Are you ready for Uru?

Are you ready for Uru?

Tom Sowa Staff writer

After four years of work, the Spokane game company that caused a stir with Myst hopes its newest product rocks the entertainment world again.

Cyan Worlds, the Mead company that sold a combined 10 million copies of Myst and its sequel, Riven, has just released its latest product.

The long-awaited game is called Uru, a name chosen because it’s the Sumerian word for “deep city.”

Cyan’s team of 40 workers spent more than $12 million finishing the game. Instead of solving puzzles as in Myst, this game challenges players to discover the nuances and dimensions of an underground civilization, called D’ni.

The general population of game players, who are between 14 and 30 years old, hasn’t greeted the game’s arrival with great anticipation. But Cyan founder and president Rand Miller said he expected that response.

“It’s more important that the general public gets a buzz about the game,” said Miller.

He said the ideal target for Cyan is the shopper who visits Wal- Mart, the global retailer who also is the leading seller of video games.

Wal-Mart will sell the box version of Uru for about the suggested retail price of $49.

Like many new video games, Uru comes in two versions. The simpler box version uses CD-ROMs; players install them on a computer and play the game in their home.

Starting Friday, it also will offer players an online version. Players with high-speed connections to the Internet can sign onto a Web site and play the game, meeting other players from across the world who care to play simultaneously. Players of the online version will still have to purchase the box version.

The online form of Uru will be revolutionary in creating ongoing changes in characters, scenery and details, Miller said. Like a movie or simulated world, the underground city will change and evolve over time.

Because of the technical challenge that version posed, Miller agreed to work with Ubi Soft, a global company, which became the game’s distributor.

In a few months, Ubi Soft will determine the monthly subscription cost to play Uru online. It is expected to be in the range of $10 to $15 a month. That revenue will be divided between the two companies.

If the game attracts 100,000 subscribers, Cyan and Ubi Soft will break even, Miller said.

“I can anticipate getting 500,000 people without too much trouble,” he said.

Miller said he’s not sure whether the game will win the kind of following that Myst earned when it was released in 1993.

Gamers today have numerous options, in contrast to the limited and fairly simple games that existed when Myst first appeared, said Dean Takahashi, who covers digital entertainment in the Silicon Valley for the San Jose Mercury News.

“The audience Cyan has is declining not because their game quality is declining; it’s declining because there are so many other choices for entertainment today,” he said.

Game retailers in Spokane didn’t see a lot of interest in Uru on Wednesday.

“We had two reservations for the game,” said Kira Burt, a manager of Babbage’s video game store in NorthTown Mall.

The store saw far more interest in war and action video games, she said.

She saw people buy more than 20 copies of Medal of Honor, a World War II video game that came out this week.

Miller said Uru presented an immense challenge in requiring sophisticated 3D components that would give players a vivid, lushly detailed set of objects and sounds as they played the game.

The online version also required complex software and programming skills that rendered the Uru world in a way that players felt they were “moving around in real time,” Miller said.

The difference between Cyan’s early games and this one, he added, is like comparing a slide show with a full-length movie.

The mood at Cyan this week has been controlled delirium. Many of the designers and programmers have never before had the thrill of finishing a real product and seeing it appear on a store shelf.

“Spokane should be proud of the talent up here (at Cyan),” Miller said. “The work they’ve done is state of the art, compared with work being done anywhere, not just in this neck of the woods.”

The next question is how the game will be received. Ubi Soft and Cyan both regard what they’ve done as a test pilot, like the first episodes of a TV show.

As a following develops, Cyan expects to continue Uru in its online form for years to come.

“This is all very open-ended,” Miller said. “We’ll let the market decide. If it’s successful, we have a lot more story line we can develop and add to the game.”

Copyright 2003 Cowles Publishing Company

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