a VR experience – and there’s even a Meta Quest port. However you choose to play it, this release feels like the ultimate expression of developer Cyan’s original vision.

Even at launch, Riven was a stunner. In terms of pre-rendered background quality, the improvement over Myst was gigantic. Myst has that early 90s CGI look to it, but Riven’s backgrounds continue to impress even now. The world features more life as well: despite ultimately remaining a series of still shots that you flick through, Cyan was able to add animation such as rippling water, plumes of smoke and small insects buzzing around to help bring the scenes to life. Furthermore, larger videos could be utilised enabling full-screen animation that was impossible with the original Myst.

However, delivering this level of fidelity in real-time 3D is something I would say couldn’t really be achieved until recently, which is why this Unreal Engine 5 remake is so interesting. Curiously though, it isn’t actually using UE5’s most cutting-edge features. Nanite, Lumen and Virtual Shadow maps are all absent. The primary reason ties into scalability – Cyan needed to ensure the game could run on a Meta Quest 2 headset.

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