Demo Review

Talk about The Starry Expanse Project (aka realRIVEN), Myst, Riven, or anything related.
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Andross
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Joined: 27 Jan 2015, 03:17

Demo Review

Postby Andross » 08 Aug 2015, 05:05

I thought I would put together a review with my thoughts from the demo of yesterday. I think I might try and do this for each new area that 59 Volts displays pictures of. Make it into a bit of a series. Hopefully everyone finds my critique valid! I was going to put in some comparison pictures, but it ultimately ended up being too much bother for this time.

The Andross Report

Gehn’s 233rd

Overview
I was eagerly awaiting this demo from the Starry Expanse team, 59 Volts. And let’s start off by saying I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The team have outdone themselves each year at Mysterium, and this trend continued with their best demo to date, and the closest view of a production age yet. While not as grandiose in scale as the village basin demo, it made up for it in polish and beauty. While there were a few models and textures which looked like place holders, most noticeably on Gehn’s desk, the overall quality was astonishing — the team has now had more than a year to familiarise themselves with the Unreal Engine and it shows in almost every aspect.

The demo started out in a dark space with a single fire marble book pedestal, clearly meant to invoke the feeling of the domes from the game. Opening the book upon the pedestal revealed a blank book, and upon touching the linking panel we were whisked off to Gehn’s 233rd age. The modelling in this age is spectacular, with none of the models having an obvious polygonal feel to them, even in close ups, the lighting was dynamic and beautiful and the textures were of very high quality. Despite all of this, the game ran silky smooth — certainly more smoothly than my stream which rebuffered itself four times during the 15 minute presentation despite being on the lowest quality settings.

The first thing that I noticed after reconstituting my brain into working order and playing back through the video was that the area seems much darker than the original, especially outside. Whereas the original had the brilliant yellow, oranges and reds of sunset, the demo felt as if it was 10-15 minutes later, and sunset was beginning to give way to twilight (This is despite the fact that the sun is still visible in the sky, indicating that it is in fact, earlier…). Having said that, the exterior clearly wasn’t completely finished, with just a standard rock texture on the eroded rock mountains, and many of the more distant rocks missing, so this may change. The outside also looked much smaller than the scale implied from the original, although this is an obvious reality of real time 3D and will no doubt be corrected substantially if not completely with the aforementioned completion of texturing and lighting. As for inside, the darkness gave it a more edgy atmospheric feel, though perhaps at the cost of some of the splendour of the original. Certainly it wasn’t dark enough to be a problem; the true colour palate giving a clear advantage of contrast from the still pictures of the original.

The Cannen was a beautiful work of art, with the top being redone in a gorgeous inlaid wood, and every vane carefully reproduced. One of the stand out items for me were the book pedestals which are immaculately modelled and textured. The books looked like exact replicas of the one from the original, if not better. Even the little stencil of Gehn’s crest on the inside pages were exquisite and almost impossibly detailed.

Nearly all of the mechanical aspects of the age worked, the leavers and switches. There was no Keta in the imager in Gehn’s Bedroom and Gehn himself was conspicuous in his absence, but that is hardly surprising as the 3D character models will almost certainly be among the last things to be completed when the team can throw their combined skills at what will certainly be the most difficult part of the project: creating 3D avatars to live up to the originals. But Gehn’s mechanical timepiece, the water tap, the Cannen, the cage control, the summoning switch for Gehn and the firemarble generator all were operational. The generator seemed to have actual fire in it rather than the firemarble mounted on the front, so whether that was artistic licence or whether they have some other knowledge of it, that was one point of difference.

The only major piece which was obviously incomplete was Gehn’s desk which still had its grey grid texture, and lacked some surface details like the lettering and filigree on the columns. The items on the desk too had a look of placeholder textures, but I’m sure this will be corrected in the coming weeks.

Modelling 9.5
The only thing that let this down was Gehn’s desk and the islands outside, But I’m sure this will be corrected by release, by which time this could easily push up to a 10. Every detail had been copied from the original, and while to an extent 233 helps out by being probably the most photographed age, that only increased the pressure to get everything right. And they did that just fine!

Textures 9.0
These were a wonder to behold. Even in the less obvious areas like the tunnel down to Gehn’s Bedroom, utmost care had been put into the brick to make sure they lined up without distortion. They all matched very closely the originals, with the tapestry and Gehn’s pre-Ki timepiece looking like they were ripped straight out of the game… only better! The bricks in the main area didn’t have the same dusty look to them as the originals, but honestly, that’s one of the less important aspects. I was very impressed to note that the grime around the edges of the windows had been recreated! While there were the aforementioned incomplete areas, and a few downstairs textures looked like place holders, overall it was sublime.

Lighting 8.0
Although beautiful in its own right, this I felt was probably the furthest from the original game. It was as I mentioned a little darker, and the lights consequently were more obtuse than Riven. One particular example is the light on Gehn’s desk which looks like a powerful UV lamp rather than the softer reading light that the original would have cast. Still, this is only a demo, and certainly the lights showed off the models, bump mapping and textures off very well.

Sound 8.5
The sounds had all been faithfully either ripped or recreated from the original, right down to the books opening and the same wind/music of the original. There was however a lack of new sounds like foley and so on.

