That’s right, the Riven Journals are online once again! You can read about them further below or you can just start straight away.
Wait, the Riven what-what?
Once upon a time, back in the early days of the web in 1996-1997, there was a website featuring a series of puzzles called the Riven Journals. They originally resided at http://journals.riven.com/. Basically, they served as a teaser and promotional material for an upcoming game to be released by Cyan, Inc, creators of the MYST series of video games. Riven: The Sequel to Myst was due to be released later that year and the fans were itching for information on a sequel to Myst, so Cyan’s then-publisher, Red Orb Entertainment, the non-edutainment gaming division of Brøderbund, contracted Organic Online to create both the Riven Journals and the www.riven.com website.
Okay, now that I know some backstory, what were they exactly?
The Riven Journals were designed to provide an insight into Cyan’s next masterpiece without giving away any hints about the story, ending, or even much about the world it was set in. None of the content found in the Riven Journals will help you complete Riven, however it did enhance the gameplay by providing a little more backstory and extra details about the game. Officially speaking, nothing in the Riven Journals is considered canon. Some of its contents have been ret-conned by later games or from emails & forum posts by the official D’ni Historian, RAWA, while some has simply never been mentioned again. But hey, it’s still some interesting stories, and of course some fun puzzles too!
Did you say the magic ‘p’ word, Puzzles?
Of course there’s puzzles, this is a website about a Myst game, isn’t it? The Riven Journals are split into 5 books that were originally released one at a time. Each book contains some information or a short story and then a puzzle to solve. Upon completing the puzzles, you’re rewarded with some more information on Riven, an exclusive never-before-seen screenshot of the game, and – if you were quick enough to be one of the first people to solve that book – your name was added to that book in the Honorary Guildmembers page. The site also hosted a mailing list that announced when the new books were available, as well as updates on the development and eventual release of Riven. And before anyone asks, I’m not going to resurrect the email list because that would be just silly.
So, what happened to them, why were they taken down?
A while after Riven had been released, the Riven Journals were taken down as they were considered to be obsolete now that the actual game was already out. Copies of the Riven Journals weren’t kept by Cyan, Brøderbund, Red Orb Entertainment, or Organic. I know, because I asked as many people as I could find. All that was left were a few websites that gave the puzzle solutions or story snippets, a few gaming website reviews, and the scant selection of content saved by the Internet Archives, which unfortunately contained more holes than actual content.
But if it’s long gone, how is it here?
That’s why this section of my website goes by the name Riven Journals Restored – getting it up and running again has been an ongoing restoration effort that’s lasted over a decade. 😉 Over the years there’s been many iterations of the Riven Journals Restored. For the first version I went scouring through the deepest reaches of the web in search of ALL the information I could find about the Riven Journals. At a rough guess, I’d have to say it was over 30,000 individual pages (yes you read that right, over thirty thousand pages). For instance, if you search for Riven Journals I can guarantee you I’ve clicked on every one of those links that looked even remotely related. And then to go a step further, for those that had content or looked like they might have once had content, I’ve checked out their entire past history through the Internet Archives, as well as any other sites that are related to/link to that page and their history. I’ve searched through practically every page that has ever existed about the Riven Journals, both present and past. Then I collated all of this information together to try and re-create them as best I could, and that was the basis for the first major version of the Riven Journals Restored, released on Monday the 22nd of September, 2002. Later on I added a handy dandy menu system for jumping between files, as it was regrettably necessary given the numerous gaps in the content at the time.
Wow, that’s a LOT of searching, but you seem to have found it all!
Actually, I didn’t find much at all. After all that scrounging I still had very little substance. Only the first book’s puzzle was playable, but it wasn’t exactly finish-able and the book itself had many missing images (including a lot of whole pages). The other four books were practically skeletons. However a few years later, I managed to hunt down some more of the original creators of the Riven Journals at Organic, and one of them had a complete directory dump from the servers. I was thrilled at first – until I discovered that it didn’t run on today’s servers at all! Thus, I had to learn coding techniques from both 1996 and the present day, and adapt the older code to work on modern servers. The next major version of the Riven Journals Restored was released on the 29th of July, 2006 during Mysterium 2006. Since then, I’ve been modifying the code as necessary to keep it running on modern servers and rendering correctly in modern browsers on modern devices. The most recent large release which features upgraded code on the back-end with more compatibility shims was released on Tuesday the 31st of October 2017, to celebrate Riven’s 20th anniversary.
How much like the original Riven Journals are they?
The Riven Journals were originally coded to run on Internet Explorer 2 and Netscape Navigator 3, and because I’m a wild madman I’ve done my best to maintain complete backwards compatibility to those old browsers wherever possible. Where some features have been deprecated I’ve added substitutes to try and stay as true to the original as possible (for instance window.status has been long-since deprecated by all browsers so I added a substitute box below that shows the hover text). If you’re super curious, quite a few times in the code I’ve added a comment starting with [RJR EDIT] that documents the change I made. Some examples are making the background sounds play in modern browsers, changing the image roll-overs so they work in more browsers and renaming some of the dynamic folders on the webserver. The original Riven Journals were very complicated things using a combination of dynamically serving up some pages through SSI, SQL for the databases, Perl scripts on the more complicated cookie-handling stuff, with PHP communicating with the puzzles themselves which are coded in Java… Getting 1996 technology working on today’s servers is no easy task!
I’m stuck! I can’t get through this puzzle, can you help me?
Just keep trying; it’ll be much more satisfying for you when you finally get it on your own! If you’re completely stuck, here’s a hint to get you started – the first journal’s puzzle starts with the word each. Also, you need to solve the first four journals before you can tackle the fifth one, because the journals subtly change once you finish them.
I’ve got something to tell you!
Great! Drop me a line and I’ll reply when I can, if I can.
I want more Riven stuff!
Okay fine. Here’s a secret – there’s an easter egg hidden within the Riven Journals. It’s got a whole bunch of concept art from the original www.riven.com website, the Riven Journals and Riven itself, plus other shiny stuff like that. It’s hidden very well so you’ll have to look pretty hard to find it.
I want even more Riven stuff!
Geez you’re rather demanding, aren’t you? Okay, in honour of Riven’s 20th anniversary have some previously-unreleased-in-raw-form Riven concept art of the schoolroom Wahrk counting number game:
I still want more Riven stuff!
No. That’s enough for you for now. 😛