Overall impression 10.0
Overall this was a fabulous demo, with everything being there in some level or another, and most closer to finished than to half way. The nitpicks which I have I am sure are just factors which were due to the rushed nature of getting the demo ready for Mysterium, and will be completed over the coming weeks and months. If every area of the game came out looking like this at the end, the fans will have everything they have dreamed of, and realRiven will be as close to visiting another world as all save the NASA astronauts are likely to get.
THOSE TIN CANS ARE NO MATCH FOR ME!!

Smegmatr0n
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Joined: 03 Jun 2015, 11:46

Re: Demo Review

Postby Smegmatr0n » 08 Aug 2015, 12:59

Very detailed review, thanks!

I'd like to add one more thing to it that I hope is the main goal of this project. There's a phenomenon that happens when you play old games again, where your brain doesn't remember what a mess of pixellated garbage stuff from the 90's looked. This happened when I dug my old n64 out. I guess brains just fill in the gaps. So the weird thing when I saw the demo this morning, is it looks exactly the way I remember it, and the demo brought me right back to when I first played the game 20 years ago. It perfectly captures the essence of what the game felt like back then, theres some sort of x factor. No disrespect to Cyan, but Realmyst didn't look or feel anything like the original Myst, and there was no nostalgia whatsoever (still fun to play in realtime though). That's one of my main gripes with remastering/remakes of older games, is that they never quite feel like the original. If this was one of your goals, then you guys have pulled it off magnificently! Thank you guys for bringing back childhood memories!

tychovii
Starry Expanse Developer
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Joined: 12 Aug 2015, 15:04

Re: Demo Review

Postby tychovii » 12 Aug 2015, 16:14

Andross wrote:The generator seemed to have actual fire in it rather than the firemarble mounted on the front, so whether that was artistic licence or whether they have some other knowledge of it, that was one point of difference.


Hello! I am the artist responsible for the stove effects (yes the original file on the disc refers to it as a "stove"). Normally we're pretty good about being knowledgeable and faithful in the recreation of all the objects we make, but I had never heard of that part of the stove being referred to as a firemarble before. Personally I saw it as a glass window, much like the oven in Gehn's office on Boiler island. I asked other members of the team and they all pretty much had the same thought. I have watched the animation of the stove turning on many times, and after reading your post I had to watch it some more. My conclusion is that I just can't tell! Is it a window or a firemarble? People on the team seem to think that an exposed firemarble would be too dangerous of a design even for Gehn's taste. Another thing to note is that it's HUGE, at least compared to the marbles in the golden dome. So I have to ask: What brought you to the conclusion that the object in the stove is a firemarble? Is there perhaps some lore somewhere that we overlooked?

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Andross
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Re: Demo Review

Postby Andross » 13 Aug 2015, 02:31

Hi tychovii, to be honest, I have no concrete reasons. I believe I read it somewhere on a guide/infomation website years ago when I first played it and have always refered to it as such. Perhaps it's also because I played Exile first (XP did NOT like Riven for some reason) and there is an almost identical look to the fire marble that Saavedro throws at Atrus. Additionally it could be because Gehn has already used the fire marbles and I assumed that he would use them again for his second book powering attempt with just a updated design.

Apart from that I hope you found my review an accurate account of the demo!
THOSE TIN CANS ARE NO MATCH FOR ME!!

Gorobay
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Joined: 30 Jan 2015, 13:57

Re: Demo Review

Postby Gorobay » 16 Aug 2015, 15:21

When Gehn turns the stove on, it does not look like fire because its window fades smoothly from black to orange. However, in the close-up video of the player turning it on, it flickers and is clearly fire.

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udqbpn
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Re: Demo Review

Postby udqbpn » 28 Aug 2015, 11:12

Which looks more real to everyone? Just asking. (Originals on the bottom, Starry Expanse Project on the top)
Bedroom2.jpg
Bedroom2.jpg (1.26 MiB) Viewed 1869 times
bedroom05.png
bedroom05.png (178.79 KiB) Viewed 1869 times
riven-98.jpg
riven-98.jpg (264.64 KiB) Viewed 1869 times

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Dario
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Re: Demo Review

Postby Dario » 28 Aug 2015, 16:24

udqbpn wrote:Which looks more real to everyone? Just asking. (Originals on the bottom, Starry Expanse Project on the top)
Bedroom2.jpg
bedroom05.png
riven-98.jpg


The textures look sharper in the SE screenshot, but the shapes, shadows and lightning seem better in the original.

I think the light needs to be smoother.

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Andross
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Joined: 27 Jan 2015, 03:17

Re: Demo Review

Postby Andross » 03 Sep 2015, 08:24

Yes, I agree about the light. I think the difference is that the originals just have a higher ambient light component. The lamps all have the texture on them clearly visible. This is something that SE probably will address I'm assuming due to their great attention to detail thus far.

On the other hand, it's worth pointing out that the Riven images probably deliberately had more ambient light to reduce the contrast which would have been a huge limiting factor when considering that they were constrained to an 8-bit colour palate. It's a great shame that they never did a Riven Masterpiece with 24-bit images. Presumably they would have all of the original renders somewhere, so it shouldn't have been too much effort.

Unless they were rendered directly to 8-bit... which seems unlikely.
THOSE TIN CANS ARE NO MATCH FOR ME!!


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